In the golden age of the car, roads brought people together. They connected communities, stringing together suburbs and cities forming a vital means of travel and communication across the State. Despite what this Government would like to believe, the golden age of the car is behind us. It is time to look forward to a new age, an age of public and active transport solutions that keep people moving but without harming our environment, without harming our health and without destroying our heritage suburbs. Under this Government, roads like WestConnex are no longer about connecting people. Instead, they divide and destroy the communities that lie in their path. To build the WestConnex M4 East tunnel, the Government wants to compulsorily acquire more than 180 homes and businesses—many more than were previously disclosed.
To date, the acquisition process has been plagued by years of indecision and confusion. Some residents were told that their homes would be acquired, then told that they would not be, and then told again that they would be. Now we know that swathes of heritage houses across the inner west will be levelled, as they are in the path of the entry and exit portals to the tunnel. No matter how many homes this Government acquires, the impact for affected home owners will be the same. People have spent years—in some instances decades—in their homes, raising families and dreaming of the future. That future will be eliminated because WestConnex representatives have knocked on their doors or perhaps just left cards on their doorsteps.
I recently met a gentleman who has put his life into his home in Haberfield. He has renovated the home perfectly, according to strict heritage standards because Haberfield is one of the oldest garden suburbs. He is worried not only about what will happen to his family and his community but that there will be a motorway at his back door and a smokestack on the other side of his back fence. Many of his neighbours have lived in Haberfield for more than 50 years, raising their children and making a new life after migrating from Italy. Their walls are covered in photos of children and grandchildren playing in their Wattle Street backyard and celebrating Christmas in the house they worked hard to make a home.
Some Walker Avenue residents who recently had received approvals from local council to start renovations and who dreamt of working hard and building on their recent investment in one of Sydney's most sought-after suburbs found themselves at a dead end with a proposed acquisition notice and no security or assurance of what might happen next. Those homes are not just bricks and mortar, they are a manifestation of people's hopes and optimism for the future, which they have spent time, money and energy building. Together those households are not just a neighbourhood. They make up the beautiful, connected communities of Ashfield and Haberfield that I am so proud to represent. They are diverse, accepting and harmonious suburbs and the residents value the heritage area that they have chosen to live in.
This Government needs to know that what it is taking away matters not just to the affected residents but to the whole community. People in my electorate understand that infrastructure is important and that homes sometimes have to be acquired, but to tear down people's hopes and optimism for a toll road is a great insult. This Government is arrogantly pushing ahead with WestConnex in the face of local opposition. It has signed contracts and is pushing ahead with acquiring homes before releasing the business case. The Government has shown its lack of respect by not releasing the environmental impact statement before compulsorily acquiring homes. Locals do not want this road. Their opposition does not amount to "nimbyism from the chattering classes", as Minister Gay so derisively dismisses them.
Residents have significant questions about the health risks caused by unfiltered exhaust stacks; noise from the tunnels; noise from the roads adding to the noise they suffer daily from above; and the traffic that is set to pour onto local streets, particularly during the long construction phase. As residents question what this project means in the wider sense, how can the Government be so arrogant and short-sighted and continue with its roads-at-all-cost attitude? The residents of Haberfield and Ashfield know the cost. In addition to the loss of homes, exhaust stacks will be built less than 500 metres from where their children learn and play. I say to the people of Haberfield and Ashfield that there is still reason for hope and optimism. Our community is stronger than this Government and it will take more than a road to divide us.