CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS:  We are very pleased that the first Kiribati workers, as part of our Pacific Microstate Northern Australia Worker Pilot, arrived in Australia on the 11th October. This is the first group, of 11 workers who will now live and work on Hayman Island. We are looking to have another 7 join them shortly and basically they’ll be working in housekeeping and stewarding roles. The Pacific Microstates Pilot has been an innovative way that we think is going to help to develop a stable and prosperous Pacific, by finding jobs for workers who do come from some of the most disadvantaged countries in the world and of course it also opens up those labour market opportunities for Pacific workers and supports what we’re trying to do in PACER Plus. We’re looking at having up to 250 workers over 5 years and they will have an opportunity to work in Northern Australia for up to 3 years.

RICHARD EWART: The fact, as I understand it is that they will be offered non-seasonal occupations if they take part in this particular scheme. Does that mean that from when they arrive in Australia to when they go back to their home country they will be guaranteed work throughout that period?

CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: We’re working on the premise that it will be for up to 3 years. They can work in any sector including agriculture, accommodation, aged care and tourism. The workers that are coming out, and that are arriving, are going to be working with a company called Mulpha. This is the first company to bring workers to Australia under this pilot because Kiribati was the first to sign a Memorandum of Understanding with Australia governing this pilot. With Tuvalu, we are waiting for a signature of Memorandum of Understanding and discussions are continuing with Nauru. We’re also looking at other employers Richard. Apart from Mulpha and Hamilton Island we’ve now got two Aged Care employers and now looking at requirements for participation and we’re having discussions with a third aged care employer., and looking also at an employer in the fisheries sector.

RICHARD EWART: The workers, how will they be identified by their home country? Does Australia play a role, is it a joint process? How does it work exactly?

CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Well we’ve got a Memorandum of Understanding with countries. Therefore, we work with those countries in the process of identification of the workers.

RICHARD EWART:  And in terms of Australia’s commitment in playing a development role in the three microstates, Kiribati, Nauru and Tuvalu, what does the scheme say about that relationship and the direction in which it’s heading?

CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS:  Well the highest priority for Australia is a strong and stable and prosperous Pacific. Whether it’s under this pilot, or whether it’s under the Seasonal Worker Programme, basically our objective is to increase labour market opportunities for Pacific workers because of course the remittances that do go back to those countries are vitally important, not just to those families, but to their communities. And of course the money that they earn in Australia is spent on improving their housing, their education and their health care in their home countries.

So therefore it is vitally important, and Richard, can I say this. And I said this in the Senate last week. The Defence White Paper which was recently released said that the security and stability of our neighbourhood, our Pacific neighbourhood, is second only to the stability and security of Australia. And therefore the work that we do in the overseas development space, particularly in the Pacific, all go towards this key objective and that is a strong, stable and prosperous Pacific because we want a safe, strong and economically growing Australia and it’s the same thing for the Pacific – this is our objective.

RICHARD EWART: So in broad terms, it’s one way of saying that Australia is there for these Pacific island nations? Isn’t it the case that these three states, Kiribati, Nauru and Tuvalu, are very much under threat from the effect s of climate change?

CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: We’re working very, very closely with the countries to which we give aid. We have a series of aid investment plans with various countries where we do give aid. The focus of our aid is now in the Indo-Pacific, about 90% of the aid we give is in the Indo Pacific area and therefore we are very conscious that this is our neighbourhood. Australia is the largest donor in the area. And for us, our priorities are very much in terms of developing – our development aid goes towards encouraging economic growth; our aid for trade, we have certain priorities in health, education, in gender, governance;  all going towards creating economic growth, because in turn, that then creates economic stability and prosperity so vital in the Pacific.

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