House debates

Tuesday, 2 August 2022

Questions without Notice

Pacific Australia Labour Mobility Scheme

2:51 pm

Photo of Shayne NeumannShayne Neumann (Blair, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

My question is to the Minister for International Development and the Pacific. How will the Albanese Labor government's Pacific Labour Mobility policies tackle skills shortages in regional Australia?

Photo of Pat ConroyPat Conroy (Shortland, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Defence Industry) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank the member for the question and congratulate you, Speaker, on your election last week. Labour mobility is central to the government's agenda for engaging with the Pacific. It is also central to engaging with the government's agenda to tackle the skills shortage in regional Australia. The Pacific Australia Labour Mobility scheme, or PALM, allows workers from the Pacific countries to come to Australia to work in sectors like horticulture, tourism and hospitality. It helps Australian employers facing skills shortages, it supports Australia's regional economies, it gives Pacific countries a source of remittance income and, vitally, it gives Pacific Islanders the chance to learn new skills. It truly is a win-win for economic development in the Pacific and it deepens Australia's engagement with the region.

PALM grew out of the Pacific Seasonal Worker Program established in 2012 by the former Labor government. Now in 2022, the Albanese Labor government is expanding PALM as part of our Pacific policy to repair the damage done by the last government under their Pacific stuff-up. We will make PALM more attractive for employers and workers by reducing the burden of travel costs for employers, allowing Pacific workers to bring in family members and, critically, improving protections against worker exploitation. Importantly, we will also broaden the scheme so it tackles skills shortages not only in traditional areas like agriculture but also in new sectors like aged care, which are suffering due to the disgraceful neglect of the previous government.

During the recent very successful Pacific Islands Forum meeting in Fiji, I visited the Australia Pacific Training Coalition facility in Suva with Prime Minister Albanese. We met around 40 enthusiastic women who were training to work in aged-care centres in regional Queensland, from Mackay to Toowoomba. They were studying the theory and carrying out the practical training for certificate III qualifications. They were absolutely thrilled to be coming to Australia to look after aged-care residents.

As the Prime Minister said, it was a great day because it highlighted the importance of the PALM scheme and it demonstrated the government's commitment to improved aged care is already translating into outcomes in the labour market. The Australia Pacific Training Coalition told us that the government's election commitments were a key driver of why they had stepped up training in aged care. Labor started the Pacific Labor Mobility Program and now the new Labor government is expanding it. This will deliver economic benefits for regional Australia and it will support economic and social development in the Pacific, repairing a damaged relationship that occurred under the last government, where you had a PM who blocked action on climate change, you had an opposition leader who made jokes about rising—

Photo of Milton DickMilton Dick (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

The minister will resume his seat. The Manager of Opposition Business on a point of order.

Photo of Paul FletcherPaul Fletcher (Bradfield, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Government Services and the Digital Economy) Share this | | Hansard source

Mr Speaker, even on the ruling that you've given, there was nothing in this question inviting the minister to comment on what happened under the previous government, so you should draw him back to the terms of the question.

Photo of Milton DickMilton Dick (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

I'll hear from the Leader of the House.

Photo of Mr Tony BurkeMr Tony Burke (Watson, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations) Share this | | Hansard source

Mr Speaker, he's probably got a point on this one.

Photo of Milton DickMilton Dick (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

My job is done. I call the minister to be relevant. I will uphold the Manager of Opposition Business's point of order: for 15 seconds, be relevant.

Photo of Pat ConroyPat Conroy (Shortland, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Defence Industry) Share this | | Hansard source

I tried to get away with it, Mr Speaker. But the truth is that the PALM is vital to help address the skills shortages in regional Australia and to repair the disgraceful impact of the neglect of those opposite on the aged-care sector.