Telstra boss Andrew Penn calls for end to ‘unhealthy’ and ‘potentially dangerous’ immigration debate

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Telstra chief executive Andrew Penn says political fearmongering around immigration in countries including Australia, the United States and United Kingdom is “unhealthy” and “potentially dangerous”.

Key points:

  • Andrew Penn urged the Federal Government to ease skilled migration restrictions
  • Telstra will set up a new innovation centre in Bangalore to be able to get the talent it needs
  • Mr Penn was not worried by Huawei ban on 5G network, said Telstra was in “a good position”

Mr Penn said software engineers, and people with know-how in data analytics and artificial intelligence, were among the key skills the telco was looking for, and urged the Federal Government to ease skilled migration restrictions.

“The fact is we cannot find in Australia enough of the skills we need on the scale that we need them, particularly in software engineering,” he said at a Committee for Economic Development of Australia lunch in Melbourne on Wednesday.

“There is simply not enough of them. The pipeline is too small.”

Immigration was a “vexed issue” and attracted “an enormous amount of political and media angst”, he said.

“It’s not just an issue in Australia.

“In the US and UK we are seeing significant negative commentary around immigration. I believe globally this is an unhealthy and potentially dangerous path for the world to take. We need to build skills in the world, not walls.”

Call to ease skilled migration restrictions

Mr Penn said an ongoing skilled migration policy was essential not just for Telstra, but the country.

“It is also important to remember that a well-targeted skilled migration policy is a job creator, not a job taker,” he said.

“Skilled migrants bring ideas, they bring expertise and innovation, and they bring capacity to train and skill their Australian colleagues.”

He said research by the IMF estimates that Australia’s migration program would add up to 1 per cent average GDP growth from 2020 to 2050 because it focuses on skilled migrants of working age, which limits the economic impact of Australia’s ageing population.

Meanwhile, Telstra is competing with other Australian corporates to get the talent it needs.

“That competition is fierce,” Mr Penn said.

“It is estimated that Australia will have a shortfall of 60,000 skilled workers in the ICT sector in the next five years alone. That means we are having to recruit some of those skills on the global market, including in places like India.”

Telstra would this year set up a new innovation centre in India’s Silicon Valley, Bangalore, to be able to get the talent it needs. Tech giants such as Google and Apple also were there trying to attract the best workers.

“We are not increasing the number of resources we have in India, we are bringing them in-house,” he said.

The company’s T22 strategy will see 9,500 staff made redundant and about 1,500 roles created, bringing net job cuts to 8,000 by 2022.

Mr Penn said it was “hardly surprising” that Telstra had to shed 8,000 roles given the introduction of the National Broadband Network meant the company was no longer the main wholesaler of broadband products.

“The decision that we can’t use them in Australia now in the mobile network is really one for the government and we will just adhere to that policy,” he said.

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