Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced in September that extending the Seasonal Guest Worker Pilot Scheme to include Nauru, Samoa, the Solomon Islands and Tuvalu would give Pacific nations an important economic boost and also help Australian agricultural producers. Kiribati, Papua New Guinea, Tonga and Vanuatu were already part of the program. Now, the scheme will formally proceed and Tourism Minister, Martin Ferguson has announced that Australia will also include East Timor in the program that will be expanded to include tourism and hospitality workers from these countries.
Under the scheme, Pacific and East Timor workers will come to Australia for four to six months to work for horticultural (and hospitality) enterprises who demonstrate that they cannot find enough local labour to meet their seasonal needs. Mr. Ferguson said this was a 'win-win' outcome.
But once again Indonesia has been disregarded in the expanded plan.
Australia has enormously close business and cultural relations with Indonesia. In WA, where the shortage of seasonal workers has been exacerbated by the 'migration' of Australian workers to the resources sector, Indonesia should have been a priority in any move to increase the intake of overseas workers for the horticulture and hospitality sectors.
WA, for example, enjoys a 20-year 'Sister State' relationship with East Java, and seasonal workers could be easily accessed to work in fruit picking, grapes (wine), and general horticulture such as potatoes and vegetables on a short-term basis.
In addition Indonesia could supply a large number of young, well-trained and educated people who speak English to fill some of the 36,000 vacancies within our tourism and hospitality sectors.
The Department of Education, Employment & Workplace Reform (DEEWR) and the Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) had previously introduced the Pacific Islands Program, to the horticulture sector and we should all welcome any plan to expand the program to include tourism and hospitality , and also to bring East Timor into the group of countries who will participate.
But it is very disappointing to see Indonesia disregarded in this manner.
Given the recent and current challenges in Australia's relationship with Indonesia over asylum seekers, the government’s inept handling of the live cattle issue, and the ongoing high-level terrorist alerts for Bali, an expanded worker program that included Indonesia would have helped improve goodwill and the bi-lateral relationship. Such a move would be certainly be viewed very favourably by Indonesia.
Once again Australia has missed a wonderful opportunity to improve and mend the relationship with our northern neighbour, all due to our federal government’s lack of thought on this matter.
Ross B. Taylor