The Australian federal opposition has ruled out backing a new Pacific visa lottery scheme, labelling it as arbitrary and patronising to the Pacific community at home and abroad.
Last month, the government announced plans to establish a new visa class for up to 3,000 people from the Pacific region, giving them a pathway to citizenship and access to benefits such as social security payments.
Likened to the U.S green card lottery and a similar scheme operating in New Zealand, the visa application process would involve a ballot for successful applicants.
Without the Coalition’s support in the Senate, the government needs backing from the Greens and two other crossbench senators.
The Greens are yet to finalise the party’s position.
Shadow Immigration Minister Dan Tehan said the Coalition supported the principle of a Pacific visa programme, but argued the lottery scheme was a step too far.
“Australia’s immigration policy should target young, highly skilled migrants who can make an economic contribution to our country and temporary migrants who make an economic contribution by addressing workforce shortages,” he said.
“Australian citizenship is too important to be decided by pulling a name out of a hat.
“Migrants to this nation should be incentivised to come for work, not to access the full range of Social Security benefits and Medicare.”
Visa applicants would have to be aged between 18 and 45, with basic English language skills, a formal job offer with an employer in Australia, and pass health and character checks.
The countries included in the proposal were Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Kiribati, Nauru, Palau, Papua New Guinea, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Timor-Leste, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu.
The government had hoped the scheme would be up and running from July.
Minister for International Development and the Pacific Pat Conroy insisted the government had consulted widely on the model.
“A ballot provides fair and equitable access where the number of people applying far exceeds the number of places available,” he said. “It’s disappointing that the Liberals and the Nationals are still not listening to Pacific priorities, and disrespecting the Pacific family,” He said.