He said this when responding to Kavieng MP, Ian Ling-Stuckey, why there were more Pacific Islanders taking up the Seasonal Workers Program than Papua New Guineans.
The Prime Minister said one of the issues affecting the country’s participation in the program was the visa issue.
The Kavieng MP said since the inception of the Seasonal Workers Program in 2008, PNG participation has not increased, compared with the other Pacific Island nations.
“A world Bank report in 2017 confirmed that 6,166 Pacific Islanders have participated in the program just in 2017 alone, earning and sending home on average after tax and all expenses a total of AUD$8,850 or about K21,000 at 30th August exchange rate.
“I am very concerned that PNG is not rising to meet this opportunity,” said Ling-Stuckey.
“The 2017 World Bank report also produced some alarming statistics, for example, last year in 2017 alone, Tonga with a population of 107, 000, which is smaller than New Ireland Province, successfully engaged 2,690 of its citizens in Australia, sending home to Tonga AUD$26.253 million or the equivalent of K64 million.
“Statistics provided by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and Dr. Richard Curtain from the ANU, show that only 139 PNG citizens took part last year, and even less this year.”
Ling-Stuckey asked what plans the Government had to increase the number of citizens in the program.
In response, the Prime Minister said the program has been a success and Papua New Guineans are regarded as some of the hardest workers. However, the visa issue was a hindrance.
“There is great enthusiasm by our people to go down there and work in farms and other seasonal programs we have in Australia,” O’Neill said.
“Unfortunately the requirements for PNG to get visa arrangement to Australia is quite discriminatory, that I can say without any qualification.
“It is unfortunate that PNG cannot increase the number that we wanted.”
The Prime Minister said the Pacific Mobility Labour was raised with both Australia and New Zealand.
“So to have 8,000 or so people from the Pacific to go there is quite patronizing, the opportunity to expand those numbers is there for these two particular countries.
“I think we need to continue to have our Foreign Affairs Minister and our Immigration Minister to stress vigorously to the Australian government that they must be as flexible as they do to the other Pacific Island countries to our citizens.
“Our people want to go down there and must be given a fair opportunity to do so.”
O’Neill said he will task Foreign Affairs Minister, Rimbink Pato, to take up the matter with his Australian counterpart.