With the release of the NSW Government Budget for 2021 – 2022, I was interested in the prospect of appropriate support and stability for Western Sydney after the impacts of the bushfires, flooding and the COVID-19 pandemic on local communities.

In particular, I was looking for a recovery period that focused on priorities that ‘build beyond bricks’ to capitalise on increased interest and investment in Western Sydney and benefit the day to day lives of people.

In summary, what I found is some promising commitments to state priorities generally in terms of community health and wellbeing.  However, for greater Western Sydney there is little change in funding ‘beyond building bricks’ to address issues of access and equity experienced by the people who live across the region.

A positive feature of this Budget is the additional funding for education and training. A focus on early childhood learning was taken up through the implementation of universal access to early childhood education as part of the renewed Free Preschool Funding program until 2022. Investments have also been made in public schools through the delivery of new and upgraded schools, some of which should begin to address the gap in school infrastructure in Western Sydney primarily across the South West and North West growth corridors. Continued funding has also been committed towards the Skilling for Recovery program which provides 100,000 places for people to engage in vocational training and particularly for young people and older workers.

COVID-19 remains the priority in the health cluster especially in the safety of communities and frontline staff. Of significance is the allocation of more than $100 million state-wide funding towards developing 25 “Safeguards” Youth Mental Health Crisis teams to support children and young people as well as their families and carers.

Housing affordability has featured in the public debate for some time and is an urgent priority for action. With a high level of households in housing stress and increasing levels of homelessness, the Budget provides meagre investment in new social and affordable housing solutions which does not respond to the 6,500 additional social and affordable housing dwellings needed per year in greater Western Sydney to meet forecasted demand by 2036. The need to support people that are experiencing homelessness has been identified through some investment in secure and affordable housing. Of note is the Aboriginal Community Housing Investment Fund and the Roads to Home housing assistance programs. Similarly, there are investments into specialist homelessness services and the expansion of the Together Home Program. These are positive steps but without adequate funding for the supply of additional social housing dwellings with wrap around service support to meet demand, access to a secure and safe home will continue to be an urgent and ongoing priority.

Following changes to the out-of-home care system, $1.4 billion will be invested into guardianship and adoption programs and over $750 million into increasing capacity of the child protection system to reduce the risk of significant harm to children and young people. There is also commitment to individualised packages and supports under the National Disability Insurance Scheme to support people with disability, their families and carers. Additional funding is provided for family, domestic and sexual violence services. This is welcome.  The continuing unacceptable death count of women due to domestic violence though requires increased investment in prevention and early intervention strategies and programs. The level of investment required to do this was not apparent in the Budget.

The most significant investment for Western Sydney is for the Western Parkland City of Bradfield, home to the new airport. This funding is intended for site preparation as well as planning towards alignment with the new Sydney Metro rail line linking St Marys to the new airport. Planning will be undertaken to develop the site as a hub for advanced manufacturing, research, science and education. This begins to address the gap for professional jobs in Western Sydney. Beyond infrastructure items, it is unclear how and whether funding is provided to support actions that directly respond to social, economic and environmental priorities.

Investment into Western Sydney’s culture and arts industries and parklands has been increased with a commitment to delivering the Powerhouse in Parramatta as well as an expansion to the Museum Discovery Centre in Castle Hill and infrastructure projects to enhance the Western Sydney parklands. While it is pleasing to see this investment in Western Sydney and the opportunities that these provide, the inevitable impacts of demolishing cultural heritage continues to be a concern for local communities.

In terms of transport, it is positive to see early investment of much needed north-south connections across Western Sydney. This is particularly seen through the construction of the Sydney Metro City and Southwest link between Chatswood and Bankstown and continued commitment for the Westmead to Sydney CBD metro. Maintained vigour in enabling public transport access across Western Sydney is continuing at the same pace as previous years, especially in relation to  accessibility, increased services, newer fleets and commuter carparking. Overall, these investments are a positive change for Western Sydney and significant towards the target of creating the Metropolis of Three Cities driven by the commitment of liveable, affordable, 30 minute cities.  A key theme throughout the budget though is that aside from the airport site, there seems to be a lack of attention to fundamental priorities like transport (as well as affordable housing and services) across South Western Sydney. Particularly across the south west growth corridor of Liverpool, Campbelltown and Camden local government areas where there has been and continues to be substantial population growth.

The Budget overall is clearly in a recovery period with heavy investment continuing in infrastructure projects primarily across the central and north west areas of Western Sydney. While boosts in education and health are welcome, investment in early intervention and supporting access and equity in local areas that are experiencing vulnerability and crisis, are still underfunded.

Like the Centre for Western Sydney’s Mid-Term Report Card delivered in April to the NSW Government showed, the government has a strong track record in delivering on health, but areas such as social housing, planning and equity still remain an issue in the eyes of residents in Western Sydney.

In order to build beyond bricks in Western Sydney, we need to be looking forward past shovel ready projects and direct attention to local level holistic policy, strategy and investment that prevents and addresses inequitable outcomes.