"The days of us trying to guess what matters to western Sydney are over; we're now all about listening."
They are the words of incoming director of Western Sydney University's Centre for Western Sydney Dr Andy Marks.
Dr Marks was speaking at the relaunch of the innovative research, policy and advocacy hub at the Liverpool Campus on Thursday.
The new Centre for Western Sydney in partnership with community, industry and government, will address the pressing issues of the region including climate change, employment, education and infrastructure.
"We're not going to start by talking, were going to start by listening," said Dr Marks at the relaunch which featured talks by Western Sydney University vice-Chancellor and president professor Barney Glover, Western Parkland City Authority chief executive Dr Sarah Hill, ABC Radio Sydney manager Melanie Withnall and Associate professor Shanthi Robertson from the Institute for Culture and Society.
"We're focused on putting voices of the region ahead of the researchers. It's about hearing what people have to say and responding to it.
"Many areas of western Sydney are particularly exposed to the impact of the current recession, due to pre-existing inequities compared to the rest of Greater Sydney. Access to employment, education, health services, transport and digital connectivity remains fragmented for a great number of people in the West. Those challenges have been compounded in recent months.
"The scale of the challenge requires a renewed approach. The Centre will deliver solutions orientated change through quality research and advocacy. Undertaken by leading experts from a range of fields, the Centre's work will promote the lived experiences of the people and communities of this region."
Dr Marks said they hit the streets of Liverpool recently to hear what the people had to say.
"We asked people what is that you care about and they didn't say the thing politicians say to us; they talked about mateship, supporting each other and how it felt to be lonely in lockdown," he said.
"I want to understand why people don't feel in this region that politicians are speaking for them - and that's both sides of politics"
"I think we're in danger in Australia of having something that turns out what we are seeing in the United States if we keep disconnecting between politics and people who live in regions like south-west Sydney.
"We don't think politics is reflecting what people in south-west Sydney want. We don't think it is meeting the things they care about around education, health, wages and social cohesion. "What we want to do is the bridge the gap because if politicians stop talking about things that matter to people in areas like Liverpool, then people stop listening and that is dangerous."
The centre, which started in 2014, has been "reinvigorated" and will focus on telling the story of people in the region as they see it.
One of the first issues the centre will look into is the problem of internet access which was heightened during the COVID-19 lockdown.
The centre will also produce a regular 'Western Sydney Report Card' evaluation of the performance of governments across eight key areas of the region's development: education, health, housing, transport, digital, culture, social and economic.
"Western Sydney is experiencing rapid development and population growth. As the nation's third largest economy and its most intensely contested political landscape, the West is often talked about, but rarely is it actually listened to. The Centre seeks to change that, through meaningful dialogue, high-quality research, genuine collaboration and committed advocacy," Dr Marks said.
This article was originally published by Chris Boulous in the Liverpool City Champion on 27 November 2020.