PORT MORESBY, Oct 24 (AFP): Attempts by some of the smallest and poorest countries in the world to win more access for their workers to Australia and New Zealand are unlikely to make much headway at a meeting of regional leaders starting Tuesday.
Leaders from 16 Pacific countries gather in Papua New Guinea's capital in a three-day meeting to agree on a new plan aimed at kickstarting regional economic growth. Many of 14 mostly tiny island states are grappling with population growth which is outstripping the expansion of their economies.
Australian Prime Minister John Howard and his New Zealand counterpart Helen Clark have been focussed on security threats in the region, following the 2000 coup in Fiji, civil unrest in the Solomon Islands which ended with the sending of an Australian-led intervention force in 2003, and law and order problems in Papua New Guinea.
Both have been movers behind the Pacific Plan, which aims to tackle these threats and promote economic growth through regional initiatives.
But Australia and New Zealand are likely to sidestep one of the main proposals in the plan for workers from island countries to be allowed temporary work permits in the region's two developed economies.
Clark said in the Solomon Islands capital Honiara Sunday that New Zealand was worried that temporary workers would overstay their permits. New Zealand has quotas for migrants from the Pacific who want to settle permanently but brings in few temporary workers from the region.
"It will be important for us if we are to take that further that we would get an understanding from Pacific governments and employers who might wish to recruit such labour that people will go home at the end of the temporary permit," she told reporters.
The alternative, she said, was a population of illegal who would "live below the radar" without proper health care, education and welfare.
Former New Zealand foreign minister Phil Goff, who was replaced by Winston Peters last week, said recently there was little likelihood any significant move would be made on the issue at the forum.