Get a job, bogans; or why Western Sydney is more complicated than that

The political conversation about Western Sydney over the past week has veered from bewildered wonderment, through ignorant derision and into utter rubbish. My frustration has grown, as I sit on the train in the morning, winding my way through the suburbs into the city.

Often this week, I’ve looked up from the Twitter conversation I’m following, with the radio babbling away in my ears, and ponder my fellow commuters. They look nothing like the species homo boganistus being discussed by earnest political pundits who baulk at the distance between Bondi and Strathfield.

Western Sydney, home to nearly 2 million people, is a vast, diverse, fascinating, interesting, changing place. Fairfield is not the same as Kellyville, which is not the same as Auburn, and is different to Glenmore Park. It would be facile, at best, to label everyone in Brisbane as being exactly the same, so why is this so hard to do with Western Sydney?

After a week of whinging about this on Twitter, I had a discussion with @prestontowers and @Drag0nista about looking in more detail at some aspects of Western Sydney – putting that frustration into something useful. We agreed, as bloggers who live in Western Sydney, to do some background pieces, as other media seems only capable of taking pictures of run-down skateparks, or interviewing Liberal candidates. So today’s post is about employment.

Round and round we go
In 2008, the Urban Research Centre at UWS, produced a report for WSROC (Western Sydney Regional Organisation of Councils) about the future of employment in Western Sydney. The findings were stark. The traditional manufacturing base, while still strong, was in decline. The fastest growing sectors were health and social services, with some increase in professional work, but still far behind the rest of Sydney. Unless things changed, there would be a significant job creation deficit in respect to population growth.

This study, along with many others, has highlighted that over one third of all Western Sydney workers commute outside the area for work with the average person taking over an hour to get to work. In addition, the lack of proper transport links within Western Sydney make internal commuting equally problematic. Transport is something Preston Towers will address in more detail, but it is also central to understanding the nature of work in Western Sydney.

All areas of Western Sydney have higher unemployment than other parts of Sydney, but this is variable across the different regions. The area has fewer people with university degrees, and more with trade qualifications. Historically, the region was settled by people pushed out of the inner city and new migrants to Australia; attracted by the lower housing costs. But the area is changing, and changing fast.

The drop in manufacturing jobs is not unique to Western Sydney, but as they represent such a large part of employment in the region, this economic change has a greater impact. The newer health and social service jobs don’t attract as much attention, but this sector is growing. Those doing professional, scientific and technical jobs, that often bring higher wages, are also increasing, but they are having to go outside the region to do them.

Why? Well, there is one university, that began in 1989. Imagine one university servicing the whole of Brisbane, and you get an idea of the level of disadvantage this represents. There is one major tertiary hospital, and several smaller ones, limiting access to research positions, compared to the inner city and northern suburbs. Traditionally, there have been few large corporate headquarters but this is starting to shift, with the continued development of NorWest Business Park. However, until the north west rail link is complete, this will still be hard to access.

Government Departments are still concentrated in the city, although some state government offices have moved to Penrith and Parramatta. Employment lands in the south west have been zoned and are working their way through the planning process. This area is not serviced by rail yet, with the line to Leppington still under construction.

To get an idea of what this means, imagine St Leonards on the North Shore of Sydney, not having a rail link and everyone who worked there, driving in every day.

None of this is new. As I said earlier, there have been a myriad of reports on how to create more jobs within the Western Sydney region and take some pressure off the creaking transport infrastructure. But more than that, the grind of the daily commute – for some it’s four hours a day – would be lessened.

But what’s the answer?
The solutions are also well known – increased employment land, better transport, moving of government departments and targeting marketing of Western Sydney as a place to do business. However, decades of neglect, from both state and federal governments, means urgent investment is needed now. More reports, more studies, more promises would be an utter waste of time.

For all Howard’s celebration of his battlers, his government hardly rushed to put the spoils of privatisation or tax revenues into any kind of infrastructure there. The failings of the State ALP Government, announcing transport plan after transport plan, while refusing to get their hands dirty and actually build anything, are well known. Neither level of government has been willing to relocate from the centre of Sydney, or open a new university. This week, WSROC released their usual Groundhog Day list of priorities for the region. Again, none of this is news. Western Sydney has been at the bottom of both state and federal government infrastructure delivery for decades.

The days of the ALP delivering large scale infrastructure are long gone. And the idea that the conservatives are going to do it is laughable.

Sneering at Western Sydney for being pissed off with all governments is only possible from the well provisioned suburbs closer to the harbour. The folks on my train in the morning don’t need you to ‘educate them’; they want a seat between Penrith and the city or a job closer to home.

Update [5/3/2013]: As hsp2013 pointed out in comments, I didn’t include the Westmead Children’s hospital as another tertiary hospital, so thanks for that! Also Preston Towers has been busy over the last two days with his posts on housing and transport, so go and have a read. Next one, in this series, from me tomorrow.


About bluntshovels

Freelance writer, with an unhealthy interest in Senate committees.
This entry was posted in economics, jobs, policy, Western Sydney. Bookmark the permalink.

20 Responses to Get a job, bogans; or why Western Sydney is more complicated than that

  1. Thank you! Excellent & informative. Comparisons to Brisbane really bring the area into perspective.

  2. Great piece. I think that your contention that “Western Sydney” deserves a lot more nuanced discussion is spot on. The NSW ALP need to stop being scared of what the Libs might say about them and commit to building some lasting improvements for their constituents. I look forward to reading more.

    • bluntshovels says:

      Thanks Dave – what baffles me is that such a huge region remains shrouded in mystery for most commentators. All the reports are out there, publically accessible, into what’s needed and what the deficits are. Or they could, I don’t know, come and visit?!

  3. Lyndal says:

    Great piece – you have articulated our needs so well, thank you!

  4. Peter Murphy says:

    I think the WSROC definition doesn’t go far enough; shouldn’t Camden and Campbelltown be part of “Western Sydney”? That would make it over 2 million. surely.

  5. Pat Rayner says:

    Important article but how to get it to the MSM? Very important to get message out that Western Sydney is not one homogeneous mass, that it is made up of small businesses, professionals in education, medicine, etc. it is the food bowl of Sydney bringing in $12 billion a year, has an ethnic and culinary richness and has been a political football by politicians and commentators who very often have little first hand experience of any part of this region. The media has generally only focused on Western Sydney as problems, unemployment, low students completion rates, violence etc.
    As someone who has worked in various parts of Western Sydney for over 20 years I have often heard people from other areas of Sydney make the most ignorant and extraordinary statements based on this very narrow media focus.
    Well done Eleanor and Prestontowers.

  6. Peter J Hinton says:

    And an international airport wouldn’t go astray either. It would create thousands of jobs and bring much needed focus to the region. I cannot fathom why our state and federal politicians don’t just push the button on this!

    • bluntshovels says:

      Peter, as we’ve discussed on the Tweetz, I disagree about the airport, but open to reading some data, so feel free to either Tweet some linkage or post here.

  7. JewelNature says:

    ABC News 24 this evening revealed that Tony Abbott looked very uncomfortable in western Sydney, even surrounded by minders with his daughter and wife in tow, and looked filthy (angry) about having to clean up Australia there (for the tv cameras) when he’d clearly rather be somewhere else… like the North Shore.

  8. hsp2013 says:

    Thanks for working on providing more nuance. Don’t live in the west but work at one of the 2 tertiary hospitals (the kids’ hospital counts as one all of its own) and am constantly annoyed that the obvious and growing needs in the area seem to be recurrently ignored while areas much better serviced keep getting more.

    I likewise find it bizarre that the media and others seem to choose to paint the residents in a homogenous palette, when those I meet on a daily basis demonstrate the diversity of a thriving city.

    Look forward to future instalments.

    • bluntshovels says:

      Thanks for the correction on the hospitals – I’ve updated the post to include the info about the kid’s hospital. I wonder sometimes if anyone from the inner city could see how huge the Westmead complex is, and reflect on how many people it serves.
      Lovely reflections on the people of this wonderfully diverse place too.

  9. Pingback: What is Western Sydney? Part One – Housing «AusVotes 2013 AusVotes 2013

  10. Thanks for the article. Having spent my early years in the WSROC area then 20 years in Brisbane before returning to the outer fringe of western Sydney the comparisons you make are particularly eye opening.

  11. frednk says:

    The trouble is, Western Sydney is the excuse used by Labor to join in the fight with the Liberals to the bottom of the sewer over Asylum seekers that arrive on boats. And lets be honest, no other area in Australia produces an audience for the likes of Allen Jones.

  12. canbebitter says:

    very informative, thanks!

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  14. Karen says:

    Hi there, thanks for such a great article on Western Sydney. I was also disappointed in the coverage of Western Sydney by the Sydney media around the Prime Minister’s visit. Having lived here for many years, I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else in Sydney – the diversity of people and cultures brings depth to the region. And yes, it would be great to have better public transport and work closer to home.

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