I’m a Team Australia reject – and the marketing mercenaries who follow will be too

The new visa system will create an army of marketing mercenaries with no incentive except to plunder as much as they can during a two-year stint Down Under, argues Mumbrella’s Tim Burrowes, who came to Australia a decade ago on the now-axed 457 visa.

Last month, it dawned on me that I was facing quite a big dilemma.

The realisation came as I watched the third test in Australia’s thrilling tour of India.

After 10 years of living in Sydney, not only was I no longer looking out for how England were doing in the cricket, I was now going to bed late to cheer on Australia.

I realised a big choice lay ahead: Who would I be cheering on in the Ashes next summer?

For someone with a British background in the media industry, it’s a bigger deal than you might think.

A few years ago, I was introduced to the British-born boss of a media agency. He’d been in Australia for a long time. Within the first 10 minutes of making his acquaintance (and without me raising the topic) he volunteered: “I cheer on Australia in the cricket.” It was clearly an important part of his identity that anyone he met understood that he was Australian, even if he sounded English.

And cricket is deep inside my sporting DNA too. For me, the who-do-you-support cricket test really does mean something.

My earliest sporting memory is Ian Botham saving the Ashes in Headingley in July 1981 in one of the most incredible matches of all time. (The Guardian is right about many things, but it’s wrong to place this match as only the 12th greatest Ashes moment.)

I also mark various points of my journalism career by the Ashes. One of the few things I loved about being in Dubai in 2005 was the epic Ashes series, listening to Test Match Special online at my desk all afternoon, and watching the final session in the pub each day.

And I still remember what I was doing when Australia won back the Ashes in Perth in 2006.

It was the week before Christmas, I was editing B&T, and media agency OMD had kindly sent a gift tin of Panettone. I popped down to reception to collect it, leaving my Blackberry on my desk in an oversight I would soon regret.

By the time I’d finally raised the alarm and been rescued from the lift four hours later, we’d lost the Ashes. My Australian colleagues had assumed I’d been hiding.

Which is a long way of saying that switching sides on who to cheer in the Ashes is a big deal to me.

Like many in the industry, it was the 457 visa, which offers a four-year stay and a path to permanent residency, then citizenship, that brought me to Australia.

When Malcolm Turnbull made his announcement last week that the 457 was going, and citizenship would be harder to attain in the future, it was two years to the day since I’d been granted permanent residency, the next stage after being on 457s.

As the two-year anniversary approached, the point at which I had thought I could apply to become an Australian citizen, I’d begun to reflect a little on what that meant.

A while back, I attended the citizenship ceremony of a British friend in the media here who’d taken a similar path to me. I felt a lump in the throat as I saw him get his certificate and mini Vegemite tub (yes, really) from Sydney’s Lord Mayor Clover Moore.

And I must admit that as the two-year mark arrived, I also had a couple of doubts. If you join the team, you accept all the team’s values, including Reconciliation (or the lack of it). But given Britain’s role 200 years ago, that seemed a foolish reason not to come on board..

Now though, I at least have no such Ashes dilemma. Despite having been here for a little over 10 years, I cannot now become an Australian for at least another two years.

So my loyalties will be undivided. I’ll feel no guilt about cheering on England for at least the next two Ashes series.

In all practical ways I’m fine, unless the laws change again in the future.

My blunder (I now realise I could have applied for citizenship after one year of permanent residency –  not the two I’d thought –  so could have done it a year ago) will not affect me in any material way.

Other than lacking the passport and the non right to vote, I can still call Australia home. But not home.

But there are many in a worse situation.

A friend of mine who works in communications has been here in Australia for about 12 years, but has never had the opportunity to apply for permanent residency because of job changes which mean you shift to a new visa each time. His role has now been removed from the list of approved jobs and it seems likely that when his current visa runs out next year he’ll have to leave the country.

But the real challenge for the industry is the future when the job market heats up again.

Right now, my sense is that demand for overseas talent in the communications industry is down a bit.

Wearing my employer hat (Mumbrella employs about 30 people in total), our Brit:Aussie ratio is as low now as it’s ever been.

Our news team in Sydney is currently 100% antipodean (one’s technically a Kiwi), with two in their first jobs, and three who are more experienced. We’re currently interviewing for news editor and features editor vacancies and most of the candidates for those roles are local.

And pragmatically, that suits us. If you can find good local talent it’s cheaper and easier than hiring from overseas.

But that’s not always been the way, particularly when the market is tight. And that’s where the new rules are likely to hurt the communications industry.

In the same way there have been sudden – and unpredictable – booms in social media specialists, community managers, programmatic specialists and the like, there will inevitably be another surge in talent demand. And the local jobs market won’t be able to keep up, in the short term, at least.

Supporters of Turnbull’s new policy would of course point to the new two-year visa as being the perfect solution to such short-term bounces in demand.

Where it won’t work though, is that whatever this next role is, there will be a global demand for this type of worker.

And yes, salary and conditions are important when you take a job in another part of the world.

But so is the prospect that if you make that move, you have a reasonable shot at it becoming permanent if it works out. And with this two-year visa, it appears this will not be the case. Unless there’s a change of heart, there will be no potential path to permanent residency for them.

When I got that phone call asking me to come and edit B&T a decade ago, there’s no way I’d have been willing to pack up my life and travel to the other side of the world with a maximum certainty of just two years.

In my case, I went on to help build a company which now employs 30 or so Australian tax-payers. I’d argue that the net economic benefit for the country has been positive.

And worker portability goes both ways, of course. When I edited a magazine in the UK, it was a standing joke how many Aussies and Kiwis we employed. For practical reasons, I’d have tended towards hiring somebody locally, but they weren’t always easy to find, so we had to look elsewhere.

Not wanting to stereotype those Kiwis and Aussies, but every one we hired was well trained and had a good work ethic. Which always made it a bit easier to hire the next one.

Many of those Aussies and Kiwis have since met partners, had children and made their lives in the UK.

But if you can’t persuade people with an in-demand skill to come because they have a potential future in the country, then that only leaves employers with one other lever – money.

As a worker, I once did that too. I went to Dubai because they offered me a ridiculously big tax-free salary. And they had to offer me a lot before I took the role – otherwise there’d have been no good reason to do it. There was no long-term future for me in the place.

I came to Australia on about half the take-home salary I made in Dubai. And I did it cheerfully because I saw a potential future.

With nothing else to sweeten the deal, Australia’s communications industry (and businesses more widely of course) will now have to pay the full global market rate to get the most in-demand people. Why would they come otherwise?

Each new digital trend will bring a surge of marketing mercenaries out to plunder as much as they can for the two years they are here. They will have no stake in contributing more widely to an industry and a country that will not be a part of their future.

That seems, well, unAustralian.


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