Farm businesses in Victoria will be exempt from state planning provisions that would otherwise require a permit to build on-farm accommodation for up to 10 people.
The exemption applies exclusively to buildings that serve as accommodation for agricultural workers and must be constructed on a property at least 40 hectares in size within a farming zone.
Agriculture minister Mary-Anne Thomas said the new streamlined planning process would help support farmers to house their vital seasonal workers, and make this line of work more attractive to prospective staff.
“These planning changes are about supporting our agriculture sector to thrive.
“On-farm accommodation will provide more options for farm workers and make it easier for growers to recruit the workers they need for the upcoming harvest,” Thomas said in a statement on Tuesday.
With readily available on-farm accommodation, seasonal workers overcome the difficulty of also finding a place to stay in regional towns and save money on travel expenses.
The state government has also mandated that buildings which are exempt under the planning laws must be connected to electricity, water and have wastewater treatment facilities.
To date, Victoria’s agriculture industry has received an $84 million funding package from the government to meet its seasonal workforce challenges in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Included in this funding, is $6 million for a seasonal workforce accommodation program that has so far issued grants for accommodation, pastoral care and transport projects in key horticultural areas.
Another $5.2 million under Victoria’s agriculture workforce plan has been announced for 80 businesses who want to upgrade or build new worker accommodation.
Planning minister Richard Wynne said the reforms made sense and would help to secure a ‘critical rural workforce’.
“[This will] support our farmers and Victorian agriculture,” Wynne said.
The Victorian government has also backed a pilot program in Robinvale that commenced in April, supported by the Swan Hill Rural City Council, to coordinate solutions for seasonal worker housing under its $5 million regional workforce projects. The initiative aims to address border housing shortage issues in regional Victoria that are exacerbating barriers to attracting seasonal farm workers.