After careful consideration, the Australian government has agreed to establish a pilot scheme for unskilled/semi-skilled Pacific island workers to participate in seasonal labour opportunities in Australia.

The decision fulfils an election commitment to consider New Zealand's Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) Scheme. Lessons learnt from that scheme have been important in the development of the Australian pilot scheme.

The three-year pilot will place up to 2,500 Pacific Islanders in horticultural work in Australian regional areas with identified labour shortages. Current drought-affected agricultural conditions in Australia and our lack of experience in such schemes have influenced the size of the pilot. Visas issued will allow workers to work in Australia for seven months of any year.

To maximise the chances of success, the pilot scheme includes one country each from Melanesia (Vanuatu), Polynesia (Tonga) and Micronesia (Kiribati) with a proven track record of sending labour, under appropriate conditions, through the RSE Scheme. The Governments of Australia and PNG will also work together to strengthen PNG's labour sending arrangements to enable the early inclusion of workers from PNG in the pilot.

The Australian Government understands the importance of labour mobility to many economies in the Pacific and the desire of Pacific island states to pursue greater access to the Australian unskilled and semi-skilled labour market. This is why we have chosen to trial a model with a small but representative number of Pacific island countries, which is designed carefully to maximise the chances of success and which, we hope, will allow us eventually to roll the scheme out for the benefit of the whole region.

The selection of initial partner countries is based solely on this consideration, not on the state of bilateral relations or other factors. We are keen to benefit from the experience of countries which have already developed reliable labour recruitment infrastructure, and from New Zealand expertise. The pilot will be reviewed after 18 months to ensure it is meeting the needs of Australian employers and Pacific island workers and that the necessary safeguards are working effectively.