Hartsuyker: Blueberry farms show need for 457 visas

WHILE discussing the contentious issue of 457 visas, Cowper MP Luke Hartsuyker raised examples from his own electorate to highlight his thoughts during a speech in Parliament.

The opposition spokesman for Regional Communications, Youth and Sport said 457 visas were vital to both the nation as well as the blueberry farms near Corindi and Woolgoolga.

"In my electorate there is a dependence on 457 visas," Mr Hartsuyker said during his Parliamentary speech.

"Over the past decade we have seen an explosion in the blueberry industry on the Coffs Coast.

"We have seen double-digit growth in blueberry production and this has been delivered through two major business models.

"Costa Berries, or Blueberry Farms of Australia, as many know them, is a massive operation which employs more than 2,000 people over a 12-month period.

They produce a premium blueberry product which generates tens of millions of dollars in wages and the cost of production, but their work is very labour intensive.

Peter McPherson of Blueberry Farms has advised me of the difficulties of recruiting highly skilled labour in the field of horticulture.

"The business is reliant on the use of 457 visas and it brings workers in from countries such as Mexico and Chile. Why does the government want to impose more red tape on this business? Why is the government so keen to drive up the cost for this important industry?

"Also on the Coffs Coast is a group of around 70 farmers who independently grow blueberries.

Many of these farmers are members of the Indian community, which is heavily involved in the local community, particularly in the area of Woolgoolga.

"These farmers have got together and built a processing facility and they call their venture Oz Berries. The ongoing expansion of Oz Berries is one of the true industry success stories on the Coffs Coast.

"The exponential growth of the blueberry industry has been great for farmers and a real boost to the local economy. Today Oz Berries employs more than 60 people and turns over more than $27 million each year. The 70 farmers employ hundreds of additional people on their properties. 

"Both Oz Berries and Costa Berries are vital to our local economy and they both need to use 457 visas in order to get the skills and the labour that they need."

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