A rally outside NSW Parliament on November 22 delivered more than 5000 letters to Premier Gladys Berejiklian, calling her to halt the controversial WestConnex tollway and initiate a thorough review of the wasteful $18 billion project.
Greens MPs Jenny Leong and Jamie Parker, City of Sydney Deputy Mayor Jess Miller, independent MP Alex Greenwich and Inner West councillor Pauline Lockie called on the NSW government to listen to the growing opposition.
The open letter was launched last year by 18 community groups, Labor, Greens and Independent MPs. WestConnex Action Group (WAG) spokesperson Rhea Liebman, who chaired the rally, said that nearly 12 months later the concerns raised in the letter remain “critical and unanswered”.
“We have since seen an escalating opposition across Sydney to the project and its tolls, with more than 14,000 people signing the ALP petition against the tolls and more than 12,000 objections to the Stage 3 M4–M5 Link EIS,” she said.
“More than 30,000 objections have now been lodged against all three WestConnex Environmental Impact Statements. More than 25,000 have signed parliamentary petitions against WestConnex and more tolls and there have been scathing reviews of the project by NSW and federal auditors-general.
“These have been ignored, as have the health and safety of residents affected by WestConnex construction, in the Berejiklian government’s haste to bulldoze this destructive tollway through.
“Rather than listening to community opposition, expert criticism and independent audits, Premier Berejiklian has chosen to listen only to those with vested financial interests in WestConnex.
“It is now widely acknowledged that WestConnex is not the solution to Sydney’s transport issues. It is not too late to halt, review and rethink WestConnex.”
Berejiklian’s response to the growing public anger at the reintroduction of tolls on the M4 has been the announcement of free vehicle registration for frequent tollroad users. Motorists spending more than $25 a week on the city’s tollroads over a year will be eligible, she said on November 20.
The so-called rego rebate will save most eligible motorists about $350 a year in registration costs. The scheme will be available for standard privately registered cars, utes, four-wheel-drives and motorcycles from July 1 next year, but not trucks or other vehicles weighing more than 2795 kilograms.
This attempted bribe of Sydney motorists will cost up to $100 million in the first year, and more into the future. Effectively, the registration rebate is a further hand-out to whichever tollroad corporation buys WestConnex when it is privatised next year.
NSW Labor leader Luke Foley said the rebate was another victory for toll road operators. He said the government’s proposal amounted to charging western Sydney motorists $2000 a year to travel on the M4, while the most motorists might get back is $300 a year.
Greens NSW MP Mehreen Faruqi said on November 20: “The government is desperately trying to prop up toll roads with taxpayers’ money to generate even more profit for private tolling corporations by offering the lure of free rego.”
If the government was serious about addressing the cost of living, Faruqi said, it would be “capping tolls and making sure people have real and affordable alternatives instead of finding a sneaky way to help fill the deep pockets of private companies”.