Australian Chamber of Commerce calls for foreign workers

14 March 2006

Australia's capital Canberra is facing such a chronic shortage of labour that the ACT (Australia Capital Territory) Chamber of Commerce believes the only solution is to import foreign workers.

Doctors from Belgium, tradespeople from Germany and accountants and bookkeepers from Bangladesh are being targeted in a recruiting drive initiated by chamber chief Chris Peters.

Mr Peters says an acute crisis in the restaurant trade, which triggered the mass importation of Filipino guest workers on temporary visas last year, is only the tip of the iceberg.

"We've got an acute skills shortage in virtually everything, and it's going to get dramatically worse in the next five to 10 years," Mr Peters said. "The only effective short-term solution is to import people."

Officials from several countries have held talks on sending skilled labour to the ACT. Priority will be given to addressing the acute shortage of doctors.

Former ACT chief minister Kate Carnell will outline the looming nationwide crisis in doctor numbers in her address to the National Press Club today. Ms Carnell, who now heads the Australian Divisions of General Practice, recently met Belgian government officials to discuss ways of tapping into that country's oversupply of doctors.

The European nation has one doctor for every 300 citizens, compared with one for every 2500 in regional Australia.

A senior official from Germany's Labour Department visited Canberra late last year to explore opportunities for out-of-work German tradespeople to come to Australia for short periods, possibly on 457 visas.

German ambassador Martin Lutz said bringing "highly skilled specialists" to Australia would be "a win-win situation".