Inner West Independent

Community engagement – are we feeling the love?

Community engagement by WestConnex is not connecting. Photo: Supplied

by Peter Hehir

The Government’s approach when trying to flog a real dog of a project like WestConnex is to conduct what they euphemistically call ‘Community Information sessions’, where the community can have their questions answered and also tell the Government what they think of what’s being proposed.
On the surface this appears to be a reasonable approach.
Of course, things are seldom what they seem.
Those interfacing with the public are usually PR people, with little or no technical expertise, specifically engaged to deflect, diffuse and dumb down the deleterious aspects of whatever dish is being served up.
The usual response to incisive questions from informed people are one of two: “I’m sorry but that is beyond my pay grade” or “we can’t answer that because the project hasn’t been designed yet”.
The reason for this divide and conquer approach is to ensure that the public at large is kept in the dark and fed the proverbial.
The very last thing the Government wants is to have a few hundred people get to hear those who know we are being shafted, ask really pointed questions.
Questions that the proponents either couldn’t or wouldn’t answer.
A case in point is what happened at the Balmain Town Hall in December of 2016.
A meeting initiated by RAW (Rozelle Against WestConnex) had invited a panel of speakers for and against WestConnex Stage 3.
Dr Michelle Zeibots, a qualified transport planner from UTS – who was more than capable of showing exactly why WestConnex couldn’t possibly work and Dr Sujata Allan who intended to speak about the health impacts of unfiltered tunnels and stacks, were invited to deliver the criticism of Stage 3.
Peter Jones, SMC’s project manager who was tasked with dragging Stage 3 over the line, along with whoever he chose to bring with him, was to argue the ‘merits’ of the project.
A curious thing happened in the hour leading up to the well-publicised meeting.
Mr Jones advised the organisers that if Dr Zeibots and Dr Allan took their allocated places at the front table and the debate proceeded as planned, then he’d refuse to participate and he’d pack up his marbles and go home!
With people streaming into the packed hall the organisers were faced with a walk out from the main protagonist, unless we relented and gave him the floor without opposition. Democracy in action?
So much for community engagement…
What did he have to hide?
In a fair and balanced debate Dr Zeibots would have wiped the floor with him.
And he knew it.
They learned their lesson at the first genuine public discussion at the Enmore Theatre.
The packed auditorium sent them off with their tails between their legs.
Now that was democracy in action!
People who were there to get the facts were appalled and many became opponents overnight.
The Government knows that the residents of the Inner West understand WestConnex is a real dog of a project.
It only satisfies the big dollar contributors to both of the major parties, benefiting multinationals like Trans Urban, CIMIC and AECOM.
Just how many pollies, once they’ve delivered the goods, end up with sinecures with these big companies?
Too many to count.
Utilising mainstream media, the Libs attempted to portray the Inner West as self-absorbed NIMBYS and unsuccessfully tried to pit the outer Western Suburbs against the ‘trendies’ who lived close to the city.
One self-described ‘rich white’ journalist from the Daily Telegraph wrote that there were no tradespeople or pensioners living in the Inner West, because they couldn’t afford to!
She whinged that in order to have her nails done, her Vietnamese manicurist had to travel in from the foot of the Blue Mountains!
The West is awake though.
They know that the tolls are a real killer.
The savings in time – an illusion.
The toxicity of the tunnels – an even bigger killer.
Rat running here will be a reality, the air will become super toxic, with over 50 tonnes of imported carcinogens from diesel engines belched out annually in Rozelle from the four unfiltered stacks.
So what about the environmental impact?
Has it been considered?
How in the hell can the Government determine the environmental impact of the biggest project in the southern hemisphere before the project has been designed?
I had a face to face with a heavy from the SMC outside their big lunch venue in April.
When I tried to give him a copy of Bottleneck! he asked what all the fuss was about.
So, I gave him an example.
Imagine when the two outbound traffic lanes from the Iron Cove Tunnel were added to the existing three lanes on Victoria Road; trying to squeeze these five lanes into two on the Iron Cove Bridge was a blueprint for total traffic chaos… Surely?
His weasel words were unbelievable.
He said that I was wrong – because Stage 3 hadn’t been designed yet!
So, the entire EIS was just nothing more than a pointless and cynical exercise in – you guessed it – ‘Community Engagement’!
Feel the love?

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