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Pacific workers set to gain new government benefits

Andrew Brown -

Workers in Australia's Pacific labour scheme will be given extra benefits as part of an attempt to strengthen ties with the region.

New laws introduced to parliament will see those in Australia under the Pacific Australia Labour Mobility scheme be able to gain financial support to attend university, along with other government benefits, such as Youth Allowance.

Families participating in the scheme will also have access to family tax benefits and childcare subsidies as part of the new measures.

Pacific Minister Pat Conroy said the changes would allow for workers under the scheme to thrive while living in Australia.

"Australia's central message to the Pacific is that we're here to listen, we're here to work together and we're here to make a difference. This bill puts words to action," he told parliament on Thursday.

"Participants have the opportunity to not just settle in Australia but to pursue education opportunities and flourish in their new communities."

The scheme has become increasingly popular, with the number of participants rising from 24,500 in May last year to more than 38,000 in April.

It is largely used to provide a pool of workers to fill labour gaps, mostly in the agriculture and food processing industries, where not enough local workers can be found.

With workers being allowed to bring immediate family with them to Australia backed by their employer for up to four years, Mr Conroy said it was critical for families to access benefits.

He said it would allow for more workers to access university education.

"We expect these reforms will result in more Pacific islanders participating in Australia's domestic education system than ever before," Mr Conroy said.

"By supporting participation in our education system, we are saying to our Pacific family we support your ambition to further education and the opportunities that this will bring your families and future generations of Pacific diaspora in Australia'."

The changes come as the government looks to establish a new Pacific engagement visa - a new permanent resident visa for Pacific nations and East Timor.

Up to 3000 visas will be allocated each year under the scheme, including partners and children, with a ballot to determine who will come to Australia.

The ballot is set to open this year.

Andrew Brown - AAP

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