Driving this week’s interest rate rise is
the overheating of one end of our dual economy. Not only is there no sign of
that overheated end cooling, it’s also worsening to the point of causing some
meltdowns. And that means further pain for the rest of the nation – when it bites, just watch
Howard say he was never told about it.

Example 1: The boom states construction
crunch has reached the dangerous stage when Babcock and Brown only receives two
bids out of an expected dozen for its $639 million expansion of the Dalrymple
Bay coal loader – the iconic example of our infrastructure bottlenecks. As The

Group project director Eric
Kolatchew said the expansion had been hit with the same problems as other
infrastructure projects, competing for contractors and staff already spoilt for

“We’ve been calling for
tenders and getting no bids or getting one bid,” he said. “There’s
high turnover (of engineering staff) because of poaching.”

Dalrymple Bay’s lack of capacity is costing the country dearly as our coal
exporters are unable to meet demand.

Example 2: McDonalds is importing temporary
foreign workers to fill vacancies in the north of Western Australia.
We’re not talking engineers or computer specialists or even accountants – we’re
talking hamburger joints. In an SMH story that rather strangely doesn’t seem to
be online, Meaghan Shaw says:

The fast-food chain recently hired a
“highly-skilled manager” from the Philippines to train staff at its Karratha
restaurant and has Immigration Department approval to fill seven other
positions from overseas….A spokeswoman said there was a huge shortage of workers
in Karratha where recruitment drives had been unsuccessful.

The deputy president of Roebourne Shire,
Brad Snell, said about a quarter of the council’s jobs were unfilled.

Example 3: The detail behind BHP’s monster $13.6
billion annual profit expectations

– a blow-out in construction costs. There’s not a major resources project in the country that hasn’t seen
labour and materials prices skyrocket. The ever-increasing money being paid for
construction workers on resources projects in the bush is feeding through to
construction costs in the cities.

But it’s not just an Australian problem.
The copper price has been jumping recently – up another 1% last night – on fears of a major strike at BHP’s Escondida mine in Chile. Workers there are holding out for a 13% pay rise plus an
$16,900 bonus. Everyone wants a slice of
the commodities boom pie.

What’s about the only thing of real value
that governments can do for their people? Invest in them, in their training and
education at all levels. What has happened in Australia
over the past couple of decades? The government spend on education as a
percentage of GDP has fallen by about a third. What’s the present mob’s answer
to the problem? Duplicate the existing TAFE infrastructure, add to the demand
on the construction sector, and import McDonalds workers.

They really aren’t worth feeding. (The
government, I mean, not the workers.)

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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