Residents arrested for protesting WestConnex destruction

January 11, 2017
Steffie Leedham taking non-violent direct action at Sydney Park. Photo: Peter Boyle

On January 11 at 6.30am, tree loppers started felling some of the 500 trees slated for destruction at Sydney Park to make way for WestConnex’s St Peters interchange near the corner of Euston Road and Campbell Street.

Before that, Steffie Leedham had climbed up to a platform connected to three trees. She told Green Left Weekly from the platform that she would stay up there “for as long as it takes to stop WestConnex vandalising Sydney Park”.

Several others tried to stop the felling but were mostly pushed aside by police. At least two were arrested.

Leedham has been a regular at the Sydney Park camp, set up to protect the trees and raise awareness of the wasteful and unpopular $17 billion tollway, a signature project of the similarly unpopular state government.

“I am occupying this tree to save other trees and to stop WestConnex from going ahead”, Leedham said. “This tree is connected to two other trees and that is why all these trees are still standing. Otherwise they would all be cut down already. They can’t cut these trees down otherwise I would fall down from here.

“I have been up here since 6 o'clock and it is terrible. All these trees around here have been chopped down [sound of a tree crashing down].

“They have been chopping all around. So I can't leave this tree. I have to stay here.”

Asked how long she intended to stay, Leedham replied: “I am prepared and I am well looked after. I have lots of ice to keep me cool, someting to read and enough food.

“I hope this can have an effect to stop this terrible project of craziness. It is so bad, not just for the trees, but also for all the people who have lost their homes already and those who are going to lose their homes because of it. It is devastating. And what do we get for it? We get toll roads! There is so much money involved. It is billions of dollars that could have been spent on public transport.

My aim is to help stop WestConnex but we need lots of people to do this. They don’t all have to climb trees, but they have to protest and do something active against WestConnex. Only if we have lots of people behind us will we be successful.”

After visting the protest site, Newtown MP Jenny Leong said: “The fact that the [Mike] Baird government can get away with this despite the massive questions that hang over this project makes it clear that NSW planning laws provide a protection racket for dodgy, self-serving development.”

Activists at the Save Sydney Park camp have been at the receiving end of police brutality for several weeks.

Local and riot squad police were deployed against residents at Sydney Park on January 4 who were non-violently resisting WestConnex contractors sent to fence off the trees earmarked for destruction.

Two people were arrested with many more being roughed up as they attempted to climb the construction compound fencing.

Just before 6am that day, they woke to find WestConnex contractors moving in with surveying and fencing equipment, followed by about 10 police officers. After marking out a much bigger area of land than the Roads and Maritime Services road reservation, dozens of WestConnex contractors started erecting fences along the Euston Road side of the park.

Residents had been informed the previous day by City of Sydney councillor Linda Scott that the RMS “haven’t finished the compulsory acquisition process” for all the land it wants in Sydney Park for WestConnex. She urged residents to ask for “proof that they own this public land” if confronted by WestConnex contractors.

WestConnex Action Group spokesperson Pauline Lockie said: “We were told by a WestConnex contractor that we were now standing on private land. Police then threatened us with arrest for being on inclosed lands, even though we were on open public parkland.

“At least eight riot police then joined the local officers to force residents back and form a human barricade to allow WestConnex contractors to erect their fencing.”

Despite the peaceful nature of the protest, two women were screaming in pain as they were dragged away by police. Residents were also left heavily bruised after being grabbed and pushed by police. Contractors shut down the only toilet in that part of Sydney Park.

Meanwhile, WestConnex quietly released the last of three major reports detailing the tree destruction planned for Sydney Park, St Peters and Alexandria on January 6. A total of 827 trees are slated to go, with many more at risk.

[Click here to sign the WestConnex Action Group's petition to Premier Mike Baird against WestConnex.]

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