Fight against WestConnex toll road steps up In Sydney

Four women were arrested on June 21 after occupying the front garden of a house due for imminent demolition.

More than 200 residents filled Glebe Town Hall on June 20 for a Stop WestConnex public meeting organised by the Coalition of Glebe Groups. A panel of transport and campaign activists slammed the $16.8 billion WestConnex tollway project, and outlined the case against the plan on environmental, health, economic and political grounds.

The meeting unanimously called on the Coalition government "to immediately cease all work on WestConnex and put on hold any further contracts for any projects associated with WestConnex pending the decision of [the] Australian National Audit Office". The Office has recently launched a review into the viability of $3.5 billion in federal funding committed to the state government for the tollway, which is due in January.

NSW Greens MP Jamie Parker introduced the forum with a slideshow presentation outlining the three stages of the WestConnex plan, including Stage 3, which would directly impact the Glebe-Annandale area. "The community can still force an end to this disastrous project," he said.

"The City objects to the lack of transparency involved in WestConnex, and the destruction of neighbourhoods,” said Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore. “WestConnex will not fix our transport problems, and will not meet the needs of Western Sydney. WestConnex is not the right project for a global city in the 21st century."

Investigative journalist and activist Wendy Bacon said: "The Fix is in, in NSW.

“This is a corporate state, where the state has privatised itself, with a total, corrupt integration of big business and state government institutions, enriching themselves at the expense of the public, through lucrative contracts being given to wealthy donors to the Liberal Party.

"Let's get armed with knowledge, get angry and take action. We have to get organised and fight back."

Bacon urged the audience to "go out and join with activists in other suburbs already impacted by WestConnex; don't wait for it to come to Glebe".

Transport specialist Mat Hounsell argued that Sydney needed a major expansion in public transport, not another private tollway, which would only encourage more car usage.

Health expert Dr Victor Storm said WestConnex would only increase road traffic and pollution, worsening existing problems in the public health field.

Geologist Anton Crouch outlined the problems associated with Sydney's underground rock formations for any stable tunnelling involved in the WestConnex project.

Following a short question and answer session, the resolution to call on the state government to immediately cease work on WestConnex was carried unanimously.

Meanwhile, the civil disobedience campaign against house demolitions arising from the WestConnex project is continuing. Four women were arrested on June 21 after occupying the front garden of a house in Chandos Street, Ashfield, due for imminent removal by the motorway authority.

A spokeswoman for the group Women Against WestConnex said the protest was aimed at highlighting the detrimental impact the project would have on women and communities. "The protesters are particularly concerned about the huge amount of public funds being put towards the project, which currently sits at $16.8 billion and counting."

One of the arrested protesters, Adrienne Shilling, said the money should be invested in public transport. "Women are disproportionately affected by lack of access to public transport," she said.

Greens NSW Senator Lee Rhiannon said: "Today [Premier] Mike Baird will sell the state budget as an infrastructure triumph, but by committing $2.9 billion to WestConnex he is backing a dud project.

"In four years the project costs have blown out from $10 billion to $16.8 billion. No private company is willing to bear the burden of such an absurd project, and so the public are being forced to foot the scandalously high bill."

"Labor's hands are not tied — they simply lack the courage to call out failed transport planning, funding and construction when they see it."

"The truth is that $2.3 billion in federal money is due to be paid after the election, and the government of the day could suspend that payment."

Shadow infrastructure minister and local Labor MP Anthony Albanese, who is fighting for his political life against the Greens' Jim Casey in the seat of Grayndler, pledged at a public meeting organised by No WestConnex Annandale last month that a Labor government would give no federal funding to WestConnex.

“Federal Labor has not committed one dollar to the project if elected,” he said. “Labor has consistently argued that proper processes including transparent published business cases and Infrastructure Australia approval is required for all major infrastructure projects, prior to funding them.”

No WestConnex spokesperson Liz Butterworth welcomed Albanese's commitment, saying: “We will be following up with Mr Albanese to ensure that this becomes Labor policy, and not just a throwaway remark on the Grayndler campaign trail.”

Like the article? Subscribe to Green Left now! You can also like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.