Australia will need to import workers if it wants to take full advantage of its abundant natural resources, the nation's largest private construction company says.
Daniel Grollo, chief executive of Grocon Group, wants the federal government to start planning for the massive skills shortage the country faces as private investment in infrastructure and construction recovers from the global financial crisis.
Huge gas developments off the northwest coast of Australia alone require a more mobile workforce and more skilled migrants, he says.
US energy giant Chevron is using thousands of workers to construct the A$43 billion (US$42.49 billion) Gorgon liquefied natural gas (LNG) project on Barrow Island off the northwest coast of Western Australia.
Also in WA, Chevron is planning its Wheatstone LNG project, while Woodside Petroleum Ltd (ASX:WPL) aims to expand its Pluto LNG project, construction of which is nearing completion.
"I think we've got a really, really big challenge up in the northwest. You've got to see this to believe it," Mr Grollo told an Australia-Israeli Chamber of Commerce lunch in Sydney on Tuesday.
"We've heard a lot about Gorgon, and the reality is another two or three projects of the same scale are coming in the very near future.
"Australia just does not have the mobility in its workforce to go and solve that issue.
"If we want Australia to be a prosperous country, if we want to take advantage of the natural resources we have, if we want to participate in the growth of China in the resources sector, then we're going to have to do something about people, and that's going to need a lot of foreign workers."
Mr Grollo described the focus on population control by both major parties during the last federal election campaign as "shameful".
He said more investment in infrastructure was needed to cope with Australia's growth.
"We're not going to solve the problems of density and how we live together in a growing population if we don't have a government with the courage to invest in infrastructure," he said.
"From my perspective today we've got governments around Australia who are more interested in their credit ratings than they are in investing in infrastructure."
Grocon is responsible for the construction of many buildings in Australia's capital cities, most recently completing Melbourne's AAMI Park.
It employs up to 1,200 people at any one time.
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