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Is it really a good time to introduce a ‘free trade labour’ policy in Australia…?

Never mind the real or otherwise future benefits of allowing foreign craft/trades and semi-skilled workers open access to Australian projects… as I predict this issue alone is capable of bringing down the current government, especially once the Australian population fully realize what this will do to our home grown contractors and the jobs market for all Australian’s in the here and now.

Like most things in life international trade contains many positions of compromise, so called ‘Free Trade’ is never truly free… and in most cases, not even balanced. The questions we need to ask as fellow earthlings and as Australians is… which compromises are fair, which sustain (or indeed hold potential to destroy) our cultural ideals and which support and promote security and quality of life for us and our trading partners. These questions are generally not difficult to answer but should be considered as the core of our thinking and  even more essential to ensure balance in these difficult economic times.

My conclusion based on three years of International Business Masters study and around fifteen years of international work exposure goes something like this… although I will never know all the flaws within a foreign product, nor will I see the grief and misery that it’s creation may have caused, as a responsible nation we can (and do) act in various ways to control and correct these negative aspects over time. Logically It therefore follows that when we import foreign manual labour we could also control and correct these negative aspects… however, this means changing human behaviors and developing a level of spontaneous thinking (eg: subconsciously putting on a seat belt every time) which often requires a fundamental cultural shift and therefore is rarely achieved in less than two or three generations.

Although in my opinion Australia have overshot the mark in terms of sensible and responsible health, safety and environmental practices, we should nonetheless be justifiably proud of our attitude to others and the instinct we have traditionally had to protect our fellow man, now evident in this country from both an individual and corporate perspective. Even with the highest level of foreign corporate commitment to adopt, even a basic appreciation, our HSE values will take years to instill and in the meantime, unbalanced and unfair competition from importing low cost foreign workers will significantly erode what opportunities our young Aussie workers may have had. From this perspective we also have some level of duty to support our own kin.

As noted above, offshore product selection is a basic personal choice we can all research and make a decision to fit our conscience, our wallet and our ideals. But opening the gates to allow offshore manual labor importation at a time of such economic stress will most certainly diminish the opportunities for our entire working population by offering substitute labour who are not equally trained or prepared to sustain the level of personal & corporate responsibility our culture has taken 150 years of balanced negotiation and work to build.

All the above is without any reference to the additional governance cost to all Australians in developing the detail controls and legislation, to avoid worker exploitation, to police and to audit to ensure compliance and to process and prosecute breeches, and all for the benefit of foreign corporate balance sheets.

We all realize the inevitable correction in our industrial labour markets is already underway, but importing labour via free trade agreements in today’s economic environment and near term industrial outlook will just aggravate and extend the depth of this correction beyond it's natural equilibrium level. It is not currently in the national interest and simply makes no sense. It is an idealistic flawed decision and will cost Australian jobs and diminish all employment aspects into the future for our youth. Finally, I believe it will also prove to be downright dangerous to all those at the workface of our future projects.

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