Some of the 600 who went on the Lantern Walk. Photo: Bernard Weber

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By Peter Hehir 

Hundreds of Sydneysiders stepped out on a balmy winter’s evening to attend the Fix NSW Transport rally last Saturday outside the Sydney Town Hall to hear speakers from 32 resident, union and activist groups bemoan the parlous state of public transport here in NSW. 

Clover Moore highlighted the absurdity of WestConnex – which proudly encourages tens of thousands more vehicles to enter the CBD, when the City of Sydney’s policy is to discourage the use of private vehicles and to expand public transport patronage. She impressed upon the 600 hundred or so people gathered beside the Town Hall the horrendous cost of WestConnex, touted to be $16.8 billion but in reality much more like the figure independently arrived at by SGS Economics at $45 billion! 

We heard 13 year old Nicholas Naumov speak oh so eloquently about the real cost. A cost that will be borne by his and subsequent generations. The hidden cost to the health of communities in Haberfield, Rozelle and St Peters with hundreds of tonnes of unfiltered, carcinogenic, diesel particulate matter imported into and disgorged over these suburbs.  

This is the poisonous legacy that Berejiklian’s Government will leave to the generations that follow. And young Nicholas was all too well aware of it. 

None of this appears in the WestConnex business case and is glossed over in the Department of Planning and Environment’s approval, which was released in total silence and only acknowledged 10 days later when it was leaked to the press. 

MC John Lozano urged those attending to lodge a submission to the Parliamentary Inquiry into WestConnex reminding us that submissions closed on the 31st August.   

Alex Claassens from the Rail Tram and Bus Union was unable to explain ‘the rationale behind this Government’s sustained attack on the Sydney rail and bus network’. He intimated that Transport Minister Andrew Constance had apparently ‘set the Sydney rail network up to fail.’  

How ‘train drivers and guards were forced to work overtime in an attempt to make the new timetable work. A timetable that couldn’t be implemented because there simply weren’t enough staff to come anywhere near achieving it’.  

An absurd target ‘that was pushed onto the Union without any consultation and that the Government knew couldn’t be realised’. Why? Simple. Just so the Union could be identified as the problem. Yet further argument for the Liberal’s universal cure all:  Privatisation. Get rid of any and all coherent and cogent opposition. So the Unions have got to go. 

The introduction of the single deck Metro is a further thinly disguised attempt to white ant the rail network. No drivers, no guards – just a train with few carriages and even fewer seats. The elderly and the disabled expected to stand, with capacity based on the allocation of four standing passengers per square metre, forcing many back into their cars.  

Thanks Andrew. Nice one Glad. The only time we ever see them on a train is for a photo op. 

The Inner West has lost its bus service to privatisation to the detriment of the community. Bus stops have been removed, buses are no longer keeping to their timetables. The service is a shambles. Alex informed us that one bus was put back into service recently with duct tape holding a damaged panel in place. Standards in relation to service continue to fall. 

Bronwyn Batten from the Illawarra spoke about how disabled access was continually pushed to the bottom of the priority list for stations such as Unanderra on the Illawarra line.   

The NSW Leader of the Opposition was invited but was again conspicuous by his absence. It’s rumoured because he is so seldom seen, that he is actually a phantom – a ghost in search of a shadow. 

At least a dozen ALP high flyers were invited but just two councillors bothered, one from the City of Sydney and the other from Waverley.  While the ALP in the Inner West professes to be opposed to WestConnex, clearly their lack of action speaks volumes. 

There were representatives from 11 Sydney Local Councils and 3 MP’s, all strident in their opposition to the latest batch of toll roads.  

Hawkesbury Council has voted for a Royal Commission into the state of transport planning in the greater Sydney region, echoing the call made by RAW in Bottleneck!, a 20 page newspaper distributed free to Inner West residents, about 10 months ago. 

Mary Court from Penrith Valley Community Unions sent a clear message to Berejiklian to dump the M4 tolls ‘or we’ll dump you’. She also suggested that ‘interstate high speed rail should be prioritised ahead of another airport’. 

The speeches were followed by a rollicking 45 minute lantern walk through the CBD led by Riff Raff the Radical Marching Band. The mood was upbeat with families and kids and scores of homemade lanterns lighting the way, assembled by residents in free community workshops across the region, funded by the City of Sydney. 

It was obvious that Glad the Impaler’s Government was being targeted. The message was unequivocal. Loud and clear. Lift your game or else…