INNOVATIVE, TACTICAL AND AGILE
Against the backdrop of the pandemic, the Government’s investments in public health, understandably, rated very highly. The value of these targeted and sustained improvements to health system capacity were proven, and undoubtedly noticed, across Western Sydney as the highly coordinated pandemic interventions were deployed.
Innovative, tactical and agile initiatives from the Government in planning and public space were also rated favourably, especially when forged through open and genuinely inclusive co-design with the West’s residents.
“Against the backdrop of the pandemic, the Government’s investments in public health, understandably, rated very highly.”
Narrow, but exceptionally important relief for many parents and children was also exceedingly welcome but tempered with considerable frustration that these measures were not taken further as at-scale stimulus initiatives.
Alternatively, confidence in policy and process has been rattled. Transparency and accountability concerns pepper report card responses. This easy-to-get but hard-to-shake perception of self-serving politics has been compounded by ‘pork barrelling’ commentary espoused at the highest levels of Liberal and National party leadership. Voters residing in the nation’s most intensely electorally contested region have, in their report card verdicts, taken deep offence at that commentary. It is viewed as a corrosive politicisation of important community programs, and has been rated accordingly.
Additionally, despite the Government’s comparatively solid infrastructure development record, many Western Sydney residents struggle to see how this program of works is making their lives better; perhaps pointing to flaws in the Government’s supporting narrative. Similarly, uncertainty on once firm commitments to particular Western Sydney projects continues as a source of disappointment, articulated in nearly all report card responses.
"Voters residing in the nation’s most intensely electorally contested region have… taken deep offence at [pork barrelling] commentary."
A FORK IN THE ROAD
The mid-point of a third-term of incumbency is a pivotal juncture. Maintaining momentum, dispelling fatigue and fostering innovation is hard to do, but critical. The performance of a deeply experienced administration, like Premier Gladys Berejiklian’s team, should set the Government up for a strong finish to this term. With a decade of depth to draw on, there are no excuses for faltering in meeting the Premier’s own commitments to the people of Western Sydney.
“This region has distinct expectations of government, and it marks harshly when it perceives neglect.”
In a rapidly growing, culturally diverse and socioeconomically dynamic region like Western Sydney, the Government’s trajectory over the next two years will rightfully attract very close scrutiny.
This region has distinct expectations of government, and it marks harshly when it perceives neglect. The typically pronounced rates of voter swing in the West nearly double (-4 per cent) the statewide (-2.3 per cent) swing against the Coalition in 2019 are evidence of that. Equally, the region’s voters historically reward stability, vision and above all, integrity; over the past few decades backing in long terms of incumbency for both Labor and Liberal-National governments.
CHAMPIONS OF ‘SMALL’ GO LARGE
Events over the past year have placed extraordinary pressure on governments, globally. The NSW Government is no exception. Comparatively, it has performed well. Ironically it has done so via an agile departure from its ideological footing. The profound economic, social and related fall-out of the pandemic has demanded a ‘big’ political response. Stimulus and intervention were urgently needed. This is an uncharacteristic approach for a fiscally conservative, centre-right political grouping like the NSW Liberal-National coalition, that traditionally advocate a light touch from government.
The self-professed ‘small’ government specialists were compelled to ‘go large’. To an extent, and against type, they did. However, the full effectiveness of economic stimulus in Western Sydney remains to be seen. The Government’s relatively quick economic response rated well in the region. But the targeting and rationale behind key elements of that response are naturally points of considerable contention in the West. Everybody has their own idea of how it should have been directed. But the gritty reality of the impact in the West must be the ultimate guide.
A MISSED OPPORTUNITY
Australia’s last recession, in the early 90s, primarily hit male blue-collar workers. This one unequivocally impacted women. That cohort of essential workers, professionals, carers and community members, critical to generational wellbeing and prosperity, fared the worst. They overwhelmingly bore the brunt of the labour market, housing, health and economic disruption. Many of them continue to do so, particularly across particular areas of south-western Sydney, where wage levels have – for some time – not kept pace with housing and related cost-of-living expenses.
“Major exclusions, shortfalls and abrupt cessations in Commonwealth assistance to women heightened the expectation on the NSW Government to step into the breach.”
Major exclusions, shortfalls and abrupt cessations in Commonwealth assistance to women heightened the expectations the NSW Government would step into the breach. Again, while bespoke programs to support women – for example, return-to-work schemes – were rolled out, they were not viewed as being of sufficient scale. Other initiatives came through, like the extension of the free preschool scheme. Still, the overall extent and nature of Government initiatives, even in stimulus, do not appear to fully grasp, nor capitalise on, the very substantial economic gains of enabling greater female participation in the workforce. That is viewed by report card respondents as perhaps the biggest missed opportunity.
The NSW Government rates comparatively well overall in Western Sydney, with its efforts to support health and wellbeing a standout. Its capacity to explain its good work, however, remains an issue for voters in the West, as do critical signs of fatigue evident in lapses in accountability, transparency and commitment. Assessing performance across the six priority areas, the NSW Government rates a B- at the mid-term point in Western Sydney.
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