Penrith residents rejoice - we’ll finally be able to beat the excruciating heat now that a long-awaited local beach is on its way, with Deputy NSW Premier and local member Prue Car launching the news that the state government has green-lit a Penrith Beach development, due to open in less than a month.
Fresh from telling schoolkids to stifle their own political inclinations, Ms Car has labelled the announcement ‘a game-changer’ for the region, and one we all deserve after ‘years of neglect’ at the hands of previous administrations.
Unfortunately, the Federal Labor government isn’t as determined to make itself appealing.
Less than a week before the beach announcement was made, the Prime Minister’s team confirmed that a number of key infrastructure projects - many centred in the Penrith region of Western Sydney - were to be cut.
Cuts include the commuter car parks at St Marys and Kingswood stations - essential builds that need to happen sooner rather than later for a number of reasons - particularly as St Marys station is going to play a vital role in the new Airport Metro link.
The vital upgrade of Mulgoa Road - an increasingly problematic stretch for the community that is already feeling the impacts of increased residential development - is also on the chopping block.
Then there’s the M7-M12 interchange, which is already underway - another vital piece of infrastructure that will play a role in shaping the accessibility of the new airport.
With the airport drawing near and residential developments popping up around the region at an incredible rate (to help with both governments' desperate search for more houses), it’s the future population as much as the current one who will be directly impacted by these decisions.
In response to the backlash, Federal Infrastructure Minister Catherine King claimed that many of the projects which were promised under the previous government were ‘without merit or proper planning’.
While that doesn’t surprise us, the fact that Penrith’s own State Labor MP Karen McKeown called the decision “dumb” shows a clear disconnect and indicates that there’s little to no communication between the party ranks at State and Federal level. Or worse - there IS communication, but the pleas of local members are being ignored.
Surely, the local member who has long been a part of our community would have a better idea of what the community needs than a review panel looking at a spreadsheet.
Staying on track
The Beach has generated an excited stir within the community (and it should), but locals should have their expectations tempered about going for a Christmas swim.
As recently as August, it was revealed that a large number of key projects within the Penrith community - from public park spaces in the heart of the city to the massive sports facilities in Claremont Meadows - were massively over-budget (to the tune of over $11m) and well behind schedule.
There are valid reasons, including the impacts of Covid and multiple, significant construction cost increases amid the ongoing cost of living crisis, but what does that mean for the Beach?
To put such a short timeline on it means that there will be immense pressure to get things done - and if it is delivered on time, there’s every chance we could be getting a sub-standard offering.
As pointed out by former State Member for Penrith Stuart Ayers (and shared by every State and Federal Liberal Minister this side of Parramatta), the newly-promised project is already well short of the original intentions of Western Sydney Lakes, with no Lake House facility or other amenities which could be accommodated with more funding and were part of the original plans to turn it into a proper destination for tourism as well as commercial investment.
Equally frustrating is the fact that the WS Lakes group have been clear in their intentions and designs for a VERY long time - time which could have been spent ensuring the delivery of the world-class precinct as it was originally intended.
Instead, the State Government promoted its own plan to upgrade Prospect Reservoir, a far-flung idea that added little more to the discussion than months of redundant debate, analysis and inaction. The Beach could be here already.
While some could accuse the previous Federal Government of making idle promises - offering a lot to Western Sydney while knowing that they might not be around to deliver it - the current governments are sending mixed messages, instead of the semblance of uniformity you would expect.
While the State members are trying hard to convince us of Penrith’s importance, their Federal counterparts appear to disagree.
Usually considered a marginal (or 'swinging') electorate of vital importance to Prime Ministerial prospects, the people of Penrith went against the grain the last time a Federal Election came calling. Instead of following the common trend and the massive swing across the nation, Lindsay returned LNP candidate Melissa McIntosh to office - and with a marginal gain for the Liberals to boot.
Once again the ALP’s strange approach to Penrith, bordering on disregard, was on show. They picked a solid candidate in Trevor Ross, but they confirmed his pre-selection far too late to make a difference. They gave the appearance that they didn’t care about Lindsay and its impact on their electoral prospects, and it’s a stance they’ve seemingly maintained.
Even at the State level, where the LNP experienced a huge swing against them, Ayers very nearly retained his seat - actually winning the primary vote by FOUR VOTES before preferences came into play.
The death of the perception of Lindsay as a marginal electorate into a Liberal stronghold has only been enhanced by the fact that Lindsay returned the strongest ‘No’ vote in Greater Sydney during the recent referendum.
All of this is creating the impression that the Federal Government and people of the West may not be in step as they once were.
That’s life, roles change and people grow apart.
But people also don’t forget.
The news about Penrith Beach is exciting, sure. But with the time already wasted, the ignored potential of the project and the significant cuts to local infrastructure projects, calling it a ‘game-changer’ for the region is a bit rich when there appear to be two games being played simultaneously.
We are the third-biggest economy in the country, the most culturally-diverse region and the most impacted by the significant challenges facing our society, from the immediate issues of cost of living to the wider issues like environmental policy.
We deserve a unified approach with the best interests of the community at heart - and that's something we're just not getting at the moment.