ACS: New backflip expert?

commentary The Olympics may be over but backflips and all forms of manoeuvring are still in abundance. This time, it's the Australian Computer Society on the main podium.

commentary The Olympics may be over but backflips and all forms of manoeuvring are still in abundance. This time, it's the Australian Computer Society on the main podium.

It's confirmed ... the long-awaited report on IT migration, commissioned by the ACS, has been put in cold storage.

Allow me to refresh your memory -- last year, the ACS embarked on a mission to study the impact of offshoring on Australia's information technology and communications industry. Management consulting firm Whitehorse was hired for the task and promptly delivered in December 2003 -- when the Society said the report findings would be made public.

Then came backflip number 1.

ACS President Edward Mandla chose to "fine-tune" the text and release it by June so it will have an impact on Canberra when federal parliament sits. For the record, Mandla kept his word but eventually, only the first half of the findings -- on offshoring -- were released. The second part on the impact of foreign ICT professionals permitted to work in Australia was withheld.

When I spoke to Mandla in June, he said the reason for withholding the migration portion was because "another 60 pages was too long."

Wait until August, he said, when the ACS board members meets next. Then, the results would be announced together with a policy statement from the ACS.

Now for backflip number 2.

The IT migration report will not be made public, the ACS has decided.

What were the compelling reasons for this move. What happened after the findings were discussed with the Immigration Department?

Well, in an interview with Mandla on Monday, he said the statistics were outdated since the information was collated in September 2003.

Outdated? Now, that's one of the most creative (political speak for lame) excuses I've ever heard. The data isn't outdated; it's the ACS -- pussyfooting for eight whole months is ridiculous.

Instead, the migration report will be "updated", Mandla said, pledging that it will be out before the end of this year.

Why is this report so crucial? For starters, it seeked to dispel the myth of an ICT skills-shortage in Australia, which has been successfully manipulated by certain quarters and used to portray a dearth of computer professionals in order to obtain temporary business visas (specifically, subclass 457).

Then, there are the three key questions which the report was meant to address with regards to 457 visas: should applicants be skills tested; should the Immigration Department publish visa-holder salaries, and should the government move from vocational to competent English when assessing the applications.

In 2003, the 457 visa program added an estimated 4,800 to the labour supply of ICT professionals.

Incidentally, in February 2004, the Federal Government created a new salary threshold of $46,620 for foreign ICT professionals applying for temporary business visas. Other skilled migrant applicants have to meet a minimum of $37,720.

The migration report is important because it provides a guide to the future. The effects of population ageing is clear -- approximately 13 percent of the population is 65 years and over. The labour force totals more than 10 million people, about half the country. Will migration close this gap? Will a wider workforce lead to lower income taxes?

There's also the issue of residual income from migration.

The Immigration Department estimates the Commonwealth budget "can expect to benefit by more than $2 billion over a four-year period from the 42,363 temporary business entrants arriving between 2002 and 2003. State and territory budgets could gain about $800 million during the same period.

So, where's the motivation to create a better future in Australia? Perhaps, that too is an outdated notion.