Opposition to proposed Western Harbour Tunnel could tip Willoughby by-election

February 3, 2022
Larissa Penn, centre, a Stop The Tunnels community campaigner is running as a independent in the February 12 Willoughby by-election. Photo: Larissa For Willoughby campaign

New South Wales Liberal Premier Dominic Perrottet’s announcement on January 19 to award a $722 million contract for the first stage of the proposed Western Harbour Tunnel (WHT) and associated Northern Beaches Link (NBL) road tollway has sparked community outrage.

The newly-elected North Sydney Council voted unanimously on January 24 to “reinstate strong opposition to the WHT/NBL projects due to the devastating impacts of the proposed projects on the North Sydney Local Government Area and the absence of any public benefit to be gained from the projects” and to “escalate” its campaign against these projects.

A majority of council is committed to campaigning against this next stage of the tollway tunnel corporate scam that has devastated Sydney's inner west.

Several candidates running in the February 12 byelection for the former Liberal premier Gladys Berejiklian’s seat of Willoughby, including high-profile independent Larissa Penn, have been outspoken opponents of the tollway tunnel projects.

Berejiklian had to resign after being summonsed to appear before the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) where the WHT/NBL is a hot topic.

“We are fighting the NSW Government and challenging poor work already underway, contamination issues, pollution stacks and extra traffic,” Penn said on February 1. “Our voices are not being heard — not just with the tunnels but with overdevelopment, schools and a lack of transparency in planning.”

While Willoughby has been a safe seat for the Liberals, the party machine forced Tim James, an unpopular, right-wing candidate on the local branch, creating divisions in the Liberal’s voting base.

Andrew Chuter, a veteran campaigner against WestConnex told Green Left: “The Premier’s announcement that work will start on the WHT continues the mistruths and deceptions we saw with WestConnex.

“Perrottet claims there are significant benefits for drivers, including improved travel times and reduced congestion, but there will be nothing of the sort. Decades of experience show that more roads encourage more driving, a phenomenon so familiar it even became the subject of the ABC comedy series, Utopia.

“The roads minister’s claim that 20 minutes would be shaved off a journey from Olympic Park to North Sydney is impossible. The current journey time is 25 minutes according to Google maps. To bring it down to 5 minutes would require speeds of 240 kilometres an hour!”

Chuter explained that these sorts of toll road plans are incompatible with the Paris climate emergency agreement.

“A recent German report Transport For Under 2 Degrees pulled together the expertise of 346 transport experts from 56 countries. They concluded that we need a massive shift to public and active transport.

“The report says that personal car use in cities isn’t sustainable, and that unless we legislate to remove cars, full decarbonisation of the transport sector by 2050 won’t be achievable.”

Chuter added that the Premier’s claim that the WHT will cut traffic on the existing Sydney Harbour Tunnel (SHT) by 20% pointed to the profligate corporate profiteering from these road tollway projects.

“What’s been forgotten is that the NSW government has been compensating the private operators to the tune of $1 million per week, due to shortfalls in government guaranteed toll takings ever since it opened.

“The SHT will revert to government ownership this year, only to have a potential stream of public revenue reduced, but it will have shelled out $1.1 billion in compensation for toll shortfalls to the private operator.

“As a financial decision, it’s bonkers! At least with tolls on publicly-owned roads, the revenue can be used to support public transport or some other social good. Instead, the Liberal National Party just gifts revenue streams to its corporate mates.

“Simply put, the WHT is a continuation of the climate crime and corporate toll scam of WestConnex.”

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