BY MICHAEL FORNO
The WestConnex project is facing fresh criticism after the Australian National Audit Office released a report earlier this week criticising the Federal Government for its funding of the WestConnex project.
It found that WestConnex is the first road project in Australia to receive a concessional loan from the Federal Government. It also found from 2012 the Coalition opposition pledged $1.5bn to the project, and the Labor government pledged $25m before the NSW Government had released a business case for the project.
The audit was called for by The Greens who have been vocal since the release of the findings.
Jenny Leong, NSW Greens spokesperson on WestConnex, says the audit is damning for both the Coalition and the Labor Party.
“It points the finger at both the Liberal Coalition and Labor, because they were pushing the WestConnex project well before even an initial business case was presented to the appropriate government departments.
“The cost of WestConnex has now blown out considerably. This is what happens when politicians make up policy during an election cycle and flaunt proper process,” Ms Leong said.
Community groups have also welcomed the audit as further evidence of WestConnex’s failings.
Pauline Lockie, spokesperson for the WestConnex Action Group, believes this is one of many problems raised about the project.
“This is far from the first red flag for WestConnex. We’ve already seen the NSW Auditor General report from a couple of years ago cast serious doubt over the preliminary business case. We’re seeing constant safety breaches. We’re seeing people whose homes are being compulsorily acquired being terribly treated and being ripped off.
“And now we have a federal audit that is really damning about the way money was allocated to this project by the Abbott and Turnbull Governments, and even the previous Labor Government,” Ms Lockie said.
Safety and compliance issues have also been raised this week as mounting community pressure forced the Inner West Council to take action to secure more compliance officers to oversee the project.
“We’re seeing constant safety breaches. We’re seeing people whose homes are being compulsorily acquired being terribly treated and being ripped off,” Ms Lockie said.
Complaints about works include construction noise at night time, concerns about asbestos handling and unannounced road closures.
Richard Pearson, the Inner West Council Administrator, has called on the State Government for assistance in employing extra compliance officers.
“We are asking the State Government to not only give us more resources, but also allow our own Council officers to assist in monitoring and enforcing compliance.
“While our existing compliance officer is doing a very good job under difficult circumstances, he will certainly need help as the WestConnex project ramps up,” Mr Pearson said.
However community groups are still concerned that compliance officers haven’t enough authority or resources to follow up every breach of safety and compliance.
Paul Jeffrey, the No WestConnex group’s compliance specialist, has a lifetime of experience heavy industry. He’s shocked by the state of compliance on the WestConnex project.
“Compliance has been an ongoing issue with WestConnex ever since construction began and it isn’t really the Council’s job to supply compliance officers for a private construction operation.
“We have a massive amount of construction across the inner west area with only one compliance officer. There simply aren’t enough people on the ground looking at these sites,” Mr Jeffrey said.
There are also concerns with the speed at which compliance breaches are dealt with.
“We would also like to see their powers increased so that we don’t see repeat offences. We report breaches that we see and are told by SafeWork NSW not to report that same issue twice within a short period of time.” Mr Jeffrey said.
Despite expert and community concerns WestConnex works are expected to ramp up over the coming months.