Election will rest on how west is won

Forget Canberra. The power centres for this election will be places such as Casula, which on Thursday night was the setting for a meeting of western Sydney councils to consider their collective position on Badgerys Creek airport. It was a crucial ''muscle flexing'' exercise from a community that intends to impose its will on national politics this year.

Every eligible citizen gets a vote in the looming federal election, but the 2 million people in western Sydney will have a disproportionate say in the outcome because of its marginal-seat density. What a remarkable opportunity for this often-neglected community to make its voice heard above the clatter of inner city elites and rural whingers.

For too long the political fortunes of bankers and bushies have held sway over government policies, infrastructure spending and media attention, locking out the silent majority living between the Anzac Bridge and the Blue Mountains. If western Sydney can harness its political strength, then maybe Australia can prioritise the suburban issues of transport congestion, social exclusion, cost of living, crime and health and education services.

I say ''if'' because traditionally the west has been a terrible lobbyist for itself and has suffered a lack of political champions. But the rise of locals like such as the Liberals' Penrith MP Stuart Ayers, the Parramatta lord mayor, John Chedid, and the Labor ministers Chris Bowen and Jason Clare gives hope for the future.

It is also important to remember ''the west'' is not one amorphous mass but a range of disparate communities bound only by geography. This demographic fact is rarely acknowledged by those CBD opinion leaders who use patronising terms like ''those people'' and ''out there'' when discussing any issue west of Strathfield.

Infrastructure and services are traditionally the domain of state government, but when a commuter is stuck on the M4 or in a crowded train from Penrith they make no constitutional distinction; they simply blame ''the government''. If a western Sydney family is forced to travel three times as far as their Paddington counterpart to watch a concert, or when they can't find a spot in childcare or aged care they will look to Canberra for solutions.

Not since the 1972 election of Gough Whitlam have the people of western Sydney held such sway. On a national level, depending on your politics, Whitlam is remembered either for his romantic social policy achievements or his chequered economic record. But, for the people of western Sydney, he was elected because he promised to lay sewer pipes in the suburbs to make up for the neglect of state and local governments.

So, what will a 2013 election dominated by western Sydney look like? The eventual development of a second airport at Badgerys Creek, to supplement Mascot, is a sideshow in a much bigger picture. Locals definitely want their own airport but, more importantly, they want to know how it will help deliver jobs and new land transport links. They will actually reward the party that takes the initiative.

Policy makers must overcome decades of prejudice that rate a Martin Place job well above one at Moorebank, that mandate cultural facilities must have a 2000 postcode, or believe that all public transport should drop you at Wynyard.

The population of western Sydney is 2 million, and is projected to rise to 4 million by 2050. It is already the nation's third biggest economy, but imagine how much more dysfunctional the wider metropolitan area will become if we do not cater for that growth, address congestion and end social exclusion.

While an eastern suburbs tram extension is needed, so too is a western Sydney light rail network linking Bankstown to the Hills District, via Parramatta - the demographic centre of Sydney. Federal and state treasuries are funding better seats for Sydney Cricket Ground members and Opera House patrons, but where is the upgrade to Parramatta's Riverside Theatre or a new stadium for the Panthers, the Eels and the Wanderers?

Tamworth farmers like their national broadband network roll-out, but what about the world class researchers at the University of Western Sydney or at Westmead's elite medical institutes who cannot yet access the digital superhighway?

Nick Greiner's state infrastructure vision identified ''the west'' as the solution to Sydney's growth dilemma - just as governor Lachlan Macquarie did 200 years ago. But Greiner publicly lamented the lack of data to adequately plan for its future. It is now time to put this plan in place, to end two centuries of neglect, ensuring young people in Mount Druitt have the same access to good jobs as those in Mosman and that businesses in Norwest can access export markets as easily as those in North Sydney.

Christopher Brown is chairman of the Parramatta Partnership Forum and a University of Western Sydney board member.


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