Inner West Independent

A child shall lead them

Jean Hinchliffe and Daisy Jeffrey. Photo: Andrew Chuter

By Peter Hehir

ALP flyers in Summer Hill and Balmain are attempting to allay the fears of residents concerned about the Western Harbour Tunnel (WHT).

A recent City Hub article outlined a scenario whereby at some point after the election Labor would do a back flip on their election promise to oppose the WHT.

Well it appears we didn’t have to wait that long.

According to an article in yesterday’s Sydney Morning Herald the ALP aren’t firmly committing to stopping the WHT, they are just deferring it.

Seeking clarification, I spoke with Matt Wade, one of two SMH journalists who wrote the piece. Matt said that the word that was used by the ALP spokesperson was “reprioritised”. He referred me to the contact in Daley’s office to confirm Labor’s current position on this contentious project.

The spokesperson there – who asked not to be named, said “We have no plans to build this project, nor to fund it. And that includes spending any money to plan the project”.

So… no plans. Does that really mean it’s totally out of the question as far as Labor is concerned, as McKay says? Or does reprioritised, mean that it’s proceeding but just delayed? Is it perhaps quietly smouldering away on the back burner?

NSW Labor Deputy Leader Penny Sharpe didn’t shed any light.

At the Fix NSW march in Hyde Park on Sunday she said that over $70 billion worth of public assets had been privatised under the current government, but she studiously avoided any mention of WestConnex.

This didn’t sit well with the large crowd, all of whom were united in their support for public transport and hostile to tolled motorways and so she copped a few brickbats for her pains.

At one point almost 1,000 people had gathered to listen to the speakers, many on the gentle grassy slope in front of the stage, scores of others sheltering from the sun under the trees.

Uncle Raymond performed the smoking ceremony and the acknowledgement of country, speaking with passion and eloquence about the plight of aboriginal people. He said “While the fish kills were making international headlines, what wasn’t being reported was that aboriginal communities along the river were suffering a water crisis”.

Bruce Shillingworths, an aboriginal man from Brewarrina pulled no punches. He criticised a system that allowed water to be stolen from the river. “The river is our survival. The fish traps in Brewarrina are sacred sites. Aboriginal communities are suffering from lack of water and are forced to drink bore water, which is not fit for human consumption”.

“Stop the greed” he said time and again. “Stop the greed”.

Greens MP Mehreen Faruqi was due to speak but had been delayed in Pakistan, so Jenny Leong was deputised. She really let fly making it abundantly clear that the ALP supports WestConnex. In relation to the Liberals she said “Stand as one and kick these bastards out”.

Jess Miller, a Councillor from the City of Sydney wrapped up the speeches by suggesting that the Berejiklian government was guilty of many things, but their major crime was a “complete lack of imagination – that they were totally out of touch”.

She suggested that most governments manage to alienate some sections of society but somehow “the Libs had managed to piss everyone off!”

However the warmest reception was reserved for two 14 year old girls, Jean Hinchliffe and Daisy Jeffrey from Student Strike 4 Climate, who addressed the crowd about the pressing need for immediate action on climate change.

They spoke in tandem with a clarity of vision, a perception and a wisdom that belied their youth. Many of those attending were left with the impression that these two could wipe the floor with the best that the Lib and ALP proponents could put up in defence of their tollroads.

They both articulated the absurdity of WestConnex and the 18% of total emissions attributed to transport. They stated that “100% renewable energy by 2050 isn’t good enough, that public transport is the answer”.

Jean said “It is beyond irresponsible for a politician to not take immediate and drastic action surrounding the climate crisis and investing in more roads and highways over public transport is very much included. […] It’s a problem with our politicians not making public transport more accessible and preferable to the average person.”

Jean and Daisy are speaking for the next generation, the community who will inherit tomorrow. And they are well aware of the responsibility that we all have to hand them a future that is liveable, with air that isn’t poisoned, food that is uncontaminated and water that is fit to drink.

They can’t vote – but you can. So please, use it wisely.