Whyalla is a hot-button issue. Politicians don’t even visit Wollongong.
There’s a steel town on the Australian coastline that is hurting. It’s an area of high unemployment, low socioeconomic factors and a whole lot of steelworkers and fabricators who have never been anything other than steelworkers and fabricators.
The dual hits of the end of the mining boom and the flooding of global markets by cheap Chinese steel has eaten away at the profitability of the economy. It’s a town built on the steel industry, and those foundations are crumbling.
But it’s not Whyalla. It’s not the Arrium plant on the South Australian coast that we’ve been hearing so much about. There are no submarines being built here; no hastily hammered-out deal for a massive rail project that will give the steelworks and its employees some light, some hope, some money. This town is called Wollongong, it has the biggest steelworks in the country and is the 10th biggest city in Australia, it is under pressure, and nobody is talking about it.
“It is outrageous that you have the greatest international crisis in industry, the steel crisis, and here in the Illawarra it’s ground zero in this crisis, and the Prime Minister and Industry Minister have not bothered to even visit,” says Arthur Rorris, secretary of the South Coast Labour Council.
“They have not even set foot in the joint. To ignore this area for so long, it speaks volumes about the neglect and impotence of the government’s industry policy.”
The Illawarra region, with Wollongong at its heart, is a long, narrow strip about 90 minutes south of Sydney. Bounded by mountains on one side, the Pacific Ocean on the other, it is a region built on surf and steel, leisure and labour.
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