A $30 million Government funding package aimed at creating more jobs for redundant BlueScope workers was a poorly-planned political manoeuvre, according to a UOW academic.
UOW Head of economics, Dr Martin O’Brien, said the fund was the result of the Gillard Government reacting too fast to a sensitive political issue.
The Government set up the Illawarra Region Innovation and Investment Fund (IRIIF) after 800 workers were made redundant at BlueScope Steel’s Port Kembla works in 2011.
The fund was meant to generate 880 new jobs in the region, and, according to Dr O’Brien, was supposed to directly support those who were made redundant.
However, Dr O’Brien said it was clear the fund would never have been able to properly support those who lost their jobs.
“If you’re going to create jobs it’s not going to be in the manufacturing area where these guys lost their employment,” he said.
Dr O’Brien is completing a study of 100 BlueScope workers who were made redundant to determine how they were affected.
He said of the 100 workers surveyed, only one third had found new jobs, and nearly all the workers over the age of 60 were still unemployed 18 months on.
Dr O’Brien said the problem was that the workers didn’t have the skills or qualifications to get jobs in the region’s growth industries, where much of the funding was going.
“Manufacturing is on the decline and other areas like education and tourism are taking its place,” he said.
“You either try and prop up a dying industry, which is dead money, or you spend it on the growth areas.”
Dr O’Brien said the Government needed to adopt deeper, longer-term thinking about policy in the growth areas, as well as committing to investing substantial amounts of money into them.
Yet, he didn’t think the Government was willing to spend that money, as it was too focused on making a budget surplus.
“Both sides of the political fence are playing these games where a surplus is good, and a deficit is bad, but it’s to the detriment of longer term thinking and planning,” Dr O’Brien said.
However, Minister for Higher Education and Skills and the Member for Cunningham, Sharon Bird, said the Gillard Government was investing more money into the region’s tourism and education sectors than ever before.
“We are massively investing in education as an economic driver in this region,” Ms Bird said.
The Minister said it was possible to support both the manufacturing industry, and the growth industries Dr. O’Brien referred to.
“I don’t think the manufacturing industry is a dying industry at all. I do certainly think it’s a changing industry though,” she said.
“I think it’s becoming less manpower based, and more innovation and technology based, but I don’t think that necessarily means less jobs.”
Port Kembla: Two years on
When Captain Cook first saw Port Kembla in 1770, he named it Red Point because of its distinctive redstone headland.
The town was renamed after Kembla Mine established a major port there. It earned an unsavoury reputation, especially after severe economic decline in the latter half of the 20th century.
Seventy-one-year-old Dulcie Dal Molin, photographer and president of Red Point Artists, has lived in Port Kembla her entire life. She believes the town is undergoing a cultural rebirth and deserves a better reputation.
Words: AMELIA CADDY
Video: HARRISON VESEY