Lessons for the No WestConnex campaign

March 20, 2015

"No West Connex: Public transport is the answer," was the theme of a public forum sponsored by Green Left Weekly on March 17 at the Sydney CBD Resistance Centre. Up to 30 people gathered to hear Sue Bolton, Socialist Alliance councillor from Moreland, Melbourne, and Chris Elenor, No WestCONnex activist, discuss issues surrounding the huge toll road projects being pushed in Australia's major cities.

Bolton described the development of the broad-based campaign in Melbourne that eventually forced the ALP to declare it would not build the East West Link — a huge road tunnel plan, being foisted on the public by the Victorian Liberal government — which played a significant role in its victory in the state election late last year.

She said East West Link was an $8-18 billion project intended to tear through inner city suburbs in Melbourne. The dubious secret business case for the project has still not been fully revealed.

Bolton outlined the different elements of the campaign against the road project, including the grassroots civil disobedience tunnel pickets in the Yarra Council region; the broadening of the campaign into other areas of the city and state-wide; the key demand calling on the ALP to tear up any contracts signed before the election by the Coalition government; and the important role played by socialist councillors in the campaign — Steve Jolly from the Socialist Party in Yarra, and herself in the Moreland Council, which was eventually convinced to mount a vital legal challenge to the project.

The anti-East West Link campaign developed mass support, with rallies and meetings in various suburbs. Another important element in the success of the campaign was its advocacy of public transport in place of toll roads as a solution to the urban transport crisis.

Elenor spoke about the development of the current campaign against WestConnex, a $15 billion series of road tunnels and tollways, which threatens to carve up the western and inner western suburbs of Sydney.

Key issues include the positioning of smoke stacks from the tunnels near many houses, the proposed forced acquisitions of hundreds of homes near the path of the tollway, the resulting traffic chaos in local streets where the tunnels emerge, and the associated land grab by big developers in areas near the tollway.

The adoption by No WestCONnex of the slogan, "WestConnex won't work, public transport will," has helped build the campaign more broadly. Rallies, meetings and marches, such as the 3000 strong march through Newtown last month, have swelled the campaign as the NSW state election approaches.

The pressure is on the Labor Party, which has adopted a WestConnex Lite position, accepting two sections of the project, but opposing one. "WestConnex is not a solution to the transport needs of Sydney," Elenor said.

"Whatever the result of the state election, the campaign against WestConnex will continue. Furthermore, we need a national campaign in favor of public transport, and against the insanity of massive road projects, which only favor the big transport and construction companies."

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