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WestConnex: From Baird to worse
As Australians, we enjoy hard-won freedoms. Every year on Anzac Day we’re reminded of the Australians who fought and died so that we might have a voice, a vote, and be able to live in peace without worry that our liberty, our property or our homes might be taken from us by force.
For many of us, this just changed.
I’ll explain how, but first a little backstory. The last few months have been busy for Mike Baird. In March this year, Baird announced tough new laws banning the right to protest development, with fines of up to $5,500, as well as warrantless searches and seizures.
Later that month, in a move blasted by civil rights groups, Baird announced a set of draconian new laws to be put into place that will allow anyone to be locked up for 14 days without charge, including children as young as 15. That’s anyone, plucked off the street with no charge and held captive for 14 days.
While a clear violation of civil liberties, it seemed like nothing more than a directionless power grab. But why now? What could be coming up that would require such a comprehensive plan to squash protesters and detain without charge?
$16.8 billion dollars.
That’s the price tag of Australia’s largest ever transportation development, WestConnex. Foreign investors and contractors all have their hands out ready for a slice of the pie, but what has former investment banker and current NSW Premier Mike Baird got to do with this?
First, let’s first take a look at WestConnex.
This proposed private NSW transportation project would see highways and tunnels carved, in three stages, through Parramatta, the Inner West and out through the Georges River and surrounds. A development like any other, you might think.
Here’s where it gets interesting. This week, with the pressure to cancel WestConnex rising, Baird unexpectedly announced that 43 councils in Sydney were to be dismantled. Elected officials out and administrators in. That’s 43 elected councils, 43 mayors who were thrown on the street.
Surely this is just a merger? Won’t we elect a new council?
Not quite. The mergers have taken place at a crucial time in the WestConnex approval process. Many councils have blocked approval due to concerns from their constituents. Those councils have been removed and there is no opportunity for a challenge to these councils until elections in September.
In areas such as Parramatta and surrounds, there are a combination of Labor, Liberal and Independent mayors and councillors. These councillors were all fired and a Liberal Party “administrator” was installed. In Parramatta for example, the Liberal Party’s Amanda Chadwick has this week taken over the role, providing an uncontested path through much of WestConnex Stage 1.
Mike Baird has this morning sacked me as the Mayor of Leichhardt and abolished Leichhardt Council…stand with us and fight against Baird and his dictator. — Darcy Byrne, Mayor of Leichhardt
In areas like the Inner West, it gets even more interesting. Labor mayor of Marrickville, Sam Iskandar, was one of the most vocal critics of WestConnex. This week he was unceremoniously removed from office and in his place, Baird installed Westconnex’ own, Richard Pearson – a high-level member of the Department of Planning in charge of the development. It probably doesn’t need to be mentioned that opposition to Stage 3 will be silenced, allowing this proposal to pass as if by dictatorial decree.
Let me repeat this. The elected mayor of Marrickville was removed after blocking WestConnex and replaced with an unelected, high-level WestConnex official.
The rot doesn’t stop there. When you take the WestConnex Maps, and you overlay them with the new council zoning maps, something striking happens.
The new zonings for all three stages have been set up to border the proposed WestConnex routes accurately. The maps line up. Relevant zones are now controlled directly by Baird’s own council dictators with the exception of court contested regions.
So what happens next?
People are already being forcibly evicted from their homes and businesses and the first properties bulldozed. It was revealed this week that properties all along the WestConnex route were secretly undervalued, with a $100,000 report being hidden from the public. The valuation of this land theft is in the millions, with many people being left drastically out of pocket.
This leaves many questions for the future. Can the people protest? Will the protest laws be used against them? Can the people plan demonstrations? Are protesters at risk of being searched without a warrant, or detained for 14 days without charge? Will people be detained for periods long enough to pass laws crucial to pushing WestConnex past a public that doesn’t want it?
Can the people even contact their elected councillors? Not until they actually get elected councillors in September 2017, by which time it will be too late.
With 43 ousted mayors, hundreds of undermined councillors and millions of citizens denied representation on the local level, you can be certain that this isn’t a story that’s going to conveniently fade into the background anytime soon. The curtains are open and with a little digging hopefully every speck of the rot and corruption that is the Baird Government will come to light.
Australians have fought and died for the kind of freedoms that are being dismantled by Baird as we speak. I can’t imagine we’re going to sit back while those freedoms are traded for foreign profits.
There is, of course, a protest at Town Hall, Sunday 29th May at 1:30pm.