Don't knock foreign labour, Ferguson says

If Australians don't want high-paid mining jobs they shouldn't hold back the nation by opposing imported labour, federal resources minister Martin Ferguson says.

Asked why the federal government's $3000-$9000 incentives for skilled workers to relocate to remote areas appeared to be failing, Mr Ferguson told AAP in Perth on Friday it was personal choice.

"Those who are in a position, who are hungry for a job, will chase it," he said.

"Other people, they're at a point in their life where they're not hungry for these high-paying jobs.

"They're content to retire early or to work part-time."

But if workers didn't want to move, they shouldn't complain about efforts to address the nation's skills shortage, Mr Ferguson said.

"If those people don't want to come and work on projects such as Gorgon or Roy Hill or the iron ore expansion of Rio or BHP, then don't deny Australia the opportunity to actually grab the export earnings through bringing in the shortage of labour required from overseas."

The minister dismissed union claims that resource companies simply wanted to import cheap labour, saying overseas workers were entitled to Australian wages and conditions.

"Bringing in these selected workers from overseas is more costly than employing Australians, but our problem is we do not have Australians in some of these specialised skills.

"What we're doing is in the best interest of Australia - it's about keeping these projects in Australia.

"If we don't supply the labour, the capital investment will go to other countries, and Australia will lose out."

Mr Ferguson said his government had invested heavily in skills training in recent years, but workers still needed relevant experience to be in demand.

He blamed the current skills shortage on the previous Liberal government, saying it had failed to invest in training and infrastructure.

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