22 July 2021
Some of the seasonal workers during a briefing prior to their departure for Australia.

On the face of it is good news indeed. Australia, which under the John Howard’s Liberal Government had slammed the door shut on the seasonal workers’ scheme a few years ago, is opening up.

Mr. Howard was correct in his reason for the position he took. It would, he said at the time create a brain drain for countries such as Solomon Islands. We see that happening today.

Many university graduates are reportedly signing up to join others in the ever-growing queue to work in Australia or in New Zealand as fruit pickers. They are doing so because there is no employment for them here.

Australia’s Minister for International Development and the Pacific Zed Seselja said in a published statement that “the Pacific Labour Scheme provides a two way benefits for Australia and countries in the pacific through remittances and filling shortage of labour in Australia.”

“We know that remittances are important in many countries across the region. We know of the economic hit of COVID. This has been an important part of dealing with very challenging economic times to see those remittances going back into the region.

“So, we get how important it is to our Pacific neighbours,” the Minister said.

Given the importance and the potential economic benefits of the scheme, should government be investing in it?

In other Pacific countries, remittances make an important revenue contribution to the economy. 

In 2009, the World Bank reported that remittances from migrant relatives overseas play important roles not only to household welfare but also to the economy of the country, contributing 39 per cent of GDP in 2007, making Tonga the world’s second highest recipient of remittance flows relative to the size of its economy.

Overseas migration has contributed remittances of cash and goods from expatriate Tongans, which has made a considerable impact on Tonga’s economy. Tonga has become increasingly reliant on overseas remittances which contribute significantly to the country’s foreign exchange earnings.

In 2007 for example, remittances in Tonga were equivalent to 39 per cent of GDP, making Tonga the world’s second highest recipient of remittance flows relative to the size of its economy (World Bank, 2009; McKenzie and Gibson, 2010).

Given Tonga’s example, should the government be thinking of establishing a mechanism where our workers in the scheme continue to help in nation-building?