10 June 2008
Australia and NZ looking out for their Pacific neighbours
During the World Environment Day convention last week in New Zealand, The President of Kiribati, Anote Tong, took the opportunity to tell the world he is losing his islands to the damaging effects of climate change. This week, both New Zealand and Australia stepped up their efforts in helping their Pacific neighbours.
Australian PM Kevin Rudd has campaigned for the introduction of the guest-worker scheme that was recently trialled in New Zealand, reports the Herald Sun. The successful scheme saw hundreds of Pacific Islanders working on farms and vineyards in New Zealand for a temporary time. Rudd is lobbying for 5,000 Islanders to be granted visas to work in Australia for a period of up to seven months, in an attempt to fill labour shortages, develop the skills-base of neighbouring nations, and increase the flow of remittances to Pacific economies.
Rudd’s solution to the labour shortage may come to fruition next week, with the Cabinet making a decision on the guest-workers scheme on June 19th. The Coalition’s main concern is the effect it may have on the Australian migration programme run by the Department of Immigration. Unions also fear that the workers’ conditions may resemble those of the 457 visa, in which unskilled Australian immigrants were receiving wages lower than the market rates. The Government has rectified their conditions.
The Australian Council of Trade Unions and the Australian Workers Union both approve the Pacific solution, says the newspaper, although they are calling for a rights-based scheme to protect the workers’ rights. If the Cabinet approve the scheme, the Government will ensure the workers receive Australian –award wages and conditions.
The countries invited to the guest-workers scheme in Australia include Vanuatu, Samoa, Tonga, Tuvalu, and Kiribati. Fiji has been specifically blacklisted, according to the Herald Sun.
The Australian Immigration and New Zealand Immigration departments are also both fiercely campaigning for more skilled migrants, and Sky News claims the Australian government recently increased Australia’s immigration quota to 300,000.
Kiribati is receiving an extra helping hand from her Pacific allies, with New Zealand promising to double its financial contribution over the next five years. Each year, New Zealand gives Kiribati NZD$3.5 million in aid money. This week, the New Zealand PM Helen Clark announced she will increase this to $6.4 million per year, or $32 million over a five year period. It is hoped that the extra funding will support the Kiribati Marine Training Centre and the new Kiribati Sustainable Towns Programme, both of which are essential to securing the economy of Kiribati.
"Remittances from its seafarers are critical to the continued growth of Kiribati and present many economic and employment opportunities. The Marine Training Centre is a particularly important institution for Kiribati, with its graduates providing approximately 15 per cent of Kiribati’s Gross National Income from their work," commented Clark in a press release yesterday.
Kiribati’s President has voiced concerns about the future of his islands, as the low-lying atolls are losing themselves to rising sea-levels, and the population of Kiribati is flocking to its capital. Currently, over half the population are living in over-crowded conditions; however, the New Zealand and Kiribati governments are working in partnership to create a sustainable environment and improve New Zealand migration policies.
Both the Australian and New Zealand governments are committed to helping their Pacific neighbours, and are leading with changes to their visa and immigration policies.