6 March 2023
Mr COULTON (Parkes—Chief Nationals Whip) (18:38): I’m also very pleased to back my friend and colleague the member for Riverina on this very important motion about the PALM scheme. I pay tribute to the member for Riverina, who has taken the task of engagement with the Pacific nations very seriously and has engaged in quite a lot of their cultural activities as well. I’m very pleased that I can support him on this motion.
I’m personally aware of a couple of places in my electorate where the PALM scheme is operating. They are largely citrus orchards. It suits that industry. The work is not all year round. The citrus harvest goes for about six months. The workers come across, do their six months and then go home. What’s important, like with everything else, is the personal relationships that build up between the workers who come across and the employers. I spoke to some ladies from Vanuatu, who were on an orchard in Moree. In one season, they’d saved enough money to buy their own land. In the second year, they were saving enough money to build a house on it. They’d actually left their husbands at home with their children, and they were doing a sterling job in Moree. I have also spoken to some Fijians working in a similar situation in Gunnedah.
The reason this scheme works so well is that it’s not full-time work; it’s seasonal work. I know there’s an amendment coming through on the Pacific Engagement scheme that may be going to be discussed this week in parliament. I’ve got a few concerns about that one, because it’s a ballot, and going into a ballot sort of removes or puts at a distance that personal relationship that people have. It’s also permanent migration on a regular basis. The problem with that is that then we could be removing some of the more motivated future leaders of our neighbours, permanently, to Australia, whereas the PALM scheme really acts as an economic stimulus for the villages of these islands where they come from. The ladies that I met in Moree work really hard. They work six days a week. On Sunday, they go to church and look after their domestic affairs, and then they’re back to work on Monday. They are thoroughly decent and nice people who are taking the opportunity to lift their families out of poverty. I heard anecdotally this week that a large proportion of the GDP of some of our Pacific neighbours is made up of income that comes from guest workers who come to Australia and send their money home.
So I back the member for Riverina. I think we need to continue this scheme. It’s probably limited in its numbers, because the countries where they come from don’t have huge populations. But, as I say, I do have some reservations about the new engagement. Don’t get me wrong. In my electorate, we are short thousands of workers. But we actually need to be specific about the skill set and the aptitude of the people who come in, and just having people on a ballot I think is a little bit random.
Thankfully, as I know from the employers that I speak to, employers treat these people very well. I’ve been to the accommodation. It’s been fully renovated, with leather lounges and industrial kitchens. It’s very comfortable.
The member for Spence mentioned exploitation of workers, and I think that is something we need to watch for. That would be about the lowest form of activity—to bring people in from overseas and then treat them poorly in an employment situation.
So this is a great scheme, instigated by the coalition government, and, in opposition, supported well by my colleague and friend the member for Riverina.