One of the things about the Rudd Government that has pleased me is the greater Australian focus on the Pacific. Now in conjunction with the 39th Pacific Island Leaders' summit being held on the tiny island nation of Niue, Australia has announced a trial guest worker program.
The initial program is quite limited. Up to 2,500 workers from Tonga, Vanuatu, Kiribati and Papua New Guinea will be granted visas for seasonal work in the horticulture industry, an industry struggling to find seasonal workers. Workers will be restricted to a maximum of seven months in any twelve months period, with the whole scheme being reviewed at the end of eighteen months.
The guest worker approach has already been tested in New Zealand. I see no reason why it should not work in Australia, to the mutual benefit of both sides. The horticulture sector has an estimated shortfall of 22,000 seasonal workers, while employment is in short supply on many of the Pacific Islands.
I was not aware that there had been long standing discussions about East Timor guest workers. Now it appears that agreement may be near for a pilot scheme in the Kimberleys.
I also see that Warren Mundine has been calling for the scheme to be extended to indigenous workers. I don't have a problem if there are features in the guest worked program that would facilitate Aboriginal employment. However, our indigenous people are already in the country.
Why aren't they already taking advantage of the opportunities? This is a serious question, not a shot. My impression, I stand to be corrected, is that there has been a sharp decline in indigenous interest in seasonal work over recent years.
The guest worker program proposal has led to something of a split in the Federal opposition between Dr Nelson (appears to be against) and National MPs especially Kate Hull and Barnaby Joyce. Neil (Ninglun) blogged on this
Previous Posts in the Pacific Series
- 3 December 2006, Pacific Perspective - Introduction
- 3 December 2006, Pacific Perspective - Setting the Scene
- 4 December 2006, Pacific Perspective - Australia in the Pacific
- 7 December 2006, The New Zealand Belshaws - a dispersed Pacific Family
- 7 August 2007, Pacific Perspective - Pasifika and New Zealand's Future