The fight to save Sydenham
By Tom Wilson SYDNEY — It's 7am, and across the city thousands of people are waking up to their clock radios, rubbing their eyes and preparing to go to work. But in the inner west suburb of Sydenham, residents are already out of bed and preparing to defend their homes and community from yet another attack by Laurie Brereton's thugs. These are the 200 or so households who live closest to Sydney airport, in the so-called "voluntary acquisition zone". These are the people worst affected by the living hell of aircraft noise since the opening of the so-called Third Runway in November last year. (In fact, it is not a third runway but a replacement second runway, allowing the Labor government to transfer aircraft noise away from Sydney's affluent eastern suburbs and concentrate it all on the working-class inner west.) Voluntary acquisition? The government's own draft noise management plan recommended that these residents be offered a choice of selling their homes to the government (at independently evaluated prices), or of having the government pay to sound-proof the houses against aircraft noise. That was the theory. In practice, too many people for the government's liking wanted to stay. For Keating, Brereton and their big business mates, this posed a major problem. The speculative gains available from this land were unattainable unless all residents could be "persuaded" to sell. The government's solution was to withdraw the offer of sound insulation from these households, so that any who still chose to stay would have no protection from the unbearable noise levels to which they were being subjected! Then, residents were offered "voluntary" acquisition at devalued post-third runway government determined prices. But it didn't work. For many families, the money they were offered wouldn't have been enough to buy a shoe box in Sydney's outer suburbs, let alone a decent house in the inner-city area. Some 40 or so households still refused to sell up. So the ALP NSW right-dominated government resorted to the tactic closest to its heart — sheer thuggery. Residents who refuse to sell are now being subjected not only to aircraft noise around the clock, but to the sound of demolition going on around them from 7am each morning. Properties adjacent to those households who are refusing to sell have been singled out for special treatment. All this, despite earlier assurances that demolition would not begin until all residents had sold and moved out. Demolition work is continuing against a background of daily protests and occupations by the local community. At the time the destruction of Sydenham got under way, the CFMEU was considering imposing a green ban on the project. For an ALP government this posed no problem. Scab demolition workers were employed at $300 a week. They are being illegally protected by federal police in an area where they have no jurisdiction. (Eventually, the CFMEU leadership caved in to government pressure not to impose a green ban.) Residents are being supported in their struggle by community groups and activists, including local Green and No Aircraft Noise party councillors and Jack Mundey. Conspicuous by their absence in the struggle has been the local ALP. This is in part because ALP candidate for Grayndler, Anthony Albanese, is an enthusiastic supporter of Brereton's scorched earth policy. Drive the voters out of Sydenham and they can't vote him out at the next federal election! Surprisingly to some, "left" ALP mayor of Marrickville, Barry Cotter is also supporting the demolition of Sydenham and these acts of terrorism against the remaining residents. Cotter, who has built his political career on feigning opposition to the third runway while collaborating with the ALP behind the scenes, has denounced No Aircraft Noise councillors for their involvement in the community action. He is even threatening to use the force of the law to get them debarred from council for "bringing the council into disrepute" by their actions! Meanwhile, the struggle to save Sydenham goes on.