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.