Wednesday, 16 June 2021
Questions without Notice
COVID-19: Pacific Labour Mobility
My question is to the Minister for International Development and the Pacific, Senator Seselja. Can the minister update the Senate on how the highly successful Pacific Labour Scheme and Seasonal Worker Program are helping Australian farmers to harvest their crops, which is protecting jobs in regional communities through the impacts of COVID-19 as well as supporting economies within our region?
I thank Senator McLachlan for his question. I note his home state of South Australia's wonderful leadership in supporting Pacific labour mobility. As we all respond to COVID-19 and look at economic recovery, I want to reiterate that there has never been a more important time for Australia to stand shoulder to shoulder with our partners across the Pacific. The Seasonal Worker Program and the Pacific Labour Scheme have been instrumental in helping to address critical workforce shortages in rural and regional communities. There are now more than 12,000 Pacific and Timorese workers in Australia, with another 27,000 in the work-ready pool. In fact, Pacific labour has been the lifeblood for many Australian businesses and has ensured fresh fruit and vegetables have reached our supermarkets and our tables, and the Australian government values the contribution that Pacific workers have made to our economy.
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought into sharp focus workforce shortages in critical sectors, including agriculture, and highlighted the importance of Pacific labour. Since the restart of COVID-safe recruitment of Pacific workers in September 2020, more than 7,400 Pacific workers have arrived and supported our horticulture and meat-processing sectors, and 2,700 further recruitments are currently being planned. More than 5,000 Pacific and Timorese workers stayed in Australia, working, during COVID. The Australian government is grateful to these thousands of Pacific and Timor-Leste workers for choosing to work in Australia and for helping Australian businesses in our time of need. They're far from home and far from their family, their communities and their 'one talks', and I acknowledge the sacrifice they are making right now.
These programs are delivering for Australian farmers, for Australian consumers and for our Pacific family. For our part, the Australian government is committed to the future of Pacific labour mobility and seeing workers and employers benefit from these highly successful programs.
Can the minister advise the Senate on how the coalition government is improving and streamlining Australia's labour mobility programs to further maximise the benefits of these initiatives for Australian businesses as well as Pacific workers as we recover from the pandemic?
I can. Last week I, along with my fellow ministers Littleproud and Payne, announced a public consultation process to streamline our Pacific labour mobility initiative. Our commitment is to ensure that Pacific labour mobility is sustainable and efficient into the future and to position Pacific labour mobility for significant future growth. Through this redesign, we'll make it even easier to recruit Pacific workers, to meet current and future workforce shortages, while also continuing to ensure the integrity of the programs and the welfare of workers. Worker welfare is absolutely paramount, and I can't stress this enough. Welfare and program integrity remain at the heart of our enhanced labour programs. But we also know that Pacific labour alone cannot fill the huge seasonal workforce shortages that our farmers and rural industries will experience beyond the pandemic. As we consider how to meet future workforce needs, we will ensure any new arrangements build on and complement the gold standard set by our Pacific labour mobility program.
The Seasonal Worker Program and the Pacific Labour Scheme are the centrepiece of Australia's Pacific step-up and engagement in the region. The remittances sent home by Pacific workers are a key source of family and national income in the Pacific, and these will be even more integral to the pandemic recovery and future growth of Pacific economies. Through the streamlining of the programs, we are committed to growing Pacific labour mobility participation. Our Pacific and Timor-Leste partners should be confident that we remain committed to growing our Pacific labour programs. These initiatives are hugely beneficial for Australian farmers and our Pacific family, and the government is committed to building on their success. We know from the great feedback, from Far North Queensland to Tasmania, that the Pacific will continue to be the priority partners for the Australian government and for Australian farmers for many years to come.
It's disappointing that the Labor Party, by the nature of their interjections, seem opposed to our commitment to these highly successful programs—