Friday 20 Jul 2018 | 03:16 | SYDNEY
Friday 20 Jul 2018 | 03:16 | SYDNEY

2020 Summit: Economic integration with the Pacific


Jenny Hayward-Jones


22 April 2008 09:41

It was extremely pleasing to see a title like Closer Economic and Political Integration with the Pacific appear in the Australia 2020 Summit report. This represents a sharp and most welcome break with an Australian tendency to cast the Pacific Islands as weak and failing states that pose challenges to Australian security.

Labour mobility even made it on to the top ideas of the group considering the productivity agenda, with the recommendation 'enabling the free movement of labour from the Asia-Pacific region into Australia, underpinned by Australian workplace standards.' The Future Security group was more specific: 'A rights-based labour mobility program for the Pacific.'  The ABC’s Foreign Correspondent’s report on the New Zealand Recognised Seasonal Employer Work Policy and the National Farmers’ Federation’s Workforce from Abroad Employment Scheme provide further valuable evidence of the merits of a labour mobility scheme.  Labour mobility for the Pacific is surely now an idea whose time has come. 

Graeme Dobell’s observation, that a recommendation for seasonal work visas to also be open to East Timorese was dropped from the final document, bears more reflection. Although East Timor is not a Pacific Island country it is the poorest country in the Asia Pacific and faces a difficult range of development challenges that hinder broad-based economic growth. East Timor’s need for economic options like labour mobility is significant. Australian public sympathy for the people of East Timor was a powerful motivator for the government’s decision to lead the INTERFET intervention in 1999 but has not been in evidence to the same degree during more recent crises.  Has East Timor lost its special place in Australian hearts?