Tom Uren says let's invest in our future

Margaret McDonough-Glenn

From the words of Tom Uren about investment in our future

Where is the younger Australian left? While the older members of the Australian labour movement's left regularly speak out, their younger colleagues rarely contribute to the public policy and community debate. Former President of the Evatt Foundation, Patron of Defence of Sydney Harbour Foreshore, life member of the Australian Labor Party since 1993, Whitlam minister in 1972-75, Hawke minister in 1983-84, deputy leader of the opposition in 1976-77, defender of the public good and left-wing stalwart, Tom Uren, has spoken out on a number of occasions; in his lifetime he has spoken out regularly on the state of the Australia, New South Wales, Sydney, his party and its policies.1 Recently, at "Winning back the suburban heartland - Politics in the Pub", he again spoke his mind.

At "Winning back the suburban heartland", Uren recalled that many Labor voters have deserted because federal Labor "turned its back on our people and moved to the centre and upper centre voters".2 The legendary Australian left-winger said that previous federal Labor governments such as Bob Hawke's have shown "no real faith in public infrastructure investment", adopting only a "band-aid approach"; the Hawke government turned its back on the public sector, particularly with regard to infrastructure in the major cities and regions.3 According to Uren, under federal Labor, investment in public housing suffered; in 1983, when the Hawke government was first elected, 120,000 families were waiting on housing commission lists in Australia; by 1996, when Labor was defeated, there were 240,000 families on the lists.4

Tom Uren noted in particular that, apart from the Whitlam government, previous federal governments have ignored the "serious social and infrastructure problems of western Sydney".5 In his view, next to the Aboriginal issue, the problems of the western Sydney youth are the most serious in Australia.6 The former federal representative for the western Sydney suburban electorate of Reid (1958-1990) quoted unemployment figures (as at September 2001) of 11.2 per cent for the suburb of Fairfield, 9.7 per cent for Campbelltown and 8.5 per cent for Liverpool, compared to the NSW state-wide average of 5.8 per cent. Youth full-time employment figures for August 2001 showed Canterbury-Bankstown with a rate of 39.9 per cent and Fairfield-Liverpool with 43.25 per cent.7 Uren also conveyed disdain for the NSW Carr government's solution; he noted its ranting about "Law and Order" and advocating only "more prisons". "It is a public social and infrastructure investment matter not [a] law and order matter", said Tom. He told the audience the answer was public investment: investment in public education, investment in public transport, investment in public hospitals, investment in public housing, investment in public childcare and aged people's homes.8

For the western Sydney suburbs, he believes the construction of an airport should be another public investment.9 "The construction of an airport at Badgery's Creek would be a catalyst as an employment base, and would be a magnet for service industries".10 In an earlier address, "Sydney - what is our future?", this defender of the community good had further elaborated: "For Badgery's Creek to be [a] viable option, there needs to be joint action by the Australian and New South Wales governments. However, it is important that any development of the site ensures that the people of western Sydney do not suffer from aggravated air pollution and water pollution".11 In his addresses, Uren has called for the second airport to be located in the western suburbs, attracting industries, hope and job opportunities for the young and unemployed.12 Otherwise, what will be the future for Sydney? A version of a "20:80 society", as articulated by Hans-Peter Martin and Harald Schumann in The Global Trap; with those of the eastern and inner city suburbs prospering while their fellow citizens languish in poverty without industries, employment and opportunities in the west of Sydney.13