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Monday, 10 April 2000
Page: 15532

Mr LIEBERMAN (12:36 PM) —I would like to support my colleague the member for Corangamite and to record thanks to the leader of the delegation, the Hon. Margaret Reid, President of the Australian Senate, who did a magnificent job. Also I would like to thank Andrew Snedden, the delegation secretary, ably supported by Chris Fox, adviser to the President. I just want to touch on three main points to highlight the fact that, in America, it was very significant to observe the number of relatively young Australian men and women who are doing very well in the corporate world. During our visit to the New York Stock Exchange and to merchant bankers in New York, we saw participating in the upper management of major merchant banks in New York Australians occupying the seats of executive management. I felt quite proud about that. It was good to swap notes with those young Australians and to hear about their experiences and also their commitment to continue to contribute to Australia despite the fact that they are working over the next few years in America.

In Fairfax County, which is one of the most dynamic economic IT areas of the world, it was absolutely fascinating to meet the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority and hear of their achievements. We noted that they had no tax support at all for their activities. It comes from the contributions of local industry and local government. They have a vested interest in ensuring that the value of real estate increases, because most of the local government revenue comes from the increasing rates based on the capital value of property. That said, when meeting with one of the industrialists in the IT area, we heard how it was felt that the Achilles heel of the economy in America—which is dynamic and burgeoning—was the shortage of skilled labour. There was mention of the fact that a young American graduate in IT who had no experience at all in the work force—not even a part-time job during college at McDonald's—was graduating and being offered $US60,000 opening salary with a $US10,000 cash incentive payment to sign on, such was the shortage. They were furthermore offering stock options—and perhaps a BMW thrown in—to recruit young graduates without any experience at all.

Whilst it was interesting to hear that, it did cause me some concern because in Australia we have a number of outstanding young people studying information technology and we need them in Australia. The thing I fear most of all about America's burgeoning economy and their labour shortage—particularly in skilled areas—is that they will be offering green cards to our Australian graduates to recruit them from here. Whilst I am never against Australians getting experience overseas—that is a great thing—we have to be mindful of the fact that we cannot match those huge salaries and incentives that America's burgeoning economy is offering now and will continue to offer in the future. I foresee a problem for Australia in first of all ensuring that we have enough young Australians gaining skills and training—which is a very important issue for this country—and also being able to compete and ensure that the brain drain from Australia does not accelerate, and we finish up not being able to develop our own industries and businesses because our bright young people have succumbed to the temptation of the huge remuneration packages being offered.

That is something that has caused me some concern, and I wonder whether we should be devoting more time and attention to expanding our efforts to increase training in Australia for young people and also offering some form of additional incentive to them perhaps in the early years of graduation to keep them here, rather than lose them forever to other parts of the world, particularly America.

The contribution made by the speakers in the Canadian parliament was a real highlight. They went out of their way to ensure that the Australian delegation was received by key ministers. In my case I was particularly fascinated—(Time expired)

Mr SPEAKER —Order! The time allotted for this debate has expired.