Pacific Islands present oceans of opportunity for Australia: report
1 March 2017 – Australia should open its doors to Pacific Island migrant workers to fill labour shortages in growing industries and to maintain its position of influence in the region, a major report being released today says.
The report, by the Menzies Research Centre (MRC), suggests a radical re-think of how Australia approaches its aid and economic relationship with 16 Pacific Island nations.
“We need to stop thinking of the Pacific Islands merely as places to go on holiday and destinations for foreign aid,” said MRC Executive Director Nick Cater. “We need to establish a mature two-way economic relationship in which the benefits are shared.”
Today, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop will launch the report Oceans of Opportunity: How labour mobility can help Australia and its neighbours.
The report suggests that specific visa classes be developed to encourage workers from Pacific Island nations to come to Australia to fill skills shortages, particularly in areas such as aged care, tourism and agriculture.
It says increased Australian funding towards skilling Pacific Island workers, along with potentially diverting some current aid funding towards meeting the travel costs of these workers, should be examined.
“Experience shows that remittances sent home from Pacific Islanders working in Australia are more effective than government aid programs in eliminating poverty,” Mr Cater said.
“Remittances are better targeted and do not eat up costs in administration. They are more effective at creating vibrant local economies, through helping families setting up small businesses or take advantage of education opportunities.”
The report says better economic ties would help protect Australia’s access to Pacific fisheries and mineral resources, countering the increased foreign aid from China in recent years.
“Our suggestions in favour of increased labour mobility between the Pacific nations and Australia would help increase our influence in the region while at the same time avoiding an unwanted aid bidding war between China and Australia,” Mr Cater says.
The report finds just 1,606 Pacific Island nation residents came to Australia via three skilled visa classes in 2014/15, which represents a tiny fraction of 344,100 overall skilled worker arrivals using these classes in the same year.
“There are a number of (Australian) industries to which Pacific migrant workers are well-suited,” the report says. “The skills base across the Pacific tends towards service-based skills and agriculture, with tourism being a major employer across many Pacific nations.
“The personal care industries are also a good match to the aptitudes and the soft skills of many Pacific migrant workers based on a high incidence of family and community care of children and the elderly.
“Pacific migrants could fill critical skills and labour gaps in Australian workplaces that currently cannot be filled due to domestic capacity constraints….(or) through our migration streams.”
The report finds that as little as 10 per cent of Australia’s $1.3 billion in annual direct aid to Pacific Island countries may be actually benefitting those in need.
Mr Cater concluded: “The Menzies Research Centre has a proud track record of developing robust foreign policy which has been adopted by government and as a result we hope the Australian Government closely considers our proposals for the Pacific.”
About the Menzies Research Centre
Founded in 1994, the Centre is a non-profit think tank that promotes freedom, enterprise and empowerment. The Centre’s objectives are to provide research and analysis, develop policy recommendations for government and encourage industry leaders and the business community to contribute to public and policy debate.
Click here to download the official Press Release
*Click here to read or watch the Minister's speech and view photos from the launch*