6 Mar 2019

Vanuatu govt meets with Australian South Sea Islanders

1:52 pm on 6 March 2019

Vanuatu's foreign minister has met with Australian South Sea Islanders during his recent trip to the country.

Ralph Regenavu and delegation meet with Emelda Davis and Australian South Sea Islanders.

Ralph Regenavu and delegation meet with Emelda Davis and Australian South Sea Islanders. Photo: Supplied

South Sea Islanders are descendants of Pacific Islanders taken as slaves to Australia during the 1800s, a practice known as Blackbirding.

While on a ministerial mission to expand trade and seasonal work arrangements, Ralph Regenvanu sought to strengthen relations with South Sea Islanders, many of whom are Ni-Vanuatu descendants.

Emelda Davis is a spokesperson for roughly 70,000 South Sea Islanders and their National Governance Working Group.

Her discussion with Mr Regenvanu followed his meetings with the Australian government as part of its efforts to "step up" ties with Pacific countries.

"What better way for us as Australian South Sea Islanders... to reconnect with our families, culture and identity and exchange skills and knowledge," Ms Davis said of Australia's efforts.

"The challenge here is about what Scott Morrison is keen to do in terms of wanting to build on that bilateral relationship. It needs to include Australian South Sea Islanders."

In terms of seasonal work schemes, Vanuatu said it had 8000 workers in Australia and New Zealand last September.

In November, the Australian government said the number of Pacific seasonal workers coming into Australia was likely to double this financial year on the back of its recently introduced Pacific Labour Scheme.

Australian South Sea Islanders were already involved in providing pastoral care for some of the workers, Ms Davis said.

"Vanuatu Care in Bundaberg are so excited to be working directly with the islanders and receiving our people and giving them love, care and respect," she said.

"There have been a lot of conflicting issues around the seasonal worker scheme and how people are being treated."

Emelda Davis.

Emelda Davis. Photo: Australian South Sea Islanders – Port Jackson.

But the Australia South Sea Islander community needed funding from the Australian government to be able to reach out to the workers and build relationships that would have mutual benefit, Ms David said.

"We're very excited at the possibility of being able to form professional relationships through government agencies and funding, and look at how we utilise that knowledge that's coming into the country through our people," she said.

"And even use it as a platform to find families, to learn more about our language our culture, our traditional practices dances and songs.

"It's just challenging in that we're not getting the traction that we need (in government)."

Australian South Sea Islanders are well qualified to work in the areas of management and pastoral care, Ms Davis said, and ultimately they had skills that could be used back in the Pacific.

But while noting there was a strong demand from Australian employers for Pacific workers, Ms Davis sounded a warning.

"If the visas are being extended, what does that look for families in the islands?

"We don't want to deplete the islands of their family units and the need for their own (economic) growth."

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