Monday, April 09, 2012

Wave of Irish emigration to Australia keeps growing

Despite three very good reasons not to leave his homeland, Kevin Dwyer swapped the economic — and literal — gloom of Ireland for the sunny climes of Australia.

He said financial desperation forced him to part with his partner and two children last October, and travel for an indefinite period to a place where he believed the streets were lined with gold.

Dwyer is part of a modern wave of economic migrants driven from Europe — and from Ireland in particular — by rising rates of unemployment.

America still beckons with promises of high-paying jobs and opportunity, but Australia is growing rapidly as a destination of choice. In particular, an influx of Irish immigrants has arrived.

While not all Australians are welcoming them, most say the immigrants are a boon to the country — especially the Irish, many of whom have found a place in the work force aiding the construction boom.

The numbers are conflicting, as is often the case when illegal immigration is involved. But they speak for themselves.

According to official figures from the Australian Department of Immigration and Citizenship figures reveal a 68 percent jump in the number of visas granted to Irish workers in the past year — 3095 arrived in 2011, up from 1840 during the corresponding period in 2010. That might not sound like a big number, but adjusting for population it's equivalent to about 45,000 immigrants in US — roughly the size America's fourth biggest immigration group, the Filippinos.

Others see a far bigger influx. A widely cited Economic and Social Research Institute study from 2010 found that 24,000 Irish emigrants had headed to Australia, oustripping those bound for the UK and the US.

Meanwhile, Europe's economic recession has well and truly seized the Celtic Tiger by the tail.

In 2011, Ireland's Central Statistics Office reported that emigration among Irish nationals increased sharply, reaching 76,400 in the year to April 2011, a growth of 11,100 (or 16.9 percent) on the year to April 2010. That means roughly 1,400 people leave Ireland's shores every week.

The Irish have been heading to Australia for centuries. Some Irish immigrants date back to the First Fleet that arrived in 1788 and the earliest convict transports of the late 1700s — a joint venture of sorts with the British. The potato famine of the 1840s and the corresponding Australian gold rush set off new wave of migration to Australia, for those who could afford the fare.

The steady stream of Irish immigrants, any of whom arrive in Australia armed with advanced qualifications, is helping to fill yawning gaps in the work force, particularly in mining and construction industries which are in large part fueling Australia's prolonged economic boom.

The country just capped its 20th consecutive year of growth, and the West Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry has forecast that it will need 500,000 extra workers by 2020. Based on recent trends, a shortfall of 150,000 Western Australian workers has been predicted by 2017.

The Irish Independent quoted Western Australia's employment minister Peter Collier as saying last year that his booming state was crying out for skilled workers. Cue the Irish immigrants.

"It's an economic powerhouse," Collier told a recruitment drive in Dublin last July. "With more than [$192 billion] of resource and infrastructure projects planned, Western Australia is on the cusp of a 25-year expansion, which will drive the nation's economy."

Meanwhile, Rob Knight, Northern Territory Minister for Business and Employment, told a recent jobs fair in Dublin that his region of Australia had tens of thousands of jobs to fill and desperately needs skilled workers for the construction, mining and services industry there.

On the other side of the country in the "sunshine state" of Queensland, Des Ryan — owner of a Brisbane-based building company and president of the Irish Australian Support Association — said there was a big demand for Irish workers in the state's mining towns.

After Ireland's own building industry had been decimated in the economic downturn, leaving 300,000 new houses standing vacant, many highly skilled tradespeople joined surveyors, architects, civil engineers and other professionals in transferring their skills Down Under.

"Education has been free in Ireland for a long time, so these are highly skilled people," said Ryan, who emigrated from Ireland 40 years ago. "They're different from the people who went to England and the US in the 1950s."


Another defence equipment bungle

Australian taxpayers can expect to be billed $200 million to keep HMAS Success - the navy's "ship of shame" - at sea because Defence has neither maintained her properly or made provision for a replacement.

Defence has confirmed a "mid-life extension", to keep the 26-year-old oil tanker and refuelling and replenishment vessel operational after its use-by date, will cost at least $200 million.

This would be additional to the $35.8 million spent on the vessel since November 2010, the last time the ship was operational.

There is already confusion over when HMAS Success will reach the end of its life without a major refit. Navy provided two different dates; 2017 and 2018. Both conflict with information provided by a Defence source who wishes to remain anonymous.

"She [HMAS Success] never had a mid-life refit and her end of life is 2016, but there isn't a new ship on the horizon to replace her," the source said.

The original plan was to commission a replacement by 2016, but that hadn't happened. "The Defence Capability Plan presently says her replacement will enter service in 2021-2022."

That can only work if HMAS Success is kept operational long past her original retirement date.

"So how much will it cost to extend the life of HMAS Success until her replacement arrives you might ask? Would it be value for money? Should the government spend more money on an old ship or pay her off and buy a new one?" the source asked.

That option is worth considering. The British, at least partly cashed up with the $100 million Australia paid for the Largs Bay (now HMAS Choules), have reportedly done a deal with Daewoo for four "fleet oilers" at a reported cost of $150 million each.

"Why don't we buy in?" an industry figure said. "It's got to be cheaper [than patching up HMAS Success and then buying a replacement]."

Defence has been quick to say it has not asked the government for an extra $200 million to spend on HMAS Success just yet.

Already a household name for sex scandals and a record number of Defence inquiries, HMAS Success is now headed for a new round of ignominy.

Of the $35.8 million spent on HMAS Success since November 2010, $17.8 million was spent in Singapore to make it compliant with International Maritime Organisation Standards.

A further $13.8 million went on maintenance from June to November last year and a further $4.1 million is now being spent on work to return the ship to operational readiness by July or August.


Metastasizing bureaucracy in the Australian Capital Territory

As the federal bureaucracy plans to shed jobs, the ACT bureaucracy is taking on more staff, adding 674 full-time equivalent positions in 2010-11.

Chief Minister Katy Gallagher says 402 of the new positions were in education and health, and warns that the territory's equivalent of federal cabinet's razor gang is keeping a close eye on what jobs are created in the ACT public sector.

The ACT Public Service Workforce Profile 2010-11 shows the government had the equivalent of 18,376 staff in June last year, up from 17,702 in June 2010.

Ms Gallagher said a temporary hiring freeze had not applied to front-line positions and it was inevitable the overall size of the service would increase as the ACT's population grew.

"This is a matter that's currently before budget cabinet: what is the right size for the public service in the ACT?" she asked. "Acknowledging that it's going to continue to grow because there are areas of demand, like health and … emergency services. As the city grows, you've got to grow those areas as well."

Ms Gallagher said the Health Directorate was employing an extra 250 to 300 people a year to keep up with demand for services.

"We've done a lot of efficiencies, savings and back-end work and you can never say it's as efficient as it could be, so you've got keep working on that.

"But the ACT government is a pretty lean machine for what it delivers every day."

The workforce profile also showed the pay gap between men and women in the ACT public service shrank from 3.3 per cent to 3 per cent between 2009-10 and 2010-11. This meant female employees earned an average 97c for every $1 earned by men. The 3 per cent pay gap was much smaller than the 11 per cent gap between all male and female employees in the ACT and the 17.7 per cent national gender pay gap.

Nationally, women earned an average of 82c for every dollar earned by men.

Ms Gallagher said the narrowing pay gap between male and female employees reflected the increasing number of women taking on senior and managerial positions.

"Where you see good results is where there are more senior women than men, or the same number," she said.

Female public servants who were likely to earn more than their male colleagues included ambulance and correction officers, executive officers, nurses and midwives, trainees and apprentices and vocational education teachers.

The number of people with disabilities in the ACT public service rose from 327 to 375 between 2009-10 and 2010-11.

The number of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders in the service increased from 176 to 215.


Jailbird survey shock as inmates quizzed on quality of life

JAIL chiefs have surveyed many of Victoria's vilest criminals to see whether they are happy with life on the inside.

Almost 1700 prisoners were asked to rate food, activities and other services behind bars, and quizzed on whether they felt safe, listened to, and respected.

Asked to describe "What I like about this prison is ... ", a fifth replied "nothing", "nothing at all", "not much, it's jail", "stupid question", or gave a similar response.

A team of five staff from the Office of Correctional Services review took 26 days to visit 15 jails, surveying about 40 per cent of inmates.

The Herald Sun obtained the results of the survey - completed last financial year - under Freedom of Information laws after months of wrangling.

Jailbirds used the survey to moan about boredom, bad food, thin mattresses, low pay, and delays in waiting for medical treatment.

Other gripes included the cost of computer games, broken gym equipment, expensive phone calls, drug dealing and poor ventilation.

But many praised life on the inside, complimenting their cells, the meals, the gardens, the relaxed environment, access to phones and the recreation on offer.

The statement "I am safe" got the third-highest score overall.

Comments from satisfied inmates included "the cells are spacious and easy to keep clean", "it is peaceful", "it is a very relaxed prison," and "I find this (jail) like paradise".

Others praised the gym equipment, the education opportunities and the proximity to family.


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