Australian Government new agriculture visa arrangement with Asian countries is a concern for the Solomon Islands.
During a panel discussion this week at the Australian National University (ANU) Crawford Leadership Forum in Canberra, Solomon Islands High Commissioner to Australia, Mr. Robert Sisilo was worried that the new visa may undermine the Seasonal Workers Programme (SWP) and the Pacific Labour Scheme (PSL). Since their resumption last September, both programmes have landed 1,662 workers (1,390 men, 272 women) in Australia as of last month.
Australian Government announced last month it’s new agriculture visa to address workforce shortages in the agriculture sector. It will be available to Asian skilled, semi-skilled and low-skilled workers across a range of agricultural industries (including meat processing), and the fishery and forestry sectors. Besides jobs, the visa may also pave the way for permanent residency pathways and regional settlement.
Mr. Sisilo said it’s a government decision so we respect hoping its terms and conditions will mirror those of the SWP and PLS.
“And just to be fair the option of permanent residency and regional settlement should also be considered for the two programmes,” the commissioner who puts labour mobility and trade with Australia as his number one priority since he was posted to Canberra in January last year, said.
Mr. Sisilo was among three other panellists – the Minister for International Development and the Pacific, Zed Seselja, and the High Commissioners of Samoa and Vanuatu – discussing the topic ‘Renewal in the Pacific’ with speakers zooming in from all parts of Australia and the globe.
He again pressed for the eligibility age of workers for the SWP and PLS to increase and for urban and metropolitan Australia to open up for the two programmes which currently only targets regional and rural Australia and not the urban and metropolitan Australia where the demand is huge.
“The age limit and areas of coverage need to be revisited. Under the current arrangements, only those between the ages of 21 – 45 can apply.”
“This should now be reviewed upwards to 55, especially in the PLS since most of our matured workers with the right skills; and experience fall within that age range.”
“It’s also about time to include the cities where the demand for skilled and semi-skilled jobs like aged care, construction, plumbing, fishing, hospitality and more is in abundance,” Mr. Sisilo pleaded.
The ANU Crawford Leadership Forum is the Australian National University’s premier annual conference on global events; and how they are affecting Australia. The invitation-only audience comprises senior government policy makers and business leaders who shape Australia’s global engagement.
The Speakers at this two and half day Forum included; Julie Bishop – Chancellor ANU and former Foreign Minister, Professor Brian P. Schmidt – Vice Chancellor ANU, Hon. Josh Frydenberg – Treasurer of Australia and Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party, Gareth Evans – Distinguished Honorary Professor ANU and former Foreign Minister, Angus Cambell – Chief of Defence, Australia Defence Force, Mathias Corman – Secretary General of OECD, and Dr. S. Jaishankar – Indian Minister for External Affairs.