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Australia - A Future Perspective

Quynh-Tram Trinh

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The following article was based on the statement written by the author in attending the Future Perspectives Forum for Young Australians.  The Forum is a prestigious program organised by the Queen’s Trust, for 100 Young Adult Australians selected throughout Australia each year.  The 1996 national Forum for Young Adult Australians will be held between the 7-13 July in Melbourne this year.  The author is a member of the Australian Vietnamese Women’s Welfare Association and the Victoria’s Women Council.  She currently works as a Market Analyst for Melbourne Convention and Marketing Bureau.

 I believe Australia is a great nation and that we, as Australians are very fortunate to live in this country.  Australia has a vast amount of natural resources and a diverse and culturally rich human resource.

 Our culturally rich human resources comprise Australians (including the indiginous), new Australians (those who came to Australia from the first fleet after the second World War, predominantly from Northern and Southern Europe) and newer Australians (those who came to Australia in the last three decades, predominantly from Asia).

 In terms of our natural resources, Australia fares no less than other countries.  In fact, in a recent survey conducted by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, Australia was placed as one of the top countries in the world in terms of its natural resources. 

Indeed so Australia has a vast amount of natural resources and pool of diverse and culturally rich human resource.  Yet however, we are slowly and steadily falling behind in terms of world living standards and our ranking as a world economic power is slipping.  Why is this the case?

 I believe the main answer lies in the fact that as a nation we have not known how to utilise our diverse and culturally rich human resources effectively.  That is, we have not taken an effective step in recognising the rich human resource in this country and harness these resources into productive units.

 Each year Australia intakes a high number of migrants and refugees from both English and non-English speaking countries.  However, what we have failed to do is to assist these newer Australians especially those who come from non-English speaking countries, to settle in and effectively integrate into the mainstream society. 

One of the major barriers in integrating into the society for these newer adult Australians who come from a non-English speaking background, is in getting their overseas skills, experience and qualifications recognised in Australia.  Even though Australia supposedly, has had a “sophisticated” immigration history of over 50 years, the recognition of overseas skills, experience and qualifications is still a very foreign practice in the Australian workforce.  As a result, these newer Australians face a major disadvantage in the labour market, which is where real integration occurs.

As a result of not being able to fully integrate into the mainstream society, they face information disadvantage.  In a fast-growing information-based economy such as Australia, by not having the full access to information available means that they would unlikely to be able to make informed decisions.  Undoubtedly by not being able to make informed decisions this would have an ongoing impact on their economic well-being.  The result is in the Australian society, there exists an information “underclass”, a challenging outcome for a country that has promoted itself to the world as a just and democratic country.

 The majority of migrants and refugees who come to Australia look forward to the opportunities to take part in building this country.  Yet from the moment they set foot on Australia, they are usually left on their own. 

 There are real limited resources in areas that are vital to the integration process such as orientation programs or services about the culture and society of Australia.  For those newer adult Australians who do not have the opportunity to attend training or retraining programs, such orientation opportunities are even fewer.  The training room usually ends up at the factory floor. 

The result is a lot of pain born and time wasted during the “integration” process.  The skills and enthusiasm these newer Australians first brought with them to Australia rapidly decline.  Their potential is largely not recognised.  The consequence is while we have spent a lot of effort taking in new labour, we have yet to intelligently harness these human resources to build and advance our country, especially in the context of a rapidly changing world economy and labour market. 

This has been a great loss for Australia as a whole and will continue to be so, if Australia does not recognise the problem and take the opportunity to solve it.

 What Australia needs to do now is to form a vision of where it wants to position itself in the global market place.  Hong Kong used to position itself as the financial centre of the world in the Asian region.  That might change after July 1997.  Singapore has been pursuing its goal to be the electronic hub of the world by the year 2005.  Malaysia has its own mandate to achieve by the year 2020.

 Looking beyond the Asian region, we have the United States, Canada, Japan, Germany, United Kingdom, France and Italy who have positioned themselves as the powerful Group 7. 

What position in the world does Australia have for itself?  What position does it want to create, take and work towards?

 The world is now borderless due to more effective use and implementation of information technology and telecommunications.  The transfer of knowledge and technology is growing at a phenomenal rate.  Businesses now transact in many languages.  The number of people traveling each year to other countries, to get together for family, personal and business reasons is increasingly rapidly.  The servicing sector is the fastest growing employment sector in the world and will continue to be so.  Given the above world trends, any country that wants to remain competitive and get a head of the rest will have to know how to use its human resource more intelligently and effectively. 

 I strongly propose we take a look at the composition of our population and labour force and see how we can turn this into a strategically competitive advantage.

 There is a real and urgent need for Australia to take its stand in the world.  I believe by having a diverse and flexible labour force is the answer.  To achieve this outcome from the diversity viewpoints however, we need to urgently review the current process of assisting newer Australians to more effectively integrate into the society.  The recognition of overseas skills, experience and qualifications in the labour market is of particular relevance.  From the flexibility viewpoint, Australia is currently going through the process to achieve such an outcome.  As we all know, the Australian industrial relations system is currently under major reviews.

 By responding to global trends strategically, Australia will have a better focussed and motivated workforce working to an optimum capacity.  This is necessary as Australia now desparately needs to maintain its economic lifestyle.  Having a larger workforce that works to its optimum capacity will also help Australia raising its national saving level, a macro economic factor that will help persuade foreign investors to look at investing in Australia more favourably.  By having more fund to develop and/or grow business this in turn will create more jobs.  The Government will have an increased revenue base through the PAYE (pay as you earn) taxation system to fund its programs and services.  Inevitably a number of other benefits will follow by having a larger workforce working to its optimum capacity. 

Ultimately, in achieving the above outcomes Australia will not only remain competitive but will be able to get ahead and become one of the leading nations in the world.

 In having a vision, the challenge of getting there will be fun and creative in itself, especially since Australia already has abundant resources.  What Australia needs to do now is having the gut to determine a vision for itself.

 

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Update: 01-12-2002


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