Where are the jobs?

Dr Geoff Hudson is a computer expert, inventor, and physicist from Melbourne. Here he offers some visionary thoughts on Australia’s declining employment opportunities.

China has achieved great employment increases by managing its exchange rate so its manufacturing could out-compete everyone else. Germany has done a similar thing by using the other weaker economies in the EU to hold the euro down. But our Australian politicians dropped the ball on the Dutch disease. Most of them don’t even know that the phrase refers to the reduction in employment when raw material exports raise your currency to the point where manufacturing dies. And it has – manufacturing has been sacrificed on the altar of coal and iron exports.

We must accept that we will never get sustained employment at the hourly rates of many Asian countries. Australia will not tolerate that level of poverty. Therefore, there are many jobs done overseas that we cannot do competitively. This means that we must have an educated population, so fixing the education system is top priority. In some areas in China, students are on average two years ahead of Australian students in science and maths, so alarm bells should be ringing. We need internet based products for science and maths, especially for secondary school students, while we crank up support for teachers to the level where people with research degrees are attracted to teaching in schools.

Australia is close to bottom of the OECD when it comes to producing the fruit of cooperation between industry and academia. While this persists we are badly uncompetitive.

Another principle is that of fairness. It is simply not fair for some senior executives to get paid more than 100 times other fully employed people in the same company. Company tax and government assistance should strongly encourage pay ratios closer to 20 to one or less.

The government names food and agribusiness, mining equipment and technology services, medical technologies and pharmaceuticals, advanced manufacturing with things like carbon fibre and finally oil, gas and energy resources as the activities to promote. It makes sense to grow these activities, but you wonder how many jobs they will create, especially for those without university degrees.

We should pursue things we should become good at because we need the outcomes more than anyone else. Our physical characteristics show us where we ought to be the best, even if we are not there yet. Australia has the lowest population density in the top 100 countries by population – three people per square kilometre. Only Namibia and Mongolia have populations exceeding one million people and lower population density. And Australia is the driest populated continent on earth.

The low population density means we have a travel problem. It costs us more in time and jet fuel to get from one capital to another. So we should be the world leaders in video conferencing. Australia should develop it. We need it more than anyone else on earth. How many Australian jobs could be done from home using eye-to-eye? Imagine parliament done with eye-to-eye where the speaker selects the person being broadcast to everyone else. Doctors could interview remote patients. Legal and government interactions could span hundreds of kilometres. This product would re-invigorate regional Australia, and save billions of dollars in road construction.

If travel can’t be avoided then we should make it better. We need trains which can travel on existing rail lines at 300 kilometres per hour. To get high speed we might have to add a communication network to manage level crossings, and straighten out some corners, but relaying the tracks laser straight over hundreds of kilometres is just too expensive. We need a radically different vehicle to run on the existing rails, like a high pressure hovercraft, or a train with active suspension which anticipates bumps. Imagine a three hour Melbourne to Sydney rail trip on existing tracks. Cancel Badgerys Creek and save at least six billion dollars. Get the airlines to participate because they are in the high speed transport business, and government expenditure could be much less than the cost of an airport.

We can’t leave sources of employment without considering manufacturing. This is the hardest problem. To start with, we want to save some automotive manufacturing. There will never be a cheaper time to start a new car manufacturing operation in Australia than in the last half of this decade because that is when the multinationals will be selling up. We want an electric car which includes a recharger powered by a small petrol engine. It can be a bit more expensive than imports of the same size because of the potential reduction in running cost. We want to be able to charge the battery at home to be purely electric for commuting, but drive around Australia using the recharger when we are on holiday.

Thanks for permission to reproduce this extract from ABC Radio National’s “Ockham’s Razor” and Dr Geoff Hudson.

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