“We’re mad as hell and we’re not taking it anymore!” Mary Court, secretary of the Penrith Valley Combined Unions (PVCU) and No M4 Toll, told the Don’t Mess With the West rally on February 16.
“Western Sydney will rise up; we’re not a dumping ground for Sydney’s problems”, Court said. “The ‘toll tax’ on the M4 Motorway is an assault … We are being forced to pay this M4 toll until 2060, increasing at a rate much higher than inflation, to pay for the Coalition state government’s cost blow-outs elsewhere.
“Sydney will be the highest road-tolled city in the world. Meanwhile, inequality in our country is rising all the time.
“We say to Premier Gladys Berejiklian, ‘You dump this toll, or we will dump you’,” Court said to applause.
The rally heard from a variety of community campaign groups. Harry Burkitt, from the Give a Dam group opposing the raising of the Warragamba Dam wall, said it would cause even greater overdevelopment in the west which was not getting the necessary public infrastructure.
NSW Public Service Association secretary Stewart Little condemned the state government for privatising more than $60 billion in public assets.
He singled out the TAFE system as being one of the hardest hit. “Five thousand staff had been sacked”, Little said, and “some 27 TAFE campuses are up for sale”. This is in addition to the sell-off and outsourcing of TAFE. “The community wants the TAFE system re-built”, Little said.
NSW Nurses and Midwives Association Nepean Hospital branch secretary Kerry Rodgers told the crowd that the nurse-to-patient ratios have to be increased and standardised.
“Nurse-to-patient ratios are different in different regions. The standard of care should not be dependent on your postcode.
“There is a crisis in our hospitals [to deliver] patient care. Nurses and midwives will not give up the fight for proper patient to nurse ratios in all our public hospitals,” Rodgers stated.
Also speaking were Labor MP for Londonderry Prue Car and Labor councillor Karen McKeown, who is standing as the party’s candidate for Penrith. Both were asked about Labor’s position on the Badgerys Creek airport but refused to answer.
Trevor Neal from the Residents Against Western Sydney Airport group said the airport plan was “based on deception, lies and propaganda”.
“It has been developed in secret, without adequate public scrutiny. The alternative to another airport is high speed rail. With high speed rail, we can reduce the need for aviation services at Mascot by 45%.
“Unlike Sydney Airport at Mascot, the Western Sydney Airport will operate 24 hours a day,” meaning that there will be no noise curfew.
Peter Reynolds, from Community Action for Windsor Bridge, described the state government as being “the most brutal, destructive government ever inflicted on the people of NSW.
“This government sells off our public property to its corporate mates. Any government that refuses to listen to the people must go.”
Campaigners have maintained a 24-hour occupation of Thompson Square, the oldest civic square in the history of Australia, to save Windsor Bridge from demolition.
Andrew Chuter from No WestConnex: Public Transport Not Motorways and Fix NSW, listed a number of social and environmental disasters arising from the government’s green light to tollway operators and the privatisation of the state’s public bus and rail systems to big corporations.
He listed the destruction of suburbs and rising air pollution from the hated $17 billion (and rising) WestConnex tollway being built with public funds only to now be privatised to the TransUrban consortium.
Chuter said, “When we work together we are more powerful”, adding that the myriad community protests “have made the government so unpopular that they are on the cusp of being defeated”.
However, he said, “they are not gone yet” and “we need to keep up the pressure until the state election on March 23”. He invited all the campaign groups present to join with many others in the Fix NSW rally on March 3.
“We welcome everyone from the progressive campaigns across NSW, whether it's toll roads, public transport, education, hospitals, TAFE, raising the dam wall, the 24-hour Western Sydney airport, Windsor Bridge, heritage destruction, stadiums’ waste, land clearing, coal seam gas, climate change, Aboriginal deaths in custody, the cost of housing, low wages, the fish kills in our waterways, shoddy construction and over-development, corrupt decisions or privatisation, privatisation and more privatisation.
“Join us on March 3 and let’s kick this rotten state government out,” Chuter concluded.
The protesters marched to local Liberal MP Stuart Ayres’ office in Penrith. Ayres is the minister responsible for WestConnex and Western Sydney. Protesters left a message on his door which read, “Going, going, gone”.
[The Fix NSW rally will assemble at Hyde Park North on March 3, 1pm. Jim McIlroy and Andrew Cuter are members of the Socialist Alliance Legislative Council team in the March 23 NSW elections.]