Port Macquarie Chamber of Commerce
Monday 25 January 2021

The Australia Day long weekend and our subsequent celebration of the privileges we enjoy living in this wonderful country also marks the beginning of the real working year for most people.  The holidays are now a distant memory and the focus turns to the planned workload and goals for the year ahead.

After a tumultuous and challenging 2020 a return to some sort of normality is keenly anticipated this year.  Hopefully a vaccine rollout in February or March will provide some certainty going forward for hospitality and tourism particularly in relation to state borders but also for potential future international travel.  It is safe to say that businesses in these sectors remain constrained by the remaining COVID restrictions.

Despite the upheaval the Australian economy has rebounded well and by all reports a strong recovery is well underway.  This is evidenced by a recent drop in national unemployment to 6.6% and strong growth of around 3.5% in late 2020.  Port Macquarie has fared better than most areas with strong real estate sales and construction activity fuelling a very strong local economy.

Many local businesses have reported high activity levels and turnover with the major challenge being to recruit suitable employees to meet demand.  This is reflective of a national skills shortage which has occurred over time as trade based skill sets have been eroded or eliminated altogether with an the advent on a “throw away” society where things are no longer repaired.

One other example where local technical skills are being threatened is the advent of very cheap overseas labour being used for digital and cloud based services such as Engineering Drafting or Geographical Information System (GIS) and related Survey drafting.  These drafting and design services from sweatshops in SE Asia and India are sold to Australian businesses for as little as $5 per hour.

Unfortunately the use of these services by bigger national firms is widespread which means many local firms are at a competitive disadvantage when tendering for local, state and Commonwealth contracts.  The long term impact of this situation is not only the immediate investment being lost to overseas slave labour but the eventual loss of these skills within Australia.

A recent Federal Government announcement was made regarding new legislation seeking to abolish the use of slave labour in products and services imported to Australia.  The strengthening of anti-slavery laws in local and state government is desperately needed to prevent further erosion of local skills and infrastructure investment dollars being sent offshore by stealth.

Just imagine your rates and taxes being put towards a local road upgrade where the design drafting is being done in SE Asia with that money then going overseas instead of being re-invested locally.  Meanwhile a local firm misses out on the work and either lays off staff or cannot hire and train them in design drafting or survey.  If this situation is allowed to continue it will erode the local technical services skill base completely.

Every Federal, State and Local Government contract should mandate that all tenderers provide a binding declaration with details of any overseas content.  In this way at least public servants undertaking a tender assessment are informed as to whether the work will be undertaken by skilled locals or taken offshore to a sweatshop.  The decision can then be taken to employ local firms with 100% local content or send the work and money offshore.

Measures such as this to discourage slave labour and protect local businesses will ensure skilled tradesmen, technicians and professionals are not only highly valued but trained and recruited on an ongoing sustainable basis.

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