Dear readers, As 2018 comes to a close, I wish you happy holidays and New Year. For those who are going through grief, illness or hard times, I hope that your situation improves soon.
Like you, I hope that 2019 will be a good year. Particularly, I hope that the situation will improve for those who have sought refuge in our country from persecution, especially those who remain on the island prisons of Manus and Nauru. Like millions of others, I am horrified by the abuse and wanton cruelty exercised by the Australian LNP government. The camps must close. It seems that only continual protest and action from parliamentary Greens and Independents can bring about change. Although welcome, it's shocking that Labor's vote to support MP for Wentworth Dr Kerryn Phelps's bill enabling medical evacuation is seen as a big step forward by refugee activists.
I also hope that around the world in 2019, decisive action will be taken to stem climate change -as someone in my early seventies, I won't be here to witness the worst of the impacts of climate change, although those that are already occurring are devastating enough. One of the most inspiring developments of 2018 were school students' strikes and protest. I hope that these protests and other actions grow. We must support them and continue to take action in any way that we can.
Close to home, I am hoping that the Gladys Berejiklian government will be defeated in early 2019. Corruption in NSW politics is not something new. Since I moved to NSW from Victoria when I was 20, corruption has been a feature of both LNP and Labor governments. However, the two most recent NSW Premiers Mike Baird and Gladys Berejiklian have handed unparalleled power to property developers and construction companies. Citizens are left feeling outraged but powerless in the face of undemocratic decisions that destroy communities and the environment. The rushed approval of the demolition of the Sydney Stadium is dismaying. The project is a wasteful and destructive one that highlights how decision makers are far more focussed on meeting the desires of the local business elite than meeting community needs.
Here's a letter signing campaign that is being circulated to stop Lendlease's demolition of the Stadium.
If you're interested in tracking corporate players like Lendlease, I highly recommend the website of independent journalist Michael West at michaelwest.com.au. In 2018. Lendlease effectively paid no tax.
WestCONnex - four years on
It's now four years since I began reporting on WestConnex. In that time, the original 33 kilometre of tollways has been extended to include an F6 to the South and the Western Harbour Tunnel and Beaches Link to the North. Communities that are now threatened only have to look at the devastation that has happened in St Peters and Haberfield to know what is in store for them. In Premier Berejiklian's own electorate of Willoughby opposition is building to the Western Harbour Tunnel and the Beaches Link.
Just down the road from us, friends have been told that the Stage 3 tunnel from St Peters to Haberfield will pass only 15 metres under their homes which are not built on solid Sydney sandstone but on the clay and shale of that part of Inner South West Sydney that slopes down towards Botany Bay.
Other friends over in Haberfield face more demolition at the end the street in what will be their fourth year of living in a dusty noisy construction zone. A few streets away, other residents face another three years of vibration and tunnelling that have already left large cracks in their homes. Before you dismiss this as a minor problem, think how you would feel if this was happening on your doorstep or if you were depressed from sleep deprivation or your children had developed asthma.
Two weeks ago, the NSW government awarded the contract for the very risky Stage 3B Rozelle Interchange to CPB Contractors, Samsung and John Holland. So far all the public has seen is the basic concept that was approved by NSW Planning for a three-layered underground interchange. Even engineers working on the rest of the project privately acknowledge that this project is risky.
The approval of the Rozelle Interchange was a devastating decision for Rozelle School that will be only a short distance from two unfiltered stacks. It's also a blow to residents including Brian Gorman and Janette Willett. On doctor's recommendation, Brian and Janette moved away from an earlier home near a diesel polluted area to their current home. If Stage 3 goes ahead, their home in Callan Street Rozelle will be about 150 metres from a major tunnelling site and later an unfiltered stack and tunnel exit. Here's the report I wrote about Brian's evidence to the NSW Parliamentary Committee into impacts of WestConnex: Toll Road threatens heavy toll.
it's important to know that the WestConnex EIS predicts that even if the project is completed, the Anzac Bridge will be over capacity. The RMS is already planning more roadworks for 2031. No other global city in the developed world is building major motorways into the urban centres.
Over the last four years, thousands of letters and submissions have been written by residents complaining about WestConnex. With few exceptions, they have been ignored by NSW government ministers and NSW Planning. Many of the points they made were reiterated in submissions to the NSW Parliamentary Inquiry. A few people were invited to give evidence.
Finally they had a voice, and finally, someone listened.
This was the achievement of the Inquiry, which published its report last week. The findings damn the implementation of WestConnex, from its planning to its construction. If its recommendations for infrastructure planning had been in place, I've got no doubt that the WestConnex story would have turned out very differently. For a start, there would have been public hearings, where independent transport experts could have been heard. The whole cost-benefit analysis would have been different if health costs, extra road building and other costs amounting to billions had been taken into account.
The Committee, of course, has no powers to enforce its recommendations. The government has six months in which to respond. By the time it does, the LNP government may be gone. I hope so. But the big question is: how much better will Labor be? Will they stay in the pockets of big business or strike out with some new progressive policies?
The failure and disappointment of the Committee are that it recommended that the project should continue. LNP and Labor members of the Committee joined together to vote for an overriding finding that supported continuing with the project. They voted for this although they were acutely aware of the damage the project is doing. Only Greens MP Cate Faerhmann dissented.
I discovered by analysing the minutes of the final meeting that the finding that supported WestConnex was not in the draft report.
Here is my story that was published by Altmedia last week. In the New Year, I will publish it on this blog with links to the relevant documents.
Parliament digs up WestConnex dirt .
I also published three other reports on the Inquiry
RMS claim that unfiltered pollution stacks are 'best practice' rejected by doctors
Smokescreens instead of filters This story reports part of the evidence of Professor Paul Torzillo and Dr Ray Nassar. Neither of them would accept the RMS CEO Ken Kanofski's assertion that unfiltered pollution stacks are world's 'best practice'.
Professor Torzillo also spoke of broader concerns about air pollution associated with motorways and car-based transport planning:
Greens Cate Faermann moved that a section of Professor Torzillo's evidence be included in the report:
'Wider air quality impacts Professor Paul Torzillo, Head of Respiratory Medicine and Critical Care, Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, gave evidence that his concerns about air quality went beyond ventilation stacks to the impacts on drivers and residents and pedestrians near motorways. He told the Committee:
In cities like Sydney, traffic-related air pollution contributes about a one-third of total air pollution. This matters because there is a lot of international experience of road developments like WestConnex and what they all find is these developments increase vehicle use and they increase the number of cars coming into the city. [FOOTNOTE: Evidence, Professor Paul Torzillo, 11 October 2018, p 74].
Professor Torzillo told the committee that a recent study by the University of New South Wales on the impact of traffic-related air pollution estimated that the cost of air pollution for the healthcare system in Australia is somewhere between $11 billion and $24 billion. He concluded that:
the sorts of public transport facilities and utilities that are being advocated...need to be considered in the context of these really substantial potential savings in the healthcare sector, which across the country are in the order of billions of dollars. [FOOTNOTE: Evidence, Professor Paul Torzillo, 11 October 2018, p 74].'
Disturbingly the rest of the Committee voted against the inclusion of this evidence in the report.
You can read Professor Torzillo's full evidence on pages 74 to 77 of the hearing on October 11, 2018
WestCONnex business case left out significant costs
During the Inquiry, I also reported on the evidence that led to the important finding that a broader range of costs should be included in business cases, which should be made public. This finding relied on the evidence of Professor Glen Searle and SGS Economics and Planning.
It's been obvious for a long time that the Gladys Berejiklian government's claim that the cost of WestConnex is only $16.8 billion is a fiction. How can you make major changes to a project without altering the cost, whether up or down? It's an abstract figure that is fixed for political reasons.
Tick box consultation is not good enough
One of the strongest parts of the report is Chapter 6 ( pp. 111-128) that recounts evidence given by residents and community groups about their experience with WestConnex consultation processes and complaints mechanisms.
This chapter reflects a broader perception in the community that NSW Planning and Environment has allowed community engagement and consultation to be reduced to a sham and 'tick box' exercise. Here's a link to my altmedia report on this aspect of the evidence.
Residents fed up with lack of feedback