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Updated

October 02, 2018 16:07:48

When Australia’s population hit 25 million earlier this year, Liberal senator Dean Smith called for a national population debate.

Possibly lost in some of the headlines was his point that in parts of regional Australia, populations are not growing fast enough.

In Kalgoorlie-Boulder, in Senator Smith’s home state of Western Australia, the mining sector is going through what some are calling a “mini-boom” and businesses are struggling to get staff.

Eagle Petroleum, a Kalgoorlie-based company that runs service stations and transports fuel in bulk to mine sites, is a case in point.

“Trying to find a truck driver is very, very difficult at this point in time,” the company’s chief executive Jessica Biddle said.

Kalgoorlie-Boulder has a population of 30,000.

But Ms Biddle, who is also the president of the Kalgoorlie-Boulder Chamber of Commerce, said recent surveys suggested the town needed 1,500 more people to fill vacant jobs.

She said many of the vacancies had been created by a strong gold price and a resurgence in the local nickel industry.

“Everyone’s scared to say a mining boom, but we are definitely in a mini-boom,” she said.

“There are also uranium and lithium mines that are looking to open up.”

‘Growth is never a bad thing’

Ms Biddle said the regional city also had jobs going in the non-mining sector.

“Anything in retail, coffee shops, tourist activities and childcare, there’s so many different ones that need to be filled,” she said.

Her view on the population debate is Australia needs all the people it can get.

“We need skilled labour to make our country great, so we need people to move here,” she said.

“Obviously we should be focusing on Australians and upskilling people, not necessarily just Australians, but people that already live here, that actually want to live in small communities and small towns such as ourselves.

“Growth is never a bad thing — it just means we’ve got to keep up with it.”

Temporary visa criteria too strict: industry

Kristian Stratton, the WA Manager of the Australian Industry Group, agreed Australia’s population must not be curbed.

“From our perspective, population growth in WA is a critical path to the economy’s success,” Mr Stratton said.

He said Australia’s migration rules have been tightened to a point where they’re now restricting industry.

“Some of the changes to the previously known 457 [visa] structure in particular,” he said.

“[In] onshore and offshore drilling it’s hard to find those people in those particular skills.”

In a statement a spokesman for the Department of Home Affairs confirmed the eligibility criteria for visas in the new Temporary Skills Shortage category had been tightened.

“Ensuring that companies advertise for local workers first,” he said.

But the spokesman said the list of eligible occupations is reviewed regularly to respond to changes in the labour market.

Topics:

mining-industry,

immigration,

work,

small-business,

perth-6000,

kalgoorlie-6430,

wa

First posted

October 02, 2018 16:03:14

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