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Bogus schemes collect $23 fee

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (PNG Post-Courier, Aug. 26, 2008) - Papua New Guineans have been warned to be wary of bogus schemes to recruit workers to Australia.

A non-affiliated Papua New Guinean organization has claimed it has recruited 800 workers for Australia’s pilot Pacific workers’ scheme, in which 2,500 workers from Tonga, Vanuatu, Kiribati and Papua New Guinea will be given temporary work visas to perform seasonal agricultural work, such as fruit picking.

The Melanesian Chamber of Commerce (MCC) based in Lae, PNG’s second largest city, is offering placements in the seasonal labor scheme for a non-refundable PGK50 (AU$23) fee.

But Australia’s PNG High Commissioner Chris Moraitis told the Australian Associated Press yesterday that the Australian Government had no association with the MCC.

"Neither this group, nor any other, has any other official status or connection with the scheme.

"(Do) not accept offers from groups or individuals purporting to offer placements in return for payment," Mr. Moraitis said.

Meanwhile, Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd signaled he would reject pleas from East Timor to be included in a Pacific workers plan.

Timor Leste Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao hoped to convince Mr. Rudd to include the country in the Pacific workers’ three-year trial. But Rudd said East Timor will be ineligible to participate in the pilot program.

"The East Timorese are not members of the Pacific Islands Forum and that’s the first point that needs to be made," he told ABC Radio on Sunday.

"Secondly, we have sought to respond to the immediate needs of Australia’s fruit growing industry, and we have done that in a responsible, consultative way ... to respond to the needs, the legitimate needs, of our fruit pickers, who don’t want to see their fruit rot on the vine, as (Opposition Leader Brendan) Nelson apparently wants to see happen.

"I’m looking forward to the discussions with the East Timorese, we’ll work this through, but the scheme as we announced it at the Niue Pacific Island Forum summit is as it stands."

Rudd rejected suggestions the Pacific guest worker scheme would take jobs from indigenous Australians.

Indigenous leader Warren Mundine has said Aboriginal people should be encouraged to take up the jobs before Pacific Islanders.

"This is not an either-or situation," Rudd said.

"We are prosecuting a vigorous program for indigenous employment across Australia.

"In terms of the order of magnitude, let’s put this into context -- 2,500 positions across three years from four participating states from the South Pacific is one thing.

"Other programs involving indigenous employment are much wider and broader."

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