Regional think tank, the Centre for Western Sydney, based at Western Sydney University, has released a detailed new analysis ahead of the NSW election, finding the soaring costs of living combined with rapidly rising mortgage and rental costs, will heavily influence voting behaviours across Western Sydney.
The Centre’s report – Western Sydney Votes – highlights how one-third of the anticipated 4.7 million total votes cast at the 2023 NSW election will be lodged in Western Sydney, Australia’s fastest growing, most diverse, and politically contested region.
The report’s co-author and Executive Director of the Centre for Western Sydney, Professor Andy Marks, said while there were a large number of safe seats in Western Sydney, assessment of federal election voting patterns suggest seven electorates of strategic importance have emerged in the lead-up to the election.
He says there is no path to victory on 25 March for the Liberal-National Coalition or Labor if they fail to retain or turn those critical Western Sydney seats.
“Last minute campaign pledges and reversals on major issues are making the outcome difficult to predict,” said Professor Marks.
“The Coalition is looking to Western Sydney voters to grant it sixteen years in office, largely on the back of a sustained asset recycling and infrastructure program. The Premier has since walked away from that record of delivery by ruling out privatisation and instead promoting ‘good debt’. He has upped the stakes with an additional promise of a ‘future fund’ targeted directly to individuals to support long-term saving for anticipated housing and education costs.
“Alternatively, the Labor opposition, seeks a ‘fresh start’ for the state, pledging ‘more teachers… healthcare workers and [hospital] beds’ along with ‘more accessible transport [and] more affordable housing’. The opposition won’t commit to infrastructure projects it can’t fund, and is directing increased education support immediately into the schools system instead of phased individual savings schemes.
“Getting cut through with these messages will be challenging in an economic climate where everyday concerns drown out grand political visions. In this setting, the approach that succeeds will be the one that best speaks to the lived experience of Western Sydney voters.”
The report found that despite gains in university qualifications, wider educational inequity persists throughout Sydney’s West compared to the rest of Sydney and that housing unaffordability is entrenched and compounded by growing pockets of mortgage and rental stress.
It also noted that the capacity to choose to work from home is much lower than the rest of Sydney, as is digital participation and access to transport, with costs for the region’s commuters comparatively high, along with car dependency.
Co-author Tom Nance, Centre for Western Sydney, said due to lower household income levels in the region, the soaring costs of living is impacting Western Sydney disproportionately. With electoral politics likely the last thing on the minds of many voters as they contend with these pressures.
“Wages for most workers in Sydney’s West are not keeping pace with inflation, and a growing proportion of the region’s mortgage holders are struggling to absorb the impact of relentless interest rate increases,” said Mr Nance.
“There are additional costs that come with living in Western Sydney. Tolls to travel to-and-from the city from the West can cost as much as $220 a week, while the region’s car dependency means that residents often pay more at the bowser. Away from transport, higher temperature fluctuations can also result in higher electricity bills for households.”
Addressing problem gambling has emerged as a distinct theme of the campaign, with the Premier securing cabinet support for cashless gaming cards within five years, while Labor advocate a limited trial. “This is an issue that particularly impacts Western Sydney, with the region incurring 63 per cent of Greater Sydney’s total poker machine losses,” said Mr Nance.
Professor Marks concluded that, “the politics that will win Western Sydney is that which treats the region seriously. Not as an electoral battleground, nor as a work-in-progress, but a region that has its own distinct identity, with unrivalled global connections, and even closer community ties. The key to addressing Western Sydney’s challenges lies in understanding and amplifying its strengths.”