Victorian election 2014: Jobs the key for voters in the marginal region of Geelong

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ABC Victoria: Victorian election 2014: Jobs the key for voters in the marginal region of Geelong. By Cameron Best Mon 20 Oct 2014

Jobs, jobs, jobs. It is the big issue in Geelong, a city hit hard by the downturn in manufacturing.

Employment could also be the issue which hands the job of Premier to either Denis Napthine or Daniel Andrews in next month’s state election because Geelong is also home to three marginal electorates.

Unemployment in the Geelong region had spiked in recent months, with 12,000 people out of a job last month according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

The region’s unemployment rate was 9.5 per cent for September, following large scale redundancies from Alcoa, Ford and Qantas at Avalon in recent months.

“It’s no surprise, in fact I feel the figures are way higher than what are being reported,” Geelong Region Local Learning and Employment Network chief Anne-Marie Ryan said.

“I also think the amount of under-employment is huge and by that I mean that people aren’t getting enough hours to actually support themselves.

“That translates on what is happening to individual people, and some of them are just saying it’s so depressing at the moment that they’re losing hope.”

Stephen Whitfield is one of the growing numbers looking for work, but he says the opportunities are limited.

For 15 years, Mr Whitfield worked as a senior licensed aircraft engineer at the Qantas heavy maintenance base at Avalon until the facility closed in March.

“I want to continue working, I’ll soon be 55 and have still got working years ahead of me,” Mr Whitfield said.

“You’re competing against hundreds and hundreds of people that are out of work from the Geelong region – I’m based here, my family’s here and I don’t really want to travel anymore.

“I have got lots of skills but it’s a matter of finding what I call myself next, instead of a licensed engineer. It’s hard.”

Some sceptical about campaign employment promises

Acutely aware of the issue, Premier Denis Napthine joined state and federal colleagues at clothing manufacturer Cotton On last week to announce new jobs at the company’s burgeoning Geelong headquarters.

Cotton On received government funding two years ago to put on 500 new workers and hoped to add an extra 300 employees as it continued its international expansion.

“The redevelopment and expansion of the group’s head office and the appointment of an additional 300 new full-time Geelong-based team members will be the catalyst for meeting the ongoing global expansion of the Cotton On Group’s operations,” Cotton On CFO Michael Hardwick said.

On the same day, the Coalition pledged $106 million to build a bypass road around the Bellarine Peninsula town of Drysdale, while Labor promised to investigate the viability of an LPG conversion centre in Geelong.

If elected, Labor would also spend $70 million to further redevelop Kardinia Park and $30 million to upgrade the Geelong Performing Arts Centre.

Both parties have committed to relocate the Victorian WorkCover Authority’s head office to Geelong, bringing another 550 jobs to the city.

Despite the long list of job promises, some are sceptical.

“I wonder whether any of that is the answer to our issues. It just kind of feels that there’s stuff coming from everywhere, but it’s very prescriptive,” Ms Ryan said.

“Politics aside, I think there’s a real need for some kind of bipartisanship around some of these issues, rather than people competing and upping each other on what they can throw at us.

“The workers themselves don’t see that the new things that are coming in are for them.

“They actually think it’s spin because their actual experience of what it is like in the community at the moment is that they’ve just been cut loose.”

Geelong region ‘needs plan for the future’

Committee for Geelong chief executive Rebecca Casson said the region needed a united voice.

“We are very much focused on the revitalisation of the Geelong Performing Arts Centre; retaining Jetstar at Avalon is huge for our region and also the completion of Simonds Stadium,” Ms Casson said.

“Together with the revitalisation of central Geelong, [they] are all important projects that we believe are crucial for Victoria’s second largest city.

“East West Link is vital for our region and our members have also suggested that with Bay West, there should be an independent analysis on the decision for the location for Victoria’s second port.”

“But what we are really asking them [the major parties] to do is to acknowledge that Geelong really does need a plan – a strategic plan for the future.”

The seats of Bellarine, Geelong and South Barwon are expected to come into play in the November 29 poll.

Labor holds Geelong and Bellarine but new electoral boundaries and the retirement of Geelong’s sitting member Ian Trezise have thrown a spanner in the works.

The ABC’s election analyst Antony Green believes Bellarine will be the key seat to watch.

“The major change of the redistribution has swapped some suburbs between Geelong and Bellarine,” Mr Green said.

“That has made Geelong safer, which is good for Labor with the retirement of the sitting member, but has been bad news for Lisa Neville who now needs a swing to her to hold on to Bellarine.”

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