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BY WENDY BACON

Stop Westconnex campaigners have successfully established a protest camp in Sydney Park despite police dragging campers from their tents in the middle of Monday night.

The protest camp was set up after Sydney Motorway Corporation (SMC), which is responsible for building the 34 kilometre Westconnex tollway, published a notification on its website that it was about to start preliminary work, including the removal of trees, on the eastern side of the park along Euston Road, Alexandria.

Westconnex would widen Euston road which currently carries 7000 cars a day into a major highway that would deliver more than 60,000 extra cars a day onto local roads. Slices of the park and thousands of mature paperbark and other trees would be removed if the current proposed work is allowed to continue.

SMC posted the notification without preparing a tree report required before it can destroy or damage any tree. Hundreds of protesters, Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore, Greens Westconnex spokesperson Jenny Leong and Greens Environment spokesperson Mehreen Faruqi joined a rally which established the camp on Monday morning.

“The police had assured us numerous times that we were camping lawfully on public land, therefore they wouldn’t be taking any action to remove us from the site,” said WestCONnex Action Group spokesperson Colin Hesse. City Hub was present when a senior officer assured campaigners that the camp was lawful and they had a ‘right to protest’.

Nevertheless around 3am, WestCONnex contractors working for SMC started erecting a metal fence around the camp. Hesse said he and other campers were shocked when “around seven heavily armed police moved in at 3am to drag five residents from our campsite.”

“When we refused to leave the camp, citing the clear agreement we’d made with the police earlier that day, we were ignored.

“Yet again, WestCONnex contractors built their fencing around residents and called police over to clear us from the ‘enclosed lands’ on behalf of the private SMC.

“Then police moved in to physically drag us from our campsite in what appeared to be a very planned and well-coordinated action,” said Mr Hesse.

“The police can’t do their jobs if the community they serve doesn’t trust them,” said Mr Hesse.

“It’s incredibly disturbing to see our local police throw away that trust to help a private company build Premier Baird’s deeply unpopular WestCONnex tollway.

“Residents will continue to occupy Sydney Park to protect it from WestCONnex’s destruction for as long as ‘Bulldozer Baird’ tries to push this sham project through,” said Mr Hesse.

Another camp has been established next to the original site which is now surrounded by a metal fence. Up until Wednesday morning, the ‘cage’ is occupied by two security guards. No other work has begun.

Greens MP Jenny Leong has written to the NSW police complaining about the action  “ This is how a government and private contractors behave when they are not serving the interests of the community – using police to shut down peaceful protests and doing work in the cover of darkness to avoid scrutiny. But our community is not giving up – they have set up another camp and are staying put.”

On Tuesday, the NSW Environmental Defender’s Office, acting on behalf of the Westconnex Action Group, wrote to the NSW Planning Department pointing out that no tree report required for tree destruction had been published on the Westconnex site.

The NSW Planning Department responded that it has not approved a tree report and therefore “no clearing will be able to occur in relation to the trees along Euston Road until this condition is complied with.” SMC has agreed that a report must be done. Protesters at the camp have now said they will monitor all Westconnex activity in the area.

Lord Mayor Clover Moore has given the community her full backing in its fight to stop Westconnex. She told the Monday rally, “We do not want 6 lane highways taking 60,000 cars into our congested city. …..We do not want this traffic delivered into our city. We do not want Sydney Park impacted and destroyed. This is the major regional park for this area. Sydney park has just had $23 million spent on it. It’s a beautiful regional park providing for the necessary recreational needs of a growing population. Westconnex is having billions of Australian dollars spent on it, public money. Its the very worst project at a time of accelerating global warming. Its the very worst project at a time of increasing congestion in our city. We will do everything at the City of Sydney to oppose this project.”

She called for the resignation of NSW Roads Minister Duncan Gay.

Wendy Bacon is a supporter of the community campaign to stop Westconnex.