ACKNOWLEDGEMENT OF COUNTRY
With respect for Aboriginal cultural protocol and out of recognition that its campuses occupy their traditional lands, Western Sydney University acknowledges the Darug, Eora, Dharawal (also referred to as Tharawal) and Wiradjuri peoples and thanks them for their support of its work in their lands (Greater Western Sydney and beyond).
This Centre for Western Sydney paper, the ‘Mid-Term Report Card’, assesses the NSW Government’s performance in Western Sydney over the first half of the current parliamentary term. The Centre asked its partners to highlight areas where they believed the Government had performed well over this period, along with examples of poor performance, with the option of offering a ranking.
In addition to the Centre’s own analysis, this report draws on survey responses by de-identified ‘respondents’ including:
|Community, policy, cultural and business peaks||6|
|Local Government Areas||4|
|Centre for Western Sydney ‘priority’ area researchers||6|
As a whole, the respondents represent Western Sydney communities, businesses, and other entities of substantial economic scale, and pronounced social and cultural depth and diversity. De-identification was a condition of participation sought by all respondents, with the majority noting they have funding, program, and advocacy dependencies with the NSW Government.
Respondents rated, and commented on, the Government’s performance across the Centre’s six priorities for the West. An aggregate ranking has then drawn from the ratings, overall, and against each priority. Assessments are supported by respondent comments where relevant.
Contributors or de-identified ‘respondents’ included Western Sydney businesses, peak bodies, community sector organisations, local government, Western Sydney University researchers, the NSW Opposition and the NSW Government. Respondents rated the Government’s performance across six priorities for the West. The results were mixed.
Respondents rated the Government’s public health performance exceptionally highly, noting the importance of sustained investments in health infrastructure. Qualified support was clear for a range of transport investments; however, respondents still emphasised the need for more focus on ‘connecting the West with the West’ ahead of current major project orientations.
"Respondents rated the Government’s public health performance exceptionally highly, noting the importance of sustained investments in health infrastructure.”
Much more commitment was needed, respondents observed, in planning for, and keeping pace with schools infrastructure demand, as well as ensuring equity in student resourcing and digital access. On social housing, nearly all respondents highlighted the gulf between Victoria’s and NSW’s stimulus investments, describing it as a ‘missed opportunity’ to address a generational challenge for the region. Alternatively, the Powerhouse Parramatta investment was widely supported but augmented by a call for greater backing of regional and community arts and culture programs.
Lastly, the NSW Government’s clean energy incentives were seen as a potentially transformative industry attraction and technology opportunity for the West, whilst noting much more needs to be done to address the region’s climate and urban heat issues.
The report is intended to raise awareness of, and contributions to, policy, planning and political processes among Western Sydney residents. It is also a contribution to performance improvement for the Government and the Opposition seeking to optimise their engagement with, and service of, the West.
"On social housing, nearly all respondents highlighted the gulf between Victoria’s and NSW’s stimulus investments."
After a decade of incumbency, and at the critical halfway mark of its current term, the NSW Government rates a B- overall for its performance across Western Sydney. With exceptionally strong community level engagement, but missing a sufficiently cohesive focus, the NSW Opposition rates a C+ in the West.
Dr Tim Williams
Strategic Advisor to Arup, Chair of Open Cities, and Adjunct Professor, Western Sydney University
As cities internationally seek to recover from COVID-19, the best of them will be seeking to not just restore their central business districts but to ensure that what growth does occur will be more spatially and socially inclusive.
CBDs are unlikely to completely return to pre-pandemic levels of office occupancy and thus productivity. Accordingly, many see emerging opportunities for suburban, exurban and regional economies, already being reflected in changed residential demand. There are new opportunities for Western Sydney in such trends.
"CBDs are unlikely to completely return to pre-pandemic levels of office occupancy and thus productivity."
The Centre for Western Sydney’s ‘Mid-Term Report Card’ comes at a time when the international discussion about post-pandemic recovery strategies is focussed on ensuring that any new economic momentum actually reshapes and indeed rebalances our cities.
In the UK this objective has become known as ‘levelling-up’. Its aim, of reducing the gap in growth and opportunities between privileged and disadvantaged regions of the country, derives from an earlier initiative, supported by the current Prime Minister when he was Mayor of London, called the ‘convergence’ agenda.
Convergence was initiated in 2008-9 by five East London boroughs seeking to ensure long term, strategic benefits for their communities from the 2012 Olympics. They were determined that all the new investment pouring into the East for the Games, and existing public investment, be spent as part of a coordinated strategy to realise ‘game changing’ benefits for local communities.
Performance improvement objectives included reducing gaps between East London and the Greater London average in education, skills, health and longevity; an echo of Sydney’s ‘gaps’ between Potts Point and Blacktown.
The boroughs did three things under the convergence agenda:
1) identified the key interventions to maximise preferred outcomes;
2) secured partners across London and national government departments, aligning policies and investments; and
3) set in train a regular process of monitoring and evaluation.
An independent initiative like the Centre for Western Sydney’s ‘Mid-Term Report Card’ can ensure that convergence is prioritised in infrastructure appraisal and procurement processes.
Conventional appraisal processes can often lead to other priorities being preferred, even when the relevant government agencies have previously said they support convergence.
"An independent initiative like the Centre for Western Sydney’s ‘Mid-Term Report Card’ can ensure that convergence is prioritised in infrastructure appraisal and procurement processes."
Traditional appraisal risks drove the re-write of the UK Treasury’s process guide, called the ‘Green Book’, to prioritise ‘levelling-up’ projects. Under prior Green Book guidelines, projects which might be vital for local, suburban or regional economic recovery – or indeed improvements in wellbeing and public health – typically failed at appraisal while Central London won on any Business Case Ratio (BCR) competition for resources because of its conventional return on public investment.
In convergence, the task is one of continual improvement and refinement. That means it is vital that the performance insights in initiatives like the ‘Mid-Term Report Card’ are fed back into systems design and review. Such information is meant to guide performance and improvement, and also promote accountability.
This brings me to the final benefit of a Report Card in the context of a ‘levelling-up’ analysis: accountability, not just within government but to communities and specifically the communities most directly affected.
Convergence is a moral imperative but also, through its focus on data and performance, it enables communities to hold governments to account for achieving the change they say they seek.
Dr Tim Williams
Strategic Advisor to Arup, Chair of Open Cities, and Adjunct Professor, Western Sydney University.
How good is Western Sydney?
We’ve never had so much government in Western Sydney. A City Deal, an Aerotropolis, a Central River City, a Western Parkland City, commissions, authorities and statutory bodies, along with major infrastructure projects and record development, plus a dedicated ministerial and opposition portfolio! Some might ask, 'How good is it?' This is the question the Centre for Western Sydney put to its many community, industry and government partners in February 2021.
"We’ve never had so much government in Western Sydney."
The resulting, inaugural, ‘Mid-Term Report Card’ rates the State Government’s performance in the West. It does so at the halfway mark (23 March 2021) of the state electoral cycle, marking a decade of Liberal-National incumbency in NSW. The results are mixed. The tone? Candid and constructive. The intent? Better planning, policy and outcomes for Western Sydney.
Click to expand - Western Sydney NSW electorates and key sites.
A Constructive Approach
The politics of Western Sydney and the performance of the Government and the Opposition are, of course, matters of greater sophistication than a report card rating. This report is a starting point. It is a means to provoke greater scrutiny and participation on the part of Western Sydney residents in the politics, planning and policies that shape and define our region. The articulate, considered and pragmatic critiques and solutions respondents have offered in this report should be received in the spirit in which they were intended.
It is evident that regardless of political or ideological differences, there is significant alignment between the Government, the Opposition and, importantly, community responses to Western Sydney’s priorities.
The development of the report has been an opportunity to re-engage with the region’s distinct characteristics and strengths. That has made one point abundantly clear. It is imperative that Western Sydney’s diversity is reflected in NSW Parliament. More government representatives need to look and sound like the West. We don’t have nearly enough levels of cultural diversity, nor are women, LGBTI and younger people adequately represented in both Chambers. Setting that agenda is likely a priority for future investigation on the part of the Centre and its partners.
For the Centre for Western Sydney, the performance markers and priorities identified in this report are promoted as genuinely constructive contributions to optimising policy development and government engagement with the West. This sentiment is backed by evidence. The Centre seeks to promote the work of its affiliate researchers in this regard, noting the considerable projects that have been produced, or are being undertaken by Western Sydney University and its community, industry and sector partners. The ‘Further Reading’ section below is a starting point.
In an era when, globally, trust in political structures is in flux, ensuring integrity, transparency and accountability in government is a matter of critical importance. This Mid-Term Report Card is a contribution to that task. The Centre plans to continue its Report Card model with future assessments of state and federal government performance, at the mid and end points of electoral cycles. The contribution of our partners will be essential, as will the engagement of The Government, The Opposition and the wider community. We extend our sincere thanks for that cooperation in this inaugural report.
How would you rate the Government's performance in the west?
We’d love to hear what you think! Click below to let us know how you would rate the Government’s performance.
With respect to the challenges this report identifies, there are solutions being actively developed in the West, with and for our region. Examples include:
Madden, A. L. et al., 2018, Cool Schools, Western Sydney University, Penrith.
Maurushat, A. et al., 2017, 'Open data : turning data into information, and information into insights that allow for evidence-based policy', Newcastle Law Review, vol 12 , pp 104 - 147.
Morrison, N. and Nouwelant, R., 2020, 'Western Sydney's urban transformation: examining the governance arrangements driving forward the growth vision', Australian Planner, vol 56, no 2 , pp 73 - 82
Newbrook, A. et al., 2020, Western Sydney Centres: Beyond Recovery, WSP, Western Sydney Leadership Dialogue, Centre for Western Sydney, Sydney.
O’Neill, P., 2020, Where are the jobs? [Parts 1-3]: Western Sydney’s Short-lived Jobs Boom, Centre for Western Sydney, Western Sydney University, Parramatta.
Pfautsch, S. et al., 2018, ‘Materials that make heat worse for our kids demand a rethink by designers’, The Conversation’, Sydney.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dr Andy Marks is the Director of the Centre for Western Sydney, and Assistant Vice-Chancellor at Western Sydney University. He has a PhD and first-class honours in political science and literature, and writes regular columns for the Sydney Morning Herald and the Daily Telegraph. He is also Chair of the Western Sydney Community Forum.
Thank you to all the Western Sydney advocates whose highly considered responses made this report possible. Particular gratitude to Helen Barcham and Lisa Lewis for their support, and to the formidable 2168 Children's Parliament for their wisdom and bravery.
Marks, A., 2021, Mid-Term Report Card: The NSW Government’s Performance in Western Sydney, Centre for Western Sydney, Parramatta.