Protesters out the front of NSW parliament house

Thousands have descended upon NSW state parliament to protest against a myriad of political hot topics including the Westconnex project and recently abolished councils across the state, during the afternoon of May 29.

After first congregating at Town Hall in Sydney’s CBD to hear from speakers including Greens MP David Shoebridge, who spoke on new civil liberty laws; and Keep Sydney Open founder, Tyson Koh who addressed the impact of the Mike Baird government’s lock-out laws; the rally marched from George Street to NSW parliament house.

Speaking in front of the vocal and responsive crowd at Town Hall, former Leichhardt Mayor and subject of Mike Baird’s local council axings, Darcy Byrne spoke on the recent local council amalgamations and corruption among newly appointed leaders.

“We are all here today, because premier Mike Baird is completely out of control and it’s time to send him a message, take a stand and say that we will resist his rule,” said Byrne. “On May 12th, in the most undemocratic, authoritarian action seen by a leader in this state in living memory, Mike Baird with the stroke of a pen got rid of 42 mayors, and every elected councilor in the local governments that they represent.”

There’s “more to come” warned Byrne with the incumbent Liberal government ‘putting the noose around the neck’ of another 23 mayors ‘who they hope to extinguish within the next couple of weeks.’

“In fact the only places where elected representatives have remained is of course those in Liberal marginal electorates that Malcom Turnbull is worried about losing at the election – and he should be worried and we all know why,” said Byrne. “Because casino Mike has given up governing for the people of this state he’s now just ruling for his party and his mates.”

NSW parliament house

Local St Peters resident and spokesperson for the WestConnex Action Group, Pauline Lockie, addressed the growing opposition to the Westconnex project across Sydney communities. Lockie arrived from overseas last year to the news that her house in St Peters, the first home she has owned, had been compulsorily acquired and knocked down to make way for Westconnex. Subsequently, she has worked as an activist and spokesperson to media on the resistance to the Westconnex in conjunction with organising protests.

“If Westconnex is built it will destroy endangered species thousands of old growth trees and parks, and hundreds of homes and businesses from Parramatta to Haberfield, Rozelle, Camperdown, St Peters and down to Beverly Hills in Sydney’s south west,” said Lockie.

“It will expose tens of thousands of men women and children to increased pollution from the unfiltered stacks that will be built across the route as well as the huge feeder roads that will be needed to pump cars into the tunnels.”

A protester’s poetic protest

Lockie said the $16.8 billion project came with a price tag that equated to half a billion dollars for every kilometer. “For the enormous price we are getting a toll way that mainly just duplicates failed roads that we’ve already got like the M4, M5 East, Parramatta Road and the city Westlink.

“Of course all of those roads were once supposed to be the solutions to other congested roads in our city – all they have done is make traffic worse.”

Tracing back to the origins of the Westconnex proposals in 2012, Lockie said the project was first put on the table by Nick Greiner because the toll road industry was in crisis. “Tollways such as the Cross City and Lane Cove tunnel have [since] gone either spectacularly bust or they were well on their way.”

Protesters closing down George Street in Sydney’s CBD

Companies involved with the construction of the aforementioned toll roads, including property company Leighton are ‘now being sued for providing misleading and inflated traffic forecasts on those roads.’

“Companies like Macquarie Bank were also involved in failed tollways yet in 2013 when the NSW government started planning Westconnex, it invited those companies among others to sit down at a table with them and help them plan and justify Westconnex,” said Lockie.

“Leighton has landed million dollar contracts all over the Westconnex including unbelievably the kind of traffic modelling it’s now being sued for elsewhere. Macquarie bank holds the financing contract until 2070 and these are just a few of the hundreds of contracts that have been awarded for Westconnex – most of which have been awarded before any planning approvals were granted.”

“If the Baird government gets away with doing this, it will become the way everything is done in NSW with no transparency, no accountability, no consultation and no benefit for anyone except the big companies that are pocketing billions of dollars of our money,” said Lockie.

Listen to former Leichardt Mayor, Darcy Byrne speak at the rally:

Frank Haines has been a lifelong resident of Sydney’s inner west, growing up in Sydenham and living in Stanmore for decades. Haines said the thousands in attendance demonstrated the discontent of Sydney’s communities, in opposition to the removal of elected councils and Westconnex project.

“It’s quite a remarkable situation we have here, where it feels like our civil liberties and democratic rights have been completely disregarded by those meant to be governing us,” said Haines.

“Clearly people are unhappy and there’s a lot of different communities here protesting – it’s not just one suburb we are talking about here.”