Premier wants East Timorese labour

Daniel Emerson and Gareth ParkerThe West Australian

Colin Barnett will ask Tony Abbott for special permission to import East Timorese labour to the Kimberley as part of a Federal push to develop northern Australia.

The Northern Australia White Paper, released last week, contained a policy for Queensland and New South Wales to import Pacific Islanders to work in cane and other industries.

The Premier said it had been an unintentional "oversight" not to give WA the same concessions to employ East Timorese, which he said were needed because there weren't enough Australians to work in the North.

"We can employ people from East Timor in agriculture in the Kimberley, tourism, hospitality industry, and who knows - they could become Australian citizens," Mr Barnett said.

Asked why he singled out East Timor, Mr Barnett said because the developing nation was a near neighbour of WA, adding that East Timorese Minister for Mines and Petroleum Alfredo Pires raised the issue with him on a visit to Perth in March.

Pressed on whether it was wise to be importing foreign labour amid rising unemployment, Mr Barnett said there were not enough Australians to do the jobs required in the Kimberley.

"There is a shortage of labour in the Kimberley, driving up costs," he said.

"We need people to do simple jobs - work on a farm, work on irrigation projects, in the building industry, hospitality, hotels and restaurants. We can't find Australians at a reasonable cost to do that."

Opposition leader Mark McGowan described Mr Barnett's plan as "a very, very strange idea".

"The State and the Commonwealth have invested more than $500 million in the Ord in order to create local jobs, in particular to give Aboriginal people employment," Mr McGowan said.

"And now the Premier is walking away from that.

"The biggest issue facing Aboriginal people in the Kimberley is unemployment and we should be pulling out every single stop we can to get Aboriginal people jobs in the Kimberley, because the rates of unemployment are enormous."

Mr Barnett said he had already spoken about the proposal to Trade Minister Andrew Robb, who had been receptive, and the Premier would soon write to the Prime Minister.

The Federal Government's multi-billion dollar development blueprint for northern Australia included a detailed study of Ord Irrigation Project Stage 3 and an assessment of water resources in the West Kimberley.

As foreshadowed in last month's Budget, the Government will establish the $5 billion Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility that will provide concessional loans for major infrastructure projects.

But there will also be crossover investment between the Northern Australia and Agriculture white papers.

Key roads in WA's north, including the so-called "beef roads" network which crosses some of the most remote areas, such as Tanami Track and Outback Way, will be eligible for upgrades under a $700 million package.

Rail freight lines and airstrips in remote WA are also in line for Federal upgrades.

A $200 million water infrastructure and development fund will have three priorities: a detailed analysis of land-use suitability for Ord Stage 3, a feasibility analysis for the Nullinga Dam near Cairns, and water resource assessments in West Kimberley, Queensland's Mitchell River and the Darwin region.

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