27/07/2009 - 15:42

Barnett seeks more foreign workers

27/07/2009 - 15:42

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Premier Colin Barnett has warned that restrictions on foreign guest workers will have to be eased if Western Australia is to avoid another major skills shortage within two years.

Premier Colin Barnett has warned that restrictions on foreign guest workers will have to be eased if Western Australia is to avoid another major skills shortage within two years.

Speaking to reporters on his return from China, Mr Barnett attributed the looming shortage to several major projects, such as the Gorgon LNG project and the Oakajee deepwater port, all going forward at the same time.

Unless more could be done to attract Australian workers to regions such as the Pilbara and Mid West, the only realistic solution would be to make it easier to bring in skilled workers from overseas, he said.

"I expect we will face a serious skill shortage if these projects go (ahead) together at the same time," Mr Barnett said.

"Nationally there have been standards put in place for guest or short term workers which tend to be very limiting.

"So that's something the Australian government will have to look at with the state in areas like the Pilbara if they can't get Australian workers to go there."

Given the significant level of Chinese investment involved in many projects, it was logical that skilled Chinese workers should be brought in to work on such projects where appropriate.

"Hopefully we can build these projects with Australian labour but I expect there will be skill shortages, in particular trades areas," Mr Barnett said. "So if we are going to involve ... our Chinese friends as partners, then we need to be prepared to bring in some of their workers."

Mr Barnett said he had been greatly reassured of China's intent to invest in major projects, especially in WA, despite its real concerns about Australia's seemingly discriminatory approach to recent Chinese investment proposals.

Mr Barnett said a memorandum of understanding with steel maker AnSteel to evaluate the potential of establishing a steel plant and other iron ore processing facilities in the Mid West, was indicative of China's desire for a more meaningful relationship with WA.

AnSteel is already bankrolling the $1.8 billion development of the Karara magnetite project near Geraldton, and is eager to expand the project to feed its own steel mills in China.

Although all past attempts at establishing local steel mills have failed miserably, Mr Barnett said he was optimistic that the direct involvement of an expert steel producer such as AnSteel would enable a successful outcome this time around.

Similarly, there had been strong interest from China's chemicals industry in the potential to establish major operations in WA to take advantage of the state's abundant gas supplies, he said.

 


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