The so-called Pacific Plan, which will be signed off today at a Pacific Islands Forum leaders retreat in the north Papua New Guinea coastal town of Madang, calls for greater economic co-operation across the board including the services sector. To island leaders that translates to short-term or seasonal labour mobility between all 16 members of the forum including tiny nations such as Nauru and Tuvalu, the bigger states of PNG, Fiji and New Zealand and the biggest of all – Australia. But Mr Howard and his Kiwi counterpart Helen Clark fear that seasonal workers could develop into a major immigration headacke, Brisbane Courier Mail (Australia) reports.
Mr Howard and Miss Clark, just re-elected as New Zealand Prime Minister, said the issue of seasonal workers was not on the agenda at the Pacific Island Forum and the plan for closer co-operation in the region could go ahead without it.
Mr Howard said Australia's immigration policy was non-discriminatory and the nation took migrants from the Pacific Islands but Australia had always had a "preference for permanent settlement or permanent migration, we do allow people in the student area to study but there are some fundamental issues as far as seasonal workers are concerned".
Papua New Guinea Prime Minister Michael Somare raised the issue with Mr Howard and Miss Clark in his meetings with them in Port Moresby, Australian (Australia) reports.
Pacific Island nations had taken heart from comments the day before by Miss Clark, who said New Zealand would consider a proposal on seasonal workers.
Miss Clark had said New Zealand had places for seasonal workers and a shortage of labour. "There are about 40,000 places a year now. Quite a lot of the places are filled by the extensive working-holiday arrangements we have with other countries," she told Port Moresby businessmen.
But she also warned that New Zealand was concerned about the erosion of working standards and the rise in the number of illegal visa overstayers.
Miss Clark also said some small Pacific states had virtually become unviable because their working populations had moved to New Zealand. A.M.