The Crest of the Commonwealth of Australia Treasury Portfolio Ministers
Picture of Peter Costello

Peter Costello

Treasurer

11 March 1996 - 3 December 2007

Transcript of 25/11/2005

Interview with Tony Eastley
ABC AM Programme

Friday, 25 November 2005
8.25 am

SUBJECTS: Labour shortages, guest worker proposals

EASTLEY:

Although the Government has moved to allow foreign apprentices to work in Australia, the Federal Treasurer says there'll be no trial of any guest worker scheme.

He says the labour shortages are already being addressed.

Mr Costello says the visas for backpackers have been changed, making it easier for them to work the so-called harvest trail and he says the welfare system could be changed to encourage unemployed Australians to move to where the work is available.

TREASURER:

Australia has never had a guest worker scheme, as you'd see, for example, in the Middle East.

We've always really run an immigration program which is premised on the fact that immigrants who come here will be offered residency and eventually have citizenship opened to them.

A guest worker scheme is a scheme which says, even though you might've come into a country for five, 10, 15, 20 or 30 years, you'll never become a citizen.

EASTLEY:

Now the Shepparton area, where we heard from, has got one of the biggest migrant intakes of any rural centre in Australia and still they say, they do not have the workforce they require.

TREASURER:

That'sit's quite possible. Over the years, I think, there have always been difficulty getting pickers, in particular it's physical work.

What I'd say to a lot of Australians who might be listening to this and who may not have a job here's a great place to go if you're looking for a job.

You're hearing here on the radio about employers who can't get enough workers and if you're out of work, it's good to go to those places.

There've also been incidentally

EASTLEY:

You've got to up stumps for four months though. You've got to up stumps from wherever you live, go there, find your accommodation and then only work for three or four months, and then come back to your place of normal residence and for a lot of Australians, that's pretty difficult.

TREASURER:

Yeah, but a moment ago Tony, you were recommending that we up stump people from overseas for four months.

EASTLEY:

I'm not recommending Mr Costello, your supporters are, the National Farmers' Federation and a lot of ordinary farmers.

TREASURER:

Well, you're putting to me the proposition you were putting to me the proposition that we ought to up stump people from overseas and bring them here for four months, when it's too much to up stump them from interstate and bring them here for four months.

Now, the harvest trail, by the way, can last a lot more than four months. You can go from one area to the other.

EASTLEY:

So you're saying the Government is not interested? You will not pilot a guest worker scheme in Australia, because of domestic employment concerns?

TREASURER:

Well, it's more than that.

Guest worker schemes, as they are operated overseas, generally are operated for people who are of very, very low skill and who are denied rights in the country to which they go.

And that's not really the Australian way, to bring people in to use their cheap labour and to ship them out again at the end of the period would be a very, very different situation to the way in which Australia is operated and the rights that we've recognised in Australia over the years.

EASTLEY:

The NFF says the simplest, quickest way to grow their industry is through a guest worker scheme.

They say these schemes operate all over the world, the Mexicans pick the Canadian crop, the Chinese pick the Japan Japan's apples and they're all well regarded and don't appear to have many problems.

And they're saying Australia is quite alone. According to the NFF, it's one of the few countries without a guest worker scheme these days.

TREASURER:

You ought to be very clear what a guest worker scheme is, you ship in cheap labour and then you ship it out again.

EASTLEY:

But why does it have to be cheap labour? The farmers are saying they will pay award wages.

TREASURER:

Well, well, you round them up and then at the end of the period deport them. Now, I'd actually prefer in Australia, to offer these jobs to Australians.

We still have unemployed people in Australia, you know.

And I think if we could get better arrangements of matching Australian citizens who are entitled to Australian citizenship with Australian employers who are looking for labour, I think that's a better solution than importing short-term labour and deporting it thereafter.

It's a lot shorter trip for an Australian to go to let's say Shepparton and look for work than it is to bring a Mexican in to look for work in Shepparton.

EASTLEY:

Even if it's for just a short period during that picking season?

TREASURER:

Well so what if it's only for a short period, it's still work Tony, it's work, and it's a job, and it's income. And in my book, if you've got the opportunity to work for four months, it's better than working for no months.

EASTLEY:

The Federal Treasurer Peter Costello.