First PNG world heritage site listed
Let’s allow PNG workers into Australia

Labour is test of PNG-Australia relations

When Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd attends the 39th Pacific Islands Forum in Niue in August, he is expected to announce a pilot scheme for short-term Pacific Island labour to work in Australian agricultural industries.

Lepani Speech Through its High Commissioner to Australia, Charles Lepani [left], PNG has already indicated it will be shocked if Australia does not include it in the scheme. Indeed, PNG says it should be considered first for any pilot seasonal labour scheme.

And, given the historical relationships and close ties between PNG and Australia – not to mention the need for PNG workers to find a way into the cash economy – who could cavil with such a statement?

Mr Lepani has said that the exclusion of PNG will be a blow to relations between the two countries. Indeed, to give preference to other Pacific nations while turning our back on PNG, would be an act of overt discrimination against our closest neighbour. And not the first snub we’ve delivered to a nation we helped develop and guide to national independence.

While a Cabinet decision has not been announced, there have been reports that Australia is considering approving a seasonal labour scheme for Pacific Island workers from Samoa, Tonga, Kiribati, Tuvalu and Vanuatu. Mr Lepani says if PNG is excluded it would be a tragedy.

He says the Rudd government has been doing all it can to normalise the relationship between Australia and PNG. If PNG is left out of the labour program, it will represent a severe test of the relationship.

“It would be a tragedy if that [exclusion] happens,” Mr Lepani has said. “It will set our PNG-Australia relations in a very negative light again … Australia should start with Papua New Guinea. It has the historical and bilateral relations as our former colonial authority and is now a very robust bilateral relations that we have. So there is no reason whatsoever that Australia should forget or exclude Papua New Guinea from any initial pilot programs on seasonal labour.

“We put out about 250,000 young people a year, school leavers from Grade 10 as well as that, rural youth. They are occupied, under employed not unemployed, unlike the urban youth, because they have land to tend to, subsistent gardening and farming and that sort of thing. But it will be a very substantial contribution to our development, in fact to the extent that I would venture to suggest it is not our government policy, but I would venture to suggest that PNG would be willing to trade up with the substantial amount of foreign aid that it receives on an annual basis to pay for or to with seasonal labour and even on a broader scale, employment opportunities for our schemed and semi-skilled workers in Australia.

“You can't have globalisation without labour mobility. You can't have closer financial services, liberalisation of trade and investment and goods and services without labour mobility. That's our argument. So it's very important that Australia gives a serious consideration to the largest Pacific Island and its closest neighbour, tied to its national security interests and much of the aid money is also directed to Australia's national security interest. So all these will be put to the test if I may venture to say on these labour mobility issues or seasonal workers issues.”

Source: Based on reportage by Jemima Garrett, Radio Australia



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