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Friday, 25 October 2013

Australia, the Unlucky Country

Saturday, 26th October, 2013

I always thought I was a proud Australian.  Throughout twenty years of living in the United Kingdom, I often met with those well-tested and worn out clichés of “convict pasts” and Skippy the bush kangaroos, and mostly laughed them all off, except in the early years when the stereotypes all became a bit much, and I would bite back with a sarcastic remark when my sensitivities were wounded. 

I woke up this morning with a rude start at 4:15 this morning to the stark realisation that I am, at this precise moment, not proud to be Australian at all. 

When I met my husband, I said outright to him that I didn’t want to get involved romantically with anyone, as I would want to return to Australia to live and grow old.  Well, it took a lot longer than desired, but true enough to his word, Paul first flew to Australia with a valid permanent spousal visa in November 2011 in order to activate it. 

The process of emigration was long, painful and expensive.  As the main driving force behind the progress of his visa, I stuck the process out and doggedly persevered, even whilst undergoing IVF and maintaining a full time job.  It was a closure of one link in the chain that finally saw us managing to sell our house in Hertfordshire and a lot of our possessions by the end of August and saw us touch-down on Australian soil at Brisbane Airport the evening of 12th September, 2013, with four suitcases and two over-tired toddlers in tow. 

Paul has attacked the job search with enthusiasm and determination, and I can say that I am very proud of him for that.  These qualities have diminished and faded as the weeks have gone by, and I have often said to him “keep going – don’t give up” or much stronger words to the same effect. 

He is a highly qualified railway engineer with twenty years experience of one of the most sophisticated locomotive systems in the world.  Eurostar International was regarded as an elite institution within the rail industry and Paul mostly took a lot of pride in his work. 

During the latter years, Paul has undertaken a lot of extra-curricular study in order to gain new European standard “F gas” qualifications in air-conditioning and refrigeration.  He has garnered enough certificates over the years to be able to plaster half the rooms in this house.  But for Australia, this is not good enough. 

When Paul has become dejected or disheartened thus far in his job search, he would say to me “this country is de-skilling me”.  I never believed this was true, until this morning. 

I have accepted that Australia (or more importantly and objectively, a section of its employers) won’t recognise his prior qualifications in electro-mechanical engineering.  Most of the jobs Paul has applied so far for have been considerably beneath his skill and competence level.  So after a bit of research, we both have started the process of getting the above recognised through the “Recognition of Prior Learning” route which Paul has discovered through conversations with trades people.  This is conducted by “Skills Tech”, an organisation allied with the TAFE (Technical and Further Education) colleges which teach most of the qualifications for “tradies” here, if not throughout Australia, then certainly in Queensland. 

I originally thought that this particular piece of work was going to cost $400, but discovered by email late yesterday afternoon that we would, in fact, get a bill for $2,400.  I thought “ok, another financial hit” – but kept that information to myself for the time being. 

After thinking a bit further about options, Paul has yesterday come to the agreement to seek temporary work while this process would be completed, as we have now realised that it would be futile and soul-destroying to continue to apply for jobs until he has obtained that first raft of recognised Australian qualifications. 

He is not even sure whether he will pursue the recognition of his air-conditioning and refrigeration qualifications at this stage – our money and equity for a potential future home are disappearing faster than a lottery winner’s intent to spend it. 

When I made an appointment for him with a temporary recruitment agency yesterday afternoon, and mentioned that Paul had a forklift driver’s licence, the agent on the other end of the phone said “nope – not even that is recognised”.  And that was the end of the line for me.  Amongst the myriad of higher and tertiary qualifications in Paul’s arsenal, for not even a forklift licence to be recognised – that is truly a de-skilling process indeed and an absolute disgrace. 

And it is totally not fair.  When Paul has said to me “if I knew then what I know now I would never have come” – the first time, it made me really angry.  The second time, I cried and was so upset at the thought that we would potentially turn around and return to the UK.  Now I realise that I totally agree with him. 

It is an appalling arrogance and at worse, a total con for Australia to have recruitment fairs in London and one year to say “we need you – your skills are in short supply – please come over”, and in the next year turn your back on someone who has spent a lot of money and sacrificed a great many things to get here. 

We have spent too much money to go back.  We will have spent a great deal more money on getting Paul trained and re-skilled, armed with the appropriate Australian equivalent qualifications.  Our dreams of having a decent standard of living in our own home by the ocean somewhere are rapidly disappearing. 

I believe in dogged persistence and determination to achieve your goals.  I have often raised a harrying war-cry and had angry outbursts at Paul or other close friends who didn’t want to see things through to a particular end.  I will grit my teeth and stand by Paul to see this painful and expensive process through – but with the realisation and the awareness that this system is not right.  Australia – I wonder how many other skilled tradespeople you have conned like this.  My family now believe that these organisations are set up to make money.  I am not talking about the appropriate training and experience for apprentices, but about recognising the skills and qualifications of immigrants who make it through Australia’s stringent process.  (I do agree with a very stringent immigration process – you have to absolutely want to come, and have researched it through to the end – no argument with that, whatsoever.) What I am talking about is opening one door in invitation to come to that country, and then closing that door before an appropriate job can be obtained.  By the way, the door marked “exit” to the country is closed, too – because we would have lost too much to go back. 

So the only way is forward.  I am (mostly) very happy to be home. I am delirious to be able to spend a lot of quality time (maybe too much!) with close family.  I hope to spend more time with friends of very long standing, in the foreseeable future.  And I am also very happy for my twin sons to be able to grow up as Aussies, and be granted the chances to travel the world; for whatever path they take or whichever global location in which they choose to live, to have their professional skills and experience to be recognised and valued internationally in order to be able to live and work in different lands and to experience different cultures. 

 Because I would hate for them to have to go through what we are living through now.  When Paul quipped about how living in a shack on the beach would be all we could afford to do in Australia, I laughed and thought he was joking.  Now, we am faced with that possible reality.

Australia – at the moment, you are not our lucky country.  If I didn’t know any better and believed everything I heard on the news, it would seem that your only qualities are a thriving criminal culture full of violent, organised bikies and lying, corrupt politicians.  I hope that within a relatively short space of time, our perceptions can be changed. 

I ordered an abundance of good luck the other day.  I am waiting patiently for it to arrive!


  1. Alison & Paul, I am so sorry to read this posting. We were so pleased that you were going back to Australia to raise your family even though it will mean a long time til we see you again. We hope you get some (a lot of) luck soon and that the hunt for a job for Paul comes to fruition soon. sending you lots of love
    Lisa, Alun & family

  2. Oh my heart breaks for you, I can only say I'm sending my love and wishing that things change soon, of which I'm sure they will xx

  3. Oh love im so sorry to hear about this :( Such unfair circumstanses to be in. I hope things improve for you soon.

  4. I'm so sorry to read this Ali. It must be soul destroying for you both and does seem incredibly unfair. I hope something comes along soon and that your happiness at being home will not become too tarnished by the 'system'. Much love and light to you all. Xxxx

  5. My first thought upon reading this is get it published in a newspaper, Ali. Get this destructive system out into the open and get people answering for it.

    It's totally wrong and Australia has to see what it does to people like yourselves who go over with such high hopes, only to have their dreams dashed because of beurocratic (sp?) nonsense like this. I'm so sorry for you both and hope that there is light at the end of the tunnel and common sense prevails without depleting your hard earned assets even more. Surely Australia is meant to be a land of opportunities, not stepping on your dreams?

    I thought England had the red tape problem. It seems that people aren't the only thing we've exported over there.

    Much love to you all and I truly hope luck will shine on you soon. xxx

  6. I echo what everyone else has said and could have written Gilly's post word for word. DO send your thoughts to a newspaper or post on Australian/Immigration Facebook pages if there are such a thing. Get this publicised and hopefully you will start to get some answers or opportunities. There will be good employers out there who might jump at the chance of taking Paul and helping him through whatever hoops he has to go.

    The good thing is that you are Australian and no one can accuse you of being a whinging Pom, if you catch my drift. You are complaining about YOUR country's system which is a more powerful place than if you were a foreigner.

    The term 'de-skilling' is also very powerful and I can totally empathise with Paul's despair here.

    I KNOW that in a while all this will be behind you and you will all start to enjoy the life you dreamed of; you are too positive a person for it to be any other way.

  7. So sorry to hear about this Ali - is it just UK qualifications that are held in such low regard or all other countries?

    Keep on fighting girl - as others have suggested I would send this blog post to the papers - brilliantly written

    Karen x

  8. So sorry to read this and hear of your troubles. Hope all works out well for you. Keep us posted. xxx

  9. How awful. Hope things are getting better for you and your lovely family Ali xxx