Recovery for Sydney needs to include the west

By Dr Andy Marks

Crisis can provoke strange behaviour. We’ll probably never understand the great toilet paper panic. Other reactions are more predictable. Take recent Inner Sydney prescriptions about what’s good for Western Sydney in a crisis.

According to Sydney Lord Mayor, Clover Moore, the $1.5 billion the Berejiklian government is investing in Parramatta on the Powerhouse Museum relocation is “money that could be better spent” on a Carriageworks bailout. It’s disappointing to see such a vocal supporter of the creative industries overlook the vital role of arts infrastructure in Western Sydney’s recovery. This is a region that receives only 5 per cent of state government arts funding and around 1 per cent of federal funds.

While others are busy measuring Western Sydney’s arts stimulus dose, what about the construction of the $5.3 billion Western Sydney Airport? The Sydney Business Chamber is now questioning the “sequencing of the project” including the $4.1 billion earmarked for “associated roads”. Not a call for a “go slow” they say. Nevertheless, a trend is emerging.

We now have a decision from Transport for NSW to omit Rydalmere from their list of stops on the Sydney Metro West project. The project was meant to redress Sydney’s east-west jobs imbalance. But the majority of the route’s stops are in the east, including “jobs rich” Pyrmont, which is still on the table.

These decisions run counter to the evidence on what will fix Greater Sydney’s  inequities. Worse, they’re being made in the absence of the communities and businesses in the West they’ll most impact. Let’s be clear: they’re not stimulus. They’re proposed walkbacks on commitments made to Western Sydney, pre COVID-19.

If Treasury’s conservative predictions of 1 million job losses nationally come true, then the implications for western Sydney are dire. Early Western Sydney University extrapolations of ABS data on NSW job losses, suggests up to 72,800 people across Western Sydney have already been impacted.

This is a region with profound rates of disadvantage. Pre-COVID-19 youth unemployment in sub regions like Lethbridge Park-Tregear, Bidwill-Hebersham Emerton, Ashcroft-Busby-Miller, Fairfield, Cabramatta-Lansvale and Liverpool Warwick Farm was over 20 per cent. Imagine the generational carnage current circumstances are inflicting on those communities. Now is not the time to be slowing down, winding-back, or leaving Western Sydney out of decisions on investment and economic stimulus.

Recovery for all of Sydney requires all of us are included in decision making. The way we fund the arts, infrastructure and a range of critically important community priorities might be broken. But let’s not use this situation to reduce it to an either-or debate. Instead, let’s reset the our approach for the benefit of a Greater Sydney – east and west – and leave behind the zero sums of the past.

Dr Andy Marks is Assistant Vice-Chancellor at Western Sydney University. This article was originally published in the Daily Telegraph on 9 May 2020.

Dr Andy Marks, Assistant Vice-Chancellor at Western Sydney University