City Talk: Social Sustainability with Joseph Stiglitz

(6.30pm, Tuesday 8 July 2014, Centennial Hall)

Thank you, Adam, [Spencer, MC]. Welcome everyone to our City Talk - Social Sustainability: The Price of Inequality.

And a special welcome to Joseph Stiglitz. Your passionate and reasoned advocacy for social sustainability and for justice resonates with many people and we look forward to hearing you speak this evening.

I'd also like to acknowledge the members of this evening's panel:

  • Dr Tim Soutphommasane, Race Discrimination Commissioner
  • Richard Denniss, Executive Director, The Australia Institute
  • Dr Cassandra Goldie, Chief Executive Officer, ACOSS
  • Professor Megan Davis, Member, UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Peoples

Who are we?

Tonight we want to ask: what kind of city do we want in the future? To answer this question we need to know who we are and what kind of community we are today.

Community well-being is far more than good GDP numbers, though we certainly have those. Our local economy is valued at around $100 billion - almost one-quarter of the GDP of the entire state and 7 per cent of the national economy.

The last Census showed that 40 per cent of all jobs growth in NSW had occurred in our local government area, and most were in high-value creative, digital, innovation and service sectors in our inner city villages.

The City monitors over 100 indicators of social, cultural, economic, community engagement and environmental well-being using information from internal and external sources. The data informs the strategies, policies and actions we take.

I'll give you a brief sketch of who we are based on this data.

Our city is made up of a vibrant mix of ethnic backgrounds, ages, languages, incomes, educations and professions.

We have residents from nearly 200 nationalities. We have an extraordinarily diverse population, half of whom were born overseas, one third of whom speak a language other than English.

Indeed, this is my tenth year as Lord Mayor and in that time I have made over 17,800 people Australian citizens. On the most recent occasion, it was 263 new citizens from 50 different countries.

We are home to one of Sydney's largest Aboriginal communities and the country's biggest GLBTI community.

Our population has increased by 11 per cent since 2006, and in the decade to 2012, we were the largest and fastest growing local government area in NSW.

We have the highest commercial and residential densities in Australia, including neighbourhoods as different as Elizabeth Bay, Roseberry, Pyrmont and Waterloo.

And we are the very rich and very poor, with one of the highest levels of income inequality in greater Sydney.

More than a quarter of our working-age residents have a weekly income of over $1500 a week. But another quarter earns less than $350 per week.

So are we creating a city of equality?

We know that our city's growing population and prosperity brings new challenges - challenges we need to face together in a spirit of collaboration and shared responsibility.

As Joseph Stiglitz makes so clear - when we help others, our community as a whole benefits.

Growing inequality brings with it shrinking opportunity and a monoculture which rewards certain sectors while relegating others to second class status.

Following a massive, city-wide consultation with residents, businesses, government and statutory bodies, the City of Sydney completed our Sustainable Sydney 2030 strategy to make Sydney an innovative, future-focused city that is green, global and connected.

Surveys carried out for Sustainable Sydney 2030 show people value our city's social connectivity and its diversity.

We are committed to making our Sustainable Sydney 2030 vision a reality and a key principle is to build a city which is inclusive and accessible to all including the very young, the elderly and the disadvantaged.

We are working to create a city that is lively, diverse and inclusive, one that shares the many natural advantages of our harbour and foreshores with everyone.

A city that values the contributions of all its people and gives them access to opportunities that will enable them to develop their unique gifts. A city that cares for at-risk people.

We want our city community to be resilient, able to deal with emerging challenges and optimistic about our children's futures. We want a community with a sense of trust and connectedness.

These are our aims, despite the ideology and the actions of our current conservative State and Federal Governments.

The recent Federal Budget has been described as 'the most unfair budget in history'.

Some politicians suggest that we should all be 'lifters not leaners', but this kind of three word slogan ignores reality. At some point all of us will need to lean on someone.

The recent State Government decision to sell social housing in Millers Point - to turn that historic precinct into a cash-cow and exile people, whose families have lived there for generations, to Sydney's outer fringes - is an outrage and something I strongly oppose.

The fate of Millers Point should give all Sydneysiders pause for thought. We need more social and affordable housing in the inner-city, not less.

New models are needed in NSW to preserve and increase social and affordable housing. In the UK, housing estates have been successfully redeveloped using a mix of social, affordable and private housing, where private housing has provided cross-subsidies for social and affordable housing.

Affordable housing schemes in Greater London deliver up to 50 per cent new dwellings, whereas urban renewal schemes in inner Sydney rarely achieve even a pathetic three per cent.

It is vital the State Government retains social housing in the inner city, particularly in places like Millers Point, where there are established, supportive and well-serviced communities.

At the City, we are working to meet our Sustainable Sydney 2030 target that 7.5 per cent of all housing in the local area will be social housing and 7.5 per cent will be affordable housing by 2030. Currently social housing is at 7.5 per cent but affordable rental housing for key workers is less than 1 per cent.

We know that affordable and social housing is crucial for diverse, harmonious and vibrant communities, as well as an efficient, productive city.

The City's affordable housing levy program in Green Square has seen more than 100 affordable housing units built, with a target of 330 units.

A similar program in Ultimo and Pyrmont has seen more than 450 affordable housing units built with a target of 600 units.

It's a start but what we want is for the State Government to allow us to extend the affordable housing levy program to other areas in the city - so far we have been refused!

At the City, we care for our diverse communities. We give free rates to pensioners and we have expanded aged and community services - we now have around 100 community facilities, including 23 child care centres, and directly provide more than 1,000 childcare places.

Over the next two years we will spend more than $30 million building six new child care centres, with another $20 million set aside to build more child care centres in the future. This work is being fast tracked to help meet growing demand and make it easier for women to return to the work force.

We actively encourage design excellence for all our community facilities, and our work to upgrade parks, improve libraries and open new swimming pools has created new public assets that benefit the entire community.

The work we do and the facilities we provide contributes to people's lives, no matter what their bank balance or their background is.

So I ask you the question - What sort of city do you want Sydney to be?

We have recently started work on a Social Sustainability Discussion Paper which will be published later this year.

It will look at the range of issues including relative inequality, access and equity of opportunity, and our community's ability to adapt to the future.

It will set out ways the City can further support the community's health and well-being. This is a huge task, but it is vital for our city.

Sydney is not alone in facing these challenges. Indeed, by global comparisons, Sydney is still a relatively fortunate and relatively equitable place.

But our relative equality is no cause for complacency.

Just as we are working towards environmental sustainability in the face of the challenges of climate change, so we need to work with equal purpose and commitment to ensure a socially sustainable and equitable city, in the face of a growing gap between the rich and the poor.

We know we can't do it alone and we will be seeking your input, as well as working collaboratively, we hope, with other levels of government and the private sector and not-for-profit sectors.

Our conversation starts tonight here in the Centennial Hall, and I hope that it will continue with you over the coming months as we develop the discussion paper that will lead to our Social Strategy.

Our aim is a city with a strong, inclusive community where everyone has a future, where everyone can contribute and everyone has a chance to make the most of their opportunities and talents.

Thank you.