Chamber president calls for a new approach to skilled workers in north

Tully Times, Tully QLD
14 Jun 2012

Tully and District Chamber of Commerce President John Hughes says a new approach is needed to attract skilled workers and new businesses to this part of northern Australia.

Mr Hughes said every year many of the region’s best and brightest young people left to pursue educational and work prospects in “the south” and much more needed to be done to provide those opportunities in the north”.

If the local talent drain was allowed to continue then attracting skilled workers and businesses from other parts of Australia was fine, but if that could not be achieved then the focus should shift overseas.

Greater thought had to be given to retaining more of the international backpackers who come to the region to primarily work as temporary unskilled or semi-skilled labourers, even though quite often they possessed tertiary qualifications and business skills.

Mr Hughes’s statements coincided with a “Northern Exposure” tour of the region by foreign diplomats and business people looking at potential investments in the agribusiness sector and followed the release of a survey conducted by the Institute of Public Affairs, which claims the majority of Australians think a population increase in north Australia would be good for the region.

Director of the North Australia Project John Shipp said public opinion across Australia was firmly on the side of a higher population in north Australia.

“Queensland is no different, with 58 per cent believing an increase in population would be a benefit to the region,” Mr Shipp said.

“Queenslanders know that a prosperous north Australia will benefit the whole country.

“They want policies put in place that stimulate economic and population growth in under-developed areas.

“Clearly what is needed is a skilled migration programme directly targeted towards work and residency in north Australia.”

Mr Hughes restated his preference for providing the opportunities to retain more local young people in the north.

“Achieve that and you achieve your population increase,” he said.

“Ultimately, I don’t mind from where this potential population increase in the north comes.

“It could be local or from the southern states, or it could be from overseas.

“Tully consistently proves, with its large population of backpackers working on bananas, that there are a lot of international travellers who would make this area their home if given the right opportunities.

“When you talk with them you realise how many love the place.

“They would stay, or come back after meeting residency requirements, if we had the right jobs and business opportunities for them.

“Most of these backpackers are either about to start tertiary education, are taking a break from tertiary education or have finished tertiary education.

“We would be mad not to make stronger efforts to get these people to stay.

“They are potentially future business and industry leaders.

“You only have to look at the history of Australia to know most of us are recent arrivals.

“I can’t believe the statements made by some of our politicians, whose own family history shows they are recent arrivals to the country, who now want to slam the door in the face of people willing to work, live and invest in rural and regional Australia.

“It is jingoistic, xenophobic and politically simplistic.

“The current state of Queensland proves that unless government keeps pace with population increases and expected industries then it can quickly become chaos.

“If you want more people to live up here, then we need a better transport system, better hospitals and greater regional educational resources.

“If you genuinely want ‘the north’ to work you should create a couple of new states and move further away from the sunset states of Victoria, Tasmania and South Australia and towards new sunrise states.

“Success models for this are evident across the world.”