Growing the suburbs: Outer Suburban/Interface Services and Development Committee

I rise to speak on the Outer Suburban/Interface Services and Development Committee report entitled Inquiry on Growing the Suburbs – Infrastructure and Business Development in Outer Suburban Melbourne, which was tabled in the house in June last year. As a former member of the committee – the committee no longer exists in the form it did previously – I have spoken on this report a number of times. Today I want to focus on one of the points of the terms of reference of the inquiry, point (d), which states that the committee ‘catalogue the skills mix of outer suburban residents to identify those areas with a skills shortage and provide options for skills training and retention, especially as it relates to both younger and semi-retired people.

Issues relating to young people are particularly relevant in the outer western suburbs, where youth unemployment is significantly higher than in other parts in the state. The growth rate in Melbourne’s west is the fastest in the nation. Over the next few years the population of Melbourne’s west will hurtle towards 1.1 million.

As things stand, this milestone is set to be tarnished by wilfully short-sighted planning and a lack of commitment from the state government to spending on infrastructure in the outer suburbs or providing support for employment in this area. As the west has continued to grow, the infrastructure that underpins that growth has not been invested in, and the region is feeling the burden of its own progress.

I draw the attention of the house to some of the points made in chapter 13 of the report – in particular, part D, dealing with skills development, where the committee identifies that the skill and training needs of the outer suburbs are quite different to those of the inner suburbs. In particular the committee notes that Melbourne’s interface councils have a ratio of job provision of approximately one job for every two labour force participants, as compared to one-for-one among non-interface councils, particularly those in the inner suburbs.

Many stakeholders who spoke to me during the committee’s inquiry emphasised the importance of providing outer suburban residents with training opportunities that would enable them to participate in Melbourne’s knowledge economy. Unfortunately during the time since the hearings occurred and this report was tabled, the outer west has slipped backwards significantly.

It now receives less funding for TAFE, and the state and federal governments have walked away from their commitments to the local learning and employment networks (LLENs) that exist across the state. LLENs are amazing facilities that underpin support, partnerships, relationships, brokerage and training for kids most at risk, including those currently engaged in schooling and those who have dropped out of schooling and are facing unemployment. The unemployment rate in the western suburbs for young people aged 15 to 19 is 38.4 per cent, as compared to the rate in greater Victoria, which is 7.2 per cent. The difference is stark.

The region as a whole is in decline when it comes to employment.

In 2003 the west had 8 per cent of Victoria’s population. In 2014 that has jumped to 16 per cent, yet the unemployment rate in relation to population has skyrocketed. There are many barriers to employment, including a lack of local jobs and a lack of support. Unfortunately it looks as if this will worsen due to the potential closure of the LLENs in the western suburbs. This is particularly so with the great Brimbank/Melton LLEN, which is my electorate. For every dollar invested by the state government into the Brimbank/Melton LLEN, it has leveraged an additional $2 from the community to support kids who are at greatest risk of long-term unemployment, in partnerships with businesses and schools. I urge the government to have a good look at the recommendations in this report, endeavor to secure the future of LLENs and take up the fight for jobs and youth in the outer west.