Centrelink office in First Ave, Blacktown. Source: Lianne Britto
Michelle Rowland holds the seat of Greenway representing the Australian Labor Party. Rowland was re-elected to the seat at the 2013 federal election, appointed to the Labor opposition's frontbench as Shadow Assistant Minister for Communications as well as Shadow Minister for Citizenship and Multiculturalism.
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Greenway covers 81 square kilometres in the north-west region of Sydney. It is currently a highly contested seat, although predominately held by Labor in the past. The ALP has won the seat of Greenway in every election since its formation in 1984, until losing the seat in 2004 and 2007 to Liberal.
Michelle Rowland, the current Labor MP for Greenway, was first elected in 2010 despite a 4.8% swing against Labor in the election. The 2013 election saw a 2.1% swing towards Labor, leading to Rowland’s re-election.
Among current candidates for the 2016 federal election are Yvonne Keane for the Liberal Party, Michelle Rowland for ALP, Chris Winslow for the Greens and Aaron Wright for the Christian Democratic Party.
Greenway represents a population of approximately 154,738 Western Sydneysiders, who tend to struggle, particularly in regards to youth unemployment. Greenway has an unemployment rate of 5.7%, while Western Sydney as a whole has a youth unemployment rate of 17%.
In order to combat the growing issue of youth unemployment, the Liberal Government has announced the ‘Youth Jobs PaTH – Prepare, Trial & Hire’ program in the 2016 federal budget. The three step program for young job seekers was costed at $752 million and is set to commence on April 1, 2017.
The program involves relevant skills training, internships and placements, and will see that young job seekers receive an extra $200 fortnightly on top of other regular income support payments.
In addition to creating the Youth Jobs PaTH, the Government is also investing an additional $89 million to support job seekers who wish to start their own business.
MP Michelle Rowland acknowledges youth unemployment is a major issue in Greenway, although she claims the new program is the “wrong approach”. “We had excellent employability services working well, with things like the partnership program, but now it’s all being abolished under the Government,” says Rowland.
Despite Rowland’s disapproval, residents of Greenway have responded positively to the announcement of the program. “I think it’s great that job seekers can have this opportunity to learn new skills and gain experiences, it’s about time something was done about the rising unemployment in the west,” says Emily Kelly, local resident.
Others claim they would also benefit from the program. “Not everyone is unemployed by choice. I’ve been trying to get a job for months but I haven’t had any luck, and living off welfare can be pretty difficult. The extra $200 a fortnight might not seem like a lot to other people, but it would really help me out with bills and living costs,” says Britani Osbourne, another local.
The first stage of the PaTH program is ‘Prepare’, involving six weeks of intensive training to improve job preparedness and enhance job hunting skills through learning how to work in a team, presentation and appropriate IT skills.
The second stage concerns internship placements; participants attend internships that take from four to 12 weeks, and spend between 15 to 20 hours each week at the internship, for which they gain an extra $200 a fortnight. Host businesses receive an upfront payment of $1,000.
Young job seekers are often turned away due to lack of real work experience. “I need to have experience to get a job, but I can’t gain any experience because I can’t get a job. The cycle is ridiculous,” says Greenway resident Simmone D’Souza.
Up to 120,000 internship placements will be provided over four years through the PaTH program, to assist young job seekers in gaining the work experience they need to obtain a job.
The third and final stage is in regards to wage subsidy. As of January 1, 2017, Australian employers will be eligible for a Youth Bonus wage subsidy if they hire a young job seeker who has been in employment services for six months or more. The ‘most job ready’ seekers will attract a wage subsidy of $6,500. A larger $10,000 wage subsidy will be available to businesses that employ job seekers classified as ‘less job ready’ by jobactive providers.
The new measures further boost the job prospects of young people by providing them with skills and opportunities to better prepare them for the workforce. The direct encouragement for businesses to hire those who complete the program also works towards the program’s goal to significantly decrease the youth unemployment rate in the country.
Acknowledging unemployment issues and presenting practical solutions during campaigning could potentially push a candidate over the line, and may determine if Labor keeps the seat or if a rival party takes over the ALP’s long held position in Greenway.