Having lived in Western Sydney for all of my 36 years, you might think I know a thing or two about my community and what we think is important. Over the last week or so, this seems to have been lost on some of the commentary club from the Eastern Suburbs who seem intent on pushing an airport onto my community, an airport that they would never accept for themselves.
The realities of being left behind have been woven into the social fabric of Western Sydney for decades. Anything the East doesn’t want, gets lumped on us: toxic waste, an industrial tip, a jail with 800 of Her Majesty’s most heinous house guests, and a 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week airport.
Meanwhile, our neighbourhoods are missing critical pieces of infrastructure for a city housing more than 2 million people: a properly-resourced hospital for starters.
We need new schools for the thousands of kids flooding into new suburbs and developments, and we’d prefer schools not riddled with asbestos in existing suburbs. We desperately need classrooms with air conditioning. Consider this, we have 4-times more days over 35 degrees each year compared to our Eastern Suburbs neighbours. And yet, where do you think has more air conditioned classrooms? You can probably guess – it’s not in the West.
“Anything we’ve needed has only ever been delivered through the strength of our community; megaphone in one hand, placard in the other.”
We need good jobs closer to home to keep our roads moving and to maintain a semblance of normal family life – where you can actually see your kids at night instead of the moving car park that is the M4 or M5. We need better long-term planning so our green space isn’t just replaced with residential concrete and steel, but vegetation and civic spaces as well.
Our community is made up of hard-working, loyal and fair-minded people, most of whom have chosen to raise their family here. We’re not affected by NIMBY-ism, but we are capable of rational thought and we don’t blindly say yes to everything. We understand there is a need for more housing developments and we desperately understand the need for infrastructure that supports our growing community – public transport, roads, schools, TAFE, and dare I suggest again a properly-resourced hospital.
In the face of our infrastructure and services deficit, you better believe Western Sydney has learnt how to fight for what we need – and we’ve been at it for quite a while now. Anything we’ve needed has only ever been delivered through the strength of our community; megaphone in one hand, placard in the other.
Likewise for the raw deals that are constantly being pushed onto us by communities in the East – people who think their toxic waste is better off sitting in our neighbourhoods rather than their own, people who think Sydney needs 24/7 flights but don’t want to hear noise over their own homes after 11pm.
We’ve had decades-long fights with the eastern elites treating the West like second-class citizens, holding our communities to ransom for the basic things we need, and calling us ungrateful if we dare to say no to things after they themselves have said no. Over the years we’ve been trained to fight for our quality of life, and we hold it dear.
Specifically on the issue of the recent Western Sydney Airport approval, the responsible Minister, Paul Fletcher, lives 45 kilometres from Kingsford Smith Airport. He’s on record complaining about aircraft noise in his community – aircraft noise that ceases between the hours of 11pm and 6am.
Meanwhile, most of the communities to be affected by the Western Sydney Airport are only 20 kilometres from the site, and they’ll be expected to put up with noise all night long.
Funnily enough, Minister Fletcher was spared being labelled a ‘wrecker’, a ‘whinger’, ‘dopey’, and ‘short-sighted’ when he stood up for his community. My Western Sydney colleagues and I were not spared such vitriolic abuse.
We have a right to be sceptical. Those who wake up to a sea breeze in the morning have never knocked on our door, cheque in hand, spade in the other, ready to give us the resources we need or to build the things we actually want.
So when people try to tell us this airport is going to be the ‘best thing ever’ and the solution to all our problems, we have every right to fact-check and double count their data sets and ask for guarantees. We have every right to rely on our instincts and distrust pie-in-the-sky jobs figures that seem to change every other day.
I’ve come to the conclusion, after requesting information for months now, that the information being kept from us is information the Government does not want us to know. There is no published modelling on jobs – why? There are no published flight paths – why? There is no curfew like the one being firmly defended by MPs in the east – why? There is no local jobs guarantee – why?
Are we supposed to sit back and assume everything will work out and just hope that it does? The problems facing Western Sydney are far too serious for that. The Government’s eagerness to spruik the many benefits of the project on one hand, and their refusal to commit to any of it on the other, makes me deeply suspicious.
And in the end, the people pushing this airport are the same people who are flatly refusing the long-standing option favoured by almost all involved: lifting Kingsford Smith’s hourly flight caps by just five planes an hour.
My job is to ensure my community gets the best possible deal from government investment. It’s a job I’ll continue to do, whether Eastern Suburbs hypocrites like it or not.
Emma Husar is the Federal Member for Lindsay.