Frank McGuire – Herald Sun
7 October 2016
MANY workers describe the end of a way of life marked by the closure of Australia’s once proud car industry as being like a death in the family.
Loss of livelihoods and identity are felt deeply among families and communities whose muscle, sweat and manufacturing nous have underwritten prosperity for generations.
Broadmeadows is hardest hit and most vulnerable when the Ford Motor Company’s iconic assembly lines, once a marvel of innovation, fall silent today. Knowing the closure date in advance makes little emotional difference to the end of the line.
Likewise, Victoria’s second-biggest city, Geelong is also recoiling at the end of its era producing passenger vehicles. Holden and Toyota fall like dominoes next year with job losses in Victoria estimated at up to 100,000.
The challenges will be daunting and the threats dangerous if wilful blindness, political bias and the lack of a co-ordinated plan prevail.
Former premier John Brumby designated Broadmeadows as the capital of Melbourne’s north, a place where a booming population is expected to house one in 20 Australians over the next two decades.
This economic engine room is already more than four times the size of Geelong and is expected to grow by another half a million people in the next 20 years.
Gaming of the political system must change, given the social impact of deindustrialisation in a time of terror. When Tony Abbott went to ASIO for a prime ministerial photo opportunity on national security, the home of Ford’s Australian headquarters, Campbellfield, was identified as a possible terrorist recruitment hotspot.
Convergence of Coalition governments, state and federal, left the unemployment rate in Campbellfield and Broadmeadows equal to Greece and youth unemployment at more than 40 per cent.
Before this year’s federal election, the Turnbull Government announced a $50 billion investment in submarine manufacturing to make up for the demise of the automotive industry in South Australia where there was a cluster of marginal seats, while denying access to almost $1 billion earmarked to help automotive supply chain businesses survive by finding new markets, devastating jobs in safe Labor seats in Melbourne’s north.
Pocketing the funds, the Coalition declared the money was needed for higher priorities, then fought an election in which its highest priority was, dare I repeat that three-word slogan, “jobs and growth.”
The Australian Government’s attitude to Melbourne’s north echoes British PM Margaret Thatcher’s managed decline that proved disastrous for the north of England.
Meanwhile, the one-term Victorian Coalition government adopted a “reverse Robin Hood” strategy, redistributing almost $100 million in Labor funding for shovel-ready infrastructure projects for Broadmeadows to sandbag marginal seats while now Opposition Leader Matthew Guy was minister for planning and boasting that he represented the families of Broadmeadows as a Liberal in Victoria’s Upper House.
The Victorian Coalition also axed $25 million to the Kangan Institute at the worst possible time, given the need to retrain workers, then merged it with Bendigo TAFE to pork-barrel another marginal seat.
The state Coalition even attempted to win the new seat of Sunbury by redistributing another $30 million from Victoria’s poorest community in a ploy that was unprecedented, unfair and unsustainable.
Postcodes of disadvantage are increasingly complex and bearing a greater burden, Jesuit Social Services declared in last year’s report, Dropping off the Edge.
Yesterday I unveiled a strategy to help transform postcodes of disadvantage into postcodes of hope. My call is for a return to the politics of responsibility, not simply ultimate ends.
We are witnessing the end of Australia’s post-war industrial settlement, in which the challenge was to populate or perish, where multiculturalism was forged on the factory floor and employment awaited families with the imagination to dream of a better future and the courage to cross the world to pursue it.
My family arrived in Broadmeadows in 1959 when it was a raw fringe at the end of the line, the same year Ford began local production, providing gainful employment. The accents might have changed but not the aspirations as Broadmeadows has evolved into a cultural United Nations in one neighbourhood.
Mutual obligation requires a co-ordinated strategy to turn adversity into opportunity beyond partisanship, regret and the political cycle. One of the best anti-radicalisation initiatives is a job that helps connect the disconnected and one of the most effective national security responses is community engagement, as I have long argued in parliament and these pages.
Canberra cannot be a bystander when it comes to making change a friend, not an enemy.
Frank McGuire is Victoria’s first Parliamentary Secretary for Medical Research and Labor MP for BroadmeadowsGeneralIssues & OpinionsMediaNewspaper