Business as usual: wine industry classed as ‘essential service’

The Federal Minister for Agriculture, David Littleproud, has confirmed with Australian Grape & Wine (AGW) that the wine sector, along with all agricultural industries, has been classed as an essential service during the COVID-19 pandemic, ensuring the continuation of all vineyard and winery operations.

In a statement, AGW’s chief executive, Tony Battaglene, said talks with the Minister have been ongoing.

“The Minister has been regularly meeting with the agriculture industries by telephone. Our most recent hook-up was [on Tuesday], where he made it very clear that the agriculture industries, including wine were classed as essential.”

Battaglene said this means that the movement of labour, freight and the supply of inputs for these sectors would all be maintained during the COVID-19 crisis.

“Agriculture was seen not only as essential to provide food during the crisis, but also as an important part of the recovery process,” Battaglene said.

“The state of the vintage situation in Australia is clearly understood, and with this, the need to keep grapes being harvested and processing plants operating.”

A raft of closures came into force at midnight last night, mainly affecting business activities and venues with high levels of personal interaction.

These include food courts in shopping centres, auction houses, spas and massage parlours, amusement parks, community and recreation centres, and swimming pools.

However, Minister Littleproud provided reassurance that the nation’s food production and supply chain will not be affected by coronavirus shutdowns.

“As far as the Commonwealth is concerned, food production and supply is an essential service,” the Minister said.

“Feeding our nation is an essential service.

Supply chains not affected

“That means State-imposed border shutdowns will not affect agricultural supply chains,” said Minister Littleproud.

“The trucks carrying food and produce will get through to the shops.

“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.”

Minister Littleproud guaranteed that all aspects of production across primary industries – including the wine sector – will remain unaffected.

“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.”

Meanwhile, former senior bureaucrat Mark Tucker has been appointed by Mr Littleproud to act in the role of senior agriculture industry engagement officer to provide a crucial link between industry and Commonwealth officials dealing with COVID-19 shutdowns.

AGW’s Battaglene has welcomed the appointment.

“The appointment of Mark Tucker is a critical one, and gives us the opportunity to communicate directly and quickly when issues occur. This could include cross border movements and the like.

“The Minister is appreciative of the work our organisation and others are doing, by providing a conduit of information out to the sector, and raising critical issues requiring government response back to him,” said Battaglene.

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