Sunday, February 24, 2013

No reason for an Asian Century cultural cringe

The underlying fixation on cultural politics is a peculiar feature of the debate about Australia’s economic prospects in a global economy centred on Asia.

Academics, business leaders, and politicians all agree that prosperity in the Asian Century requires a serious cultural re-education.

Australians apparently lack the sensitivity and understanding to effectively compete in Asian markets and forge ever-closer ties with our northern neighbours.

These calls for deeper Asia awareness are reminiscent of the cultural cringe of a bygone era and undersell Australia’s natural strengths.

The idea that we are dangerously ignorant of the languages, cultures and mores of Asia is a step back towards a time when it was fashionable to deride Australia for being crude compared to European standards of sophistication.

It suggests Australians are embarrassingly Asia-illiterate and not quite ready to move beyond their parochial shores.

This view could be the result of the sneaking suspicion that the society that brought us the White Australia policy could not possibly be successful in the Asian Century.

Or maybe it is related to a generational lag of sorts. Many of the academics, business leaders and politicians calling for re-education grew up when Australia was probably not ready to effectively engage with Asia on many levels.

Although the origin of the Asian Century cultural cringe is unclear, it is obvious that it is out of touch with the reality of modern multicultural Australia.

As my latest research report shows, there are growing numbers of Australians with the Asia-relevant capabilities it is claimed we are yet to develop.

As well as making up seven of the top 10 source countries in the overall migration program, Asian nations dominate the skilled stream.

In 2010–11, six of the top eight source countries for skilled visa grants were from Asia, accounting for the arrival of more than 50,000 Asian migrants with business acumen, technical expertise and workplace experience.

This steady stream of new Asia expertise adds to Australia’s already large pool of readymade Asia literacy. Approximately 2.2 million people speak Asian languages at home, which equates to one in 10 Australians.

As a naturally Asia-savvy nation, Australia’s supposed unpreparedness to engage with Asia is just a phantom menace.


Australian government reducing legal immigration

THOUSANDS of low-paid foreign workers will be stopped from coming into Australia and taking local jobs under a crackdown on visas.

Immigration Minister Brendan O'Connor revealed to the Herald Sun that growth in the 457 visa program was "out of step" with skills shortages and said the Gillard Government had evidence "rogue employers" were abusing it to get cheap labour.

The number of 457 visas has soared from 70,000 to 100,000 in the past two years.

Mr O'Connor said while some industries and regions had genuine shortages that needed temporary foreign workers, laws and regulations needed to be beefed up to stop rorts and close loopholes.

He predicted this could stop "thousands" of foreign workers taking jobs from locals.

"Rogue employers are deliberately employing people from overseas without giving a local a chance," he said.

It is the second time in three days the Gillard Government has moved to stem pain on a hot political issue after it reversed a $107 million funding cut to Victorian hospitals.

The changes, to be announced today by Mr O'Connor, include:

EXTRA investigation powers for inspectors to get information from bosses they suspect of being dodgy.

A NEW test to prove jobs were for "genuine" skills shortages because some employers were creating positions that were really "unskilled and possibly not even a real job".

CLOSING loopholes that allow foreign workers to be paid less than an Australian citizen by increasing from $180,000 to $250,000 the threshold at which they must pay "market rates".

STOPPING employers creating their own market to manipulate pay rates.

RAISING requirements for foreign workers to speak English.

RESTRICTING foreign workers being on-hired to a different employer in regions where there are not skill shortages.

CHECKING that employers offer training for locals to fill skills shortages before they seek foreigners.

"The Government cares about Australians getting jobs first," Mr O'Connor said.

"It has become clear that the growth in the 457 program is out of step with genuine skills shortages and the Government has evidence that some employers are using 457 visas to employ foreign workers over locals."

It has found skilled Australian tradespeople earning $220,000 were under-cut by foreign workers willing to accept $180,000.

Pay levels have been especially manipulated in the IT industry in Melbourne.

Low-skilled jobs have been dressed up as high-skilled ones with one company winning permission to bring in administrators who were really unskilled security guards.

And a Melbourne "start-up" company that didn't make money was created just to secure a cheap foreign worker for other duties.

Mr O'Connor also said the Government would examine the 457 visas of four Filipino welders at the centre of protests at a Werribee water project amid claims the system has been abused because there is no shortage of those skills in the area.

Opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison said last year there was "room for expansion" of the 457 program and said claims the market was being flooded with foreign workers was "ridiculous".


Authorities investigate how  Health job given to fugitive

Your bureaucrats will protect you

MEDICAL authorities are investigating how an alleged con artist and fugitive was hired to run one of Victoria's top rural health services.

American health bureaucrat Ashton Foley, 40, was employed as Orbost Regional Health (ORH) chief executive in December.

This is despite being wanted for breaching a community order by fleeing the state two years ago and being jailed in the US over fraud and identity theft.

ORH senior vice-president Andrew Martin said they were not aware of Ms Foley's history at the time and were running a "formal investigation" into the recruitment process.

"We will be meeting with the recruitment company next week to ensure all procedures were followed during the recruitment process," Mr Martin said.

He was unsure whether a police check was conducted.

Ms Foley yesterday faced Latrobe Valley Magistrates' Court where Western Australian detectives applied for her extradition on charges of attempted extortion.

Police allege she demanded money she was not entitled to from her former WA employer, threatening to go to the media with confidential documents if they didn't comply.

The mother of seven, from Lake Bunga in the state's east, was granted bail and told to appear at a Perth court on March 1.

It is the second time this week she has faced a Victorian court. She was fined $1000 on Wednesday after pleading guilty to breaching a community-based order by leaving for WA in 2011.

That matter dated back to April 7, 2011, when she was put on the order for dishonesty offences, which had gained her a total of $4400 her lawyer said in court.

The Sunday Herald Sun understands the charges stemmed from not providing goods sold on eBay.

Recruitment company Health Financial managing director David Wenban believes all the correct procedures were followed when putting Ms Foley forward for the Orbost position, adding 10 references were checked.

But no calls were made to her former WA employee, who has since accused Ms Foley of providing false qualifications to get her job.

Ms Foley has been in the public spotlight since testifying in October to a WA Parliamentary committee about allegations of misconduct at the same workplace. She remains adamant she has done nothing wrong and the company is out to get her.


New figures show predicament of working poor

Close to 500,000 part-time workers in Australia want full-time employment but cannot find it, according to new figures.

The Bureau of Statistics has found more than one in four workers between the ages of 15 and 24 are looking for more hours.

The situation for women who are looking to increase their hours has also become worse.

The Bureau of Statistics figures relate to people who are underemployed - someone working part-time, doing less than 35 hours a week, who wants to work more.

Will Sutherland, a 23-year-old retail worker, is one of Australia's underemployed. He says he wants more shifts but cannot get them.

"For the last month, almost nothing at all, actually. I get called in really, really rarely," he said.

He says he a lot of spare time because of his lack of work hours, but he has no money to do anything.

"Most of the stuff that you want to do when you're not working costs money anyway," he said.

"So all the free time, you end up spending more because you're not working, so sometimes it can get really bad like that."

Mr Sutherland says his friends are in a similar predicament.

"I have very few friends who are working jobs who feel like they're being overworked," he said.

"Most of them would like to be working more, especially during the holiday break."

Mr Sutherland and people in a similar situation are known as the working poor; they live close to the poverty line despite having at least some work.

Bureau of Statistics spokeswoman Cassandra Gligora says there a couple of common reasons for the lack of available working hours.

"The most commonly reported reason underemployed workers gave for not finding work with more hours was that there were no vacancies in their line of work. This is most common for both men and women," she said.

"The next most commonly reported reason for men was no vacancies at all, whereas for women it was too many applicants for available jobs."

After the global financial crisis hit in 2008, the number of people who wanted full-time work but could not find it shot up.

From then on, it has remained fairly stable despite signs of a recovering domestic economy.

John Buchanan, the director of the Workplace Research Centre at the University of Sydney, says Australia has a low unemployment rate by world standards.

"But there's a sleeper in the Australian labour market and that's the large number of part-time workers who want to work more hours," he said.

"They're called the underemployed. That's a big chunk of the workforce, currently about 8 per cent."


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