Candidates for the seat of Sydney at the federal election fielded questions about Westconnex, council mergers, affordable housing and indigenous affairs at a meeting arranged by the Glebe Society at the Glebe Town Hall on Saturday 25 June. Seven of the ten candidates for the seat attended, including Tanya Plibersek of the ALP, Sylvie Ellsmore of the Greens and Peter Boyle of the Socialist Alliance.
Other candidates at the meeting were Mark Berriman of the Animal Justice Party; Kris Spike of Sustainable Australia; Tom Geiser of the Science Party; and Tula Tzoras of the Online Direct Democracy Party. Ula Falanga of the Christian Democratic Party did not reply to the request for her participation, and Rebecca Lanning of the Australian Sex Party had a prior commitment. The Liberal Party candidate, Geoffrey Winters, also sent a message that he had a prior engagement.
Former President of the Glebe Society, John Gray, criticised the Liberal candidate for his failure to participate, saying it was an insult to voters.
Asked whether she was for or against WestConnex, Ms Plibersek said that if Labor won government it could not withdraw funding for the project. She said the governance of WestConnex rested entirely with the NSW government and it was inexcusable that the government had rejected the concerns of residents, businesses and transport experts. She described the project as a road planning disaster and said the Baird Government’s lack of public transparency had prevented an informed public debate. Facing tough questions from the audience of more than a hundred locals, Ms Plibersek was urged to encourage the state Labor Party to forcefully oppose the project.
Sylvie Ellsmore said the Greens are the only party committed to working through the Parliament to stop WestConnex and their vote will be decisive. She said the $17 billion dollar project is only at test drilling stage and its finances are far from secure. A Greens representative would mean a stronger voice standing up for residents – ensuring the voices of the Sydney electorate are prioritised and voted on at the national level.
Peter Boyle of the Socialist Alliance criticised the state government’s ‘strategic business case’ for WestConnex and said there was still no completed design for the main justification for the entire project – its links to Sydney Airport and Port Botany. He said any social benefit that might be expected when the tollways open – a predicted travel saving time of six minutes – would come at enormous social costs: additional people affected by noise and pollution, homes lost and the loss of provision of efficient public transport.
Questioned whether the plebiscite on forced local council mergers promised by Bill Shorten would result in any action by the Federal Government, Ms Plibersek said that the poll would have persuasive power on the State Government. She pointed out that John Howard had called for a similar plebiscite following the forced merger of local councils in Queensland in 2007.