21 Aug 2008

Australia's PM defends Pacific labour mobility pilot scheme

1:08 pm on 21 August 2008

The Prime Minister of Australia, Kevin Rudd, has defended his government's Pacific guest worker scheme after the opposition leader Brendan Nelson questioned why foreign workers were needed while Australia had 500,000 unemployed.

Mr Rudd says the scheme was launched after farmers' organisations have been telling the government that they needed workers to stop fruit rotting on the vine.

He says his government has responded in a modest way with a pilot programme over three years which will give access to up to 2,500 workers from selected countries.

The previous Australian government, which included Mr Nelson rejected the calls for labour mobility for Pacific Islanders, saying it didn't want to create an environment where people from other countries could be treated as second-class people.