BY WENDY BACON
Early on Tuesday morning, four women occupied a home in Ashfield, one of several properties in tree-lined Chandos Street slated for demolition to make way for the $16.8 million WestConnex tollway.
They sat around a table on the on lawn in front of the heritage listed house while Stop WestConnex campaigners chanted and held signs drawing attention to WestConnex tolls on nearby Parramatta Road.
Police arrived and gave the women an order to leave the property. They refused and were arrested and spent four hours in cells at Burwood police station before being charged with trespass and released on bail.
Women against WestConnex spokesperson Adrienne Shilling said she felt compelled to take direct action when she saw that solid homes that had “provided shelter to families for generations were being wantonly destroyed to make way for a filthy polluting highway that would not solve Sydney’s traffic congestion.”
Shilling and the other women said that they wanted to draw attention to the disproportionate burden placed on women by a lack of public transport. “$16.8 billion would go an incredibly long way towards public transport infrastructure in Sydney, and would service millions more than this toll road ever will,” Ms Shilling said shortly before the chair on which she was sitting was carted across to a waiting paddy wagon.
The occupation is one in a series of protests held in houses in the Haberfield/Ashfield area where houses are being destroyed to make way for giant construction sites. Four other residents will attend Burwood local court this coming Thursday to face trespass charges for a similar protest.
The women were supported by Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon, Greens candidate for Grayndler Jim Casey and Greens candidate for Sydney Sylvie Ellsmore.
Greens NSW Senator Lee Rhiannon said, “Today Mike Baird will sell the state budget as an infrastructure triumph, but by committing $2.9 billion to WestConnex he is backing a dud project.
“In four years the project costs have blown out from $10 billion to $16.8 billion. No private company is willing to bear the burden of such an absurd project, and so the public are being forced to foot the scandalously high bill. “
“Labor’s hands are not tied – they simply lack the courage to call out failed transport planning, funding and construction when they see it. “
“The truth is that $2.3 billion in federal money is due to be paid after the election, and the government of the day could suspend that payment.”
Last year Senator Rhiannon began pushing the Australian National Audit Office to audit Westconnex to investigate as to whether Federal grants and loans had been subject to proper scrutiny.
Labor joined the call earlier this year and an audit was announced which will be completed early in 2017.
The Greens have called for all grant and loan payments to be suspended until that audit is complete. But Labor has said that it still supports WestConnex and although it will not supply further funding, it will not halt the payments.
Greens candidate for Grayndler Jim Casey said, “The community campaign against WestConnex is growing from strength to strength and Labor is getting left behind with the NSW Liberal Government.”
“With Labor continuing to support WestConnex, the Greens are the only parliamentary party who will fight this disastrous toll-road.”
“There is still $2.26 billion of federal money yet to be given to the NSW Government for this disastrous project. If elected I will fight to make sure that money stays in Canberra.”
The women’s protest followed a packed meeting called by residents’ groups in Glebe concerned about further Stage 3 Westconnex developments that will cause destruction and traffic congestion in Rozelle, Lilyfield, Glebe and Camperdown, including at Royal Prince Hospital and the University of Sydney.
City of Sydney Mayor Clover Moore told the meeting said she had written to both the Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten pointing out that WestConnex was a disastrous project for Sydney and the opposite to what should be happening in the 21st Century.
She called on Premier Baird to halt all work on the project until the audit was complete.
Ms Moore said that “in the future our children are going to say, how could you let it happen? We should do everything we can to stop it happening because it is not good for the Western Suburbs and it is disastrous for the city.”
Greens MP Jamie Parker, who chaired the meeting, urged residents to attend a preelection Westconnex protest picnic and rally to be held in Easton Park in Rozelle this Sunday, June 26.
Wendy Bacon is the former Professor of Journalism at UTS and Greens supporter.
She attended the meeting at Glebe Town Hall. Her speech can be read here.