OPINION: One-off election promises don’t make up for endless nightmare commutes

OPINION: Both major parties have said they would like to see ’30-minute cities’. As any commuter from Sydney’s west will tell you, that’s a pipe-dream at the moment. It’s more like ’90 minute cities’ in the great outer suburbs of our nation.

National Nightmare Commute Day recently showed our politicians what it’s really like for the five million residents and businesses in the fast-growing suburbs on the outskirts of our major capital cities.

From Penrith and Blacktown in Sydney across to Wanneroo and Gosnells in Perth, people are stuck in the car for hours just to get to and from their job – leaving them saddled with high fuel costs, stress from sitting in traffic and time away from family and friends.

To add insult to injury, public transport is crowded and inadequate.

While politicians have said they want to a focus on cities, including their outer reaches, this has not yet been matched by financial commitments. Yes, a few infrastructure projects have been backed during the campaign, but it is a piecemeal approach, without any long-term vision. Around one third of Australians living in our five largest capital cities live in the growing outer suburbs.

Is there any wonder we have a cynical electorate, bored with political slogans?

What is needed is a long-term, strategic approach which will ease the pressure on families and open up opportunities for business and education.

What would be a barbeque-stopper in the outer suburbs of Sydney – and in similar communities around the country – would be some real leadership and a real solution for these long-overlooked electorates.

The solution is a serious commitment to address the infrastructure backlog in outer suburbs nationally. It requires investment, but also a different way of thinking.

A national infrastructure fund for outer suburbs would take politics out of the equation, by ensuring that projects all have sound business cases and long-term outcomes. It would provide long-term vision for outer suburbs which are predicted to be home to 7.5 million people in just 15 years.

Giving residents and businesses in the great outer suburbs the same opportunities and access to infrastructure as other Australians is not only a matter of fairness, it is also a matter of common sense.

Research tells us that investment would create jobs, provide greater tax revenues and permanently boost national GDP by billions of dollars annually. It would also reverse the billions of dollars of lost productivity that Infrastructure Australia says we’re frittering away. It’s expected to cost $53.3 billion per annum by 2031, unless we seriously address this.

It is what some would call ‘low-hanging fruit’ – an opportunity begging to be taken. Our city centres are well resourced and rural and regional areas have been recognised through dedicated programs, but fast-growing outer suburbs have never had this kind of attention and they and the wider economy would boom as a result.

Our great outer suburbs are diverse, growing communities which should be treated as a vibrant resource – and given the right conditions to prosper – not left to languish in traffic jams and nightmare commutes.

This opinion piece first appeared in Fairfax media, including the Sydney Morning Herald and was written by the Executive Officer of the National Growth Areas Alliance, Ruth Spielman. The NGAA is behind the Fund our Future campaign.