I’d rather not be writing this piece because I do understand that everyone needs to earn a living. But when a public authority such as the Westconnex Delivery Authority is wasting public money on so called 'community information' stalls that deliver false information then I'm going to write about it.
The dollars involved in this case are probably Federal dollars because the only reason the Westconnex M5 duplicate tunnel is being rapidly pushed ahead is because the Abbott Federal government offered NSW a two billion loan at a concessional rate to get it moving. So where ever you live in Australia, this small story involves you. The loan will eventually be paid back by NSW taxpayers so from our point of view it is especially annoying.
Today I was one of several Westconnex Action Group campaigners collecting the last hundred or so of 10,000 signatures on a petition that will be tabled in the NSW Parliament by our local Greens MP Jenny Leong. The petition will enable a parliamentary debate about the proposed 33 kilometre tollway.
We were standing outside Marrickville Metro which is situated close to already congested Edgeware Road that will cop thousands of extra cars pouring from a massive St Peters interchange should the Westconnex M5 tunnel be built. When residents have asked questions about how their crowded streets would possibly cope with all this traffic, they've been told that Edgeware Rd lies outside the Westconnex project map and so is not its responsibility. Residents are so concerned that they are organising a new grassroots Westconnex Action Group in this area.
I'd just returned from the centre's rooftop carpark where there was no shortage of people willing to sign the petition. We left after one of our campaigners was moved on by Metro staff and returned to our street stall.
For weeks, Westconnex staff have had their own daily stall conveniently positioned just inside the busy Metro shopping centre. I assume WDA pays for the stall which is part of an information strategy designed to build the WDA's case that it has 'consulted' with the community. A few people had told me that some stall staff have little knowledge of the project. The main and simple message is that Westconnex is a 'solution'. So today I decided to test the quality of the information.
The first question I asked was about how a second M5 tunnel would affect Edgeware Road. The Westconnex man didn't know where Edgeware Road was although it was only two streets from where we were standing.
I then asked him about Euston Road which runs down one side of Sydney Park, a landmark in our local area. Euston Road is currently lined by beautiful paperbarks which would be chopped down if the project goes ahead. It would become a 7 lane highway to cope with the traffic that would emerge from the tunnel. The WDA man knew nothing about this. He initially said he hadn't visited Sydney Park - when I asked, "Ever?. He said,"well not for 6 months." He did know that a 'fringe' represented on his map by green dots would be sliced from Sydney Park.
His knowledge of the project was minimal. All he knew was that despite a few people having to lose their homes ( he wouldn't like that to happen to him!) Westconnex is a solution. He agreed that there were arguments for and against the project but believes that the inevitable conclusion is that because the city is getting bigger, more people must come into the CBD by car.
He was pleasant but very ignorant.
When Malcolm Turnbull replaced Tony Abbott as Prime Minister two weeks ago, Westconnex Action Group started a email campaign to ask him to withdraw the Federal funding from Westconnex. So far 458 people have signed letters. Since then he has appointed James Briggs the member for the beautiful rural seat of Mayo in South Australia as the Minister for Cities. I hope that Turnbull has read the letter and that he'll reply soon. We are constantly told that expenditure needs to be cut. I suggest we begin by telling the WDA not to waste our public dollars on campaigns designed to produce ignorance rather than understanding of a $15.4 billion project in which the public takes all the financial, social and health risks. An independent inquiry is needed not more PR.
( Follow Westconnex Action Group(WAG) network and Save Newtown Facebook pages. WAG is also on twitter)