"Some people think [the WestConnex tollway] can't be stopped. I am not one of those," Dr Michelle Zeibots told an anti-WestConnex rally of around 200 people in Goddard Park, Concord, on July 4. Zeibots, a transport planning expert, was one of a number of speakers at the rally, with the theme: "WestConnex Independence Day: Save Our City".
"The [NSW state] government can't even present a business case for this project. More than $15 billion of public money is being spent on a private road, rather than on public transport.
"There is a lot to fight for. It is a fight to save our city," she said.
Green MLA Jenny Leong was cheered when she denounced WestConnex and its proponents in strong terms. She urged the crowd to continue the fight and sign the petition. Local mother Amanda Bull also spoke with great passion and force.
Parents from Haberfield Primary School were moved to tears when talking about the effects on their own children and those at the Infant’s Home in Ashfield. Many in the area already have respiratory illnesses and the 2500 that are treated at the Infant’s Home have complex health and family issues. They will be placed in the shadow of a toxic exhaust stack should the M4 East be built.
Labor MLA Jodie McKay was booed by the crowd when she argued that construction of WestConnex was "inevitable", and that all that could be hoped for was to alleviate the effects on the community. She claimed that WestConnex would reduce traffic on Parramata Road. This was known to be untrue by many in the crowd, as the Environmental Impact Statement states that daily vehicles would increase from 44,000 to 59,000. In the end McKay was jeered off the podium with a chant of “Jodi McKay! Don’t betray”.
The general sentiment of the audience was reflected in the call, "[Premier Mike] Baird, stand up and face the community", "Public money wasted on this tollway disaster", and "WestConnex must not go ahead".
The rally, organised by the WestConnex Action Group and NoW Public Transport, came after a series of town hall meetings and innovative rallies along the length of the proposed 33km, $15 billion+ WestConnex tollway.
Kathy Calman, resident activist of Beverly Hills, organised a packed meeting at a church hall in Kingsgrove. Residents there heard from Chris Minns, Labor MP for Kogarah, and Jenny Leong, Greens MP for Newtown. Immediately after proceedings, locals queued to sign the petition organised by Leong calling for a halt to construction and a parliamentary inquiry. Minns however wrote an editorial the next day supporting WestConnex and lambasting the Greens.
At Leichhardt Town Hall in June, another packed meeting heard from a panel of speakers, including John Mant, Dr Mehreen Faruqi and Dr Jude Page. Page, a medical doctor, spoke about respiratory illnesses and carcinogenic PM2.5 diesel particulates; Faruqi, a Greens MLC, opposed the entire project, and detailed the gutting of engineering expertise in the NSW public service resulting in bad decisions and cost overruns on infrastructure projects. Mant, who formerly worked for PM Gough Whitlam, drew analogies with Alice in Wonderland and the Emperor’s New Clothes.
The meeting turned sour however when McKay spoke.
McKay raised serious concerns over the toxic stacks and home acquisitions, going so far as to support the parliamentary inquiry, but stopped short of opposing WestConnex. This was in contrast to her colleague Jo Haylen MP, who has gone further and appears to hold a position counter to state Labor policy. A number of anti-freeway activists involved in the Fig St, Ultimo confrontations in the 70's were in the audience and asked McKay why she supported the project in principle.
McKay merely shrugged and failed to answer the question. The meeting then unanimously passed strong motions of opposition to all of WestConnex.
Similar motions have now been passed at a growing number of public meetings, by resident action groups and now four local councils – City of Sydney, Leichhardt, Marrickville and Ashfield.