Policy Snapshots

This week in snapshots:

Pacific pickers

This week the World Bank urged Australia to allow unskilled workers from the Pacific access to seasonal work. The government remains unconvinced. Meanwhile the Senate inquiry into Pacific Region seasonal contract labour continues.

While government departments submit that the risks of visa overstaying and non-compliance are great, the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union (AMWU) raises different concerns. The AMWU submission (pdf) argues that every effort should be made to engage Australian labour where shortages exist, noting regional, youth and Indigenous unemployment rates. Further, the AMWU stresses that temporary workers would be vulnerable to exploitation: it says workers should have access to unions, and unions access to workers.

Peter Mares' submission (pdf) for the Swinburne Social Research Institute presents research conducted with the involvement of Victorian fruit-grower representative bodies and Oxfam/Community Aid Abroad. Mares makes a careful case for small-scale pilot programs to test and develop a seasonal labour program. Suggestions include: temporary workers be allowed to return next season, as a disincentive for overstaying; temporary workers should enjoy the same rights and protections as Australian-resident workers, including access to Medicare; workers should not be tied to an individual employer; and that Australian communities should link with specific Pacific communities in order to build real relationships.

The US example

Remember Fred Argy's take on the Nordic experience published on the Centre for Policy Development three weeks ago? Argy explained how the Nordic economies reconcile high employment with low inequality via serious social investment programs, at a time when Howard's workplace and welfare measures have us looking worriedly to the US for a snapshot of the future. Many western European nations, plagued by sustained high levels of unemployment, are also looking to the US as a possible alternative model. This report from the Centre for Economic Progress sounds a note of caution. Flexible and dynamic its labour market may be but on measures of social exclusion the US fares badly. The report's authors show a significant portion of the US population lives without any form of health insurance; short-term and intergenerational economic mobility rates are low; and, in 2004, an alarming 2.3 per cent of the adult male population was behind bars.

AIDS update

The sixteenth international AIDS conference took place in Toronto this week. Twenty-five years into the HIV/AIDS epidemic, more than 4 million people around the world still become infected every year. Universal access to prevention and treatment programs remains an urgent priority rather than a reality. Closer to home, in recent weeks Torres Strait island leaders called for HIV prevention strategies in island communities that have close ties with PNG.

The Kaiser network is running special coverage of the Toronto conference: webcasts of plenary sessions, press conferences and interviews are available, with transcripts to follow. This report from the Global HIV Prevention Working Group summarises new prevention methods research, emphasising that current HIV prevention methods are especially inadequate for women.

Security at stake

The 2006 Reality of Aid reports are now available online; Australian monitoring and campaign organization AID/WATCH's contribution is published in the OECD thematic reports section. This report argues that Australia's increasingly interventionist approach to aid in its region promotes the idea that 'security' is both cause and solution when it comes to development policy. Examining three recent aid projects in the Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea and post-tsunami Indonesia, the report's authors conclude the Australian aid program is centred on 'good governance', law and order, and military assistance, and geared to Australian strategic interests. With funding levels to the governance sector exceeding that allocated to health, education and infrastructure combined, the report's authors insist that Australian aid needs to be redirected towards human security.

The great Australian dream?

Our last snapshots featured the National Housing Affordability Summit, which met to address a creeping crisis?in housing affordability for first home buyers and low-income renters. Presentations given at the National Housing Affordability Summit are now available.

Summit chair Professor Julian Disney summarises key concerns addressed at the forum and recommends: substantial increases in public investment are essential to improve the availability of affordable housing, especially for low-income renters? Merrilyn Rowler, president of the Queensland Public Tenants Association tells stories of public housing tenants she has known, concluding with her own: through those 20 years as tenants, my family would have found itself homeless on more than one occasion, were it not for the stability of public housing, and an affordable rent structure, which meant at the worst possible times, we could remain in our home and still be able to survive?

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