Doubts on Cost of Guest Worker Scheme

Ben Packham, Herald Sun (Melbourne), November 12, 2008

TAXPAYERS will pay almost $10,000 for every unskilled Pacific islander brought to Australia under a new guest worker scheme.

Figures buried in the Federal Government’s latest economic update show the trial scheme to import 2500 rural workers will cost $23.6 million over four years.

The same document revealed the number of jobless Australians is tipped to rise by about 110,000 by June 2010 as unemployment reaches 5.75 per cent.

Immigration Minister Chris Evans recently said the overall migrant intake would be revised in light of the global financial crisis.

But the Government says that it remains committed to the Pacific Seasonal Workers Pilot Scheme.

The scheme was developed at the urging of farmers, especially fruit growers in the Goulburn Valley and Sunraysia regions.

It also promises to deliver much-needed financial help to struggling nations such as Kiribati, Tonga, Vanuatu and Papua New Guinea.

A spokeswoman for Employment Minister Julia Gillard said: “The pilot is demand-driven. If there is no demand from horticultural employers for labour, then no Pacific Island workers will be recruited.”

But Opposition immigration spokeswoman Dr Sharman Stone said she was staggered at the cost.

She said orchardists were expected to pay the workers’ airfares, accommodation, insurance and other costs.

“I would like to know what $23 million is going to be spent on when the costs are supposed to be borne by the employers,” Dr Stone said.

The Member for Murray said the Opposition continued to support the scheme, despite the costs.

But she attacked the Government for delays to the scheme, which was to have begun by this harvest season.

But there is division in Opposition ranks over the program.

In a recent newspaper column, senior Liberal frontbencher Tony Abbott described the policy as “probably the Rudd Government’s worst policy initiative so far”.

“It will introduce discrimination into our immigration policy, exacerbate prejudices about ostensibly unsuitable work and, if made permanent, could exacerbate the underclass issues that trouble countries such as France and Germany,” he wrote in the The Australian.

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