Hundreds of people gathered for the Don't Mess With the West rally outside the Joan Sutherland Performing Arts Centre in Penrith on October 20, before marching to the electoral office of local member and Minister for Western Sydney Stuart Ayres, chanting "community health, not incinerator wealth" and "don't mess with the West”.
They were protesting against the controversial WestConnex road project and associated tolls on the M4 Motorway and elsewhere; the highly polluting waste disposal incinerator proposed for Eastern Creek; and the planned new airport at Badgerys Creek.
Protesters were angry Ayers had ignored all invitations to speak at the rally, and instead chose to spend the day in Penrith campaigning for his re-election.
Spokesperson for No Incinerator for Western Sydney Melinda Wilson said: "If Stuart Ayers is really concerned about keeping his seat in the next election, he should listen to the community he is supposed to represent and stop this incinerator now. There is no way he will keep his seat in the next election if he avoids the real issues."
Spokesperson for Concerned Citizens of Western Sydney Maya said: "As residents we reject an incinerator, and we will fight arm in arm with all the other community groups to stop this going ahead."
Greens MP Mehreen Faruqi and Blacktown Mayor Stephen Bali stressed the dangers posed by the threat of a highly polluting waste incinerator in Sydney's west.
Andrew Chuter, spokesperson for No WestConnex: Public Transport, said he was pleased to see different groups uniting to ensure the voices of local people were heard. "It's the first time we've combined all the groups. People were really quite into it and really vocal,” he said.
Chuter said the rallies would continue in a bid to ensure politicians are paying attention to the concerns of residents. "A lot of these issues are related to transport, but also to air," he said.
"These campaigns are linked in that they are part of [opposing] the same agenda of putting profit before people ... they [politicians] always want to divide and conquer, but we will not be divided."
Meanwhile, property developer Desane has used a report it commissioned from planning consultant Urbis to slam WestConnex. It said the compulsory acquisition of its residential site in Rozelle was part of a scheme by the government to "ram this project and the environmental impact statement (EIS) through the normal planning process, to clear the pathway for the sale of the Sydney Motorway Corporation (SMC) to the private sector". The SMC is the private company set up to deliver and finance WestConnex.
Urbis, through its review of Westconnex's EIS, found deficiencies in the design and implementation of the project.
Desane chairperson Professor John Sheehan said: "The sale of SMC, we believe, will remove from public accountability any responsibility, oversight and control of the final design, cost and implementation of this $7.8 billion M4‐M5 Link project, which is contrary to the public interest."
In addition, as the state government prepares to sell WestConnex to the private sector, an important issue has emerged with the proposed associated privatisation of E-Toll, the state-owned and run issuer of electronic tollway tags and account billing.
The October 23 Australian Financial Review reported the government has asked prospective bidders for WestConnex to express interest in acquiring the existing state-owned E-Toll business as part of the wider tollway sale.
E-Toll is one of two e-tag issuers in NSW. The other is Transurban's Linkt, which also operates under the Roam brand. Both issue tags, collect road tolls and handle billing and accounts information involving Sydney tollway users.
Transurban, which already owns the majority of Sydney's toll roads, is the favorite to take over WestConnex as well. It would not necessarily need to buy E-Toll to operate WestConnex, but any other buyer would probably need to do so.