Private Members’ Business – Pacific Australia Labour Mobility

I’m really pleased to speak on the PALM private members’ motion, and the member for Riverina and his work in the space. As we know, the Pacific Australia Labour Mobility scheme has been a vital component in fulfilling the labour needs of businesses across the country, particularly in regional Australia. We know that currently there are 35,000 workers in the country doing exactly that. Over 3,400 of those people are in my state of Western Australia; this was reported in the Countrym a n, a local agricultural paper. That pretty well highlights how important this scheme is in my part of the world, where there are such significant labour shortages. In government, we saw this as a really useful scheme—which it has proven to be, as other speakers have acknowledged. It was a result of the former government’s streamlining of the Seasonal Workers Program and the Pacific labour scheme together. That benefited the workers, the farmers, the businesses and even the communities from where the workers came. They have filled absolutely critical roles throughout the electorate, whether in seasonal work of various sorts—in harvesting, in pruning, in picking and packing—or in longer-term positions like those in the food processing or care industry, like aged care.

Capecare, an aged-care facility in Dunsborough in my electorate, have had difficulty securing workers. Through the PALM scheme, they have filled eight crucial vacancies and are looking at potentially increasing that number. This is really important to Capecare. They provide fantastic services for people in the aged-care sector in my part of the world. They have recently, in the last few years, with some assistance, through the Building Better Regions Fund, built an aged-care facility that is providing extraordinary services. But, again, as with so many other facilities, the biggest issue is not having sufficient staff. This is replicated right across the regions and right across Australia, but to see the people from the PALM scheme part of this—they have been extremely valuable workers in each of the sectors they’ve been engaged in. The former government basically encouraged those in the aged-care worker space and supported aged-care employers to recruit people through the PALM scheme, acknowledging this was a real issue. That was one of the focuses of the PALM scheme itself.

Admittedly, some of those people, with the great shortage of accommodation in regional areas, have bought homes to house their workers in because there are no other options. We’ve seen such broad worker shortages. One of my abattoirs has 187 of the PALM scheme workers. We know that they come from so many different countries, be they from Fiji, Kiribati, Nauru, PNG, Samoa, the Solomons, Timor-Leste, Tonga, Vanuatu or Tuvalu. The people-to-people connections and the relationships that have been built as part of this have really been, in some smaller communities, a massive input into those smaller communities. The vital remittance flows that have gone back to the families and the communities they come from are a major bonus for those economies and for the individual families. The opportunities that come into those communities as a result of the income earned out of Australia are incredibly vital.

When I was in the Solomons, going back a few years, there was a gentleman who—and Australia is so good at what it does in the Pacific in supporting our Pacific neighbours; this is just one way—walked several days to let me know, as a result of Australia’s aid, what he was able to do with coconuts in the compression and the sale of those to various buyers. He was so delighted he was able to put his grandson through school. That young boy would have had no opportunity to do so otherwise, and that’s what this scheme has also assisted with.