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Rudd 'guest worker' scheme must be debated before it is imposed on Australians.

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The Hon Andrew Robb AO MP Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs (to 22 September 2008)

Senator the Hon Christopher Ellison Shadow Minister for Immigration and Citizenship Manager of Opposition Business in the Senate (to 22 September 2008)

The Rudd Government must allow debate on any proposed ‘guest worker’ scheme before it is imposed on Australians.

The Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Hon. Andrew Robb AO MP, and the Shadow Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, Senator the Hon. Chris Ellison, have called on the Government to commit to a public debate on the advantages and disadvantages of the scheme before a decision is taken.

“The proposed ‘guest worker’ scheme will be a fundamental change to our labour and immigration laws and just calling it a ‘pilot’ scheme will not provide any insurance against it continuing because the experience from New Zealand is that once it is up and running, there is no way it will be scrapped,” said Mr Robb.

“Some basic questions have to be discussed in the community and answered by Mr Rudd and his Government.

“Does Australia want unskilled labour coming in from a number of Pacific Islands given there are half a million unemployed people in our country already and a projection in the Government’s own Budget that there will be a further increase of another 134,000 unemployed people over this financial year?”

“Where will these people be from and what countries will be allowed to participate in any ‘guest worker’ scheme and what countries will be excluded? In the past, Australia has operated a non-discriminatory immigration programme,” said Senator Ellison.

“In my travels in the region it is clear that many countries want to send their unskilled unemployed to Australia. Do we run the risk of offending these relationships if they were not to be included while others were,” said Mr Robb.

“For example, Indonesian Parliamentarians have advised me that Indonesia’s current foreign policy priority for Australia is for us to take ‘guest workers’ from that country. Malaysia, the Philippines, China and others have a similar view.

“Politicians in Papua New Guinea have told me that the composition of any ‘guest workers’ from their country would in large part be church-based students typical of those who came to Australia for World Youth Day and the recent visit by his Holiness Pope Benedict XVI. Most

of these people are students looking for financial support to assist their studies. Would an extension of the current working holiday (backpacker) visa or student visas be a more appropriate solution?” Mr Robb said.

Both Mr Robb and Senator Ellison said that questions need to be answered before Australians wake up one morning with a scheme that they can’t get rid of without offending our neighbours in the region. What would be the positive impacts on relationships with participating countries?

What are the potential negative impacts to relationships with countries precluded from participation?

What steps will be taken to ensure that ‘guest workers’ return home at the conclusion of their employment?

How will we make sure that Australia doesn’t deplete the pool of necessary young workers in villages in these Pacific nations?

What measures will be put in place to ensure that Australian job opportunities and wages are not compromised and that our public health and safety are not put at risk?

What measures will be undertaken to ensure effective short term integration into Australian seasonal workplaces and communities?

What pastoral care, accommodation and travel requirements will be imposed on employers? What steps will be taken to make sure that smaller employers aren’t disadvantaged by the requirements that must be met to hire ‘guest workers’?

What risk do we run of including bad elements from the camps and settlements around some capital cities?

What information and education will be supplied to foreign applicants before they apply and after they are selected on the Australian way of life?

Will there be any restrictions placed on companies that can recruit and select ‘guest workers’? What precautions will be put in place to ensure ‘guest workers’ aren’t exploited by employers?

What plans will be put in place to ensure that the workers selected are the most suitable and that the selection process has been free from political interference?

What will be the consequences for those ‘guest workers’ who overstay or abscond? Will there be consequences for their employers or villages also?

And, will there be a role for the trade union movement in approving those employers eligible for any ‘guest worker’ scheme?

“While around 300,000 people will migrate to our country this year, support for Australia’s immigration programme is successful because it is based critically on the view of our population that the Australian Government has control of the system,” Senator Ellison said.

“To open up our immigration system to unskilled labour from a very select group of countries, while around 600,000 Australians remain unemployed, represents a

development that must be debated before it is imposed on the Australian community.”