Winds in the East — and a Change for the West?

The impact that a decade of Liberal governance has had on the area’s growth is undeniable –– but not necessarily positive.

Art by Yasodara Puhule-Gamayalage

Sydney’s Greater West is home to over 2.5 million people. It has a rapidly growing population and is the country’s third-largest local economy. Of the 4.7 million votes on Saturday March 25, a third will be cast by voting-age residents of Western Sydney. Naturally, it has emerged as a key and determinative region in the upcoming State election; marginal seats in many Western electorates will have a significant bearing on the election’s outcome. 

Geographical authorities have differing views on what constitutes Western Sydney, but it is generally considered as the geography between Windsor and Campbelltown in the North and South, and Parramatta and the Blue Mountains in the East and West respectively. This region is situated on parts of Bidjigal, Cabrogal, Darkinjung, Dharawal, Dharug, Gundungura, Gweagal and Tharawal Country. According to recent Census data, it is one of the most religious and culturally diverse parts of the country, and has been transformed in recent years due to industrial investment and community asset developments. 

Recently, Premier Dominic Perrottet campaigned in Parramatta, commandeering a local Service NSW outlet and dispensing vouchers to expectant clients in a glacial manner one would expect from a career politician operating –– if that’s the right word –– as a bureaucrat. Though geographically in the centre of Metropolitan Sydney, Parramatta serves as the primary financial and commercial CBD for the Greater West. The State seat, held by popular Liberal politician and corrections minister Geoff Lee since 2011, is up for grabs following his political retirement. 

Those who work in, or travel through, the Parramatta CBD will recall the immense changes that the city is undergoing, from its cityscapes to its parklands. Infrastructural changes include the Commbank (formerly Bankwest) Stadium, the PHIVE library and council services space, and the Parramatta Square precinct, which facilitates corporate liaisons and fine dining alike (Threefold Pastry is a must visit!). 

The impact that a decade of Liberal governance has had on the area’s growth is undeniable –– but not necessarily positive. Development of a light rail across the CBD has been delayed, with completion pushed from 2023 to mid-2024. Construction along the Eat Street precinct has strained businesses, already hurt by the rental and cost-of-living crisis. In May 2019, the State government offered 154 small businesses in the Sydney CBD compensation totalling over thirty million dollars to mitigate the impacts that light rail construction had on their revenues. No such assistance has been offered to businesses across the Parramatta line. 

Seat redistributions have posed another problem to the present government’s prospects. Every second State election, the NSW Electoral Commission must redistribute seats to ensure that there is an equal allocation of voters across electorates. Redistribution of the Parramatta electorate has reduced Liberal’s margin by just over 4%, and the redrawing of electoral regions in the North-West has also impacted the party. The cessation of the seat of Baulkham Hills, replaced largely by a new Castle Hill electorate, pushed Transport Minister and Minister for Western Sydney David Elliot out of preselection. Elliot is now retiring from State politics post-election.

Another Coalition held, marginal seat in the West, the Penrith electorate, is likely to flip. Stuart Ayres –– former Deputy Leader of the NSW Liberal Party, Minister for Enterprise, Investment and Trade, Minister for Tourism and Sport, and Minister for Western Sydney –– is facing a precarious 0.6% margin between him and former Penrith mayor Karen McKeown. 

Ayres won the last election by little over 1,000 votes, but his involvement in the Barilaro New York Trade Commissioner scandal (the reason for all of his “former” designations and demotions) will likely alienate corruption-averse constituents. Corruption and governmental discretion have been key issues in the region; the loss and trust induced by regionally onerous COVID orders in Southern Western Sydney have been forgotten on the campaign trails.

I talked to a 23 year old resident of Bonnyrigg, who preferred to remain anonymous, to get a statement on the issues facing young people in the region, “We’re really feeling the brunt of a chronically underfunded healthcare system, and a failure of climate change policy. Our treatment during COVID has sowed deep mistrust in the government. There’s constant talk of grand-plans for the future of Western Sydney, but politicians need to show that they can and will fix already existing problems that Western Sydney faces.”

Labor’s election promises include greater investments in healthcare, including a new Rouse Hill hospital, increased capacity at Blacktown and Mt Druitt hospitals, and greater support for nurses and other healthcare workers. This is alluring to a populace where healthcare is the largest industry, accounting for 11.6% of Western Sydney’s $104 billion economy. Regardless of outcome, it seems that both parties have recognised that neglecting the once secondary region will be fatal to their political aspirations.