Regional inequality and the Illawarra





SUBJECTS: Regional inequality and the Illawarra

MELINDA JAMES, HOST: Scott Morrison has told the Productivity Commission, to look into as a matter of urgency the regions and towns that will be hardest hit as the mining investment boom ends. I’m joined now by Stephen Jones who is the Federal Member for Whitlam here locally, and also the Shadow Minister for Regional Services. Stephen Jones, good morning.


JAMES: What’s wrong with this review that Scott Morrison has asked the Productivity Commission to do? Isn’t it a good and reasonable thing to look into?

JONES: In one sense, any focus on what’s going on in regional Australia is welcome. We’ve seen report after report this year show that there are two Australias; there’s the Australia of the capital city where productivity is increasing, jobs are increasing and growth is increasing, and then there’s the second story in regional Australia where things are going backwards, and we need to have in place strategies that are going to turn that around. I welcome the fact that they’re going to look at what’s happening in regional Australia, but if you’re just looking at what’s happening in the mining regions, you’re going to miss a big part of the picture because it’s not just mining: It’s agriculture, it’s manufacturing that’s coming off in these regions, and there doesn’t seem to be a strategy from the Government on how you turn these things around.

JAMES: There’s been some speculation that it is going to be politically motivated because the government is concerned about disaffected people in regional areas, as we’ve seen in the US, maybe moving towards One Nation because of what they feel is the two-speed economy and that they’re missing out.

JONES: The test for that is what did the government day during the election campaign? Next to nothing was said about what was going on in regional Australia, and I know that, because I spent most of my time during the election campaign in regional Australia, where there’s a very different conversation going on. The concerns are about “what are the jobs that I’m going to have when I’m a fourty five, fifty year old male and I’ve been working in manufacturing most of my life, I can see that there’s changes coming my way. What’s going to be the next job that I have? What’s going to be the job my kids have?” These are the sorts of conversations and sorts of strategies we need to be addressing.

I think there needs to be three or four parts to that strategy: We need to be investing in the sort of infrastructure that’s going to be help regions like ours transform. That’s about broadband and communications infrastructure, but also getting our transport links right and not enough is being done in that area. Secondly, it’s about education because we’ve got to be investing in our schools, in our TAFEs and Universities to ensure that we are turning out students who are fit for the workforce of the future. The second part of that I’ve got to say also Melinda, is having an honest conversation with people who are at school right now, saying; there is also not a realistic prospect that you are going to be able to leave school early without completing, and you’re going to have a middle class lifestyle. It’s just not going to happen in the workforce of the future. And then thirdly, I think we need to have transition plans for people who are being affected in regions by downturns. Now, that’s going to look different in every region, and for different age groups within regions. The strategies needed for looking after guys who’ve work in mining or manufacturing all their life who are in their mid to late fifties are going to be very very different to strategies that are needed to look after young single mums or young workers leaving school today.

JAMES: So, it sounds like you’re saying a lot of this talk, particularly here in the Illawarra about the boom in age care services, in health, is really a furphy that these industries will provide jobs for middle aged white men, which as you say, have been left behind by the loss of manufacturing jobs here.

JONES: Well, I don’t want to mix the message. There is absolutely a growth in those areas. If you look at the sectors that are going to grow in the Illawarra and right around the country, there is going to be a growth in the health and caring sector; about a 16% increase in job opportunities between now and 2020. In education and training, and it’s not all school teaching, it’s in the whole education and training sector, it will be close to a 15% growth in that area. And in the arts and recreation area, what’s something that’s often overlooked is it’s not all about art galleries. It’s about tourism and recreation services – these sorts of things – you’ll see an almost 11% growth in those sectors as well. So there is growth happening in those areas of the economy, but it’s simply not realistic for us to be saying to a group of people who have worked in one job all their life, and they’re in their late fifties, early sixties, “you’re going to stop being a machine operator and you’re going to start working in a restaurant.” We’ve got to be a bit more nimble than that. 

JAMES: Our very region might become a very stark example of this two-speed economy very soon. People in the North of the region might be quite excited by the construction of the Badgerys Creek Airport and the jobs that will be provided by the incredible housing construction boom that’s about the take off in South Western Sydney, and yet, anyone South of about Shellharbour will probably miss out.

JONES: Look absolutely, the further you move South throughout the Illawarra and South Coast, there’s every indicator that inequality is growing, and there’s no strategies in place that are addressing that. But, we’ve got to have within this a message of hope, I think. We’ve got to be able to say to young kids who are in year eight or nine at high school, there is actually a hope for you in the future, the Government’s got your back if you stick to it and you’re working hard at school, but it’s going to be looking very different to the sort of jobs that your parents had. And we’ve got to be as a Government ensuring that we’re providing the infrastructure in place to help people in those Southern regions make that transition. I am actually hopeful about what can be done, but I think the policy settings in place at the moment aren’t up to it.

JAMES: Alright Stephen Jones, thanks for joining us this morning.

JONES: Good to be with you.

JAMES: That’s the Federal Member for Whitlam, Stephen Jones, and as I mentioned, the Government will be releasing its mid-year economic update next week, it will be interesting to see what it contains with things being a little bit on a precipice here in Australia.