Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Teasing Neil - but with a serious point

I have edited this post a little because I felt that it was not enough of a tease, too much of a serious point.

If anyone knows a simple way of inserting tables into blog posts, please let me know. Statistical data in text form becomes very hard to read.

I often tease Neil Whitfield. It's fun, but there is also a serious point.

One of my themes on this blog is the need to recognise variation across Australia, variation that affects life and attitude. Here the Parliamentary Library has recently released census date grouped by electorate that shows some of the variation.

Now Neil lives and votes in the Sydney electorate. My traditional electorate is New England, although I too in fact lived in Sydney until the recent boundary change. So what are the differences between the two? Does it explain why we might differ?

Electorate Overview

For the benefit of my international readers, Sydney is an inner city electorate covering 43 sq.km of inner Sydney around the central business district, in clockwise order from the Harbour it includes Surry Hills, Redfern, Erskineville, Newtown, Camperdown, Annandale, Rozelle, Balmain and Glebe. The electorate also includes Lord Howe Island.

This is blue ribbon Labor country with a strong Green tinge. At the last election, Labor's Tanya Plibersek (a likely future minister) got 44.7 per cent of the vote, the Liberals 28.5 per cent and the Greens 21.6 per cent. After preferences, this translated in two part terms to a Labor vote of 66.4 per cent.

At 58,463 sq.km, New England is a large regional electorate covering the New England Tablelands and part of the Western Slopes. Main towns from south to north include Quirindi, Tamworth, Armidale, Glen Innes, Inverell and Tenterfield.

This was Country Party/National Party heartland until 2001 when the independent New England populist Tony Windsor won the seat. At tle last election, Tony got 57.3 per cent of the vote, followed by the Nats (Trevor Khan, now a NSW MLC) on 18.7 per cent and the Libs on 10 per cent. The Green vote was just 3.3 per cent.

ABC election analyst Antony Green describes Sydney as a very peculiar seat in demographic terms. I would argue that all our electorates have their own peculiarities. But certainly it is very different from New England.

The Stats

In population terms, New England has a population of 130,789, Sydney 151, 941, so Sydney is a fair bit bigger in absolute terms. I found this interesting because the number of actual votes is roughly comparable.

Part of the answer here lies in the migrant proportion of the population - 34.1 per cent of the Sydney population were born overseas, just 6 per cent in New England.

Interestingly, 17.3 per cent of Sydney's population were born in non-English speaking countries as compared to New England's 1.8 per cent. No less than 22.9 per cent of Sydney's population spoke a non English language at home as compared to 2 per cent in New England.

Sydney's population has also been growing far faster than New England's, up14.2 per cent since the last census as compared to New England's 1.9 per cent.

Sydney's faster growth does not come from natural increase.

Sydney at just 4 per cent has the lowest proportion of people under five of any electorate in the country. It also has the lowest proportion - also 4.4 per cent - of those aged 5 to 14 years. It appears that there are not many young families in Sydney. New England, by contrast, comes in at 6.5 per cent for those under five, 14.6 per cent for those between 5 and 14. So New England people are clearly more active breeders.

These stats are reflected in some other numbers.

At just 21.7 per cent, Sydney has the lowest proportion of couple families with dependent children in the country. At 56.6 per cent. it has the highest proportion of couple families with no children in the country. It also has the third highest percentage of lone person households (36.9 per cent) in the country. So Sydney has lots of couples, lots of people living alone, but very few couples with kids.

Now, as we shall see in a moment, New England has an aging population compared to Sydney. Even so, the New England proportion of couples with kids is 33.8 per cent, couples without kids 41.1 per cent. Very different.

Population aging.

Starting with those people aged 15 to 24 years. In this group, Sydney at 17.5 per cent has the third highest proportion in the country. By contrast, 13.3 per cent of the New England is aged 15 to 24 years. So Sydney is clearly attracting young people.

The position becomes even more clear cut when we look at the proportion of people aged 25 to 64 years. Sydney at 66.2 per cent has the highest proportion in the country. By contrast, New England is the seventh lowest nationally at just 49.7 per cent. So Sydney has fewer young, but attracts many more people of working age. New England, by contrast, loses its young.

There are a lot more old New Englanders. Sydney has just 7.9 per cent of its population over 65. The New England figure is 16 per cent. These demographic patterns are reflected in the median age. Sydney at 32 is the 17th youngest electorate in the country, New England at 39 ranks at 118.

These different demographies carry though into other social indicators.

Sydney with just 39.8 percent of the population claiming to be Christian is the least Christian electorate in the country, but not in fact the least religious. Kingston (South Australia) holds this honour. There 30.1 per cent classified themselves as persons of no religion as compared to Sydney's 25.2 per cent.

By contrast, New England at 78.9 per cent is the fourth most Christian electorate in the country, with only 11.2 per cent classifying themselves as having no religion.

Both electorates have very few Muslims, but the proportion in Sydney at 1.1 per cent is far higher than New England's 0.1 per cent.

The pattern changes when we looking at the indigenous population.

Here Sydney had an indigenous population of just 1.2 per cent. By contrast, New England at 6.4 per cent had the ninth highest indigenous proportion in the country.

Differences continue.

Looking at education levels, at 12.6 per cent of the population, Sydney has the second lowest proportion of people in the country whose education is limited to year 10 and below. The New England figure is an astonishing 33.1 per cent.

Measured by weekly incomes, Sydney is the fifth wealthiest electorate in the country, with 44 per cent of families on a weekly income of $2,000 or above. New England is the sixteenth poorest electorate in the country, with only 10.1 per cent of families earning $2,000 or more per week.

Putting this another way, the median weekly family income in New England is $976 as compared to $1,972 in Sydney. In fact, the New England electorates as a whole are generally poor, with New England itself one of the wealthier ones.

Mind you, Sydney pays a lot more for what it gets.

At 58 per cent, Sydney has the highest proportion of its population renting in the country. The New England figure is 27.5 per cent.

Those renting in Sydney pay a lot more. Sydney is the fourth most expensive rental market in the country, with a median weekly rent of $342. By contrast, New England on $136 is the seventeenth cheapest electorate in the country.

Sydney people are also flat dwellers. At 60.4 per cent, Sydney has the highest proportion of flat or unit dwellers in the country. Only 7 per cent of those living in the New England electorate live in flats.

Finally, Sydney has the lowest motor vehicle ratio in the country, with only 17.9 per cent of dwellings having two or more vehicles. The New England percentage is 50.5.


So what does all this tell us about Sydney. Is Neil a typical Sydney person? Based on his blog entries, the answer would appear to be yes.

Neil is a-typically older. But he lives in an apartment, presently lives alone but was in a couple with no children relationship, does not have a car, is presently very strongly ALP but with at least a strong tinge of Green in terms of his attitudes on environmental and social issues. In terms of the Sydney political spectrum, Neil is very much in the centre. He also drinks a lot of coffee at cafes - but not, it appears, latte!

And am I a typical New Englander? Based on my own blog entries, the answer would appear to be yes.

I am better educated than the New England average, but then New England in fact includes the education city of Armidale. I live in what is presently a two car house, I belong to the couple with children category, I still describe myself in political terms as Country Party or New England populist.

In terms of the political spectrum, I am left of centre on the New England spectrum, but right of centre on the Sydney equivalent. And I rarely drink coffee in cafes!

Two electorates, two people, some common ground, but also very different views.

The differences are reflected not just in voting patterns, but in fundamental differences in attitude.

I campaign for New England not just because of emotional attachment, but also because I deeply resent the fact that one of the wealthiest areas in Australia in raw resource terms has been subject to such structural disadvantage.

I make no apology for this. I am an unreconstructed New England populist, if one with some perhaps strange tinges because of my family history and personal experiences. But all this leads me to ask different questions, to focus on different things, than Neil.

Neil and I in fact rub along pretty well because we share a common concern in social justice, are interested in many of the same issues including Australia's culture and history. This allows us to play off each other.

However, there is a broader and more serious point.

Even at this superficial level comparing Sydney and New England we can see that there are significant differences between the two seats. Further, the differences are repeated across the country and are, I think, growing.

We all have a tendency to think that our views are in some ways representative of a broader Australian view. This is in fact far from true.

There are nine in the small group I presently work with. Two were born in the UK, one I think in Hong Kong, one in Bosnia, one in India, three in Sydney. I am the only staff member born in Australia outside Sydney.

They are a nice group and I rub along with them pretty well. But I have to remember that as much as ninety per cent of my interests and a large slab of my attitudes fall outside their frame.

Part of this is due to age. I am older. But a large part is due to different experiences.

If we generalise this to Australia, the things that hold us together are our shared institutions including our political system, our shared experiences and our common culture. This is where I see a risk of things breaking down. Increasingly, Australia is marked by divides, by divisions.

I do not want to overstate this. Anybody who has studied Australian history or has mixed around the country knows that there have always been differences. Further, our common culture has proved very resilient.

On the other side, the limited mixing I do across groups and areas, more the research I do into social and cultural trends across the country, suggests to me that we are insufficiently aware of the increasing divergence within Australia.

Divergence is not necessarily bad. I enjoy the growing variety Australia offers. But it can become a problem should the things that unite us break down.


ninglun said...

Sydney? Sydney? No, Jim: Surry Hills. We are disenfranchised by being lumped in with the CBD and more. I am sure our Muslim population here in Surry Hills is much higher; why, we have at least two mosques. And the best coffee.

Jim Belshaw said...

I fea that you have caught me on my own petard here, Neil! I argue that we need to identify and respect difference, and you point to a difference in Sydney!

You Surry Hill chaps have to stick together. I noted the reference to Rafe.