AusOpinion Reblogged 28 – Stop the Cars! How the Global Becomes Local in the West

This post summed up exactly the issues that faced the outer west of Sydney in 2013 and how the Liberal Party framed their pitch to the region. The question to be asked in the lead up to the 2016 poll will be – how successful will the Liberal Government be in being able to sell their message and fulfil their “contract”?  It’s something that should be ascertained now, rather than in 2016 – that way, campaigns can be predicted, rather than reacted to.  I have made points in italics where changes have occurred since this post. 

The September 2 Four Corners profile of the Lindsay and Brisbane campaigns were illustrative of an Australia that is pretty diverse – socially, economically and logically.  One of the more startling pieces of logic presented was that of Fiona Scott, the Liberal candidate for Lindsay, where she linked the arrival of asylum seekers with the problems of congestion on the M4 and hospital waiting lists.  This demonstrates how the Liberal Party continue to work to make global issues such as asylum seeker processing into local issues.   Hence we get these leaps of logic from Liberal candidates :

50,000 asylum seekers are arriving – Where can we put them all – Their cars will clog up our motorways even more than they are now

There’s a fixed price on carbon – This is causing electricity prices to rise – You can’t afford as much as you used to – The local economy suffers

The Government put the budget into deficit – This is exactly like you going into credit card debt – This credit card debt will cause use to pay more interest, just like you and your credit card debt

As well as simplistic leaflets like this (FEWER Jobs, my wife would scream):

photo

That is why refugee processing has become an issue for people in the west – because of the link that is frequently made with the problems with infrastructure. Fiona Scott has basically revealed what media outlets and the Liberals have successfully communicated to the collective minds of those now seeking simple, “real” solutions to those problems.  In today’s interview by Penrith Press journalist Kevin Cheng, she attempts to clarify her comments in Four Corners, but actually outlines her approach in more detail.  Her words are in italics.

“I certainly think things were taken out of context with the way it was cut. The points I was making is we’ve had 16 years of failed Labor government here at state level, which has meant we haven’t had the infrastructure investments that we have needed here.” she said.

“The last major piece of major infrastructure that western Sydney has received particularly in roads has been the M7 which was done under the Howard government”.

The M7 is a largely privately owned PPP tollway where the Howard Government provided $356 million, while the $1.2 billion balance continues to be paid by people who use it.  Not a particularly large government commitment and has little relevance to the solving of Lindsay traffic problems – unless Scott is advocating a Public Private Partnership tollway to solve the traffic issues of the west (which is well, WestConnex, but the tolls are happening in the inner west). That’s not a policy we have heard during this election, nor during the last state election.

“People say to me, ‘we are already choking under the weight of the population growth and the regional growth. We are not seeing the infrastructure being built here’, then we see things increasing (asylum seekers arriving) that gives people a sense of concern,” she said.

So, in other words, the original statements in the Four Corners interview weren’t taken out of context – she is still linking asylum seekers to traffic problems by mentioning them in the same breath – and then this:

“When you doorknock places like Glenmore Park and people trying to get out through Glenmore Park or fight through Mulgoa Rd. When you see you have porous border control, they want to see a humanitarian intake and they are wondering ‘our infrastructure is failing, we are having to commute for jobs, how are we going to facilitate this? How are we going to do this as a nation when we are struggling with the population we already have?’ That’s where the two issues are linked.”

Simple comparisons, explanations – and solutions – for complex problems, that is the skill of candidates like Scott.   The simplifying approach can be seen with the use of the expression “porous border control”, which infers that we can’t defend ourselves from attack.   From the 50,000 asylum seekers she referred to.  The 50,000 boat arrivals we have had since 1975.  And not a lot of them have gone to Lindsay – there would have been more arrivals from continental Europe, Britain and NZ than from BOATS in Lindsay since 1975.  However, Scott isn’t about to start blaming them for the traffic problems, because they are now part of her voting body.

Though at least Scott is talking to her local media – and the News Corporation owned Penrith Press. Out in Blacktown, Jaymes Diaz is avoiding everyone, including the Blacktown Advocate, the News Corp paper – with Liberal minders claiming : “Mr Diaz would not be answering any more questions until the Blacktown Advocate began practising ‘balanced reporting’”.  When you accuse a News Corp paper of unbalanced reporting, you may have a problem with the campaign, both now and after Diaz’s possible victory.

Problem is for Scott and Diaz and the other WestSyd Liberals, the promises made by both major parties don’t really address specific Western Sydney issues – hence the need to make global and Federal issues seem like local ones.  This is why David Bradbury has spent a chunk of the last three years attending NBN related events – because that’s the Federal turned local.

To show just how meagre the material promises are to outer suburban residents, we can see  what the Liberals say are their crucial policies in their “Contract with Australia” – mine came from the Member for Macquarie, Louise Markus.

contract

It’s fairly bland, small scale stuff.  Though, “boats” aren’t as important in the Blue Mountains parts of Macquarie electorate – showing how Markus is really aiming to appeal to her base in the Hawkesbury.   What is significantly missing is specific detail about local initiatives. The Liberal campaign has been very careful to avoid promising anything substantial for the Western Suburbs – Markus’ material has been careful to avoid it too.

There’s been talk around of “well, the people of the western suburbs are the only important people in this election, they will get plenty”.  However, when you look at what is actually being promised people in outer suburban areas in Brisbane and NSW, there is an emerging pattern that both parties have in common:

– Sporting facilities upgrades – but mostly those associated with major clubs, like Manly, the Brisbane Broncos and Penrith Panthers

– One road to rule them all, whether it’s the Gateway in Brisbane or the Westconnex in Sydney

But you also have in common these things:

– No new public transport infrastructure

– Little bits of sporting infrastructure spend for community sporting groups.

Otherwise, it’s just whiz in, whiz out visits from either leader, so they can be seen by people that they have visited marginal seats – very much like Ohio was carpet bombed by Obama and Romney in the last election.

What would people in the West actually gain from Abbott then?  Not much.  The abolition of carbon pricing (which may not even happen) (actually, it did, but had next to no influence over power bills) would have little long term impact on power bills – we can be sure Abbott and Barry O’Farrell will become expert at talking about “poles and wires” and upgrading of power stations when explaining the main reason for electricity price rises. (now that the State Government will be leasing these to private enterprise, let’s see the impact) Even then, the uptake of solar power will probably continue at the cracking pace it has since 2007, as solar PV prices fall and electricity prices continue to be high.

Somewhere down the track the motorways will alleviate some traffic problems – in the case of the Westconnex, it will stop the current bottleneck at James Ruse Drive – but that’s not as significant a part of the Western Sydney narrative as those from Canberra or the city would have people thinking.  In any case, both sides of politics are promising this bit of road, so it shouldn’t be considered a gain for the Liberals. Even when the road is completed, however, the structural problems will remain – problems that neither side have tackled. These include:

– Where to put new houses for residents in an area that will continue to expand without major train expansion

– The current insane, 20 minute bottleneck for cars exiting the M4 at the Northern Rd and Russell St, which has little end in sight – especially for Fiona Scott’s “mum picking her kids up from childcare” (The Russell St jam has been alleviated, but the Northern Rd one is much harder to solve)

– Significantly overcrowded peak hour trains and poor bus network services

– The problems of people spending time in traffic or on trains, going into major cities in an age where decentralisation should be a reality for business and services

Abbott, Fiona Scott, Louise Markus (should she keep the seat) (she did) and Diaz (hahahaha, who?) should have their explanations handy for 2016, when they need to explain that nothing much will change – they will probably say that things like public transport are a “state matter”.   Unlike Jackie Kelly, they won’t have the significant advantage of a State Labor Government to blame.  These new MPs will have a Liberal state government to try to handpass the problems to.   A government seeking to increase urban sprawl in greenfield sides in the outer west and south west, with little talk of how they will be serviced transport wise.  Even if Abbott is able to “stop the boats” by buying them and so forth, I can’t see how he and his new western Sydney MPs will be too successful at Stopping the Cars.

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