Challenge of Change

(Sydney Town Hall)

Good morning, everyone, and welcome to Town Hall, and to this conference on Our Future City - The Challenge of Change. I would like firstly to acknowledge the Gadigal people of the Eora nation, the traditional custodians of this land, and I pay my respects to the Elders, both past and present.

I would also like to acknowledge Eva Cox - someone who has worked tirelessly as an advocate for change in our society.

To affect real change is probably one of the most difficult things any of us can do. There are always powerful vested interests to defend the status quo, and fear, ignorance, prejudice or sometimes sheer laziness can also make us resistant to change

Today, however, realities such as global warming are becoming impossible to ignore and governments are, I believe, morally bound to provide leadership on the issue. Indeed, if we take a holistic approach to the challenges of climate change, we can use it as a springboard to effect a range of improvements to our environment and the way we live, work and play.

Early in our first term as a council, we decided to develop a strategic plan to secure Sydney's liveability and prosperity for both current and future generations. We recognised that climate change and other forces - including oil price rises, an ageing population and declining housing affordability meant that incremental, ad hoc actions were not enough.

We had to look at our physical environment, our economic, social and cultural environment, and we had to see the City of Sydney in the context of the wider Sydney region and, indeed, its Australian context, because the City is an employment and cultural magnet for the region, and its sustainability is critical for Australia's economy.

We undertook the most comprehensive consultations ever carried out, right across the Sydney community, and drew on expert advice to formulate our Sustainable Sydney 2030 plan. It can be summed up in the words Green, Global and Connected.

That means Green with a modest environmental impact, more linked open spaces and improved street plantings, parks and gardens.

In means Global in economic orientation, in knowledge exchange and open-minded in outlook and attitude.

And it means Connected physically by walking, cycling and quality modern transport and, importantly, connected to communities through a sense of belonging and social well-being.

The plan identifies 10 strategic directions as a framework for action, including the creation of Vibrant Local Communities and Economies, and Housing for a Diverse Population.

These reflect what people told us constantly throughout our consultations - that they wanted a city "where people feel a sense of belonging", a city "that is respectful of diversity" and that "offers affordability and social diversity".

Our plan commits us to improve relative equality across the City through an increased share of affordable housing and through better access for all to community facilities, programs and services.

This, in turn, depends on effective partnerships between the different levels of government, the private sector and the community in order to lead change.

Sydney is one of Australia's most demographically diverse local government areas, whether you look at income range, ethnic or cultural affiliations, household composition or sexualities. It is largely a tolerant city, energetic and enterprising.

But without active intervention, we risk creeping social exclusion and homogenisation. Our population is becoming richer at a rate faster than the rest of the metropolitan area, which implies that lower-income groups are being excluded, and the share of families among the population is declining at faster-than-average rates.

These trends are driven by the decreasing range and affordability of housing, with one or two-bedroom flats making up almost 90 per cent of the growth in City dwellings in the decade to 2006.

In that same year, the proportion of low and moderate income earners renting and in housing stress in the City was 67 per cent. So an important goal of our 2030 plan is to ensure greater housing affordability across the City.

This will have to be achieved through partnerships - with State and Federal Government, the not-for-profit sector, and organisations such as your own.

By 2030, we aim to have the City of Sydney as a partner in service provision and in multi-disciplinary programs to address inequality, social disadvantage and homelessness.

We continue to advocate strongly for affordable housing. We are finalising an Expression of Interest to use council properties - such as the former South Sydney Hospital - for affordable housing. And of course we continue to liaise with advocacy groups, housing providers and organisations such as this to promote affordable housing.

Last year, we received Federal funding to look at how we supply affordable housing. That research is nearing completion and will result in a best-practice guide for local government. We're also working with the University of NSW City Futures research project which is looking at planning mechanisms that could facilitate the supply of affordable housing and we're also collaborating with Port Phillip and the University of Western Sydney on research that would enable Community Land Trusts to be formed.

As you know, the Affordable Housing SEPP produced last year was strongly criticised by many of us and the new O'Farrell government has announced a review. I've written to the Minister asking him to ensure that local government representatives are included on the review panel.

And finally our Glebe Affordable Housing project with the Department of Housing has moved ahead and is now awaiting sign-off and gazettal.

For some communities, access to employment, education and health care remains a cause of marginalisation and inequality. A key challenge in planning for social well-being in 2030 is to maintain or increase relative equality.

As our 2030 strategy notes, "While the detrimental impacts [of inequality] are obviously greater for the most marginalised, large gaps between rich and poor adversely affect everyone."

It is well documented that cities with poor relative equality have higher mortality rates, higher rates of obesity, teenage pregnancy, mental illness, homicide, drug abuse, hostility and racism, and also lower rates for literacy, numeracy and school retention.

Our Social Plan of 2006-2010 was the first consolidated social planning strategy for the enlarged City of Sydney that was created in 2004. We also have a Disability Action Plan, and strategies for youth, for homeless people and for aged services.

Sustainable Sydney 2030 commits us to being a leader in new models in the provision of social infrastructure and delivery. We are now developing a plan for Community Facilities to 2030. This analyses the needs of our growing workforce and resident populations, and makes recommendations to meet those needs.

When this work is complete, we will undertake wide community consultation to ensure it does meet people's needs.

We are also developing a new social plan - the Social Sustainability Strategy which will update our social policy and outline actions the City will take. We expect to have the interim Strategy ready by the end of this year.

We will then put it out for extensive consultations before finalising it in 2012, by which time we'll also have the 2011 Census results, and other key data.

I don't need to tell this audience that homelessness is one of our most difficult social issues. However, I'm convinced that our integrated approach is beginning to show results.

In partnership with the State and Federal governments, the City funds Way2Home, a multi-disciplinary and assertive outreach service that helps get people into long-term housing, and provides on-going support once they're there.

In the last 12 months, Way2Home has moved 42 people off the streets and into housing, and has helped more than 90 others to get their names onto the housing register.

The Woolloomooloo Integrated Services Hub brings together about 20 organisations each month on the same day to provide co-ordinated services designed to provide practical help for people sleeping rough or sheltering in hostels around the inner-city.

Another project in Woolloomooloo is 90Lives90Homes - a collaboration involving the City, corporate, philanthropic, non-government and community partners. Its focus is on providing ways out of homelessness of the rough sleepers in Woolloomooloo and surrounding areas through non-traditional partnerships and pathways to housing - for example, through headleasing in the private market, through boarding house redevelopment or the Camperdown Project.

Our bi-annual Street Counts involve over 180 volunteers and advisors and the next one will take place in August.

Our Homeless Persons Information Centre takes over 70,000 calls a year and refers people to accommodation and other services while the Homelessness Brokerage Program helps people who are either at risk of homelessness, or newly homeless, to help them resolve their crisis and prevent them becoming entrenched in homelessness.

We jointly fund this program with Housing NSW and together, we help over 100 people a month.

We've made environmental performance, housing affordability and sustainable transport our priorities at Green Square. One of Australia's largest urban renewal areas, it must become an exemplar for development and community creation that is sustainable ecologically and socially.

Like all our 2030 initiatives, this will take effective co-operation between all levels of government, the service providers and the not-for-profit sector. I hope that we have demonstrated our bona fides, and that you will continue to work with us to ensure that Sydney becomes an outstanding example of a sustainable, civilised and genuinely caring city.

Thank you.