“I want some real information please!” Beyond the PR puff pieces about Australia

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Many migrants – Malaysians and from other countries alike – are shocked by what Adelaide is really like.  No, I’m not talking about its beauty which is considerable. I’m talking about the Adelaide economy, the attitudes of employers and work culture, how the locals are really like, what are the nuts and bolts of getting a home and finding a support network….

When I embarked on this journey way back in 2009 I found many PR puff pieces on the Internet and from migration agents about sandy beaches, life in the sun, and the “booming” economy. Being a naturally sceptical person I searched for more “real” information about what life is really like Down Under.

The Whirlpool forums was a great place to start if you’re looking for more “real” information, but a caveat: Just because some people are having a hard time in Australia, doesn’t mean that you will. There are some folks that slide into life in Australia like a hand in a silk glove, but knowing what it’s really like on the ground will help you come up with strategies that will enable you to succeed as a migrant. I know it helped me.

Still, there’s no beating real-life experience.

For one, despite researching things very thoroughly, I was still surprised caught off guard by how reality didn’t match my expectations, and how tough the migration journey was!

The denialists

I created this blog because I wanted to tell people what life was really like as a migrant. What I found fascinating, however, was that there was a strong culture of “don’t say anything bad about Australia” among Malaysian migrants and Australians.

I still remember being hushed in a restaurant by a Malaysian migrant who cast a nervous look at the Australians at the next table when I spoke about SA’s economic issues and the parochial attitudes of its employers. Another migrant would literally tell me to shut up when I bring up sensitive topics.

When I wrote my post about sham contracting, I faced strong opposition from some Malaysian migrants who accused me of discouraging new or potential migrants. I sometimes wonder if this attitude was the reason why many people find it difficult to find solid information about the realities of life as a migrant in South Australia?

Tough love in print

Fortunately, there are people who are willing to speak up despite the opposition and disapproval. I recently came across the writings of one Malcolm King whose insightful, no-holds-barred opinion pieces I thought were really spot on. I wasn’t surprised when King came under fire from State Treasurer Tom Koutsantonis after he wrote a blistering op ed piece about SA’s unmentionable problems. It’s easier to deny that there’s a problem than to do something about it, eh?

He called Adelaide Amish in the piece Adelaide: decline and fall. And I’m sure many migrants would feel the sting of Hold skilled migration until SA economy improves. He said something not many people would say in polite company let alone in the public sphere:

Why would a state government spin SA’s charms to people in England, India and China, when locals can’t get a job here? The answer is – money.

In a broad-based and diverse modern economy, migrants pump cash into the state for rental accommodation, schools, food and utilities. They may take six months to a year to get a job and, when they do, they become ‘cash generators’. Migrants are a boon when the economy is going well for a raft of social and economic reasons.

Ouchie.

Do read Malcolm King’s columns. You may hate what he has to say, but I think his opinion is valid and he does point out uncomfortable facts. For one, I share his concern about SA’s lack of economic diversity. For example, SA’s top industries are Healthcare and Social Assistance, Retail and Manufacturing. What it desperately needs is to build a knowledge-based economy or to create a dynamic entrepreneurial community.

Oh, Susan, why are you being such a downer? You may wonder. I’m just saying that you need to know exactly what you’re in for if you move to South Australia. (And I say SA, as I haven’t a clue about other states.)  It could make for a happier and smoother experience. (Hopefully.)

Others would say: why are you being so negative? Life is so much better here! No need to stress and work under bad bosses in jobs that demand 15-hour workdays. Hate to say this but you get them here too. Also, is a better lifestyle worth sacrificing a career that you’ve spent decades building? Some cannot fathom the idea and would be depressed by that. Some can and are more than wiling to do it. And some think that they can but end up realising that the couldn’t!

So nothing is more important than clarity when it comes to moving countries. You got to be sure what motivates you to make such a life-changing decision. And if you’re clear about what it is, remind yourself every single day.

To achieve clarity, you need information. Real information. Not just stories about the beaches and barbies in the backyard.

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8 thoughts on ““I want some real information please!” Beyond the PR puff pieces about Australia

  1. Australia is in a cross road. Mining killed manufacturing. The mining boom pushed up unreasonable salary across all sectors and make manufacturing noncompetitive and not viable. Now mining is in decline and the worst nobody expect the newly emerged oil and gas industry has the hardest hit with oil price around $50 a barrel.
    The engineering industry has the hardest hit. If you are an engineer and you migrated now, chances of you getting a job is very slim. Local engineers are make redundant. BHP, Santos and engineering companies that support them are retrenching and down sizing.
    I agree with you that Australia has to reform its economy. Putting all eggs in the resources industry is suicidal. Rebuilding its dying manufacturing industry has the up most urgency. Encouraging entrepreneurship and innovative technology will help to diverse the economy into a more sustainable path. A lot of everyday engineering including design and fabrication are currently awarded to other countries including Malaysia because they are lot cheaper. We are too expensive and we lost a contract to a Malaysian company recently. My colleague jokingly say that we have to go to Malaysia to find employment.
    Even the Australian Government concluded that building the twelve submarines oversea is cheaper and they excluded Australian Submarine Corporation from bidding.
    From my opinion, I have worked with very intelligent individuals here. I am an engineer. Unlike Malaysia engineering is unregulated here. Everyone can call them engineer and practice as engineer without formal engineering education except in the state of Queensland. Despite that I found an electrician or whatever trade that they claim to be engineer despite without qualify engineering education are much much better and knowledgeable than degree qualified engineers in Malaysia. On the other hand, Australia is also not short off degree qualified engineers. They just have to work with their counterparts who are trade in background. A Master or PHD in engineering is practically useless here. Job is pretty much hands on. Companies are reluctant to invest in training. They want someone that can hit the ground and running. That make it harder for new migrants to fit in.
    I have seems a lot of innovations by Australian engineers to be competitive. Automation in design is unseen before and it works better as auto generation of work eliminate errors and reduce the expensive hours. I strongly believe the people here are capable to further provide innovation technology and marketing it. I am looking at this option right now.

    • Thanks for your thoughts, William. I guess for us migrants we have to always be one step ahead of the game.

  2. Thank you for writing such an honest piece.

    I think the reality is that most migrants tend to land in bigger cities like Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane. Jobs are easier to come by, the environment is more vibrant, and the economy is more diversified.

    Adelaide, by comparison, is a smaller city that’s not as dynamic. It is very parochial, and the local government is desperate to get people to come and invest.

    You’re right to point out that Malaysian migrants have to look beyond positive images, and they need to examine the reality in South Australia more closely.

    I believe the best way is to turn the looking glass the other way.

    For example, if a foreigner was to come to Malaysia and wants to work in the media industry, would you advise him/her to land in Taiping? Kulim? Seremban?

    No, you would tell him/her to go straight to Kuala Lumpur, wouldn’t you? =)

    Secondly, South Australia is suitable for rugged and adaptable individuals who like the parochial lifestyle. However, many Malaysians are urban dwellers and come from very sheltered backgrounds. They wouldn’t even know how to jumpstart a stalled car or do simple repairs around the house.

    Potential migrants need to be honest about their limitations before they actually make the leap into emigrating.

  3. On a personal note, I think parochialism is not something that’s unique to South Australia. In fact, you’ll find the exact same thing in Malaysia.

    For example, I’ve always been upfront about the need for freedom of religion, and I have always spoken out about how minorities like the Shiites and Ahmadiyya are bullied in Malaysia.

    Unfortunately, this brought me in conflict with a ultra-conservative blogger who thinks I shouldn’t be publicising such things. I won’t name him here, but if you’ve been following the Arlene Tan and Mak­cik Haj­jah Sitt Al-Wuzara controversy, you’ll know who he is.

    At one point, he even hijacked my identity and posted nasty messages online, trying to turn people against me.

    When I confronted him, you know what his justification was? He admitted that he needed to discredit me so that foreign investors wouldn’t be scared off from Malaysia.

    However, I found that ridiculous. I’m not so influential that my writings would scare off investors. And besides, does sweeping the issue under the carpet really make things any better?

    I’m sorry for the rant, but I just needed to get that out of my system. =)

    Regardless of Australia’s shortcomings, at the very least, you don’t get persecuted for talking about social injustice. Yes, there’s always room for improvement, but the basic constitutional freedoms are upheld, and to me, that’s the most important thing.

  4. Hi Susan,

    I recently found your blog and I have found it to be very interesting. Thank you for all the information you have shared. May I ask you a few questions?

    I’ve been thinking about moving for some time now. I am 24 year old Malaysian female and my partner lives in Sydney. I would love to join him,but I have almost no working experience and I am a fresh graduate from England. My field of study is in the skilled occupations list. Is migrating possible for me? I’ve read about all the visas and I am very confused. Will I be able to get my own visa if I have an offer or does the company have to take it for me? Please help! Thank you!

  5. Hi Susan, I am Terence from Malaysia. I have been thinking of migrating to Australia and I actually got the green light from my wife (to my surprise). I was told by an agent that we should usury wife as the primary applicant as her occupation is on the SOL.
    I have a friend who migrated to Adelaide & it seems like he’s adjusting well. From what I gathered from your blog, life is not a bed of roses. That’s granted. I don’t live in a la la land. However I am concern about the high unemployment rate in Adelaide as you had shared.
    Our plan is for me to slug it out in Adelaide before having my wife & daughter over. What interest me about Australia is the education & quality of life. Not to mention the space premium & quality of air.
    My question is this. I m in IT sales but I am willing to take on any job as long as I can support my family. I m totally able to take on jobs ‘below’ me. In your opinion, will I be able to land a job that will be able me to provide for my family? Fyi I m expecting my wife to take on job to support the family once she’s in Adelaide.

  6. A thorough piece of information here! Migrants, no matter how well prepared they are, have to go through the initial pain of finding base in a new country and a new society. Other than migration laws and visa details, it is advisable that migrants get information from experienced and reliable sources like their migration agent, friend, family, employer and any other who has first hand information of the country and the region you are intending to stay. A mental prep up, I feel goes a long way in stabilising the lives of migrants to a great extent. Australian immigration policies ( elaborated on http://dmsmigration.com) have designed to boost the economy. Hopefully, there are more initiatives by the government to train and improve local job seekers’ prospects.

    Loved your post for the concern and authenticity.

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