Having been a long campaigner for decent Western Sydney media coverage, you would think that I would be over the moon about the opportunity provided to us by the one week stayover by Julia Gillard in this area. It’s better than nothing, but from the ALP perspective, it will probably be nothing more than a week of the usual cliched appearances. One can predict a set of photo opportunities that will be afforded the Prime Minister from this description “The Prime Minister’s mini-campaign, which will kick off with a speech at the University of Western Sydney, is set to include a cabinet meeting, social media, events with ethnic communities, a focus on higher education and jobs”. I am sketching out a possible schedule.
Day One. Lindsay Day. Visit the University of Western Sydney, Werrington Campus with new Tertiary Education Minister, Chris Bowen (it’s newer, it was built by the Labor Government of the Hawke – Keating era). Make a speech about jobs in Western Sydney, training tomorrow’s business leaders, etc. Then, visit Penrith with the member, David Bradbury. Appear at various iconic Lindsay icons – Panthers, Penrith Plaza, the Nepean River (talk about the environment), a Local Factory wearing Orange Vests and a Hard Hat. Talk about local manufacturing jobs.
Day Two. Macarthur, Werriwa and Fowler Day. Visit Campbelltown (possibly the University of Western Sydney, Campbelltown Campus with Chris Bowen), then stand somewhere with Craig Emerson or Doug Cameron (Macarthur hasn’t got a Labor candidate as yet) next to a Business, perhaps in Macarthur Square. Meet locals somewhere near the fountain. Zip up to Werriwa with member Laurie Ferguson and appear at a Factory in the Ingleburn industrial estate (though, not at the Kimberly Clark nappy factory with its new machine – Barry O’Farrell has appeared there recently, in the stock awkward safety glasses pose). Then onto Fowler with Chris Hayes – going through the streets of Liverpool, talking to locals in the mall next to Westfield, concerned about their falling trade. Or, alternatively, to Cabramatta, fulfilling the “ethnic communities” quotient of the week.
Day Three. Parramatta and McMahon day. Appear at the pretty park next to the Parramatta River and MP Julie Owens, saying how Parramatta can continue to be considered Sydney’s Second CBD and how important it would be to develop commercial jobs for the region. Maybe even appear somewhere near some Parramatta footballers, kicking or passing a ball awkwardly to Jarryd Hayne. Then head west to McMahon, with Chris Bowen, finding a TAFE (possibly, say, at Wetherill Park) and saying how TAFEs are under threat from state Liberal governments – demonstrating how destructive Liberal Governments can be. Also highlighting that Bowen is now a Tertiary Education Minister, not the Immigration Minister anymore. (If I was Bowen, I would be screaming that from the rooftops).
Day Four. Greenway and Chifley Day. From the Rooty Hill base, visit Loyola College – next door to the Rooty Hill RSL, a Catholic senior high school and Trade Training Centre. Talk about a BER project at the school; appear with school students, member for Greenway, Michelle Rowland and member for Chifley, Ed Husic. Maybe even have a session where Husic and Gillard talk about Social Media to the students (after all, there are few better politicians in the Twitterverse than Husic). Somewhere during the day, visit some kind of business that has benefitted from carbon pricing, head up to a shinier new suburb like Stanhope Gardens, with Gillard and Rowland listening to the Concerns of the Local Residents at the local shopping centre. Maybe then head to somewhere in Mt Druitt with Husic, where there’s a government supported social justice program that is helping people cope with difficulties.
Day Five. Gillard Goes Bowling and does Laser Skirmish at the Rooty Hill RSL Bowling Alley and Laser Skirmish Centre. Wanders down to Rooty Hill shops in smart casual clothes and sits down at the local bakery, having a coffee and talking to local people. Then visit Rooty Hill High School and see the incredible job the teachers at that school are doing with students considered so poorly by many in our community. Talking to some parents of children at the school, who would have varied and interesting lives.
The last day is clearly a ridiculous idea for the Rootyhillard Week – it would be much better without the cameras and public focus. I wouldn’t wish the three ringed circus of journalists onto the hard working teachers of Rooty Hill High School – even if those journalists could get the slightest insight into just how complex and difficult the Western Suburbs are to characterise. The same goes for the staff at Loyola, or indeed any of those schools used by Gillard in her attempt to make herself into the Education Prime Minister.
I suspect we will really just see the loads of cliched photo opportunities listed above in Rootyhillard week. To highlight all the things the Government have done – though, some of the things mentioned are good things that need to be pointed out. In the background, we will see journalists, mostly unfamiliar with the areas, following the carnival around the West. They will just repeat the talking points, and / or portray it negatively – acting to represent all the cliches we always see of the Western Suburbs. Run down houses, housing commission areas, scruffy shopping precincts, people in trackies. They will also find, Sam Newman on the Footy Show style, particular types of scruffy locals showing displeasure / disgust / disrespect towards the PM in shopping malls and near wherever the PM is. No OLMC style adulation of Keating in 1996 on this trip, I suspect.
Amongst this week of unthinking cliches, the Opposition have started – a group who don’t have much of a right to complain about the stunt nature of the visit. The King of Safety Vests, Tony Abbott has already had the gall to say “Western Sydney wants a plan” – which is “abolishing the carbon tax, stopping the boats – ‘that’ll help reduce the pressure on western Sydney’ – and building Sydney’s WestConnex motorway”. “Stopping the boats” will have little impact on Western Sydney, as the number of boat arrivals being processed and therefore moving to the area is tiny, as compared to asylum seekers who arrive by plane; the carbon tax is having minimal impact on costs – indeed, the tax paid by a significant number of WS residents is lower due to the tax reform; the WestConnex motorway is a state government promise. If that’s a plan, it’s one written on the back of a beer coaster. Abbott wasn’t the only one to show his lack of real engagement with the region. George Brandis, a politician virtually unknown in the region, added ”I hope she campaigns in a lot more marginal seats, because she happens to be the most unpopular politician in Australia.” I don’t recall ever seeing the Shadow Attorney General hovering out Penrith way, nor do I imagine seeing him any time before September.
The optimist in me hopes that the week will turn into something more than a set of safety jacketed appearances. What might be a good thing for some of the accompanying journalists to do, for example, would be to put down the cameras and recorders and talk to a few punters at workplaces, in eating spots, shopping centres. Asking them what the actual issues are. They might find that the reason there is concern about asylum seekers is because of the way new arrivals to an area is poorly managed, in terms of housing and infrastructure – both physical and cultural. (What many in the WS don’t realise is that it isn’t really an asylum seeker issue, this is more a management of housing policy issue.) They might also learn that there are very real transport concerns – the dysfunctional train system largely untouched by successive state governments and local private bus services are a major barrier to social movement, for example. That there is a very real concern about the shutting down of manufacturing businesses, that shops can’t compete against online prices. They could maybe find out that there are serious problems with the impact of gambling. They might learn that the Government’s backing down about pokie reforms is a lost opportunity for the Government – if they had the courage to stand up to the gaming lobby, they could have started the action of helping many families in the area. They might also like to talk to local environmental campaigners, who can show just how much bushland is under threat, and how CSG is still a threat away from the suburban areas.
What concerns me is the way the Western Suburbs of Sydney has become many things it hasn’t deserved to become. A punchline for jokes for those people on Twitter who would never bother to visit. A topic that causes various people to shut off their ears. A meme for those lazy, unfunny and untalented people who wrote Housos to draw upon. A byword for “appealing to the lowest common denominator” in politics. A simple area easily boxed in by a significant percentage of our media outlets. I doubt that will change over this week of Rootyhillard. We shall see.
P.S. I thank @dg4president for the Rootyhillard title.