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Ah, western Sydney. During an election campaign politicians flock to its streets to hock their wares, and the famed Rooty Hill RSL has seen many a leadership showdown. Months out from last year’s election both Abbott and Gillard started their unofficial campaign trail there.
Eight months on and times have changed. The Abbott government has handed down a budget that looks hand-crafted to annoy and disenfranchise large sections of key marginal electorates — including in western Sydney.
Much has been written about why Abbott’s first budget is a strategic train-wreck for the Coalition, but today Fairfax has some troubling figures that show why a policy that denies the dole to under-30s for six months of the year will be a social disaster for the region.
Analysis of ABS statistics by the Brotherhood of St Laurence shows that Parramatta is Sydney’s centre of youth unemployment — in January it was at 16.8 %, close to three times the national unemployment rate, and it’s expected to reach 26.4% by 2016. The Abbott government’s new tougher welfare measures will soon see a “large underclass in western Sydney,” warns the executive director of the charity.
“Howard’s battlers” might have been a myth but the rhetoric worked and John Howard successfully sold himself as a champion of the working classes.
Abbott has tried hard to emulate John Howard’s populism but has failed dismally. His attempt to build a 2013 election victory on marginal seats with high numbers of unemployed people and welfare recipients is questionable, given what the budget holds for these voters.
Abbott would do well to recall what he promised the people of Rooty Hill before the election, or he may get a very different reception in 2016. And not just in western Sydney.