NEWCASTLE’S favourite son Marcus Westbury returned to City Hall last week to deliver the inaugural Margaret Henry Lecture.
Westbury, along with emcee Rosemarie Milsom and John Sutton, paid tribute to the late Margaret Henry for her years dedicated to the community of Newcastle.
Henry served on the Newcastle City Council for two terms, including four years as deputy mayor.
Westbury’s speech was titled Community, Democracy and Change: Reclaiming Newcastle’s Future.
Its key message, to a near capacity audience, was Newcastle has “received a raw deal” and was a city “uniquely overlooked”.
“Newcastle has been chronically under-served by all levels of government,” Westbury said.
“Relative to other cities, its infrastructure … is chronically under-resourced.
“Sporting facilities, the art gallery, and public transport, Newcastle continuously gets less than it earns and deserves.”
Westbury said the problem that saw Newcastle receive less than its fair share from government coffers was not caused by individual politicians but was a “systemic one” and the process that delivered the city less was “fundamentally broken”.
He referred the fact currently there are no parliamentary members from the Hunter represented in the NSW cabinet.
During the questions and answers session Westbury went further saying: “we need smaller states and more of them”.
He spoke of the 1967 referendum, lost by only 4 per cent of the vote, which if successful would have seen a smaller state of New England formed with the inclusion of Newcastle.
Westbury spoke of the issues that had polarised the city and how Renew Newcastle – the organisation he founded – had to “straddle deep divides in the city.”
He said the community had been pushed into binary positions – “you are either for us or against us” –over divisive issues, such as the removal of the heavy rail line and its replacement with a “take it or leave it light rail”.
This was a reflection of the lack of control Novocastrians had over their own destiny, again referring to structural issues relating to the “powers that govern us”.
“We need a better formula for a better deal,” Westbury said. “Newcastle deserves investment proportionate to its size.”
On a personal note, Westbury spoke of long friendship with Ms Henry.
He credited her as a powerful referee for his first job with the Australia Council, and as someone who saw, understood and supported the vision of he and his cohort at Octapod. He has spent the past 15 years living in Melbourne and is the CEO of Collingwood Arts Precinct.