Just how far would you run to escape a collapsing economy? For those stuck in the Eurozone’s downward economic spiral, neighbours are not really an option. So, like generations of prisoners and paupers before them, many from among the EU’s hardest hit economies are taking a singularly distant voyage for a better future: all the way to Australia.
Australia’s red-hot economy – driven by high commodity prices and soaring demand from China – is attracting a wave of immigration from Europe unseen since the 1960s. Just how desperate is Old Europe to escape? A jobs fair in September hosted by the Australian embassy in Athens was designed for 800 people. It drew 10,000.
It is easy to see why when you compare the Lucky Country with some of Europe’s basket cases. Greece, for example, is stuck under a mountain of debt and struggling with an 18 per cent unemployment rate. In Spain, the jobless rate is nearly 23 per cent.
Australia, on the other hand, has a 5 per cent unemployment rate that effectively symbolises full employment and a shortage of skilled labourers. In fact, some truck drivers in remote Western Australia have been reported to earn as much as €156,000 per annum.
The good news: expect even better Greek food when you visit Melbourne. The bad: that next bright European mind needed to solve this mess could end up mining coal.
Some 4,000 Greek citizens arrived in Australia on short-term visas in the six months period ending on 30 November, 2011; up 21 per cent compared with the same period two years ago.
Long-term visa holders from the UK rose a whopping 43 per cent to 7,160 between 30 June and 30 November.
Similar arrivals from Ireland surged 68 per cent to 2,610 during the same period.
The Solomon Islands Fisheries Ministry is investigating the recent export of 25 bottlenose dolphins to China. The Pacific nation recently banned the export of live dolphins. Environmentalists warn that the dolphin export industry is threatening the mammal’s local population with extinction, and say that the ban could be easily overturned again with another change of government.
A controversial law preventing landowners in Papua New Guinea from challenging projects that damaged the environment has been overturned. The law had originally been passed after landowners successfully challenged plans to dump waste from a mine into the sea.
Schools in the US territories of Micronesia are getting tough on lawlessness. Guam’s high schools have struggled to control drug use and firearms possession among students, leading to the Education Department to consider using armed school enforcement officers. Meanwhile, schools in Northern Marianas are to be subjected to random drug checks, including the use of drug dogs.
South Pacific nations are no strangers to chequebook diplomacy, having benefited for years from China and Taiwan’s contest to buy friends. Now another rivalry is bringing fresh prizes, as Russia and Georgia compete to forge new allegiances with micro-states 14,000 miles from home. At issue is the recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, the Russian-backed breakaway regions of Georgia. Since Nauru became the fourth country to recognise the states, it has received $10m (€7.8m) in Russian aid. In September, Tuvalu followed suit, receiving much-needed fresh water from Abkhazia. With Fiji also being courted, neighbouring countries are looking on hopefully.
New Zealanders joke that while PM John Key went overseas to make $50m (€31m), new Labour leader David Shearer went to save 50 million lives. The Labour party is hoping the former UN humanitarian representative can pull the party back from the brink, after gaining just 27 per cent of the vote in last year’s election.
What’s harder, parliament or a disaster zone?
In many ways, you’re using the same skills – I had to build a big team and set an agenda, a strategy and get things done.
What’s your action plan? I’m going to spend a lot of time out of Wellington, talking about the issues that affect people. We really do need to show that we are interested in people, no matter where they come from.