The NSW Government released its much-anticipated Budget last week. I was excited. We had the recent signing of the Western Sydney City Deal. We saw a strong public discourse of governing ‘with heart’. And we have an election(s) looming. I was excited and keen to hear how this would all play out in reality, to get to the heart of priorities across Western Sydney and beyond, in NSW.
What I found is that this Budget, in the main, begins to address some of the infrastructure priorities of the region but has some considerable way to go before it gets close to being a Budget that will foster, sustain and improve community wellbeing and liveability.
While it is very pleasing to see some commitment and direct investment in public transport, the focus was mainly on the central and north-west areas of Western Sydney. The ambition of a 30-minute city is to be commended, however, with limited investment in public transport across the region – particularly across South Western Sydney – it’s unclear how it can be realised. Let’s not forget that in some areas, it can take up to two hours to get to work – and that’s without leaving Western Sydney at all. This Budget missed the opportunity to address this growing gap.
We all know that the region is experiencing faster growth than anywhere else in NSW. With the Western Sydney City Deal we have, without doubt, the platform that was needed to sustain and grow the social, economic and environmental health of the region. To have all levels of government at the same table for the first time and committed to the Deal is encouraging. But where was the commensurate commitment to social infrastructure and services in this Budget, to bring the signing of this Deal to reality?
While transport and housing are fundamental to wellbeing, so are social infrastructure and services. There are corridors in Western Sydney where there remains limited or no social infrastructure and services, to support the development of the past few decades. By not directly addressing this key component of liveability, at this key point in time, the Government has missed an opportunity to ensure these gaps are not replicated in the future.
The Government’s commitment in this Budget, to improving access to services for Aboriginal communities is encouraging and I am looking forward to speaking with local Aboriginal Elders and communities to hear their thoughts on this. Also pleasing was to see additional investment in mental health and community legal services – this starts to address the increasing demand for services that just simply are not keeping up with need.
I was disappointed though, in the deafening silence when it came to three key priorities that affect communities everywhere.
We know thirty women have died in Australia this year, as the result of violence. This Budget was an opportunity for the Government to bring to reality their commitment to preventing violence against women and children, both in the home and in the public arena.
We know that Western Sydney is home to the vast majority of refugees and migrants, over 70 per cent of the population in some local communities. This Budget was an opportunity for the Government to bring to reality their commitment to supporting and celebrating the diverse nature of our local communities, in Western Sydney and beyond.
Finally, we know that Western Sydney is a young region, filled with passionate, committed and driven young people. But in some communities in Western Sydney, young people do not have the same access and engagement with secondary, tertiary and vocational educational opportunities, compared to other areas of Sydney. This Budget was an opportunity for the Government to bring to reality their commitment to addressing, supporting and improving access for young people.
While I am on the topic of access and the State Budget, it’s important to note that, also last week, the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) released new figures on income growth, comparing trends across suburbs. And that the Government itself recently released what has been referred to as the Tune Report, which provides recommendations for supporting families who experience vulnerability or crisis.
The ABS data showed that growth in income levels from 2010 in parts of Western Sydney barely kept up with inflation, while other areas of Sydney enjoyed a growth in income twice the level of inflation. This reminded me, again, of what Professor Randolph from the City Futures Research Centre at the University of NSW has called ‘social polarisation’. In other words – a city of the ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’.
We are told that economic prosperity trickles down to local communities and households. We are told that growth improves the economic and therefore social wellbeing of all people.
But the starkly different proportion of income growth across Sydney tells a different story. It tells us that despite overall growth in economic prosperity, the gap is widening, inequities are increasing and where we live matters. If our local, regional, national vision is for healthy and resilient families and communities, it is clear we must address some of the growing inequities that exist across our city.
The Tune Report was just as clear. We have a problem in supporting children and families. We must improve long-term outcomes for children and families. We must prevent and provide support earlier. And we must deliver services to local communities that are based on shared objectives. According to the Tune Report, we have failed to do this. If our vision is for healthy and resilient families and communities, we must address and invest in this pressing priority.
So, what does this all mean in the context of the State Budget? It means that investment in some infrastructure, transport, health, education and services is a start and is certainly welcome. However, this Budget could have gone further and committed to addressing some fundamental factors that continue to impact on the health and wellbeing of local communities in Western Sydney, and NSW.
As always, I am keen to know more about how the Government, and the Opposition, intends to approach these gaps in their mix of policy priorities and investment.
Some would argue that surpluses are for rainy days. Given what we know, it begs the question of whether it is raining today or indeed, if it has been raining for a while. Not least, in Western Sydney.
The answers to these pressing questions, of course, will shape our priorities in continuing to foster and sustain resilience, health and wellbeing of communities across Greater Western Sydney.