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Oceans of Opportunity: How labour mobility can help Australia and its neighbours examines ways of freeing up the Pacific labour market in a way that would be of great benefit to Australia and our Pacific neighbours.
The Menzies Research Centre was delighted to have the Hon Julie Bishop MP, Minister for Foreign Affairs, launch the report at Parliament House, Canberra on 1 March 2017. Click here to watch the Minister's speech and to view photos of the successful launch.
Executive Summary from Oceans of Opportunity:
The growth of the Australian economy depends on the ability of business to recruit a labour force needed to operate productively in a competitive global marketplace. Demographic developments will make the challenge harder as the effects of an ageing population and a low birth rate are increasingly felt. In the past Australia has turned to migration from the United Kingdom, Europe and more recently Asia to fill gaps that might otherwise have constrained the ability of business to grow and left Australia vulnerable in a competitive global economy.
The nations of the Pacific region present an enormous untapped resource of workers. Australia has forged close economic ties with many Pacific nations, some of which are fellow members of the Commonwealth, and through trade and aid. There are also strong cultural and sporting links between Australia and the Pacific. Nevertheless we have been slow to realise the potential offered by the Pacific region, particularly compared with New Zealand. The Seasonal Worker Programme, sourcing labour from participating Pacific Island nations to meet skills shortages in the agriculture and tourism and hospitality sectors is relatively new. Yet the experience has been positive; Pacific Island workers have integrated well onto the local communities and made a substantial economic contribution in regional areas as both workers and consumers.
There are strong geopolitical reasons why Australia should be more closely engaged with the Pacific. While Australia has maintained trade links and been a major source of aid for many Pacific Nations, China is emerging as a major investor in many Pacific Island nations. It is in Australia’s interests to protect access to the fisheries and mineral resources that are available across the region. Australia could not compete with China in terms of direct investment into public infrastructure and private development, but offering employment opportunities to Pacific Island workers will secure strong ties to the people of the Pacific as well as boosting the flow of Australian cash into the Pacific economy through remittances.
The time is now ripe for Australia to reconsider how it engages with the Pacific workforce. Small scale programmes such as the Seasonal Worker Programme have proven to be an effective way of meeting the skills and labour demands for domestic industries that have traditionally struggled to attract and retain workers. Forecasts for labour demands suggest that the domestic labour supply will not be sufficient to meet demand in sectors like aged and community care, agriculture and tourism and hospitality. They are sectors with jobs that workers from the Pacific are potentially well-suited to fill.
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