Aussie MP "Australia has not done enough to help PNG"
wantokboi Posted Mar 21, 2006 10:16 AM
From: PostCourier Focus
New South Wales State Member of Parliament Charlie Lynn, who has been a regular traveller to Papua New Guinea since 1979, has written a submission to the Australian Federal Senate Committee on Seasonal Contract Labour from the Pacific Region calling for a rethink of the present Australian Government policy on this matter. Here is an edited version of that submission.
Re-think on ‘labour’ issue
I first went to Papua New Guinea in 1979 on a mission with the Australian Army. Since 1991, I have been leading groups across the Kokoda Trail and have established a foundation to have the track proclaimed as a national memorial park. We are working with the World Wide Fund for Nature in Papua New Guinea, the University of Technology Sydney, the PNG Tourism Promotion Authority and the Kokoda Track Authority to develop a model of sustainable tourism for Papua New Guinea. As a Member of the New South Wales Parliament, I have elected to use my Commonwealth Parliamentary Association research entitlement on our relationship with Papua New Guinea. I have travelled to Port Moresby, Goroka, Lae and Madang as part of my research and have held numerous meetings with ministers, members, departmental secretaries, provincial and local level government representatives and numerous clan leaders and landowners. There is no doubt that we have made serious mistakes in our relationship with Papua New Guinea since independence was granted in 1975. There is also no doubt they are a very difficult people to “help” given the complexities of their “wantok” system and their adherence to “the Melanesian way”. I doubt that we will ever understand these complexities and we certainly will not solve them in our lifetime. What we can do, however, is to begin to workshop ideas that allow us to better understand each other; to develop pilot programs based on educational-economic partnerships; to develop political partnerships to administer our aid budgets and to develop long term leadership programs for leaders yet to be born. “Given the youth bulge in most island nations, the issue of employment generation will become increasingly urgent in the Pacific in coming decades and there is growing discussion about the potential to address it through greater international labour mobility. “The pressing need to find jobs for Pacific Island workers coincides with the emergence of gaps in the labour force of developed nations. In countries like Australia, lower birth rates, the ageing demographic profile, increased personal wealth, the provision of social welfare, sustained economic growth, low unemployment and higher levels of education have combined to reduce the supply of workers who are available (or willing) to undertake physically demanding labour for relatively low pay. This has opened up the debate about the potential for temporary employment schemes for Pacific Islanders to work in overseas labour markets, particularly in seasonal pursuits in agriculture.
The Senate inquiry into seasonal labour from the Pacific region is a welcome initiative. However, the terms of reference seem to be limited because they do not address the impact of labour mobility on our relationship with our Melanesian neighbours in the Pacific region. These nations comprise the island chain from Timor in the north-west through West Papua, Papua New Guinea, Nauru, Vanuatu, Kiribati, the Solomons and Fiji have been referred to as our arc of instability.
It is certainly our international area of responsibility
Recent reports from the Centre of Independent Studies, the Menzies Research Centre and the Australian Strategic Policy Institute have traced our historical ties with each of these nation states and the impact of our withdrawal from anything smacking of neo-colonialism in the 1970s. More ominously they have highlighted the failure of our aid policies over the decades since they were granted independence from their colonial administrators. Those with expertise in the region warn of catastrophic consequences for Australia and the island nation states if the impending crisis is not arrested. This realisation has led to our direct intervention in Timor and The Solomons, a change in our aid policy from a “magic pudding” concept to a “tied-aid” policy formula, a more forthright role in the Pacific Forum and the implementation of an Enhanced Co-operation Program (ECP) for Papua New Guinea. Our relationship with Papua New Guinea is particularly important given our historical links as a colonial administrator, wartime ally, fellow Commonwealth member and closest neighbour. More recently the threat of terrorism, the sharing of a border with Indonesia, the impact of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, crime and widespread corruption has led to many commentators issuing dire warnings about its future.
White Australia — Black Melanesia
During a meeting with a senior minister in the current PNG Government in Port Moresby, I asked how Papua New Guineans were treated whenever they applied for a visa to come to Australia. “Like lepers!” was the candid response. This issue is one that bites deepest in our relationships with PNG. Over the years I have heard Australians complain of their “treatment” when they arrive in Britain as visitors. They claim there seems to be no special recognition for us as a former colony, wartime ally, trading partner and fellow Commonwealth member. Many of those aggrieved by this treatment have become vocal proponents of the call for an Australian republic. So it is with PNG. Many see Australians as disinterested visitors who travel to PNG, participate in meetings, join a conducted tour, perhaps visit a village, offer some patronising advice — then leave! A review of the number of times Australian politicians have chosen PNG as a destination for their overseas study trips over the past decade would be a good indicator of our dinkum level of interest in the country. Australia has reciprocal arrangements for working holiday visas with Belgium, Canada, Cyprus, Denmark, Eire, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Italy, Japan, Korea, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Taiwan, and the United Kingdom. But none with PNG. As a Commonwealth nation, young people from PNG are eligible for working holiday visas in the United Kingdom under the Commonwealth Working Holiday Scheme — but not in Australia. When an Australian travels to PNG for a visit they stand in a line at Port Moresby airport, get their passport stamped and immediately obtain a visa. When a PNG citizen applies for a visa they have to fill out a comprehensive application form, provide bank guarantees and detailed itineraries. If they live outside Port Moresby (as 87 per cent of the population do), it becomes even more complex and can involve multiple trips from remote mountain villages to the Australian High Commission in Port Moresby due to acts of bureaucratic bastardary. On January 30, 2005, the Sydney Sun-Herald reported that the shortage of seasonal labour for fruit and vegetable picking was so chronic that the Sunraysia Mallee Economic Development Board is planning to import 10,000 Chinese temporary workers. Eighty-five per cent of PNG citizens live in rural areas on a subsistence basis. They have been harvesting fruit and vegetables for generations over thousands of years.
Labour Mobility in the Pacific
A research paper titled
“Labour mobility in the Pacific: creating seasonal work programs in Australia” and presented to the Globalisation, Governance and the Pacific Islands conference at the Australian National University (October 25-27, 2005) is deserving of special consideration by the Senate Committee. Authors Nic Maclellan and Peter Meares address the issues of remittances, Pacific development, modelling of seasonal work schemes in Australia and the requirements for effective seasonal workers schemes. The paper notes that in its 2003 inquiry on Australia’s relations with the region, the Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee received numerous submissions suggesting schemes to bring workers from the Pacific and recommended “a pilot program to allow for labour to be sourced from the region for seasonal work in Australia”. In its formal reply to the Senate report, the Australian Government simply “noted” the recommendations for a pilot study, adding a one line response: “Australia has traditionally not supported programs to bring low skilled seasonal workers to Australia.’’Maclellan and Mares conclude that the obstacles to such a scheme are political and bureaucratic. I believe it reflects an appalling lack of understanding and empathy with Papua New Guinea; a lack of political will to address the issue and a deep seated racial bias against Papua New Guineans in the bowels of the Canberra bureaucracy. The paper examines the political and bureaucratic objections to seasonal labour schemes and relates them to Canada’s seasonal agricultural workers program and their experience with the issues concerning regulation, labour rights and social impacts which would have to be addressed in Australia if seasonal work schemes were to operate “without evoking memories of blackbirding”.
Village – Farm Relationships
One of the major concerns in Australia is the fear of seasonal workers overstaying their visa’s. This would be ameliorated by the development of a disciplined program in partnership with Papua New Guinea to ensure participants are carefully selected, medically screened and that they undergo some in-country pre-employment training. They should also be assisted in establishing a system to ensure there is a saving element with their remittances and that an appropriate amount is directed to their family.A long-term strategy to develop partnerships between village areas in Papua New Guinea and farming communities in Australia would also have mutual benefits. If Papua New Guinea seasonal workers know they will be able to return the following year for work, it will remove any incentive for them to overstay. Training would also be an integral component in any such scheme. This would involve pre-embarkation training in Papua New Guinea and vocational/on-job training in Australia.
Australian policy makers cannot ignore the dire warnings in recent reports regarding our relationship with our Melanesian neighbours who form the “arc of instability” to our immediate north. This is our international area of responsibility.
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