READY access to backpackers keen to extend their holiday and a failure to curb the use of illegal labour are to blame for the limited uptake of an Australian government scheme to encourage farmers to hire Pacific Islanders, a World Bank report has found.
The nationwide survey of horticulturalists and industry bodies revealed the Seasonal Worker Program (SWP), championed by foreign affairs minister Julie Bishop, was failing to meet its objectives.
Half of those surveyed did not know about the scheme, while among those who did, the key reasons cited for not embracing it were a ready access to backpackers seeking an extension to their working holiday visa and the continued prevalence of illegal foreign workers.
The World Bank report found the ready availability of backpacker labour "undermined" demand for Pacific seasonal workers.
The bank's director for the Pacific Islands, PNG and Timor Leste, Franz Drees-Gross, said the findings were telling.
"It's an eye-opener for us to find those things," he said.
Mr Drees-Gross said he thought authorities would be aware of the issues, but said they needed to be addressed if the program was to work effectively.
The report recommended the government scrap or scale back visa extensions for backpackers who work on farms, and spend more money monitoring illegals.
He said Australia had a "hugely important" role to play in the Pacific.
"We're keen to see Australia look at these findings.
"To make more slots available, that would be a huge contribution to Pacific development."
Ms Bishop said the SWP program "works very well" but conceded it could be improved.
The report noted that a similar scheme in New Zealand saw 8,000 Islanders employed there each year.