The Pacific Growth and Employment Project will be run in partnership with the International Labour Organisation and the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
Presenter: Geraldine Coutts
Speaker: Ged Kearney, president, Australian Council of Trade Unions
KEARNEY: This is quite a unique project. First and foremost it's because the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the ACTU are unlikely partners, but we have joined together because we saw a real need in the Pacific, particularly around the area of youth unemployment. And this project has been in the planning for quite some time, a number of years in fact, when we saw that Australian industry played well quite an active role in the Pacific in terms of providing services around these two areas. And we thought well, why don't we use that presence in the Pacific in particular to help make sure that young people can access jobs through these industries, because they are rather large as you can imagine.
COUTTS: Is the ACTU buying into the problem of Manus now, with the local landowners and businessmen are saying that they're threatening to turn off the power there because all the jobs there are going to Australians rather than to the locals?
KEARNEY: Well that issue in particular I think is quite a complex one. But what this project here is focussing on is making sure that when Australians are doing business, particularly around tourism and transport in Vanuatu, in PNG, specifically, we're going to make sure that if there are any barriers stopping local people getting jobs that we can address those. It might be things as simple as making sure that the local schools provide the appropriate skills, or that young people can actually travel to get to school and to get to areas where they can develop those skills. It might be something as easy as making sure that the companies that do work in those countries know actually how to advertise in the right area, how to recruit young people and what the problems are for young people in actually taking up work. This is a project where we're seriously trying to make sure that local people in local countries can actually access jobs.
COUTTS: Well how much money is being put into this to create how many jobs?
KEARNEY: Well this is a small project, it's part of a much larger project, which is the ILO partnership agreement, which is a large project between as you said the ILO and the Australian government. This particular part of it is quite a small one, there's only about just over a million dollars put into this project, but nevertheless we're very committed to it and we're going to do our very best to setup some structures which will help young people get jobs. We can't say of course exactly how many jobs this will create, but what we can say is that we are looking at very seriously at how people are having trouble, particularly young people, at getting jobs.
COUTTS: How much background work has been done on this to know exactly what areas to target and what are the actual needs in transporting tourism?
KEARNEY: Yeah good question, we've been working on this pretty much fulltime now for about six months; mapping the region, looking at the areas because it is a small amount of money, and I guess in some ways a trial that we hope can be expanded later on, we've had to focus it very, very strongly on two Pacific Island nations and two industries. We have looked at established organisations in those countries, so we know Vanuatu and PNG do have for example trade union bodies, they have chambers of commerce that we can work with, and they have governments that are willing to engage in this project. We are also, looking at PNG, because we know staggeringly Geraldine that from about 80-thousand school leavers each year only about 10-thousand actually enter the workforce. In Vanuatu there are three-and-a-half-thousand school leavers every year, and only 700 get a job. We estimate in the Solomons for example that works very closely with PNG around these industries that there's about 75 per cent youth unemployment. So these are staggering statistics. And I know that we are not going to have a turnaround from our very small project, but we hope that in some way we can make a difference.
COUTTS: Well in training in both these sectors; tourism and transport, what about the infrastructure and the support that's required in that area? Will that also be looked at?
KEARNEY: Definitely, you mean for training?
KEARNEY: Yes, yes, we're working very closely with the educational institutions in those countries, we've already established contact with them. We're looking at the courses that they run, how they're targeted for the specific industries and if we can actually help improve that. That will be all part of the project. Certainly we're doing this very closely with the government, we don't want to over-step any other projects that are underway or that require focus. So we want to make sure that we're working with, not against the governments in particular in these countries.
COUTTS: And who approached who to get this started this project?
KEARNEY: Well this actually was thought about from Sharan Burrow, my predecessor at the ACTU, who's now of course working on the International Trade Union Confederation, and Peter Anderson from the Australian Chamber of Commerce. About four years ago when we thought that the Pacific in particular was not a focus for the ILO, they were focussing quite rightly in other parts of the world that needed attention, but we thought that in our own backyard there was a lot of work that we could do. So Sharan and Peter approached the Australian government and the ILO all those years ago to try to get a project like this up and running, and we're very pleased that we can actually launch it today and say that it's come to fruition. It's a pity Sharan's not here actually.
COUTTS: Ged Kearney, Australian Council of Trade Unions President, you've mentioned a couple of times now that it's a small project. Are you considering that this might or are you viewing it as a pilot, and if it works there'll be more to come?
KEARNEY: Look I hope so, I certainly hope so. This is certainly a first stage of what we think will be a very useful project in the future. If this works well I think we would certainly be going back to the Australian government and to the ILO to say let's continue it and let's expand it, I think it's something that is definitely necessary in the region.
COUTTS: Alright Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu, you mentioned Solomon Islands as well, as you looking at other countries?
KEARNEY: Not for this project. At the moment we're focussing as I said our limited resources on very specific areas, although of course there will be overflow in any area where there's tourism, other countries become involved by virtue of the transport industry in PNG. We know that there will be some flow-on effect to companies working in the Solomons for example that were to cross both countries. So we hope there'll be some flow-on to other countries as well.
COUTTS: Well the launch today, when will it actually get underway?
KEARNEY: 11:30 this morning, we're very pleased that the Minister for Foreign Affairs Bob Carr, will be helping us launch it. We will have members of the opposition there as well, I understand Julie Bishop is coming along. So this has a great deal of support right across all parties and all social partners, so we're very excited about it.