SUBJECT: NT proposes E Timorese guest worker scheme

also Nelson denies split over guest workers, Timor guest workers
'would benefit all'
, Smith expects E Timor to push for guest worker plan

NT proposes E Timorese guest worker scheme

Posted 8 hours 25 minutes ago

The Northern Territory Government has proposed its own guest worker scheme to allow East Timorese to pick fruit in the Top End, modelled on the Rudd Government's Pacific Islander scheme.

The Territory Business and Employment Minister, Kon Vatskalis, says the system would only apply where Australian workers were unavailable and would not undercut local wages and conditions.

Mr Vatskalis has written to the federal Immigration Minister seeking a memorandum of understanding on the issue.

He says similar requests to the previous Howard government were ignored.

"Every time we tried to speak to ministers in Canberra about allowing people from Timor to come, we had a blunt answer. No. They didn't want to do it, simple as that," he said.

"We've got a different Government now, different ideas and a sympathetic ear.

"And certainly, I stand by the horticulture industry, I've done it before, I'll do it again and I'll keep banging doors and ringing people to make sure that happens."


Nelson denies split over guest workers
August 21, 2008 - 7:47PM

A growing list of National MPs is at odds with Brendan Nelson over a Pacific guest worker scheme but the opposition leader denies a split in coalition ranks.

Victorian MP John Forrest and Queenslanders Barnaby Joyce and Ron Boswell have joined their NSW colleague, Kay Hull, who has been a vocal advocate of the federal government policy.

Dr Nelson has questioned why overseas workers are needed while Australia had 500,000 unemployed.

Under the three-year trial, 2,500 workers from Tonga, Vanuatu, Kiribati and Papua New Guinea will be given temporary work visas to perform seasonal agricultural work, such as fruit picking.

Griffith in NSW and Swan Hill in Victoria have been suggested as regions where they may operate.

Despite a chorus of opposition to his position, Dr Nelson played down the difference of opinion.

"There's nothing surprising about that at all," he told reporters.

"But our responsibility as leaders of the nation is to seriously examine what are the national consequences to our nation of this radical change in immigration policy."

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd seized on the differing views in the coalition.

"Kay Hull, therefore I presume the National Party, the National Farmers' Federation, appear to be supporting the government's position yet we have Mr Nelson ... rowing in exactly the reverse direction," he said.

"I think it is time the Liberal and National Party, the opposition, sorted out whether they have got any policy on this at all."

Dr Nelson's concerns centre on monitoring of the program, as well as whether Pacific workers could be taking jobs from unemployed Australians.

"Australians need to be reassured about health and security checks, about getting the people back once they come," he said.

"If Australia is prepared to bring dirt poor people from Pacific Island nations to do work Australians are unable or unwilling to do, then surely we are capable of working out some financial assistance to get Australians who are unemployed to help them do the work."

A spokesman for Immigration Minister Chris Evans said workers would be subject to standard health checks, a chest X-ray, a police clearance and character checks.

"In addition, the four countries involved in the pilot scheme will decide who is put forward to participate in this program and have undertaken to only propose people of good character," he said.

The government also indicated there were no plans to add East Timor to the scheme, despite a visit to Canberra by Timorese Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao next week.

Mr Forrest, the federal member for Mallee which takes in Swan Hill, said he'd been an advocate of a program for more than a decade.

"I'm representing my electorate, we badly want a program like this, we've argued for it for years and subject to the detail, I'm supporting it," he told AAP.

Mrs Hull criticised city MPs making decisions about country issues they didn't fully understand.

"Look I honestly can't understand just where the direction is coming from at the moment," she told ABC Radio.

"I am not sure where the advice is coming on this and I'm, you know, I am aware that if there were concerns about health issues and criminal checks and etc, that there are significant guidelines and criteria to be put in place to cover all of those aspects."

Senator Joyce said there must be a way to get workers to where they were needed.

"Now I understand fully that you need to have strong checks and balances ... if you get those checks and balances right then it's something that should be strongly considered," he said.


ABC News Online

Timor guest workers 'would benefit all'

ABC - August 22, 2008, 10:27 am

The East Timorese Embassy in Canberra says Territory businesses will benefit if workers from the developing country are allowed temporary working visas to Australia.

In a bid to tackle the skills shortage in the Top End, the Territory Government and the horticulture industry wants the Federal Government to expand the pacific workers visa program to include East Timor .

Spokesman for the East Timorese Embassy Lisu Lasualdo says bringing workers to Australia would have benefits for the whole nation.

"Timorese youth will be able assist the Australian and especially the Northern Territory economy by helping with picking fruit, therefore they will be help the growth of local industries."

He also says skills learnt in the Northern Territory could lead to the rise of similar industries in the developing nation.

"They could help the relatives back home, but more importantly, the skills and knowledge they could gain here from working in another country and learning work ethics from working in another country would be very important when they return home.

"Given the fact that the climate in the Northern Territory and Timor are very similar, I think there is a possibility for the youth to start similar industry in Timor providing they have the right support and funding."


Smith expects E Timor to push for guest worker plan

Posted 2 hours 40 minutes ago

Foreign Minister Stephen Smith says he expects East Timor's Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao will push for a guest worker agreement when he meets Prime Minister Kevin Rudd next week.

The Australian Government has just agreed to run a trial of guest workers from the Pacific Islands in regional Victoria and New South Wales.

East Timor is keen to have some of its people complete seasonal work in Western Australia.

Mr Smith says the matter will be discussed when Mr Gusmao visits Canberra on Monday.

"It has been in the context of as, you would have seen publicly, of involvement also with Western Australia and the Western Australian Government, so that's an issue we are expecting that both my counterpart foreign minister de Costa but also Prime Minister Gusmao
will raise with us," he said.

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