On Thursday 5 May residents from across Western Sydney gathered in Penrith to ask Lindsay’s federal candidates questions relating to extreme heat, planning, and the environment. Residents shared their concerns for the electorate, which is one of the most heat impacted regions in Sydney, and their ideas for a more sustainable, cooler future. The event was co-hosted by The Australia Institute and Sweltering Cities at the Joan Sutherland in Penrith.
Three federal candidates were in attendance: Trevor Ross from the Labor Party (left early due to scheduling clash), Pieter-Joris Morssink from The Greens, and Rebekah Ray from the Informed Medical Options Party. United Australia Party candidate Joseph O’Connor was unable to attend but did leave us with a video message to watch where he shared that though he didn’t know much about extreme heat in the area, he did support using solar power. Current MP and Liberal candidate Melissa McIntosh was invited, however, did not attend due to diary clashes.
Dr Kim Loo, a Western Sydney GP who is on the NSW AMA Council and Chair of Doctors for the Environment NSW, spoke at the event about the health impacts of extreme heat. Dr Loo is the first Doctor in Western Sydney to put extreme heat as a cause of death on a patient’s death certificate.
Residents raised concerns about the state of the environment in the area, particularly in regards to increasing urban development. One resident asked the candidates about the Waste to Energy incinerators being planned for Western Sydney. Currently, state and federal governments subsidise the energy incineration industry. Residents raised their concerns about this funding and the subsequent pollution that will be caused by the proposed incinerators in Western Sydney.
Paul, a Western Sydney resident who works outdoors in the Penrith area, asked about protections for green spaces and native ecosystems in the area, such as riparian systems and native trees. Green spaces are effective in cooling down suburbs, as they provide shade and mitigate urban heat island effects. Similarly, riparian systems reduce water pollution. This concern was shared by other attendees, including a mother whose daughter was concerned about the lack of green space in the area.
Candidates were also asked about their opinions on developments including the Western Sydney Airport and the Nepean Snow and Ski Resort. Pieter-Joris Morssink and Rebekah Ray both supported improvements to building standards and protecting public green spaces, and pointed to their parties’ respective policies on protecting the environment. Rebekah Ray also shared that she supported a curfew for Western Sydney Airport, which would reduce air and sound pollution. Pieter-Joris Morssink emphasised that The Greens planned to fund these changes through taxing fossil fuel companies.
Students, parents and teachers also asked about funding for public schools and better building standards for public classrooms and playgrounds. Ian, a year 12 student from the Blue Mountains, asked about air conditioning for schools in the area. We heard that “students learn best at temperatures between 22 to 24 degrees” and as a result of extreme heat and lack of air conditioning in classrooms students had trouble focusing. Parents were also concerned about extreme heat in playgrounds. Similarly, a local high school teacher raised concerns about the lack of funding for students mental health and wellbeing. Pieter-Joris Morssink, shared that The Greens would support solar power for schools and other public infrastructure.
Overall, the candidates in attendance agreed that extreme heat was an important issue in the electorate and at multiple points we were reminded that in 2020 Penrith was recorded to be the hottest place on earth at 48.9c. Projections by The Australia Institute predict that Western Sydney will experience an average of up to 46 days of extreme heat by 2090. Questions from the event were recorded and will be shared with the major party candidates. Sweltering Cities is proud to advocate for Lindsay’s residents and will continue to work with the community to fight for cooler, equitable and more sustainable cities.
Read the coverage of the event in the Penrith local paper the Western Weekender below.