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"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

on western Sydney « Previous | |Next »
March 3, 2013

In his it’s not a freak show out west column in the Australian Financial Review Mark Latham explodes the main stream media's dinky-di westie myth or stereotype about the western Sydney region.

RoweDALPghosts.jpg David Rowe

The weekend AFR's editorial says that western Sydney is important because of the gaggle of marginal seats that Labor has to hold in its traditional heartland if it is to have any chance of retaining power.

'Traditional heartland' is the crucial phrase, and it is what Latham questions. He says:

The true story of western Sydney is one of economic affluence. People who grew up in fibro shacks now live in double-storey, solid stone homes. In their driveways Holdens and Ford Falcons have been replaced by tank-like four-wheel-drives and snappy European roadsters. Several public housing areas have been knocked down and rebuilt as private estates. Across the region, families which once manned the production lines of grease-infested factories now own their own businesses or, at a minimum, invest in the stock exchange.

He says that the new housing estates are a snapshot of prosperity, a powerful legacy of the deregulatory reforms of the Hawke-Keating government 30 years ago.

Latham adds that under Paul Keating’s economic policies working class people were given access to capital financing for home ownership and, better still, small business development. His productivity agenda also delivered real wage increases – lifting the boats in the National Centre for Social and Economic Modelling's (NATSEM) 2012 report.

The tragedy of modern Labor, he says, was the decision, after the party’s 1996 election loss, to shelve the Keating agenda and re-embrace the Crean-inspired claptrap of industry policy.

Ultimately, the reason Labor has not successfully promoted its economic achievements in the region is that the party itself doesn’t believe in them.Old smokestack unions representing old smokestack industries have cajoled federal caucus into opposing economic rationalism and competition policy. This is a missed opportunity. The best way of handling a Santamaria acolyte such as Tony Abbott on economic issues is to attack him from the right.

The ALP has forgotten that their economic reforms western Sydney has become a much better place with less poverty and more opportunity. This ALP equates the middle class with unions and defines its identity as standing for workers versus rich capitalist business owners and their shareholders.

He adds that the region has lost Labor in these sense that it no longer supports the working class template of government regulation, subsidisation and state-led development. If anything, people want government out of their lives, giving them the freedom to turn a dollar and raise their children the way they want. What they need are good schools and a health safety net.

What Latham doesn't say is that the social contract between the liberal state and the middle class is breaking down with globalization. Privatization of everything is one manifestation. Reduction of social benefits of all sorts is another. The mostly modest middle class families, who at one point owned or expected to own a house, can no longer afford to do so.

Systemic change undermining the old connection between the state and middle class, which was formed in the economic growth from the 1940s to the 1970s (suburbanization, manufacturing, household consumption, standardized scale of production etc) is already in process. Economic growth today is not promoting the expansion of the middle class; it is promoting the emergence of a high income professional class and a growth of low wage workers (eg., a casualised workforce).

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 8:44 AM | | Comments (21)


Finally a bit of policy substance to the standard Gillard bashing in the mainstream media.

Sounds like IPA spin.
Yes, some have profited through chaos and breakdown, opportunists feeding off the carcass.
And their has been a decisive swing toward capital in politics with consequences already manifest that have yet complete the most virulent phase of their cycle.
Many have not benefited from the cycle as un and underemployment figures, exacerbated by 457 visa abuse by employers, consign these to a dismal future. The cost to society of loss of consciousness and unconsidered life on life on the beltway treadmill treadmill sets the stage for a later fall.
It all looks pretty, but is it a house of cards?
I think Macmansion civilisation retreats very quickly to Hansonist civilisation, in the vaccuum distinguished by the modern cargo cult.

"Sounds like IPA spin."

Or maybe the market in an open economy is changing the nature of Australia's class structure.

"....maybe the market in an open economy..."


Really... "the market"...? Oh would this be the magical "market" that taxpayers all around the world have had to bail out in recent years?

One of the great invisible social issues in Australia is that of poverty and its increasing impact.

"A report by welfare organisation the Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) has found one in eight Australians is living in poverty.

ACOSS says that equates to more than 2.2 million people living below the poverty line in Australia and close to 600,000 of them are children."

Here is the killer punch line:
ACOSS says despite 20 years of economic growth, poverty has increased in Australia.
ACOSS chief Dr Cassandra Goldie says it is a national disgrace.
"This is the first time this figure has been counted in six years and it is deeply concerning to us that there is no reduction in the rate of poverty in Australia," she said.
"In fact it has slightly increased.
"In a wealthy country like Australia, this is simply inexcusable"
[So much for trickle down economics]

Contrast this ACOSS view to Latham's :
"He says that the new housing estates are a snapshot of prosperity, a powerful legacy of the deregulatory reforms of the Hawke-Keating government 30 years ago."

So if the poor, all 2,2 million or so of them, are not reperesented in West Sydneym then to paraphrase Scott Morrison's Tourist Aust ad:
"Where the ... are they?"

the market is an institution just as the government or the family is. A capitalist market has its own logic or dynamic --eg., increasing inequality---that can change the economic relations between and within the different classes over time. So the class structure in Australia in 2013 is different to that of 1940.

presumably the working class in the western Sydney region is in the process of transformation.

It is no longer all the same:--ie., a blue collar industrial working class based in the manufacturing industry. Eg., the tradies would be Latham's aspirationals. Other fragments would be the working poor; or those on welfare. Latham's point is that western Sydney is a diverse region due to the changes wrought by the open economy.

I was wondering...

How much this "prosperity" and magnificent aspirational life-style depend on private (and government) debt and middle-class welfare?

BTW... isn't if funny how the Libs avoid banging the interest-rates drum these days? They seemed to be quite fond of it a few years ago.

"How much this "prosperity" and magnificent aspirational life-style depend on private (and government) debt and middle-class welfare?"

probably quite a lot. Globalization is having a big impact on our everyday lives. The middle classes are the ones that have benefited the most from the modern state and its support of public transport, public schools, public health, public housing programs, public sector jobs. And this is now falling apart.

Sydney is mutating as it become part of the network of global cities constructed by the global corporate economy.

Global cities are today’s frontiers---a space where actors from different worlds encounter each other and there are no established rules.The frontier is deep inside such cities, it is not at the edge.

Gary... i still have a problem grasping what you mean by "the open economy" That's the sort of term that can mean many different things to different people.

If you mean it's a deregulated economy, based entirely on productivity, demand and competition... you've lost me.

It seems pretty clear that the "aspirationals" are pining for the unsustainable myth of the Howard era. They built their lifestyles on the "irrational exuberance" and can't cope with the world as it is today...

open economy in this context means deregulated (eg., what Keating did) and globalisation. The economic forces of corporate globalization have made Sydney a global city--part of a network of 40 cities-- and the dynamics is transforming or structuring it.

There is a class restructuring happening. We have new types of a professional class and new a new type of homelessness--families rather than single men.

This gives rise to new forms of contestation due to the increasing polarization dynamic. Inequality has increased; the middle is being squeezed apart from the top high income 20per cent professionals with their very high consumption lifestyle.

Fair enough...

But are the voters of western Sydney (the one's being courted by the major parties), primarily the drivers of this open economy... or are they the beneficiaries of various bubbles and government largesse?

No doubt, Latham's observation still stands. But it bothers me that so many in the mortgage belt think of themselves as self-reliant. And that these difficult times are entirely the government's fault.

mars 08,
they are not the drivers of this open economy--that's the multinationals.

The aspirational middle class are part of the new intermediate economy of specialized services resulting from the growing demand for intermediate services to handle central corporate functions that were previously managed inhouse by corporations and governments.

Information technology in all its forms would be an example of intermediate specialized services.

Maybe, these days, "the new intermediate economy of specialized services resulting from the growing demand for intermediate services" isn't growing fast enough for those folks. And that, in part, is why they're so angry?

I really do love that last comment from mars O8.

David Burchell, senior lecturer in politics and history at UWS, divides western Sydney into three sub-regions:

(1) inner west, close to the city, where the Greens compete with Labor;
(2) the middle west, that used to be rusted onto the ALP, and;
(3) the outer west, with many young families, mortgaged to the hilt, who are swinging voters.

The anger more likely comes from those on average wages in the outer suburbs who buy into entry-level homes that cost $400,000.

That means few dollars are left for all the other costs of living and even modest price hikes bite. They know they live one crisis away from poverty and worry about their job security and their children's future.

Chris Uhlmann makes a further point about those living in the outer suburbs of western Sydney:

The people of the west have the longest average commuting times in the nation, through badly congested road networks and on crowded trains and buses. They feel the press of people about them because they live in the front line suburbs where most of Australia's large immigration intake actually lands, far from the inner city where the policy makers live and where the worthy shake their heads at the intolerance of the ignorant masses.

Another reason why they are angry?

"the main stream media's dinky-di westie myth or stereotype about the western Sydney region."

James Arvanitakis says that the myth of the "average" western Sydney goes something like this:

a xenophobic, uneducated, homogenised, working class and crime strangled community caught in one, big, traffic jam. All these problems could be solved with a couple of big-ticket items including a new freeway that can take you all the way into the city of Sydney

Sounds familiar doesn't it. The myth reflects the increasing disconnection between everyday life experiences and formal politics.

western Sydney is Sydney’s "other"