18/02/2010 - 00:00

Skills reshuffle on the cards for migration

18/02/2010 - 00:00


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New migrants are likely to increase pressure on local service providers.

ENGLISH lawyers and South African electricians might not seem to have much in common – until you see both categories heading in droves for Australia.

Mass migration of professionals and tradesmen from those two locations is under way for fairly obvious reasons, though it is unlikely local business is yet to think through the implications.

Demand for lawyers, for example, has suddenly picked up courtesy of a staff-poaching raid by the big English firm, Allen & Overy on Clayton Utz, and the acquisition of Deacons by another big English law firm, Norton Rose.

Following the Poms are the South African tradesmen and professionals, driven by a combination of our re-emerging resources boom, and the continued deterioration of their homeland

Aiding the move to Australia are new immigration laws, which will be more job specific. Rather than taking people with obscure talents and limited language skills, Australian companies will be able to chase people to fit the jobs available – an astonishing display of common sense from government.

The result is likely to be a sharp increase in pressure on local service providers to keep their best people, and for anyone lacking skills to be put under pressure to keep their jobs.

The legal example, where two big English firms have suddenly plonked themselves into the Australian law business, will be repeated in engineering, accounting, architecture and all other forms of professional service.

The new job-ready immigration laws have made it much easier for skilled people to get into Australia, just as the situation in their homelands has worsened.

Bystander saw the South African situation for himself when attending the Indaba mining conference in Cape Town two weeks ago. It was during a conversation with a metallurgist working for one of the platinum mining firms that the urge to quit a country in tragic decline became crystal clear.

Not only has the personal safety factor worsened over the past decade, but a new issue has emerged in the workplace, daily verbal clashes between white managers in the mining companies and black government inspectors who side with the black-led union movement.

In some ways the workplace situation is a final showdown of the former apartheid era in South Africa. While government is clearly in the hands of the majority, as it should be, control of business has remained in the hands of the minority – but not for much longer.

It is domestic (and historic) issues that will trigger a fresh wave of skilled South African migration, especially into Australia’s booming resources sector, while the English invasion will be driven by European economic stagnation.

The lawyer-led move to Australia is recognition that growth in Europe has flown out the window courtesy of a failed financial system, entire countries sliding into bankruptcy, and the sudden realisation that China is under-cutting traditional European industries.

Without being too much of a smarty pants, Bystander remembers that five years ago he discussed these very issues in London, asking why British business bothered trying to expand in low-growth Europe when it was Australia that represented an easy entry point in high-growth Asia – with cricket, sunshine, beaches and cold beer as added comforts.

Dismissed as a naive colonial, Bystander is now having the last laugh – but knows winning a debate is one matter, the next question is what the influx of professionals and skilled tradesmen will mean to local industry.

Quite the bind

IF Bystander is so clever at deciphering the South African and European questions, why does he find it so difficult to decipher Clive Palmer?

Over the past few months, the self-proclaimed richest man in Australia has made waves with reports about a mega-billion dollar float of his resource business in Hong Kong, and then announced a mega-billion dollar coal export deal with China.

In his spare time, Mr Palmer has also found time to lampoon the media for getting it all wrong, saying that the float was never announced and that he has a “binding” coal sales deal, even if he got the name of the Chinese company slightly wrong.

Bystander understands the name problem, so many Chinese companies sound the same and, let’s face it, they’re all eventually controlled by the Chinese government so what difference does it really make whose name is on the letterhead?

As for the float, which Mr Palmer says was never announced, well that will undoubtedly re-emerge at a time that suits him.

But, the real issue in all this is not who said what to Hu, it’s the use of that word “binding”, the same word that caused Australia’s Keystone (sorry, corporate) cops to prosecute rival billionaire, Andrew Forrest, and lose.

With Mr Palmer now caught in a ‘binding bind’ about coal sales, the lawyers at ASIC must be wondering whether they’re living through ‘Groundhog Day’, while Mr Forrest’s lawyers must be rubbing their hands with glee.

Duty to their business

ON matters legal, Bystander was amused to read about the state government’s plans to tighten the rules regarding jury duty with Attorney-General, Christian Porter complaining about the 70 per cent drop-out rate.

Well, Mr Porter, the problem is not as simple as tightening rules because over the past few decades the composition of the Australian workforce has changed dramatically, even if legal processes are stuck in an era of powdered wigs and gowns.

Self-employed contractors have been the fastest-growing segment of the economy; for these people, jury duty represents a potential massive loss of income and, if caught up in a long trial, the destruction of their business.

Just the ticket

BYSTANDER was recently amused to read an aged care report titled: ‘How to negotiate the maze’, with the ultimate solution in an advertisement, not in the story. At the bottom of page three was a form inviting readers to send off for a booklet titled ‘Just cremations’, under the headline ‘Cremation, it’s not that complicated’ – which it certainly is not – for the customer, anyway.


“Judge: a law student who marks his own papers.”

HL Mencken


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