A lag in backpackers returning to Australian shores is the real reason behind ballooning lettuce prices, a Nationals senator has claimed.
Prices for the vegetable – suddenly scarce – have skyrocketed beyond $10 in some cases as consumers grapple with the prospect of cabbage in their burgers as an alternative.
Growers have reportedly been hit with a “perfect storm” in 2022, with an unusually frosty start to winter preceded by crop-wiping floods earlier in the year.
But the chief reason for the shortage lies in the lack of backpackers returning to work on Australian shores, Senator Bridget McKenzie has asserted.
“I’m sorry; you want to know why your lettuces are $12? Farmers are not planting because they do not have the people to get the crop in,” Senator McKenzie told ABC program Q&A.
“That means the price of food goes up – it’s that simple.”
Travellers have been slow to return to previous backpacker paradises despite overseas workers having been allowed back into Australia since December 2021.
Far north Queensland businesses are also struggling with the lag in returning labour, where 3500 working vacationers pre-pandemic have been reduced to less than 200.
Senator McKenzie said the Labor Party had been slow to take on free trade agreements including “mobility clauses” to allow more workers into the country.
“We have free trade agreements with mobility clauses negotiated with both the UK and with India,” she explained.
“They’re ready to go … so those mobility clauses can be operational. (But) the new trade minister (Don Farrell) is saying we won’t be getting to that ‘til the end of the year.”