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Government Senate leader Eric Abetz says unemployed young Tasmanians should not be subsidised by working Australians and instead take up work as fruit pickers.  

Defending tough budget changes forcing unemployed under 30s off the dole every six months, the Employment Minister said young jobless people should look to seasonal work opportunities.

His comments were criticised by the Tasmanian Farmers & Graziers Association which said farmers would not act as “babysitters” for the government’s social welfare goals.

Fruit-picking is often popular with overseas workers and backpackers who have used it to boost their income while in Australia.

The youth unemployment rate in Tasmania is very high at 17 per cent with Senator Abetz saying he had previously driven a taxi, worked on a chicken farm and run a bread delivery route.

“There are many examples of jobs in my home state of Tasmania, for example fruit picking seasonal work, dairy farm jobs and the sad thing is in Tasmania over 90 per cent of fruit pickers come from overseas,” he told ABC radio.

“If people can come from overseas to pick the fruit in Tasmania, one wonders potentially why young unemployed Tasmanians couldn’t do the same task. “There is no right to demand from your fellow Australians that just because you don’t want to do bread delivery or a taxi run, or a stint as a farmhand, that you should therefore be able to rely on your fellow Australian to subsidise you.”

Tasmanian Farmers & Graziers Association spokeswoman Jan Davis clarified the fruit-picking jobs were seasonal and required a significant degree of skill. She said she would follow up Senator Abetz’s comments directly with the minister.

“We can’t be held to deliver social welfare outcomes within a business structure,” she told the ABC.

“If the Government wants us to be babysitters and to run these social welfare programs we will have a conversation about what’s involved in that, but it won’t be as a part of a commercial offering.”