A child shall lead them

Jean Hinchliffe and Daisy Jeffrey from Student Strike 4 Climate addressed the crowd at Fix NSW rally in Sydney on March3.

Labor leaflets in Summer Hill and Balmain are attempting to allay the fears of residents concerned about the Western Harbour Tunnel (WHT).

A recent City Hub article outlined a scenario in which at some point after the election Labor would do a back flip on their election promise to oppose the WHT.

Well, it appears we did not have to wait that long.

According to an article in the March 5 Sydney Morning Herald Labor is not firmly committing to stopping the WHT — they are just deferring it.

Seeking clarification, I spoke with Matt Wade, one of the two journalists who wrote the piece. Matt said the word used by the Labor spokesperson was “reprioritised”. He referred me to the contact in Labor leader Michael Daley’s office to confirm its current position on this contentious project.

That spokesperson — who asked not to be named — said: “We have no plans to build this project, nor to fund it. And that includes spending any money to plan the project”.

So … no plans. Does that really mean it is totally out of the question as far as Labor is concerned? Or does reprioritised mean that it is proceeding, but just delayed? Is it perhaps quietly smouldering away on the back burner?

NSW Labor Deputy Leader Penny Sharpe didn’t shed any light at the Fix NSW rally on March 3. She said more than $70 billion in public assets had been privatised under the current government, but she studiously avoided any mention of WestConnex. This didn’t sit well with the large crowd, who were united in their support for public transport and hostile to tolled motorways, so she copped a few brickbats for her pains.

At one point almost 1000 people had gathered to listen to the speakers, many on the gentle grassy slope in front of the stage, scores of others sheltering from the sun under the trees. Gamilaraay man Uncle Raymond Weatherall performed the smoking ceremony and the acknowledgement of country, speaking with passion and eloquence about the plight of Aboriginal people. He said: “While the fish kills were making international headlines, what wasn’t reported was that Aboriginal communities along the river were suffering a water crisis”.

Muruwari and Budjiti man from Brewarrina Bruce Shillingworth pulled no punches. He criticised a system that allowed water to be stolen from the Darling River. “The river is our survival. The fish traps in Brewarrina are sacred sites. Aboriginal communities are suffering from lack of water and are forced to drink bore water, which is not fit for human consumption”.

“Stop the greed,” he said time and again. “Stop the greed”.

Greens Senator Mehreen Faruqi was due to speak but had been delayed in Pakistan, so Jenny Leong deputised. She really let fly making it abundantly clear that Labor supports WestConnex. In relation to the Liberals she said: “Stand as one and kick these bastards out”.

City of Sydney councillor Jess Miller wrapped up the speeches by suggesting the Berejiklian government was guilty of many things, but its major crime was a “complete lack of imagination — they were totally out of touch”.

She suggested that most governments manage to alienate some sections of society but somehow “the Libs had managed to piss everyone off!”.

The warmest reception was reserved for two 14 year old girls, Jean Hinchliffe and Daisy Jeffrey from Student Strike 4 Climate, who addressed the crowd about the pressing need for immediate action on climate change.

They spoke in tandem with a clarity of vision, a perception and a wisdom that belied their youth. Many of those attending were left with the impression that these two could wipe the floor with the best the Liberal and Labor proponents could put up in defence of their tollroads.

They articulated the absurdity of WestConnex and the 18% of total emissions attributed to transport. They reminded us that “100% renewable energy by 2050 isn’t good enough, that public transport is the answer”.

Hinchliffe said: "It is beyond irresponsible for a politician to not take immediate and drastic action surrounding the climate crisis and investing in more roads and highways over public transport is very much included ... It's a problem with our politicians not making public transport more accessible and preferable to the average person."

Hinchliffe and Jeffrey are speaking for the next generation, those who will inherit tomorrow. And they are well aware of the responsibility that we all have, to hand them a future that is liveable, with air that isn’t poisoned, food that is uncontaminated and water that is fit to drink.

They can’t vote — but you can. So please, use it wisely.

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