Pacific and Australia to discuss issue of labour mobility

The Pacific summit has ended with island leaders insisting that Australia must continue to discuss seasonal workers. The communique from the leaders' summit says the Pacific and Australia will continue to discuss the issue of labour mobility.

Papua New Guinea Foreign Minister, Sir Rabbie Namaliu, says Australia's refused to allow in seasonal workers from the region is ill-advised and misinformed.

Sir Rabbie says Australia lets in backpackers from America and Europe to do casual work, but will not do the same for its neighbours. Prime Minister John Howard rejects the claim.

"He [Sir Rabbie] misunderstands the crucial difference between backpackers coming to Australia and the sort of thing he wants," Mr. Howard said.

"When backpackers come to Australia they only come once, whereas the seasonal worker concept involves people coming and going on a regular basis, so he's not comparing apples with apples," Mr Howard said.

The labour issue was a sour note in the annual three-day Pacific Islands Forum summit of 16 states, which ended with the adoption of an ambitious plan for development in the region. Island states had asked Australia and New Zealand, the two developed countries in the group, to admit seasonal workers such as fruit pickers to boost incomes at home.

The issue was sidelined in the adoption of the 10-year Pacific Plan for development.

Mr Howard said earlier that island countries, many of which rely heavily on remittances, should not see temporary work schemes as a quick fix for their labour problems.

"The answer is clear, the answer is to build the economies of these countries, the answer is to have good rules of governance to make these countries more attractive to foreign investment," he said.

New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark had said her country had problems in the past with temporary workers from the Pacific who stayed illegally after their work permits expired, reports ABC News Online. I.L.

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