7 Sep 2006

Think tank claims labour mobility could only give work to fraction of Pacific unemployed

10:07 am on 7 September 2006

The Australian Centre for Independent Studies says only a fraction of the unemployed in the Pacific would benefit from calls for Australia and New Zealand to allow in short term guest workers.

The CIS has dismissed the call for labour mobility, which was recently backed by the World Bank, as a cruel deception.

One of the authors,Australian National University Emeritus Professor, Helen Hughes, says even if the maximum numbers suggested by the World Bank took part in the scheme, they would constitute just three percent of the one and half million unemployed in the region.

"So that this would have no effect on big countries like Fiji, Solomons, let alone Papua New Guinea. And the small countries like Niue and the Cooks are already losing population more than they want probably from their point of view, through permanent migration to Australia and New Zealand."

Professor Hughes says the scheme makes little sense for island countries and there are no benefits for the metropolitan countries.

The cost of the employing seasonal workers from abroad would be quite high and it doesn't take into account they number of long term unemployed in New Zealand and Australia who could access those jobs at a much greater benefit to Australia and New Zealand because they would be off the welfare rolls.

Australia's Council for International Development says the CIS is taking the dose of cod liver oil approach to economic problems in the Pacific.

The Council's executive director, Paul O'Callaghan, says the World Bank report was thorough and unequivocal in the benefits it saw from labour mobility and he says Australian businesspeople are desperate for these people to come in.

Australians are not prepared to do this work. Are not prepared to go from the cities to do this kind of work and as a result thousands of Australian businesses are suffering and they are the ones that have been seeking this, originally, through the National Farmers Federation, business councils and others.

The head of the Pacific Policy Project at the Australian National University has also taken issue with the Centre of Independent Studies report.

Dr Satish Chand says the Bank did not see such a scheme as a silver bullet, and neither does he.

Labour mobility on its own is not going to be the panacea. I don't anyone who is pushing for labour mobility is even suggesting that. Labour mobility in concert with policy changes within the Pacific Island countries I think will have a very good chance of reversing the decline that we are facing right now.

Dr Chand says if a labour mobility scheme is to work for the Pacific, the island countries need to develop policies to encourage growth.