Monday, May 28, 2012

Why is Gina importing workers direct? Because we won't go there


Why was Gina Rinehart given special government approval to bring around 1700 foreign construction workers to Western Australia’s remote Pilbra? Because Australians won’t go there - not in big numbers, no matter how big the mining boom.

The Bureau of Statistics says in the past financial year a net 6163 Australians crossed the Nullarbor to live in Western Australia. That’s a trickle of just 18 Australians per day - slap bang in the middle of the biggest mining boom in a century.

By contrast a net 30,800 overseas migrants streamed into Western Australia - 84 per day. The new workers servicing Western Australia’s mining boom overwhelmingly come from overseas, not because Australians can’t move to Western Australia (there are no legal restrictions on movement between states) but because Australians won’t.

So fast is direct overseas migration to Western Australia swelling that in the most recent quarter for which figures are available Western Australia welcomed almost as many net migrants as NSW, Australia’s traditional gateway.

Asked Friday why when workers were being laid off in eastern states there was any need for Western Australia to import its own an exasperated special minister of state said he would “love workers to come to Western Australia from across the Nullarbor”...

Sadly, “the reality of the Western Australian resources sector is we tend to carry out more successful recruitment across the Indian Ocean than we do across the Nullarbor,” said Gary Gray.

Before taking up his current role as special minister of state Mr Gray was the parliamentary secretary for western and northern Australia. In 2010 he presented the report that recommended the creation of Enterprise Migration Agreements.

The problem it found was huge undersupply of the skilled workers needed to build resource projects, made all the worse because Australians were reluctant to head west. Enterprise Migration Agreements weren’t a particularly important part of the solution. The important things were skilling up Australians, funding a fly-in fly-out coordinator and building affordable housing.

For most projects the existing so-called 457 visas worked well in sourcing skills from overseas. But for a small number of “mega” projects an enterprise agreement struck ahead of time could ensure there was a project at all.

Gina Rinehart’s Roy Hill project is the first. It is unlikely to deprive Australian workers of their jobs.

In today's Sydney Morning Herald and Age

Me on JJJ Hack, Monday May 28:

6 minutes, play or CLICK THEN CLICK AGAIN to download mp3

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