From today's Herald Sun, Melbourne:Islanders to work in the bushJune 09, 2008 12:00am
AUSTRALIA is preparing for thousands of guest workers from the Pacific as part of a radical plan to ease labour shortages in the bush.
Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's bold "Pacific solution" will see as many as 5000 islanders granted special visas to work on farms and in vineyards. Cabinet could endorse the migration scheme as early as next week, with the PM keen to unveil his plans to revitalise the region at a meeting with Pacific leaders in August. It will help sweep away the legacy of John Howard's foreign policy.
The former PM had a rocky relationship with many Pacific leaders during his time in power.
The Coalition says it now has an open mind on a guest worker scheme, amid concerns it could undermine the integrity of Australia's migration program - and strip local workers of jobs.
The plan, to be considered by Cabinet on June 19, involves workers from up to five nations - Vanuatu, Tonga, Samoa, Kiribati and Tuvalu. But Fiji will be black-listed, which could further inflame relations between Canberra and Suva.
Senior government figures have confirmed islanders will be granted visas of up to seven months to work in regional areas. The Government will guarantee they receive Australian-award wages and conditions.
Basic training will be provided in the hope the skills can be used when they return home.
The regional seasonal employment scheme has been successful in New Zealand, where Pacific islanders were restricted to working in horticulture and viticulture.
Farmers along the Murray River are desperate for workers because Aussies don't want to work in the vines and fruit farms, so there are already plenty of Islanders doing this kind of work, sometimes for under-rate payment, and sometimes illegally. It's hard work but the money can be good. Someone yells a certain word that alerts the illegals to run like mad! But a scheme that is legal will be refreshing and gives hope to Islanders to make some money to give back to village projects and for their family development. But alas, Fiji is excluded this time, and we know why.