What about us? TMA pleads to Ag Minister

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The TMA pleads for consideration as minister says “feeding our nation is an essential service”

Image: Philip Lewis / Alamy Stock Photo

The Tractor & Machinery Association of Australia has made a public appeal to keep agricultural machinery services and suppliers open amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a statement released on his website, Federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud says Australia’s food production and supply chain will not be affected by COVID-19 shutdowns.

"Maintaining food production, access to workers, agricultural supply lines, transportation and logistics is absolutely critical and will not be affected by any of the measures aimed at curbing the virus’s spread," he says.

"Feed, hay, fertiliser and other agriculture products will continue being delivered to farms – we’ve got plenty of supply and the freight lanes across the country are being kept clear."

"The Commonwealth is guaranteeing food production and supply as we deal with the virus’s spread… I am in constant dialogue with farming groups, the States, supermarkets and my department to make sure there’s food on the table," he says.

But in a letter to the minister, released publicly, TMA executive director Gary Northover says Australian agriculture cannot afford to lose its machine supply industry, even in these circumstances.

"Australian farmers are reliant on timely and efficient support from a network of agricultural machinery dealerships across the nation," he writes.

"As an example, our machinery importers, local manufacturers, dealerships and their farming customers wish to avoid any disruption which may impact the seeding program over the next three to four months."

"This program is vital to ensuring adequate stocks of grain will be available to the nation later in the year," Northover says.

As such, Northover asked that companies involved in the distribution, supply, service and provision of equipment and parts for and of agricultural machinery be included in the definition of essential services that will remain open amid any further shutdowns.

"We are seeking your support to ensure that the industry responsible for the distribution, supply, service and provision of equipment and parts for and of agricultural machinery can continue to support farmers," Northover adds.

Freight links vital

Protecting Australia’s freight networks are another important part of keeping the industry going, Northover adds, and the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator is taking steps to provide assistance.

From today, the NHVR has introduced temporary changes to the National Heavy Vehicle Accreditation Scheme (NHVAS) medical and audit requirements, allowing heavy vehicle drivers to continue to drive with an expired driver medical, until one can be practicably obtained.

It will also excuse auditors from in-person inspections, allowing document and record checks to be conducted remotely via email or similar methods.

This comes after the NHVR agreed to waive restrictions on all curfew permits, except those related to safety and access.   

While some states have closed their borders, Queensland, South Australia and the Northern Territory have announced they consider truck drivers to be "essential travellers" and therefore exempt from border controls.

The NHVR says it has welcomed a commitment from all governments to ensure the ongoing movement of all heavy vehicles across state borders, but it has advised heavy vehicle drivers and operators to be aware of delays while border checks are in place.

"Governments and the NHVR are still finalising advice for the movement of passengers in heavy vehicles (including two-up driving) and the requirements for drivers to self-isolate if operating interstate," it says.

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