By Denis Bright
Come on a journey to just one of many social divides in Australian living standards. The Brisbane River at Riverview is the boundary between the federal electorates of Blair and Ryan within Metro West, just 25 kms from Brisbane’s CBD.
For the earliest Indigenous settlers of contemporary Riverview and the drier coal bearing slopes towards Blackstone, the riverside near the current Moggill Ferry was a likely meeting place near water supplies with access to ancient indigenous trading routes.
Today’s Indigenous population is 9.3 per cent of the New Chum-Riverview Community Profile compared with 4.4 per cent across the sprawling City of Ipswich with its current population of over 200,000.
European settlement imposed new boundaries here on ancestral meeting places and trading routes.
The Brisbane River at Riverview is the boundary between the adjacent cities of Ipswich and the City of Brisbane with its population of 1,131,155 at the 2016 census.
Since 1878, cross-river ferries of differing vintages have linked Riverview in Ipswich to Moggill in adjacent Brisbane.
Politically, the Brisbane River straddles the boundaries between the federal electorates of Blair and Ryan. Both electorates are safe political heartlands for differing sides of politics.
At the next federal election, the prize of national leadership is likely to be given to the political party which can bridge the social divide between electorates like Blair and Ryan. Dozens more divides exist throughout Australia in both regional and metropolitan areas.
Introducing Riverview in the Blair Electorate
Riverview commands a high bluff overlooking its more affluent neighbours in Moggill with its semi-rural character. The risk of flooding has eclipsed Queensland’s poor historical record of planning to control urban sprawl. Cattle still graze the floodplains at Riverview. Here the flood height exceeded 15 metres in 2011.
Further upstream at The Junction between the Brisbane and Bremer Rivers, the Salvation Army’s Riverview Farm has been operating since 1894.
The facility achieved infamy during the Royal Commission into Sexual Abuse. Its reputation is now re-packaged as an accredited nursery for volunteers and trainees referred by job providing services.
Closer to Riverview Station, are the Salvation Army’s Riverview Gardens Aged Care Plus Centre. Here, residents have access to a range of care packages from independent units to aged care facilities after payment of the appropriate aged care bond. This might require the sale of a family home to raise the necessary cash.
Affordable Queenslanders with spacious rooms, verandahs and back yards initially dominated always Labor Heartland, post-1945 Riverview.
Generations of families combined their paid work with degrees of self-sufficiency in the production of fresh produce.
This was the essence of the Australian Settlement as inherited from Liberal Protectionist Alfred Deakin and Labor’s Andrew Fisher in the Federation Era prior to 1914.
This post-1945 generation of residents in Riverview enjoyed near full employment in both government and commercial enterprises. Small underground collieries also dotted the hillsides.
Living standards were even better in two income families. Females enjoyed jobs in places like the textile mill at Redbank or the sprawling Wolston Hospital at Goodna or the growing office and administrative sectors of government offices.
The Goodna Asylum had a staff level of 700 in the mid-1950s and up to 2,500 inmates. Numbers of patients swelled from the economic hardships of the 1930s and the stresses of combat during the Second World War.
School-leavers from the 1970s still made the transition into service sectors of the economy as commercial workshop jobs required higher training skills in small business sectors.
Most of the new generation used motor transport. Car ownership had a big appeal in Riverview and other Labor Heartland electorates. Riverview was also served by frequent trains to Brisbane’s CBD (40 minutes) and Ipswich (15 minutes away). Travelling times improved marginally as comfortable air-conditioned electrified trains commenced running in 1980.
To cope with the demand for homes, more public housing dominated the urban landscapes. Rental levels were always adjusted to income levels. This meant that rentals could be as low as a few dollars a week for a well-constructed modernist low-set house.
As an increasingly public housing suburb during the 1970s, there was some loss of aesthetic standards to Riverview. However, rising income levels offered appropriate compensation. Some families in full-employment easily made the transition to other suburbs.
As training requirements for work intensified, the TAFE sector did not keep up with the range of essential school to work transitional courses for a wider variety of workshop and service sector jobs.
The underlying causes of double digit unemployment and underemployment were complex and not assisted by major recessions just a decade apart in the early 1980s and 1990s. Both the youth and senior sectors of the workforce were badly affected by the changes in employment patterns.
In the 2016 census, the Riverview-New Chum sub-regions have above-average levels of unemployment and under-employment compared with the wider City of Ipswich.
Revitalization of the TAFE sector with greater funding commitments to colleges at Springfield and Bundamba should be one of the most urgent priorities of an incoming Federal Labor Government if the swing to Labor in the Bennelong by-elections continues at the next national election.
Although houses in Riverview are more affordable than many other suburbs across the numerous local authorities in Metro Brisbane, the housing market is also attractive for small investors. The shortage of lower priced rental accommodation maintains a reasonable rental market. Rental levels and housing prices can easily be viewed on commercial sites which cover almost every house and locality across Australia.
Crossing the Brisbane River to Moggill, offers a different social reality. Housing prices and rental levels double in Brisbane’s semi-rural fringes. Riverside acreages can fetch around $1 million despite its proximity to the flood prone Brisbane River.
Political perceptions change across the Brisbane River in a space of a few hundred metres from Riverview. The LNP’s Ryan federal electorate remained the safest conservative seat in Metro Brisbane in 2016.
Private Debt Units Both Sides of the Social Divide
While the federal LNP emphasises the need for caution about government debt levels, it is the reality of private debt which afflicts communities on both sides of the Brisbane River. Private debt levels are more than six times above the Australian Government’s debt levels. This private debt burden is common to both sides of the social divide.
The more affluent Moggill householders can more sustainably support their private debt levels to pay off extraordinary mortgages.
With commercial interest rates not too much higher than current inflation rates, householders in Ryan who take out loans for small business ventures are accumulating assets which are denied to lower income renters in Riverview. For unemployed and underemployed renters, accumulating $900-1,000 a month for the most affordable rental dwellings are a real fortune even with rental assistance schemes.
The extent of private debt is bringing an element of volatility into Australian politics at all levels. This political volatility is not confined to heartland Labor electorates.
In the safe state electorate of Moggill, the state LNP member failed to gain an absolute majority on 30 November 2017 but accumulated a 5 per cent margin after preferences. The ABC’s excellent news graphics summarise the state election results.
Some of this 3.0 per cent swing to Labor came indirectly through a very high Green vote. It reached 20.91 per cent across the Moggill electorate and 27.8 per cent in the adjacent electorate of Maiwar.
In Maiwar, the Green primary vote was sufficient to achieve the outright election of the first Green member of state parliament whose primary vote exceeded Labor’s candidate by 22 votes.
Labor’s primary vote at the Moggill Booth was an extraordinary 33.3 per cent which should translate to better than a 50-50 divide when preference distributions are finally published by the Electoral Commission of Queensland.
On the Riverview side of the divide, the Bundamba electorate remained one of the safest for Labor with 71.6 per cent of the vote after preferences. Local member Jo-Ann Miller identifies with the less advantaged members of her electorate. Her commitment to the Select Committee to inquiry into Coal Workers’ Pneumoconiosis (Black Lung) Occupational Health Disease was truly exemplary. Her efforts received strong endorsement from the CFMEU on behalf of workers across the mining sector.
The Bundamba Electorate (formerly Wolston and Ipswich East) has given strong support to Labor members. Even during the excesses of National Party rule at state level (1983-89), Riverview was always represented by veteran Labor member, Bob Gibbs.
For progressive Australians, there must be some concern that the Labor heartland booth of Riverview is prepared to offer significant support for centre-right candidates at a time when the prevailing market ideology is offering little in the way of trickle-down benefits for the wider community as claimed by federal LNP leaders.
This is not an isolated instance of great social divides between some Labor and adjacent LNP electorates across Australia. Hopefully, the policy solutions will be seriously addressed at Labor’s National Conference in Adelaide on 26-28 July 2018.
Disadvantaged electorates are strategically targeted by both populist members of the LNP and far-right candidates with an opportunist interest in the needs of battlers. At all levels of government, Labor could also deliver for its heartland and still please the other side of town which seems to favour a tilt to the Political Left as shown by the voting patterns in the state seats of Moggill and Maiwar.
Denis Bright is a registered teacher and a member of the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA). Denis has recent postgraduate qualifications in journalism, public policy and international relations. He is interested in promoting discussion to advance pragmatic public policies that are compatible with contemporary globalization.