Health officials have rejected a code to enable ease of access across borders for agriculture workers on the eve of harvest and shearing.
Federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud plans to push forward and present the code to National Cabinet on Friday in a move he has described as a "real test of federation".
The code was put to the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee in the last 24 hours, but it's understood the states' chief health officers couldn't reach consensus and endorse the proposal.
Billions of dollars are at stake with a potential bumper harvest and animal welfare concerns exist if shearing can't go ahead as scheduled in coming weeks due to labour shortages resulting from workers being unable to cross borders such as the Murray River.
Corowa farmer Derek Schoen said government deliberations on the code had reached a critical point.
"The clock is ticking and we need to start getting machinery into position and if that cannot occur we are going to have massive problems taking off this year's harvest," he said.
"It is phenomenal that they cannot see the problems they are going to cause down the track.
"Harvest is time critical and they are just not aware of the consequences.
"Contractors and farmers are probably the most trustworthy individuals to be asking to self-isolate for a period of time to cross the border."
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Victorian Farmers Federation Wangaratta branch president Greg Mirabella agreed.
"Harvest and shearing are fast approaching and this just has to get sorted," he said..
"I commend Minister Littleproud on his efforts because it just has to happen.
"As far as agriculture goes state borders are meaningless and farming today is more geared to free and widespread movement of labour and machinery."
"I've been very clear on this issue," he said.
"So long as there are sensible safety measures in place, there should be no restrictions on the movement of agricultural workers across state and territory borders.
"What I hope to see is a mandatory code that would compel jurisdictions to remove farcical border restrictions.
"This will be a test of National Cabinet.
"The agriculture industry is too important and we cannot countenance further delays or a watered down code consisting of meaningless motherhood statements.
"A national code for the freight industry is already in place and this should be the benchmark for what comes out of National Cabinet.
"If it's good enough for truckies it should be good enough for farmers."
Victorian Agriculture Minister Jaclyn Symes said: "Adam Marshall and I have been working closely on a proposal for a National Agriculture Workers Code that is practical, clear and, if supported by National Cabinet, easy to adopt consistently across jurisdictions to allow agricultural workers to move across state borders.
"Victorian farmers and agricultural workers just want to get on with their important jobs while adhering to sensible, proportionate safety measures that continue to protect communities from COVID-19. It's vital for our economy and supply chains that they can."
Mr Littleproud's proposed code states agriculture workers who crossed state borders would be required to have a valid permit, evidence of their identity, residence, their work being eligible under the code and a COVID-safe workplace plan including carrying personal protective equipment, retain records of movement and self-isolate where practical.
"It's in times of national crisis that our system of government is tested," he said.
"These border issues are now a real test of our federation.
"This is an opportunity for states to show us that federation works for all Australians not just those in capital cities."
The Border Mail has obtained a copy of the code to be presented to National Cabinet on Friday.
"The enforceable measures will be implemented in each state and territory where border controls are implemented, and compliance will be monitored in accordance with the relevant state or territory compliance regime to ensure ongoing industry and community confidence in arrangements for agriculture workers under the code," the code states.
"Penalties for breaching the enforceable measures in this code will be covered as breaches of the relevant state and territories' public health order and/or emergency management directions for border crossings."
Farming communities in Farrer MP Sussan Ley's electorate will be among the biggest casualties if the movement of agriculture worker isn't resolved.
"Country people are resilient," she said.
"But our patience is being deeply tested by the various individual health orders struggling to recognise COVID-free regional economies and people who just want to get back to work.
"I believe every one of us is prepared to take the distancing and safety measures needed to do this.
"Now we need state governments and their health departments to untangle some of the restrictions unnecessarily damaging rural communities and the agricultural-based economy.
"I know the Prime Minister wants this to be sorted during Friday's National Cabinet and so do I."