Western Australia's business leaders, including Woodside's Peter Coleman, said today the state needs to focus on meeting its own skilled labour needs, as Queensland Premier Anna Bligh swooped on the state to poach WA workers.
Mr Coleman told the Commonwealth Business Forum that Asian demand for resources, particularly liquefied natural gas (LNG), would continue to rise, but competition for skilled labour was a major challenge.
"A substantial part of Australia's skilled workforce needs to move west if we're to meet the ever growing demands from our region for resources and energy," Mr Coleman told delegates.
"Government can play its part by putting in place taxation and industrial relations policies necessary to boost productivity."
He also indicated that rules for bringing in skilled workers from overseas should be relaxed, a view echoed by Wesfarmers chief executive Richard Goyder, who called for "appropriate immigration policies" in Australia to ensure skilled labour needs were met.
Mr Coleman said Australia should integrate with the Asian region, not retreat into protectionism.
He said 77 million tonnes per annum (Mtpa) of LNG capacity was currently on-stream or under construction in Australia, increasing to more than 125Mtpa by 2020 if slated projects proceed as scheduled.
Asian demand for LNG is expected to reach 240Mtpa by end of this decade, equal to 68 per cent of global demand and presenting a great opportunity to Australia's LNG producers, he said.
“I will be making sure that where we can work cooperatively with Western Australia we will, but we will not hesitate to tell people about the great lifestyle they can enjoy if they want to bring their skills and their families to live in Queensland, particularly regional Queensland,” Ms Bligh said in a statement.
Western Australia’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry lashed out at Ms Bligh’s campaign, saying a raid of the “powerhouse economy” of the nation, which is already short of skilled labour, was not the answer.
“It will limit wealth and job creation in WA and drive wages and costs even higher as companies in the two states compete for workers,” CCI WA chief executive James Pearson said in a statement.
“The biggest losers will be employers and workers outside the mining industry, not just in WA and Queensland, but in the rest of Australia too.
“What’s needed is a broad, coordinated response to grow the workforce and boost productivity.”
Mr Pearson said CCI forecasts showed WA would experience a shortfall of skilled workers of 210,000 over the next ten years.
“The federal government must make it even easier to bring skilled workers in on temporary visas, and lift the overall migration intake, to ensure businesses of all sizes, across all sectors, can get the workers they need,” Mr Pearson said.