“Stop WestConnex! No WestConnex!” rang out across Macquarie Street from a snap action of up to 100 people outside NSW Parliament on February 14. A number of anti-WestConnex groups gathered at short notice after the Australian National Audit Office released its damning report into WestConnex.
The protest was called by WestConnex Direct Action. Rally chair Andrew Chuter welcomed the report which slammed the federal government’s secretive funding of billions of dollars to WestConnex, “the destructive road scam” as he put it.
Speakers from several groups campaigning against the state government’s $17 billion tollway project as well Greens MPs addressed the rally.
WestConnex “is about privatisation of our transport system”, Greens MLC and spokesperson on WestConnex Jenny Leong said, adding that she would happily share any anti-WestConnex platform with Labor Party if they changed their mind about the project.
Greens MP Jamie Parker said that “WestConnex will bring massive over-development to the Parramatta Road corridor.
Peter Boyle from Newtown Residents Against WestConnex said that despite the Berejiklian government’s claims, the auditor general’s report shows that WestConnex is not a done deal.
“The state government is trying to play off residents of the western suburbs against the inner city. We must not stand for this. This whole project has the stench of corruption about it and it’s a corporate scam that affects all of Australia."
Peter Hehir from Rozelle Against WestConnex described WestConnex as “privatisation gone mad”. He added that the $20 billion “thrown away on WestConnex could be much better spent on public schools and hospitals”.
The con, he said, is that the people of western Sydney are going to have to pay for this monster for all of their working lives.
The Auditor General Grant Hehir found that WestConnex is the first road project in Australia to receive a concessional loan from the federal government.
It also found that in 2012 the federal Coalition opposition pledged $1.5 billion to the project and the then-Labor federal government pledged $25 million. This was before the NSW government had released a business case for the project.
Hehir also found the payments “did not adequately protect the Australian government’s financial interests”. He said that advice provided before a $500 million payment for WestConnex in 2014 “identified that a payment of that magnitude was not yet required”.
The $500 million was part of the $1.5 billion in direct funding pledged by the federal government for the 33-kilometre tollway.
The audit was originally requested by the Greens, and then backed by Labor.
Leong said the audit is damning for the Coalition and the Labor Party because both parties were keen on the project well before an initial business case was presented.
“The cost of WestConnex has now blown out considerably. This is what happens when politicians make up policy during an election cycle and flaunt proper process,” she said.
Commenting on the report, Pauline Lockie from the WestConnex Action Group said that the NSW Auditor General’s report a couple of years ago also cast serious doubt over the preliminary business case.
Paul Jeffrey, the No WestConnex group’s compliance specialist, said that since construction began, WestConnex has flouted the rules.
“Compliance has been an ongoing issue with WestConnex ever since construction began. It isn’t really the [Inner West] Council’s job to supply compliance officers for a private construction operation.
“We have a massive amount of construction across the inner west … with only one compliance officer. There simply aren’t enough people on the ground looking at these sites. We would also like to see their powers increased.
“We report breaches that we see and are told by SafeWork NSW not to report that same issue twice within a short period of time.”