Nationwide safety has been a function of this election marketing campaign, however there’s been little substantive distinction on key problems with overseas coverage. Final week’s overseas coverage debate between International Minister Senator Marise Payne and Shadow Minister Penny Wong barely touched on variations in coverage.
An exception was Labor’s proposed adjustments to the federal government’s present Pacific Australia Labour Mobility scheme. This scheme supplies jobs for Pacific and Timor-Leste employees in Australia.
Labor’s proposed insurance policies for the Pacific are constructive for Australia’s overseas coverage, and embrace some wins for these employees.
However the plan up to now doesn’t make it clear the way it will tackle rampant wage theft, exploitation and unsafe working circumstances confronted by Pacific employees in Australia.
And reforms made beneath the Coalition authorities have up to now failed to repair systemic issues which have led to some Pacific Island employees being exploited.
How ought to the following Australian authorities deal with the Pacific?
What has Labor proposed?
The latest Solomon Islands-China safety pact revealed Coalition weaknesses within the Pacific. Labor quickly proposed a collection of insurance policies it mentioned would “restore Australia’s place because the associate of selection for the international locations within the Pacific”.
It proposed a brand new “pacific engagement visa” to offer pathways to everlasting migration, the primary of its variety within the present Pacific labour mobility schemes.
This visa would initially enable about 3,000 Pacific Islanders emigrate yearly to Australia.
Different proposed reforms embrace:
the journey prices of Pacific migrant employees to be paid by the federal authorities, as a substitute of by employers
permitting Pacific migrant employees to carry their households with them
in a transfer welcomed by unions, a brand new devoted agricultural visa would exchange a contentious “Ag visa” launched final yr.
Mistreatment, wage theft and exploitation
The prevailing Pacific Australia Labour Mobility scheme, which emerged from a collection of reforms to older schemes, was launched in 2022.
It’s extra closely regulated than different non permanent employees visas. Nonetheless, vital issues stay about employees on these schemes
Each Labor and Coalition governments have overseen numerous iterations of the scheme the place exploitation and wage theft occurred. Since 2012, 30 employees have reportedly died on the Pacific Labour Scheme visa and a earlier iteration, the Seasonal Employee Program.
Lately, the Senate Choose Committee on Job Safety heard from Pacific Islander seasonal employees who skilled wage theft and unsafe working circumstances.
Pacific employees have skilled discount in promised hours and pay deductions. One investigation revealed seasonal farm employees receiving as little as A$9 per week after deductions.
Critics have likened the poor circumstances, underpayment and “skimming” of paychecks to trendy slavery and “blackbirding” – the place Pacific Islanders have been lured or taken forcibly to work in Australia.
A scheme that serves too many masters
The issue with the Pacific Australia Labour Mobility scheme is it serves too many masters.
Leaders in Pacific Island states prefer it as a result of it supplies abroad sources of labor for residents. For Australia, this scheme supplies a constructive delicate diplomacy device in Pacific engagement.
But, labour migration has additionally been formed by the pursuits of Australian agricultural and horticulture sectors eager to fill a labour scarcity.
In revisions of the Pacific labour program beneath the Coalition, business pursuits have been prioritised forward of employees.
And whereas Labor’s concentrate on growing numbers of the general consumption by way of everlasting residency is welcome, it raises questions on the way it will guarantee better protections for employees.
The extent to which its plan will defend Pacific Islanders from exploitation shouldn’t be clearly outlined of their coverage platform. It solely guarantees a “evaluation” of the scheme and the supply of “whistle-blower” standing to all non permanent migrant employees.
A coverage precedence
Each main events acknowledge labour mobility is vital to Australia’s relationship with Pacific Island nations.
As we have now seen through the election marketing campaign, constructive and real engagement with the Pacific area is vital to Australia’s nationwide pursuits.
However addressing critical issues about exploitation in present schemes is essential.
There’s debate about whether or not to maintain the scheme particular to the Pacific or prolong it to Southeast Asia – so getting this scheme proper is vital.
Whoever wins on Might 21, defending Pacific employees in Australia should be a coverage precedence, as non permanent migration will proceed to rise post-pandemic.
Within the wake of the China-Solomon Islands pact, Australia must rethink its Pacific relationships
Emily Foley receives funding from the Division of Schooling Expertise and Employment by way of the Analysis Coaching Program.
Rebecca Strating receives exterior funding from Australia's Division of International Affairs and Commerce, US Division of State, UK Excessive Fee in Australia, and Taiwan Basis for Democracy.