In Sydney pollies must go west to win the rest
There’s no doubt that tackling the escalating cost of living is central to keeping the all-important voters of Western Sydney happy. Sydney is one of the greatest cities in the world and that privilege shouldn’t come with an expensive price tag, especially for Western Sydney.
We need to make Sydney a place that’s once again affordable for all Sydneysiders. That’s the challenge for both the State and Federal Government. Any failure in this regard may spell disaster at election time for the Government of the day.
After years of neglect and poor planning decisions it’s clear that Sydney has lost some of its gloss and Sydney voters don’t like that. Sydney has become just too expensive for all those struggling Aussie families out there in voterland.
While the city has sprawled out towards the Blue Mountains services have failed to keep pace and the price of land has spiralled out of control.
Not surprisingly, Western Sydney has become the new political battleground. Both major parties try daily to outdo each on how much love they can give it. For all those on the ground in Western Sydney they know all too well the daily battles they face getting to work on congested roads or trying to access scarce government services or public transport.
As both the politicians and football codes try to make inroads into Western Sydney there’s no doubt that it is the place to watch. It’s the new frontier in battle for the hearts and minds and as the Federal election inevitably draws closer more and more attention will be devoted to its swinging voters.
So what can be done for those all-important voters?
First, we need to tackle the rising price of land and housing in the greater Sydney area. The price of land has skyrocketed over the years and that’s a direct result of land releases not keeping pace with the growth of Sydney. We urgently need to fasttrack the release of land for residential development.
The release of land needs to be accompanied by the timely provision of services, especially public transport. It’s not good enough that Sydney’s infrastructure is in a state of decay. A world class city needs world class infrastructure. Housing developments must be strongly supported by new hospitals, schools, roads and public transport links.
Tackling the availability of suitable land for housing developments needs to be complemented by the availability of affordable finance. The sad reality is that any efforts by the State Government to make more land available could be so easily frustrated or undermined by the big banks not playing their part in providing affordable finance to Sydneysiders.
The big banks need to act as good corporate citizens and repay all the support that taxpayers, including those in Sydney, gave them during the global financial crisis. Yes, we want the banks to be profitable, but we don’t want them to keep inflating interest rates and fees as that stifles housing development in Western Sydney and around Australia.
Inflated interest rates and fees add to the cost of housing developments and that’s why the Federal Government needs to play its part by ensuring we have world’s best competition and consumer laws. Australia’s current weak competition and consumer laws have meant that the big banks have been allowed to dominate the housing and business loans market. And that’s bad news for all those struggling families and small businesses in Western Sydney.
The inflated interest rates for businesses, especially small business, mean that the big banks can put a brake on economic development in Western Sydney and across the nation. Less affordable finance from the big banks means less economic development to provide jobs and keep down the cost of goods or services.
We need real and effective competition in the Australian banking sector for the simple reason that real and effective competition puts downward pressure on interest rates and fees.
Real and effective competition is obviously critical to keeping down the cost of living across Sydney and the nation. Whether it be groceries or petrol, it’s essential that we have strong and diverse competitors keeping prices down across Sydney. Currently, we have just two major supermarket chains that dominate the grocery sector and the same two are also increasing their dominance in petrol and liquor.
Having just two players in a local area leads to higher prices for goods or services in that area as the two players keep retail prices inflated. While occasionally the two players will engage in pricing gimmicks to give the impression of some competition, the harsh reality is that we need strong price competitive independents in the local market to keep prices down.
That means we need more competitive diversity across Sydney. Governments at all levels must work towards inviting strong independents back into suburbs across Sydney and especially in new developments. The two major supermarket chains can be part of new developments but only alongside new grocery, petrol and liquor independents.
Improving affordability is not just about putting downward pressure on the price of goods or services, it’s also about helping Sydneysiders, especially those in Western Sydney, find the cheapest grocery and petrol prices everyday. At the moment consumers are largely in the dark about where to find the cheapest prices. That means that they may be paying more than they should.
The Federal Government must work towards ensuring that all major supermarkets and petrol stations publish online and in near real time all supermarket shelf prices as well as the price of petrol, diesel and LPG sold at all service stations.
If the Federal Government cannot get agreement on a voluntary industry code of conduct where all relevant prices are published online and in near real time, then it should put in place a mandatory industry code of conduct that requires industry participants to do so. Such a mandatory code must be backed by financial penalties and be actively enforced to ensure full compliance.
Clearly, there are lots of simple and practical steps that can be taken by the Federal and State Government to deliver a better result for the voters of Western Sydney. The exciting thing is that those same steps could be used to deliver the same benefits to consumers across the country.
In that regard Western Sydney is another microcosm of the real Australia and a failure of a major political party in Western Sydney inevitably means that party’s failure across the country.
No wonder Western Sydney is seeing more and more visits from politicians.
Let’s hope that the politicians bring real offerings and not just the same hot air that Western Sydneysiders may get on those scorching summer days.
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