I thank the thousands of New South Wales residents who have brought this important petition to the Parliament, and particularly the many parents and carers from schools across Sydney's lower North Shore who are very worried about the impacts of this project.
This petition sends, yet again, a clear message to the Government that the people of New South Wales are fed up with its addiction to polluting toll roads. The Western Harbour Tunnel and Beaches Link is just the latest arm in the tangle of toll roads built by this Government under the WestConnex banner.
In fact, under those opposite Sydney has become the most tolled city in the world.
No wonder the Premier called it "toll mania".
By 2023, Sydney will have 12 toll roads and it will be almost impossible for motorists to avoid them. Some tolls are rising by more than three times the rate of inflation. Our kids and their kids will be paying exorbitant amounts to use these roads.
Those who have signed this petition know that the decades of tolls are not the only costs built into these roads.
They fear for their homes, for the health of their children who are forced to live and learn under the pollution of exhaust stacks, and for the local environment.
They fear the toxic waste carted down their streets and shipped on the harbour and waterways, and they fear for the health of our democratic institutions that are consistently bypassed by this Government.
They are furious about the lack of consultation, the secrecy and the silence that meets their basic inquiries about the toll roads.
Sadly, we have seen this all before. In my electorate, in Sydney's inner west, the residents of Ashfield and Haberfield have lived through years and years of dust, noise and disruption from WestConnex. We have seen heritage homes destroyed, residents ripped off hundreds of thousands of dollars through unfair acquisitions and residents ignored during the environmental impact statement [EIS] process.
The Government has ignored conditions set by its own approval process for the project, which included public transport options as a consequence of the toll road. There has been damage to property along the WestConnex route, including families living with cracks in their roofs and their homes subsiding.
Only last week an apartment block in Ashfield was evacuated because of structural issues that may be linked to tunnels beneath that block. Smokestacks are built within 500 metres of local schools, ignoring the concerns of parents and teachers. The Government has been forced to admit that the tunnels have jammed locals streets with more traffic, contrary to the fancy billboards that were erected when they started construction featuring nice pictures of happy people walking their dogs. No, those roads are completely jammed and you cannot use them. Now Transport for NSW is trying to come up with a solution that will not make local traffic worse for local residents.
It is infuriating that this Government has learnt nothing from this experience. With the Western Harbour Tunnel and Beaches Link it is making the same mistakes over and over again. The Government has not released the business case and it is stalling on efforts for basic transparency measures.
Of the 1,455 submissions received, the vast majority were against the Western Harbour Tunnel and yet the Government is pushing ahead. Some of the councils that are raising concerns include the City of Sydney, Inner West Council, Willoughby City Council and North Sydney Council, which smashes the EIS in its submission. The submission refers to:
… inadequate justification and need, loss of open space, construction and operational road network impacts, air-quality and human health concerns, environmental, visual, social, and amenity and heritage impacts, as well as numerous strategic projects having the potential to be compromised.
That statement was made by the radical North Sydney Council.
The Government is ignoring the concerns of residents when it comes to air quality and the location of unfiltered smokestacks, pollution and the safety of residents from toxic waste, the impacts on local businesses and open spaces, and protection for local properties from vibration, round-the-clock construction work, noise and dust.
It speaks volumes that residents from the Premier's electorate had to bring their concerns directly to the Parliament to have their voices heard.
Members opposite must answer serious questions about those toll road projects and one of them is: Given we know the Government ordered Transport for NSW to exclude public transport alternatives when assessing the cost‑benefit ratios of toll roads, how can we be sure that they are the best projects for New South Wales?
The people who brought the petition before the House clearly think not and thousands of people in the Premier's electorate think not as well.
It is time that she listened to them.