CEO, Billie Sankovic

The 2019 NSW Government Budget was released, promising more advanced and accessible infrastructure, roads and transport for all. The Budget outlines station upgrades, more train services, additional schools, and the building of a new “Mega TAFE” which provides access to modern facilities and more jobs. It also outlines progressing the new Badgerys Creek airport and significant redevelopment of some Western Sydney hospitals.

One of the significant redevelopments is the Nepean Hospital which has been criticised for its emergency waiting time, with 9,000 patients facing dangerous delays in treatment according to the Bureau of Health and Information.  The NSW Government has responded with redevelopment plans for the hospital and integrated ambulatory services, which is good news for the community and the health sector.

These infrastructure investments are welcome in Western Sydney. There is no doubt that they are vital for community wellbeing.  In my view, they are core responsibilities of a government who is seeking to facilitate and home an additional one million people in Western Sydney in coming years.

Western Sydney Community Forum (WSCF) launched the ‘Build Beyond Bricks’ initiative in late 2018, which provides a synopsis of evidence and recommendations to frame strategic decision making. The initiative was awarded the 2019 Western Sydney Leadership Prize for Public Policy and advocates for priorities that must be addressed to improve the livelihood of local communities in Western Sydney.

When I reviewed the 2019 budget in the context of Build Beyond Bricks, I saw critical investment in employment and health services, in addition to infrastructure.  I saw and welcomed commitments for more social and recreational infrastructure in local areas.

But what I didn’t see, was the Government’s commitment to service delivery for communities. Or, a commitment to building community capacity and extending the universal service system in a growing region; so, it can support people who may experience vulnerability. It was also not clear how the Government intends to deliver integrated and coordinated prevention and early intervention programs, and in a way that facilitates cross sector responses.

As part of the Build Beyond Bricks initiative, WSCF made several recommendations, including:

  • co-designing, prototyping and rolling out new approaches to prevent, reduce and address gambling addiction;
  • establishing a Community Building Fund as part of the Western Sydney City Deal to supercharge fast-growing small to medium sized community development organisations;
  • co-designing and adopting a social infrastructure benchmarking model collectively with the community sector, local government and development industry; and
  • for each local government area to deliver a collaborative healthy cities strategy with community and government stakeholders to accelerate healthy living places, services and opportunities.

We believe these recommendations, along with others in the initiative, directly respond to regional priorities and challenges that need to be addressed.  However, I was surprised and disappointed to find that the Budget did not address any investment in these areas, nor demonstrate a commitment to building beyond bricks in Western Sydney.

Within this context, I attended the NCOSS Budget Briefing with fellow industry leaders to hear directly from Treasurer The Hon. Dominic Perrottet and Minister for Families, Communities and Disability Services, The Hon. Gareth Ward. I was looking forward to hearing their vision, ideas and commitments to building beyond bricks; not just in Western Sydney but across NSW.

The Treasurer did not attend. Instead, he was represented by the Minister for Finance and Small Business, The Hon. Damien Tudehope.  The Minister’s briefing could have benefited from some focus and detail on service delivery from an overall Government perspective, including indexation funding that aligns with the consumer price index increases to ensure service levels are not reduced.

I found that Minister Ward engaged with industry leaders and acknowledged the significant challenges facing the Government and the sector in supporting communities who experience vulnerability. I thought he demonstrated his commitment to prevention and early intervention and in working closely with the community and the industry; particularly though the Their Futures Matters program.  I also think he recognised and committed to supporting people with disability and the sector, to address the challenges and gaps of transition to the NDIS.

While it was pleasing to hear Minister Ward’s willingness to engage, the fact remains that the Budget just simply lacks detail and commitment to building beyond bricks.

I am looking forward to meeting with Minister Ward in the near future and discussing the Budget, building beyond bricks and tangible options for delivering integrated services and strategies that enhance community wellbeing in Western Sydney.

Stay tuned.