I’ve been in Australia for a short while, and there are quite a few differences between here and the conditions I’ve left behind in Ireland. Cass kindly asked me to write something about the Aussie situation, and these are a few of the thoughts I’ve had.
1. Firstly, work is abundant, driven for the most part by a large-scale resources boom. The northern part of Western Australia is undergoing hyper development thanks to huge iron ore deposits and the Chinese thirst for it’s mineral wealth. The state is developing liquefied gas reserves in conjunction with Chevron in Onslow in the north too, and has been exporting this gas to Japan for many years- a recent contract for $29.5 billion gives an indication of the amounts of money being invested. The gold mines in Kalgoorlie pump out a steady stream of ore and contribute greatly to the wealth of the state (the State government recently posted a surplus of $1.6 billion thanks to the mines), and as a result of this boom, there is a large amount of expansion going on in and around the state capital Perth, which is growing rapidly, and currently has about 1.7 million inhabitants in the metropolitan area. Public transport is exceptionally good, healthcare is free and extensive, and there are job opportunities out there for people willing to roll up their sleeves and give it a go. Most of this wealth comes from the north, as there are no cities up there (yet), so Perth acts as a hub by default as it is the only place in-state with a good international airport. For example, many people base themselves in Perth and work in the mines, flying in and out every month or so as their leave comes around. They are very well paid, and have recently enjoyed a 10% pay increase in the last 3 months, money which recycles into the Perth economy via the property sector (more of which anon). However, it must be said that employment outside mining and resources is heavily concentrated in services and construction, which is also undergoing a large expansion thanks to the cash from the resource industry. Industry is declining noticeably, in terms of manufacturing goods, and dry weather for the last couple of years means agriculture has been under the cosh too (although we’ve had good rains, and this is likely to change), and I’ve drawn the conclusion pretty quickly that Australia is in some ways a bubble and not as sustainable for the long term future as many people back home seem to think. All the same, Australia has plentiful work available for the short to medium term, and is better placed to weather the financial storm than the rest of the world thanks to its four pillared banking strategy, which is underpinned by an extensive state guarantee and which is not subject to large scale borrowing on the scale of the Tiger. However, as recent tumbles in resource prices show, we are subject to the collapse in other parts of the world, and can’t guarantee good prices or a continuing boom to fund the rest of a resources reliant economy. It can be concluded, therefore, that Australia has no real cushion of industry to sustain it for the future, although it is likely to be a while before this cushion is needed given the thirst for our resources overseas, especially in Asia.
2. One very noticeable feature of the Australian economy is a large property boom which is going on and which is quite unsettling in some ways for someone who doesn’t work in construction and remembers the madness of the Celtic Tiger. House prices and rent are ridiculously expensive, and increasing faster than wages. Also, many people with plots of land are bulldozing their houses and building two units on the vacant lot, and flogging the other unit or renting it. Property is for sale on every street, and plenty of young families are buying two or three units as investment vehicles for the future- again, not a very positive sign for the future, when the cash from resources runs out, but likely to be a manageable headache, not a NAMA style catastrophe.
3. There are an awful lot of Irish immigrants here, so much so that it’s possible to socialise solely with other Paddies and not assimilate at all with the locals. This has stirred up some resentment among younger unqualified people (a not insignificant portion of youth here) as many of the jobs they do have been taken by Irish on holiday visas, something that makes them resentful. I have heard conversations to this effect on public transport, for instance. I’m not well placed to say how widespread this is (probably not very), but it’s important to note that is does exist in certain quarters. Also, Irish labourers in the north have undercut trade union conditions by working on tourist visas, lowering wages and displacing locals from jobs they would have seen as rightfully theirs. Again, not something that endears us to the Aussies. That said, most people do get on very well out here, and in some professional industries, Irish qualifications and accent are seen as an asset because we have a reputation for being highly skilled and hardworking (What was that you were saying about ‘Celtic Cubs’??), and we are, by and large, well accepted and welcomed.
All in all, people who decide to leave Ireland for Australia are making the right decision, in my opinion. So long as you come here aware that prices are high and wages might not match expectations, if you’re prepared to work hard and contribute you will get on very well. It is worth being aware that construction here will not continue as it is for much longer, and that industry is displacing overseas, but there are plenty of service jobs available for people who are here short term, and the lifestyle, weather, and society is a lot better, and more open-minded, tolerant and easy going. For the next few years at least, Australia has more to offer than most other places.