(Image: Tim Marsden/AAP)

Australia’s seasonal fruit picking industry has been forced into a reckoning over decades of abuse and underpayment of vulnerable workers -- much of it amounting to modern slavery. But instead of launching an investigation into disturbing claims relating to its Seasonal Worker Program, the federal government has rushed to the industry’s defence. 

In an interview with Fran Kelly this week, Nationals leader David Littleproud dismissed shocking reports that a “pandemic of worker abuse” had seen Pacific Island workers taking home less than $300 a week and being forced to pay for water and crowded accommodation in shipping containers.

He said the abuse that had been exposed in the industry was down to a few bad apples, and that the media had “sensationalised” what was really going on. “There is a small cohort in industry that do the wrong thing,” he said. “Our job is to try and weed them out, and the industry themselves are working with us to make sure we do that.”