Residents protest at second Inner West Council meeting

Issue 
Protesters demand the undemocratically installed one-person administrator on the Inner West Council Richard Pearson take action

Up to 150 residents of inner western Sydney crammed into the chambers of the now-sacked Ashfield Council to oppose the state government's dismissal of three suburban councils and their merger into an "Inner West Council" and to protest the controversial WestConnex tollway project.

They demanded that undemocratically installed one-person administrator Richard Pearson take action on his stated intention to oppose WestConnex, in line with the unanimous positions of the three sacked councils, Ashfield, Leichhardt and Marrickville.

Residents were irate at being forced to register with ID, go through security checks and be confronted by security guards and a large squad of police to attend the meeting. All meetings of the former elected councils were fully open to the public, who were free to speak on important issues of concern.

In June, an angry group of more than 200 residents forced the abandonment of the first meeting of the Inner West Council, shouting the administrator down and occupying the Marrickville Council chamber. The public outrage at the state government's dictatorial actions in summarily sacking councils across NSW, were combined with allegations that this was undertaken partly to head off council opposition to WestConnex.

At the Ashfield meeting, although protest signs had earlier been confiscated by security guards outside the chambers, residents were able to hold up paper signs reading, "Democracy, not Dictatorship, Bring back our Councils," and "Stop the Demolitions, Stop WestConnex." Loud chants of "Stop WestConnex" also rang out during the meeting.

Former Greens Leichardt councillor Rochelle Porteous opened her remarks during the period of public discussion by saying she "did not recognise the legitimacy of this Inner West Council" and "did not acknowledge the unelected administrator".

Pearson was booed and heckled during the meeting, with cries of "we did not elect you," and "you are part of the problem."

Under pressure from the audience, Pearson eventually endorsed nine motions opposing WestConnex. These included hiring lawyer Tim Robertson to prepare a legal case against the tollway project and seeking an injunction to immediately halt the current demolition of heritage listed houses in the path of WestConnex.

The audience also insisted on holding regular meetings with community groups opposed to the project and funding a full-time community organiser to coordinate grassroots campaigning against Westconnex.

Former Labor mayor of Leichhardt Darcy Byrne drew calls of "traitor" when he rose to speak, because of his previous acceptance of council amalgamation, but was also applauded when he demanded that legal advice be tabled immediately by the administrator on a possible court challenge to WestConnex. Byrne and other speakers emphasised the "utmost urgency" of action against the project, as the state government was rushing through with it "as we speak".

Byrne and 28 of the 36 sacked councillors from the three former councils have been taken on as members of a new advisory committee to the Inner West Council.

At a short rally outside the council building before the meeting, Greens NSW MP Jamie Parker declared: "We will not stop until WestConnex is halted. A part of the reason for the possible election of a hung parliament in last weekend's federal poll is growing opposition to WestConnex in Sydney's western suburbs.

"The sacking of councils and other unpopular actions of the [Mike] Baird state government also played a part in the result. Now we must continue fighting WestConnex until it is defeated."

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