Labor continues M2 betrayal


By Marcus Greville SYDNEY — Public pressure is continuing to try to force roads minister Michael Knight to honour the state Labor government's election promise to disband the construction of the controversial M2 motorway. However, the government's business-driven agenda has meant that Knight has revoked nearly all his campaign policy. In one of the latest blows to residents affected by the construction of the M2, Knight abolished the Special Acquisition Policy on November 1 last year. This policy, which requires the state to compensate home-owners whose houses are deemed unsaleable due to the construction of the M2, was contained in the 1993 environmental impact determination document, and confirmed in Road and Transport Authority (RTA) letters to 244 families. Those home-owners who received offers were promised 12 months grace after the opening of the M2 in which to decide whether they wanted to take up a purchase offer. They were encouraged by the RTA to wait before deciding. The abolition of this policy has, according to Knight, "potentially saved the state hundreds of millions of dollars". However, this has been at the expense of 116 families whose political voice had earlier been quietened by the dilution of community liaison groups acting on their behalf. Before the policy was scrapped, the government had already started to downgrade the role of the community liaison groups (a requirement of the environmental impact determination documents) which were to ensure the M2 was constructed with minimum community impact. In the months prior to the policy abolition, one liaison group was sacked and replaced, weeks later, with a smaller, less representative group; the RTA environmental liaison consultant was dismissed and not replaced; and the group's independent chairperson was replaced with the RTA's M2 project manager who has appeared as witness for the prosecution against M2 protesters. More than 100 protesters still await trial, arrested for voicing their political views and exercising their democratic right to protest. To date, two cases have reached the courts (last August), both of which were promptly dismissed. In response, police upgraded many protesters' original charge of trespass to a more serious one. While protesters are continuing to oppose the environmental destruction, Knight has stood firm in his resolve to build more freeways. Despite winning last year's elections on a platform of curbing the planning powers of the RTA, Knight, who recently declared that the RTA was no longer an "unresponsive dinosaur", has allowed the RTA to continue announcing new road projects. This is despite the RTA's secret Road Transport: Future Directions report which forecasts disastrous social, financial and ecological costs if freeway-based transport planning continues.