Western Sydney is technically in recession and will struggle to recover from the recent lockdowns, new data suggests.

After nine months of recovery without lockdown restrictions in the earlier half of this year, it looked like the economy in Western Sydney was bouncing back. However, recent data indicates a much longer road to recovery, with an alarming 54 per cent decrease in job advertisements within those local government areas.

The area has been hit the hardest by the recent lockdown according to Professor Phillip O’Neill, Director of the Centre for Western Sydney at Western Sydney University and an expert in the economic and industrial change in large cities.

“These levels of unemployment are equivalent to the infamous early 1990s Australian recession,” O’Neill told Central News

He added despite having a highly-educated population the dominating sectors are in low-skilled work which has been more heavily impacted by COVID-19. 

“The bad thing about those jobs is that they’re not transformative so that they rely upon the availability of a large pool of unskilled labour to undertake that work,” he said. “Work in very marginalised conditions with no opportunities for further training or promotion or career betterment.”

Yesterday it was revealed the NSW government ignored the advice of NSW chief health officer Kerry Chant to lockdown all LGAs in Sydney, and instead just locked down LGAs in west and south-west Sydney.

In an August 14 email to Health Minister Brad Hazzard she recommended “consistent measures across greater metropolitan Sydney”. At the time both Hazzard and former premier Gladys Berejiklian told media they were following health advice.

However, it wasn’t until September 20, that tough lockdown rules in Sydney’s west and south-west were standardised with the rest of the city.

O’Neill noted that while there is a major growth in graduate workers in Western Sydney, the majority have to travel to the CBD to find work “which is very sucking of these people’s energies” he said.

Jorge Cornejo, a retail worker from Western Sydney, who travels to the city for work said: “I was too anxious to go to work during the lockdown, with the case numbers being in the hundreds and eventually thousands and on top of that living in a hotspot.

“It was just too risky to take that trip and potentially infect my family members with COVID-19… the police presence as a person of colour also had an impact on my mental health.”

How increase in COVID fines made the economic situation worse

Samantha Lee, a solicitor at Redfern Legal Centre in the police accountability practice, said over-policing and tough LGA restrictions contributed to layers of inequality and the inevitable economic downturn.

“There were more police allocated to those local government areas,” she said. “Those areas are made up of people who mostly can’t work from home, they have to leave their home to go to work and that makes them more susceptible to being on the roads and visible to police stopping them and asking questions.”

Lee added communities were at a disadvantage from the start with strict lockdowns. 

“If you’ve got more police in those strict lockdown areas, those people are going to be policed more and will be issued with more fines,” she said. “So from the very beginning, there is an imbalance in that equation. It disadvantages those in the community, who are already actually from your data financially disadvantaged.

“So you’re giving a $1,000 or $3,000 fine to a person whose income is at the lower end. Then they have to struggle to pay this horrendously costly fine.”

O’Neill predicted as a result of the cyclical performance of the economy the impact would last.

“These labour markets look unlikely to bounce back,”he said. “As a result of the cyclical performance of the economy… it’s highly likely that there have been structural changes in the economies in these areas that are going to produce systematic unemployment and structural unemployment in these local government areas. This is alarming.”

This is a time for compassion for those who are already vulnerable. It’s not the time to fine people.

Lee said the COVID restrictions changed so frequently that they had a substantial impact on unjust COVID fines, particularly to those with English as their second language.

“The orders were amended more than 70 times from when they first came in,” she said. “People were just overwhelmingly confused about what they could or could not do… certainly, I think class and race came into this whole equation.”

Lee said Police Commissioner Mick Fuller instructing police to issue fines without any warning or caution, had made the situation worse. 

“Police have just issued fines without really thinking or turning their mind to whether they’re the person in breach of the order,” Lee added. “The police commissioner said ‘don’t worry if you get it wrong.

“Those who are well off will always probably come out of this a lot less scared than people already struggling financially or socially. This is a time for compassion for those who are already vulnerable. It’s not the time to fine people.

Main image by Neerav Bhatt/Flickr