In the lead up to the September 9 election for the forcibly amalgamated Inner West Council, Labor candidates are feeling the pressure of strong community opposition to the multi-billion-dollar WestConnex motorway tunnel.
WestConnex has been condemned by transport experts as a “failed 1950s radial motorway plan” and exposed to be a giant corporate-mates tollway scam through a series of damning leaks of secret NSW cabinet papers. Nevertheless, the NSW Liberal government is trying to force it through, starting the Environment Impact Statement (EIS) public exhibition period right in the middle of the election campaign.
In a string of meet-the-candidates meetings in Sydney’s inner west, Labor candidates tried, unconvincingly, to argue that “Local Labor” was totally opposed to WestConnex, whatever the position of the state Labor opposition.
Anna York, the lead Stanmore Ward Labor candidate tied herself in knots in the process and was caught out on August 16 on a livestreamed video claiming that NSW Labor “opposed all of WestConnex” when NSW Labor leader Luke Foley's own website says it supports Stages 1 and 2 of WestConnex (now in construction) but opposes Stage 3 (yet to have its EIS approved) “in its current form”.
Local groups opposing WestConnex have written twice to Foley seeking a written clarification of NSW Labor's position on WestConnex but have only received a vague promise to “do everything we can to ameliorate the impacts of Stages 1 and 2 for the residents of the Inner West” and to “scrutinise” the EIS for Stage 3.
Anti-WestConnex activists called on NSW Labor at its state conference to commit to tear up the contracts for WestConnex signed by the Coalition government and will repeat this demand at an action on August 29 before a candidates meeting for Balmain Ward where Labor's mayoral candidate Darcy Byrne will be speaking.
Byrne says he personally “opposes all of WestConnex” but anti-WestConnex activists believe his actions do not match these words.
Byrne and other Labor councillors voted against participating with other councils in a legal challenge to the forced council amalgamations. The councils that mounted the challenge were successful in having their forced amalgamations reversed.
Labor has not helped build the broad and growing anti-WestConnex movement. Instead, it has just tried to score political points against the Coalition government as each damaging leak about WestConnex has come out.
At a Leichhardt Ward candidates meeting on August 22, Lucille McKenna, the lead Labor candidate, was forced to admit under questioning from the floor that she had not moved any motions on WestConnex at her party's state conference. No other “Local Labor” candidates in the Inner West moved motions to strengthen their party’s position.
The only Inner West candidates who have been part of the movement on the streets to stop WestConnex have been those from the Greens, Socialist Alliance and independents Pauline Lockie and John Lozano. Independent candidate for Balmain Ward and former Leichhardt councillor John Stamolis also consistently opposed WestConnex in council.
Socialist Alliance has called for a tight exchange of preferences between anti-WestConnex candidates.
“We think the tightest exchange of preferences between candidates most clearly opposed to WestConnex will give the inner west communities the best possibility of fighting and winning against this dangerous scam,” Pip Hinman, the Socialist Alliance candidate for Stanmore Ward, said in a candidates meeting hosted by Newtown Residents Against WestConnex on August 16.