National News

Aust migration opportunities after Brexit

Skilled migration between Australia and the United Kingdom could step up after Brexit, if the UK can figure out a deal to get out of Europe.

Outgoing UK high commissioner to Australia Menna Rawlings says people movement between Australia and the UK was already high, but Brexit offers some opportunities.

She said skilled migration was a real issue for both countries.

"Some of the steps that each of our countries have taken in recent years to try to manage that and get the right balance in terms of incoming labour have led to certain challenges to people seeking to move skilled workers around," Ms Rawlings told the National Press Club on Wednesday.

"I think what leaving the EU will help us to do is to be more focused on the criteria, more focused on skills and talent and capability and less focused on geography.

"So I say watch this space in terms of how this plays out."

There were 1.1 million Australian visits to the UK last year, and in 96 per cent of cases people did not need a visa. In return there were 700,000 UK visits to Australia.

Ms Rawlings said Australia and the UK were very similar at a fundamental level, but in her four years as high commissioner she noted climate change as a major difference.

"I'm used to bi-partisanship broadly around climate policies," she said.

Ms Rawlings suggested the UK's shift out of coal power in the 1980s under Margaret Thatcher - just seven per cent of the UK's power is coal - had helped shift the national mood.

She also said it appeared Australia's connection to coal and the resources economy was much more "visceral" than in the UK.

Ms Rawlings drew some laughs from the crowd when she talked about seeing three Australian prime ministers in her four years, but also said that leadership turmoil had been repeated in many other major nations around the world.

She also said she found it hard to deal with the impact of the UK's colonisation on Australia's indigenous people, but was proud to support funding to get indigenous students to study at Oxford and other top UK universities.

© AAP 2018