Saturday, 11 July 2015

Jodi McKay MP Misleads Stop WestConnex Rally

Jodi McKay MP Misleads Stop WestConnex Rally

by Andrew Chuter


Labor shadow minister for Roads, Jodi McKay MP misled a crowd of several hundred at a stop WestConnex rally in Concord, Sydney, last weekend. This comes after a series of town hall meetings and innovative rallies organised by resident activists along the length of the proposed $15 billion plus, 33km WestConnex tollway.

Despite the LNP retaining power in the March NSW election and proceeding with the project, citizen opposition has grown, and campaigners have intensified their activities. Realising the need to increase awareness further outwards from the inner city, meetings and actions are being held in Kingsgrove, Beverly Hills, Burwood and Concord. This has been helped by the post-election revelations of acquisitions of hundreds of homes and toxic stacks along the lengths of the M4 and M5 east components.

Kathy Calman, resident activist of Beverly Hills, organised a packed meeting at a church hall in Kingsgrove. Residents there heard from Chris Minns, Labor MP for Kogarah, and Jenny Leong, Greens MP for Newtown. Immediately after proceedings, locals queued to sign the petition organised by Leong calling for a halt to construction and a parliamentary inquiry. Minns however wrote an editorial the next day supporting WestConnex and lambasting the Greens.

At Leichhardt Town Hall in June, another packed meeting heard from a panel of speakers, including John Mant, Dr Mehreen Faruqi and Dr Jude Page. Page, a medical doctor, spoke about respiratory illnesses and carcinogenic PM2.5 diesel particulates; Faruqi, a Greens MLC, opposed the entire project, and detailed the gutting of engineering expertise in the NSW public service resulting in bad decisions and cost overruns on infrastructure projects. Mant, who formerly worked for PM Gough Whitlam, drew analogies with Alice in Wonderland and the Emperor’s New Clothes.

The meeting turned sour however when McKay spoke.

McKay raised serious concerns over the toxic stacks and home acquisitions, going so far as to support the parliamentary inquiry, but stopped short of opposing WestConnex. This was in contrast to her colleague Jo Haylen MP, who has gone further and appears to hold a position counter to state Labor policy. A number of anti-freeway activists involved in the Fig St, Ultimo confrontations in the 70's were in the audience and asked McKay why she supported the project in principle.

McKay merely shrugged and failed to answer the question.

The meeting then unanimously passed strong motions of opposition to all of WestConnex.

Similar motions have now been passed at a growing number of public meetings, by resident action groups and now four local councils – City of Sydney, Leichhardt, Marrickville and Ashfield.

An innovative history walk was held a fortnight ago in St Peters, called Jurassic Car Park. Hosted by Reclaim the Streets’ artist/activist/urban visionary Chris Lego, it toured the neighborhood with a mixture of activities including an Elvis impersonator, performance poetry, speeches from resident activist Pauline Lockie and journalist Wendy Bacon, and a treasure hunt for children. RtS events occupy a productive nexus between street fair and protest where many hearts and minds are won over to the stop WestConnex cause, whilst building community.

Then most recently, a rally was held in Concord, where many homes will be lost due to a traffic interchange, and about 2 hectares of open space at Cintra Hockey field cannibalised at the centre point of the M4 east tunnelling. Joining the rally in their first public event was a new group CAW - Cyclists Against WestConnex, organised by myself. Our small group of cyclists rode in a 'critical mass' style convoy starting from Sydney Park to meet the Concord rally.

Cycling to such rallies embodies the alternatives to WestConnex at the same time as participating in protests. We intend to hold more group rides to future WestConnex rallies, hold loop rides on the first Sunday of each month from Sydney Park, and support direct actions. There is safety in numbers so please join in.

At the Concord rally, Dr Michelle Zeibots, traffic expert, told the hundreds present to continue campaigning against the entire WestConnex, and not just settle for modifications. In contrast McKay said that it was going ahead regardless but she would work to get parts moved and the toxic stacks filtered.

Perhaps as a result of sustained social media pressure since McKay’s June failure to justify the ALP’s in-principle support for WestConnex, she claimed that it would reduce traffic on Parramatta Rd. This was known to be untrue by many in the crowd, having read the official Environmental Impact Statement which states that daily vehicles would increase from 44,000 to 59,000. In the end McKay was jeered off the podium with a chant of ‘Jodi McKay! Don’t betray!’

Leong spoke next and was received with cheers when denouncing WestConnex and its proponents in strong terms. She urged the crowd to continue the fight and sign the petition. Local mother Amanda Bull also spoke with great passion and force. 

Speaking to me while milling around, Jo Haylen urged me just to 'fight WestConnex and not bother trying to change the Labor Party - I've been trying for 20 years'. This jaded resignation does little to inspire support and makes one question the force of her opposition to the tollway. Evidence from the successful East-West link campaign in Melbourne indicates that keeping up the pressure on Labor is effective and that indeed Labor can be changed and subsequently win elections.

Other parents from Haberfield Primary School were moved to tears when talking about the effects on their own children and those at The Infant’s Home, in Ashfield. Many in the area already have respiratory illnesses and the 2500 that are treated at The Infant’s Home have complex health and family issues. They will be placed in the shadow of a toxic exhaust stack should the M4 East be built.

Also present at the rally were a number of Councillors from nearby LGA's. Speaking to Greens Clr Pauline Tyrrell of Canada Bay, she was not hopeful that her council would join the other 4 already fully opposed to WestConnex, despite Greens and Labor holding a majority. 'The only effect on Canada Bay is the loss of Cintra Hockey field', she claimed while neglecting to mention the $3000 share every man, woman and child in NSW would have to pay to build the tollway through taxes or tolls. Stronger resident pressure on councils will be needed to bring more of them to full opposition.

After the Concord rally, Jodi McKay stated the she had previously read the EIS, which contradicted her earlier statement. Despite calls to apologise or acknowledge this error, she has thus far failed to do so.

Addendum: Another ALP parliamentarian readers may wish to pressure is Penny Sharpe. Please sign this petition here: