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Pacific Islander fruit picker charged with rape of teenage girl in small Queensland town

Claude Kano

A Vanuatuan fruit picker has been charged with raping a teenage girl in the town of Mareeba, Far North Queensland.

Claude Kano, 31, was remanded in custody in Atherton Magistrates Court on March 7 on charges of rape, assault with intent to commit rape and indecent treatment of a child under 16, Daily Mail Australia reported.

He is the second Pacific Islander migrant worker to be charged with raping a teenage girl in Australia in two months, after a Samoan berry picker faced court after his arrest on January 30.

Agaalofa Agaalofa, 25, was charged over the alleged sexual assault of a girl, 17, who was dragged into the bushes and raped while walking home in Arrawarra, northern NSW, in November.

Mareeba Shire Councillors were shocked to hear about the alleged rape, saying they had not been told of the incident, and said their community would be shocked and outraged.

Queensland Police did not provide a media release about the incident at the time of the arrest or charges, and NSW Police did not inform the public when Agaalofa was charged.

The Mareeba region, south-west of Cairns, is home to about 300 Vanuatuan workers in Australia under the government’s Pacific Australia Labour Mobility (PALM) scheme, mainly picking bananas, mangoes and avocados.

The number of PALM scheme workers in Australia has nearly doubled since Labor came to power in 2022, hitting a record high of 38,164 in December 2023, up from 6,753 in 2019.

21% of those are women, and PALM workers have sent a total of $212 million back to their home countries in remittances.

Pacific Islander workers were the subject of community complaints in at least two rural towns in 2023 – at Arrawarra and Red Cliffs in Victoria.

After the alleged rape of the teenage girl at Arrawarra Beach local residents said they were “living in fear” of hundreds of PALM workers housed at a caravan park, citing a rise in violent incidents and sexual harassment.

In Red Cliffs, south of Mildura, Victoria, locals said an influx of PALM workers from Vanuatu had made them feel unsafe.

Residents reported alcohol-fuelled violence, shoplifting, obscenity, noise and intimidation towards female shop staff.

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