Candidates grilled over WestConnex

Issue 
More than 200 people attended the meeting in Haberfield to discuss WestConnex. Photo: No West Connex/Facebook

More than 200 people attended a candidates meeting in the Sydney suburb of Haberfield, called by WestCON Action Groups and Save Ashfield Park.

The standing-room-only meeting to discuss the proposed WestConnex tunnel through the area heard from Labor, Greens and Socialist Alliance candidates for the state seat of Summer Hill in the state election in March. Liberal candidate Julie Passas sent an apology, claiming a prior commitment.

All clearly stated they were opposed to WestConnex, although Labor candidate Jo Haylen, under some pressure from a sceptical meeting, did say that Labor supported "some parts of the scheme".

All candidates supported the need for an integrated transport system and massive investment in public transport.

Socialist Alliance candidate for Summer Hill in the state election gave this speech to the meeting.

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The Socialist Alliance believes immediate action must be taken to reverse the heavy reliance on private transport in Australia.

We call for a massive expansion of public transport networks that are based on meeting current and future demand for transport across our cities and regions. The networks should be under community control, and not based on corporate interests, private ownership and profit, but kept (or taken back) into public ownership.
A sustainable transport system is needed which meets the needs of our planet and its people. The mobilisation of communities, transport users, environmentalists and unions to change national, state and local government transport policy will be central to achieving this.

The WestConnex development — like its counterpart in Victoria, the East West Link — is not about community benefit. They are projects designed to benefit private corporations, who profit through providing such infrastructure, as well as vehicles or services — whether freight or tollway management or maintenance.

This is nothing new. In the latter half of the 20th century, corporations, principally the car manufacturers and trucking and road construction companies, either directly bought up and limited or closed down competing transport networks, as in the case of the Los Angeles streetcars, or were the main influence on government transport policies, as in the case of the closure of tram networks in many Australian capital cities.

Moreover, with the rise of neoliberalism from the 1970s, the residual state-owned networks became subject to corporatisation and fire-sale privatisation, backed by state subsidies and lax safety and planning regulation to provide profitability to the corporations that took them over.

The power of private capital means we now have transport systems that are profitable for corporations but inefficient for our community. To compound this, many of the costs of privately-owned systems, including those incurred by its consumers, are not imposed on the companies that control our transport networks. In fact the fine print in contracts means that governments agree to underwrite losses and in some cases agree to not build "competing" public transport networks.

If we don’t stop WestConnex now, there will be more East West Links and WestConnexes down the track. The federal government’s "assets recycling scheme" will drive more such development.

We have to build a movement of mass resistance to call a halt to this private-profit-first agenda of road and urban development and to take control as a community over the planning of our cities and public transport networks.

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