A government advisory panel has recommended granting Australian
work visas to tens of thousands of seasonal unskilled workers from
neighboring Pacific islands in order to save the tiny countries from
The recommendation by the Core Group, commissioned by the
government to reexamine foreign aid, marks a significant shift in
thought from Australia's tight restrictions on immigration.
While Canberra has long used security concerns as a justification
for a host of tough border measures, the panel has turned the
security argument on its head by suggesting that failed island
economies pose a security risk to the region.
"The government should consider developing a Pacific unskilled
migration window to facilitate migration especially from Melanesia
and the microstates," reads the Core Group report. "For Microstates
such as Nauru, Kiribati and Tuvalu, it is highly unlikely that these
economies will be viable in the absence of migration opportunities."
Ellie Wainwright, one of the people that helped prepare the white
paper, says that post-Sept. 11, 2001, the government has been
shifting away from a passive policy of "benign neglect" in the
Pacific islands. That policy had relied mostly on giving aid - some
$50 billion since 1970 - and avoiding the appearance of having
colonial aspirations in the region.
But recent studies show that the aid has not been effective at
stemming crime and money laundering in many of the islands.
"Australia was forced to take note of the fact that states in
decline actually posed a security threat and encouraged trans-
national crime, money laundering, and easy people movement," says
Ms. Wainwright, an expert on Pacific islands at the Australian
Strategic Policy Institute, an independent think tank in Canberra.
US pressure after 9/11 also played a role. "The US expected
Australia now to take care of its own backyard which has a long
shared history with this country, and now has a growing crime rate."
She notes that Asian organized crime is growing in Papua New
Guinea and drug hauls are common.
Other analysts say that the security threat from these areas has
"These islands are tiny, with poor infrastructure. Most
terrorists today require a good telecom system and a certain basic
level of amenities, and my guess is that the Pacific would never be
a base for groups like Al Qaeda," says Satish Chand, a native Fijian
and the director of the Pacific Policy Program at the Australian
National University in Canberra. …