‘Schemes to upskill people’

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Australian Deputy Prime Minister of Australia and Minister for Defence, Richard Marles speaking at a press conference at the GPH in Suva, on Friday, October 21, 2022. Picture: ELIKI NUKUTABU

Labour mobility schemes across the Pacific are designed to upskill people and build capacity, says Australian deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles.

He said this at a media roundtable in Suva last week, where the issues of workers leaving Fiji for Australia through the Pacific Australia Labour Mobility (PALM) scheme and the subsequent skills shortages were raised with him.

Mr Marles said it was a win-win situation with Australia benefiting from the scheme and Pacific economies as well.

“The starting point is that in terms of labour mobility schemes into Australia, this is something that nations around the Pacific have been urging us to do over a very long period of time,” he said.

“So Australia definitely gets a benefit from these labour mobility schemes but we have been very keen to put them into place because of the opportunities that it represents for the nations of the Pacific. We absolutely understand that this has to be done carefully and with nuance to make sure that ultimately these schemes do work for the Pacific as well.

“What we want to try and achieve is to try and have schemes which are circular in nature, by which I mean schemes which obviously give people an opportunity to work in the Australian economy and have remittances coming home but are also opportunities to build skills and capability which people will then bring back to their country.”

Mr Marles said they were keen to continue discussions with Fiji and other governments in the Pacific on the issue.

“I was speaking with the Attorney-General (Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum), to make sure that the schemes that we have in place meet the objectives as I’ve articulated them.

“I think the truth is, this will be a work in progress to make sure we are fine-tuning the way in which we put these schemes in place so that they do work in this way and provide the opportunities that are there for countries in the Pacific.

“Ultimately the Australian economy is a real opportunity for the Pacific. We want to make sure that we are opening the Australian economy up but it must occur in a way for both nations and we will continue the discussion to make sure the specifics of our programs meet those objectives.”

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