NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has been referred to the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) by Greens MP Jamie Parker over her 2012 decision to grant a 20-year lease extension on government-owned land in Leichhardt without going to public tender.
Anti-motorway community group Leichhardt Against WestConnex (LAW) has demanded that negotiations to buy the contentious Dan Murphy’s bottleshop site in Darley Road for use as a mid-tunnel dive site for the WestConnex M4-M5 Link must stop until details of its lease to a private company are independently examined.
Parker made the referral to ICAC after revelations of departmental conduct he described as having “the hallmarks of improper behaviour”.
He said the 20-year lease extension of the RailCorp-owned land was granted to private company Tdrahhciel (Leichhardt spelt backwards) in 2012 when Berejiklian was transport minister, despite the transport department receiving advice against the extension due to its financial risks. “The department clearly ignored their own probity advice, which said the extension to the lease should not be granted,” Parker said.
Labor has suggested that internal documents and emails show transport bureaucrats under Berejiklian switched, within a fortnight, from advising against extending the lease on Darley Rd, to drawing up an agreement to extend it by 20 years.
Tdrahhciel developed the property and subleased it to Dan Murphy’s until 2038. The bottle shop opened in December last year, even though it was known the site was being earmarked for WestConnex. The state government will have to pay a compensation bill of up to $50 million to Tdrahhciel and Dan Murphy’s to demolish it.
For close to a year LAW has been calling on Berejiklian to reveal details of the lease arrangements on the property. It has also been lobbying the government to drop plans to build the dive tunnel on the site because it fears traffic congestion and trucks carrying tunnel spoil being forced into backstreets.
In another setback for the WestConnex project, the NSW government has rejected the only bid it received from the private sector to build the major road interchange proposed for Rozelle in the city's inner west. The government said the bid was too high, presumably because the project is impossibly complicated to build.
The government has also done another about-face, by returning control of the tender process for the Rozelle interchange to Roads and Maritime Services, removing it from the private entity the government had previously set up to oversee WestConnex, the Sydney Motorway Corporation.
On October 11, Greens transport spokesperson Mehreen Faruqi moved for the establishment of a NSW Legislative Council inquiry into potentially toxic emissions from major toll roads and tunnels, in particular WestConnex, NorthConnex and the proposed Northern Beaches Link, Western Harbour Tunnel and F6 Extension.
"Motorways, toll roads and tunnels are dangerous and polluting infrastructure. Communities have a right to know the extent of air pollution and health risks associated with toxic emissions from toll tunnels and motorways," Faruqi said.
"With the ever-increasing tentacles of motorways and toll tunnels in Sydney, our city will be dotted with smoke stacks billowing toxic pollution ... Communities have a right to know what the impacts of air pollution will be, and how they are being measured and mitigated. This inquiry will bring these issues to the table and find a way forward.”
Also on October 11, about 400 people packed the Town Hall for a public meeting organised by the Sydney City Council to oppose WestConnex. Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore told the meeting: "WestConnex, which we should call 'WestCongest', will wipe out funding for public transport in Sydney for years to come.”
She said WestConnex "does not solve the city's transport needs. It will destroy air quality, break the budgets of Western Sydney families for 40 years, and we the people will suffer the consequences for decades. WestConnex is being built in secret; involves huge conflicts of interest; and will be a further major contributor to climate change.
"But WestConnex is not a done deal yet; it is not inevitable. Stage 2 is not complete, and plans for Stage 3 have not even been approved.
"Around the world, cities are moving away from tollways towards public transport. We must push the premier to halt WestConnex now.”