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September 2014 Newsletter

- 30 Sep 2014
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From Other Shores

Australia is a land of migrants – even the First Australians came from elsewhere way back in the mists of time. Wave after wave of peoples have subsequently arrived on these shores looking for, and generally finding, a better life.

Frequently, in colonial and modern times, the country has sought out and sponsored their arrival because we want the skills and vigour they bring to an expanding economy and workforce.

Yet Australians have a perverse double-edged attitude to migration. We are one of the most successful settler societies on the planet; we can acknowledge the contribution migrants make to economic growth; and we can recognise how, over time, they enrich our cultural life. But we struggle to embrace each new source of “strangers” and it seems to take a generation of growing familiarity before everyone starts to feel more comfortable. And we are likely to demand the migration tap be turned off whenever unemployment starts to rise, and newcomers become prone to accusations of taking someone else’s job – maybe for less.

The country seems to be once again at one of these sensitive junctures. At a time of below trend economic growth, the adult population has been growing faster (1.6 per cent) than new jobs so unemployment has been on the rise.

You wouldn’t know it but, buried beneath the fractious debate about stopping the boat people and the antagonisms directed towards Muslim communities, Australia has been admitting high levels of migrants since the turn of this century. The numbers bounce around – and have been trending higher – but net migration has averaged about 240,000 people a year, and that accounts for 60 per cent of our annual population growth.

The calls to turn off the migration tap are starting to emerge again. But Australia needs to be wary about curbing the migrant flow. Rising population is a critical component of our economic growth, and migrants don’t just absorb jobs – their contribution to consumer demand also generates jobs. Given their age profile, they are also an important long-term factor in mollifying the ageing of Australia’s population and thus the burden of age pensions and health costs borne by all those still in the workforce.

One of the most significant changes in Australia’s migration patterns in the past two decades has been the growth in the use of temporary visas to fill skill shortages in our workforce, thus relieving wage and inflationary pressures. They have been an important safety valve during the construction phase of the resource boom and, while they can eventually provide a possible pathway to permanent residency, the numbers on temporary visas will taper automatically as that construction phase winds down.

In the meantime, job advertisements, the leading indicator for employment, have bottomed out and are nudging higher. The one area of real concern in the interplay between jobs and migrant numbers is youth unemployment (those aged 15 to 24). Unemployment has hit that age group particularly hard (as usual) and the number of jobs has barely recovered from the impact of the global financial crisis. But two categories of temporary visas (for international students and travellers) carry work entitlements. Neither category is linked to skill shortages but both compete for the entry-level jobs open to young Australians. It is an area worth greater scutiny.

Caboolture Whiz

Jodi Bell is a whiz with numbers. She is Keogh’s new accountant and she loves slicing and dicing the numbers to extract all sorts of additional insights into the operations of a business. 

She hails from Caboolture, north of Brisbane. Before Keogh, Jodi worked as a management accountant for a boutique home construction company – she is very proud of her contribution to its growth and evolution – and for a mining drilling contractor.

After travelling around parts of Australia for two years, Jodi returned home and met Richard, her future husband. They were completely unaware they had been living in the same small town for more than two decades. They “eloped to Lake Taupo” in New Zealand last year to get married.

The dogs are Jodi’s other family members. Jodi adores border collies. “They are smart dogs with a beautiful nature.” The current duo are Jessie, 10, and Bart, 14 months. Most of the week they live a dog’s life – loads of exercise and swims – but on Sundays they line up with the folks for a full breakfast and an evening roast.

Taster

Join me on my first visit to the National Gallery of Australia in a long, long while. The distinctive concrete and glass building on Canberra’s foreshore is not one of my favourites but housed inside are some absolute gems – and, I discover, they’ve added nicely to the crown jewels in my absence.

Blue Poles is still where I remember it, but I prefer to turn around and contemplate the Clyfford Still and Mark Rothko images that face off across the room, or head next door to marvel at the Jean Tinguely sculpture or the Hannah Hoch and Joseph Cornell surrealist pieces. Ahhh!

The ‘Neds’ by Sid Nolan now have their own room – and rightly so. They just confirm in my mind that he is the master of late 20th century Australian painting. Or should I acknowledge her influence and call them the Sunday Neds? You've got to love the intrigues of Aussie painting.

The contemporary indigenous collection has grown significantly and spectacularly and it has a small side room highlighting the particular genius of Albert Namatjira.

But my favourite and an unexpected joy was a major collection of work by early 20th century kabuki portraitist Natori Shunsen. His work documents a formalised theatrical art and its players in a 19th century form but with a frisson of the new overlaying the old. I declare a little self-interest here. I am lucky enough to live with some of these wonderful, atmospheric woodblock prints at home, but it was a delight to see others from his series.    GP

Insight

Painting is self-discovery. Every good artist paints what he is.  Jackson Pollock

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