Westpac Women in Technology Forum

(1.40pm, Friday 16 May 2014, Westpac Headquarters, Kent Street)

Thank you, Maria [Ternezis, MC]. Good afternoon, everyone.

Thank you for this opportunity to talk to the women of Westpac. Enormous strides in the opportunities for women have been made in the last few decades, but we know that many pitfalls remain for women who want a rich and fulfilling career, along with a rich and fulfilling personal life.

So I was delighted to see last month the announcement of your CEO's initiative of the $100 million Westpac Bicentennial Foundation, offering up to 100 educational scholarships and awards each year, with special emphasis on the lack of women in the IT industry, on fostering connections with Asia and on fostering community leaders.

It's a fantastic initiative on the part of Gail Kelly, and the bank, to invest in the future of Australian women.

As the Sydney Morning Herald editorial remarked, it was "a vote of confidence in future generations and an example for other donors to follow".

You asked to hear about my journey into politics and also something of the values that I bring to my work at the City.

In one sense, that's an easy question because my values have been consistent since I first became active in politics.

I was motivated to rectify problems faced by my local community - to get improvements in our neighbourhood.

Like so many women, my activism began with a small local issue.

My husband, Peter, and I had returned to Sydney from several years living in London. We had two young children - Sophie who was three, and Tom just one month. We chose to live in the inner-city and bought a small terrace house in Bourke Street, Redfern.

Having experienced the civilised urbanity of London, I was appalled by the relentless traffic through the small local streets, by the lack of amenities for residents and their children. This was seen as a safe Labor electorate, so the Labor Party in office felt they didn't need to bother about it, while a Liberal government saw no votes in doing anything for the area.

My first issues were the shocking state of the local parks, and the dangerous traffic running through the local streets.

I tried writing to my state and local representatives, who either didn't understand the problems, or who flicked me on to some uninterested bureaucrat. An alderman told me Council couldn't replace the playground asphalt with grass because then they wouldn't be able to sweep up the broken glass!

So I took up a petition, gathered community support, and ultimately founded Redfern Community Concern. "You be our voice," the Greek neighbours - who suffered this neglect for years - said to me.

And so three years on - still with no response from elected representatives, with no background in politics and no political allies, I stood in 1980 for my local South Sydney Council.

I wasn't looking for a political career, I simply wanted to get some basic improvements in my local area. But other people it seemed also wanted those changes too, because I was elected to Council.

To give you some background: both South Sydney and Sydney City councils had long been political playgrounds. Over many years they had been amalgamated or hived off or dismissed altogether, according to the political needs of whichever party was holding office in Macquarie Street.

I'd been at South Sydney only a year when another of these arbitrary and undemocratic changes was forced through and South Sydney was amalgamated with the City. Nonetheless, I was re-elected in 1984 with my running mate, making two women in what had been an all-male bastion.

But then in 1987, the State Government decided to sack the Council altogether. Yet another undemocratic move that made me so angry that I decided to stand for the 1988 State election, also as an Independent. Once again I was told it was a lost cause, that Independents didn't make it into Parliament.

But I did make it there, firstly as the Independent Member for Bligh, and later - when the boundaries were changed yet again in an effort to capture the seat - as the Member for Sydney.

I'd been in Parliament for 16 years when, in 2004, South Sydney Council and the City Council were both sacked and amalgamated in a blatant attempt by the NSW Labor Government to take control of our City.

A number of people urged me to stand as Mayor. I remember a meeting held in our back garden where we discussed whether there would be a broad-enough support base across the City, and whether it would be physically possible to do both jobs.

Now we've just passed the 10th anniversary of that March 2004 election, and I've been elected for a third term as Lord Mayor of one of the world's great cities. My Lord Mayoral salary is donated to charity.

Of course, since then, the O'Farrell government introduced the legislation which would prevent me holding both jobs, and I was forced to choose between Parliament and Council. So in September 2012, I gave my final speech in the NSW Legislative Assembly after representing the people of inner-Sydney there for 24 years.

The voters had no say in it, and once again a government used its parliamentary majority to further its own political interests at the expense of our democratic rights.

As you can see from this outline of events, my political life has been largely propelled by the desire to get things done. I never intended to embark on a political career, and if that South Sydney Council Alderman all those years ago had agreed to do something about that rundown neighbourhood park, I mightn't be talking to you here today. I couldn't have envisaged that I would leave Parliament as the longest serving woman and the longest serving Independent in the history of the New South Wales Parliament.

I probably should thank him - not for the slings and arrows and undoubted grief that is the lot of anyone taking on the system in politics especially as an Independent, but for the opportunities I have had to get action for the people I represent, whether in Parliament or at Council.

In both spheres, my aim has been to get things done, to secure improvements for people's lives, and for their environment. It has been based on open communication with my electorate, on listening to the community and promulgating policies and actions which will address their concerns.

Some of the issues I have championed on their behalf and got outcomes include:

  • Equal rights and opportunities for all constituents, whether they're business people in the city or public housing tenants in Redfern; whether they are members of our Aboriginal community, or the gay and lesbian or Chinese communities - everyone has the right to have their voice heard
  • Excellent amenity for all residents, especially as densities increase
  • Preservation and improvement of public lands and spaces and the creation of beautiful parks and playgrounds that will encourage children to be active
  • Preservation of our heritage while encouraging excellence in new developments
  • More and beautifully designed facilities - parks, libraries, community and cultural centres - for the growing city population and
  • Action to deal with urban problems of homelessness, alcohol-related violence and drug-law reform and, increasingly urgent -
  • Protection of our environment for future generations.

Between 1991-1995, I held the balance of power with John Hatton and Peter McDonald in the NSW Parliament.

We were able to achieve a ground breaking Charter of Reform negotiated with the Greiner/Fahey Governments which included the introduction of four-year fixed Parliamentary terms and greater independence for the judiciary; the Royal Commission into police corruption; legislation to protect whistleblowers, and increased independence for the Ombudsman and the Auditor-General, and the establishment of a Legal Services Commissioner.

These reforms were described as the most progressive in any Westminster system in the twentieth century and they were - reforms that no major party would initiate without being forced to.

When I was first elected Lord Mayor of Sydney in 2004, I wanted to develop a broad-ranging and cohesive vision plan that would inspire support across the board - so that the long-term work would continue, no matter who is in government at the local, state or federal levels. I believed it was our role as a city government to plan holistically for our area, and to work with the diverse range of public and private sector bodies that share responsibility and capacity for outcomes in the global city.

We undertook the largest-ever consultation in the City's history, speaking with thousands of businesses, residents, government agencies, cultural and educational institutions, interest groups and visitors. The result was the Sustainable Sydney 2030.

Sustainable Sydney 2030 was audacious in many areas, proposing solutions that were essential for our City, even where we have no direct control.

It set ambitious, but achievable, targets to reduce greenhouse emissions by 70 per cent of 2006 levels across our Local Government Area by 2030.

Later this year, we will release our draft master plan for energy efficiency which will complement NSW Government programs as well as our own master plans for water and waste efficiency.

We've completed retrofits of 45 City-owned buildings, reducing emissions by 23 per cent. Our on-going program to install LED street-lighting will eventually reduce carbon emissions by over 40 per cent and save us up to $800,000 a year.

We're also more than half-way through the roll-out of Australia's largest solar rooftop installation on 20 of our buildings which will supply over 12 per cent of our power when completed.

We're also working closely with the commercial sector through the Better Buildings Partnership and the CitySwitch Green Office Program to make buildings more efficient and to help tenants save costs through energy savings (important because 80% emissions are in our cities).

In the interests of sustainability, of decongesting our roads, and of promoting healthy transport, we began building a safe cycling network which has been enthusiastically adopted by an ever-growing band of cyclists.

We have planned better and more appealing pedestrian connections and - after years of lobbying the NSW Government - have now seen our proposals for light-rail through the City finally endorsed.

Our City of Villages policy has boosted local economies and added to the appeal and "offer" of the global city. This followed on an extensive program of main street upgrades, tree planting, removal of overhead wires and support for local shopkeepers through a range of programs, so that places like the once-declining Redfern Street have seen an influx of residents and small businesses.

The city continues to grow, with 40 per cent of all jobs growth in the last five years across metropolitan Sydney occurring in the City of Sydney. The number of businesses grew by 10.5 per cent and the workforce by an extra 52,300 jobs.

With the work of terrific staff under the leadership of their inspiring CEO, Monica Barone, we have a city government that is financially transparent, responsible and stable. Despite our residential rates being among the lowest in the Sydney metropolitan area, and our capital works program of close to a billion dollars, we consistently deliver debt-free budgets.

Sustainability in all facets of urban life is the key to our policies. Social, environmental and economic sustainability are all inter-dependent, and our 2030 strategy recognises that fundamental principle.

To return to the Redfern example: since the City invested heavily in rejuvenating Redfern Park, widening and paving the footpaths, planting street trees, installing smart poles to replace overhead wires, introducing public art and supporting local shop-keepers to remove their roller shutters, the once-notorious area has been transformed.

A lively mix of coffee shops, small bars, new fresh food shops and antique dealers are supported by an influx of new residents, many with young children, who co-exist happily with the Redfern old-timers.

Similarly, our work at Green Square, Australia's largest urban renewal site, is based on providing a civilised and attractive urban environment that will attract residents, business and workers. You could say this is a continuation of the principles I espoused in my local neighbourhood all those years ago - just on a much larger scale!

At 278 hectares, the $8 billion redevelopment will, by 2030, be populated by 40,000 new residents and 22,000 workers.

The City's job is to ensure the development creates a high-quality, sustainable environment that is sensitive to the existing neighbourhoods, and that promotes excellent design and a mix of residential, cultural and retail.

We have committed to spending $440 million over the next 10 years creating the streets, parks and gardens, pedestrian and cycle paths, public art and a range of community facilities.

Following an international design competition, young local architects Stewart Hollenstein are now refining their winning scheme for the new library and plaza. We're also looking for an outstanding design for a new aquatic centre and sports park.

We are building a child-care centre; providing space for artists and community groups and providing the facilities as residents and workers move in.

Indeed, we're investing a total of $55 million in new child-care Centres across the city as increasing numbers of young families are choosing to raise their children in inner-City.

We invest in the future in other ways, too: we've provided our own under-used properties on Oxford Street, and William Street in Darlinghurst, as affordable spaces for creative workers, keeping young creatives in the City and breathing new life into these precincts.

By late last year, our Oxford Street buildings were supporting 18 creative-industry tenants, with four exhibition or retail spaces at ground level. The spaces are working so well - bringing in an average of about 7,000 visitors each quarter and upwards of half a million dollars spent on local goods and services.

Altogether, more than 160 creatives are working from those spaces at any given time; more than 700 artists have exhibited there in the first year, and tenants have collaborated or linked with more than 300 others in the local area. We have also recently provided six, one-bedroom apartments for artists to live and work as the latest addition to our William Street Creative Hub - a dynamic mix of commercial creative tenancies like Hub Sydney with affordable space for emerging creative like Romance was Born.

This initiative, along with our work to promote small bars, signal the direction we wanted to take, building on the unique character of each of our urban villages, and bringing variety of scale and experience into the city's heart.

And on the all-important issue of climate-change, we are continuing to act. Our long-term target is to reduce our emissions by 70 per cent by 2030. We've already reach 20 per cent, and on-going projects will push that to 29 per cent over the next few years.

We've created detailed plans to boost renewable energy, support local energy generation, reduce the waste we create and safeguard precious drinking water.

I believe we should set high goals for Sydney: we have the capacity, the talent and the wealth to achieve high-quality results that will make the city more dynamic, more interesting, richer and more diverse.

Our regulatory and planning regime can support this through, for example, allowing for small bars or funding start-ups, through seeking expert advice that will deliver high quality design and public art, and that will inspire the private sector to do likewise.

I remain tremendously excited and energised by what we can do for this wonderful City and I believe the people and businesses of Sydney are energised as well. It's a great time to be here, and a great time to be Lord Mayor.