The release of the Berejiklian government’s response to the Recommendations of the Public Accountability Committee’s Inquiry into the Impact of WestConnex shows contempt for those who have been significantly and negatively affected by WestConnex and for the committee process as a whole.
Many community members campaigned long and hard for this Inquiry and at times the testimonies provided were highly emotional and demonstrated the personal and financial toll WestConnex has had on so many people.
Holding an inquiry and formulating recommendations, is one way of holding governments to account - and ensuring proper scrutiny and transparency of major state infrastructure projects.
The Inquiry into the Impact of WestConnex exposed a multitude of issues resulting in 27 Recommendations which residents and businesses rightly expected would be seriously considered and acted on by the Liberal Government.
However the Government response to Recommendations, released on 17 June on the afternoon before the NSW State Budget, shows a complete disregard for this process.
Not only has the Government failed to accept the majority of the most crucial Recommendations but they also maintain that existing regulations and processes are adequate to plan and oversee major infrastructure projects like WestConnex – something we know from countless experiences and the submissions made to the inquiry, to be false.
Recommendation 1 detailed a range of crucial steps required to properly plan and consult on future large scale infrastructure projects however the government did not address how these steps can be mandated to avoid the lack of proper process exposed by two Auditor General Reviews of WestConnex.
The refusal to mandate a public health impact analysis as part of any wider economic analysis for future projects of this size as detailed in Recommendation 2, indicates that public health is not a top line priority for this government – the immediate and ongoing health impacts of projects like WestConnex were never properly evaluated or quantified in terms of the whole project from construction to operation.
In terms of transparency, the public deserves to see the business cases and base-case financial models (Recommendations 3, 4 & 5) which should not be shrouded in commercial-in-confidence secrecy. We need public infrastructure to be built by government so that projects like WestConnex are able to be fully scrutinized.
Contrary to Recommendation 13, the government has argued that no filtration on the ventilation stacks is world’s best practice. This is simply incorrect and contrary to scientific evidence showing severe health risks for those in close proximity to concentrations of fine particle air pollution.
We now know through satellite imaging that tunnelling impacts on properties have been measured up to 300 metres away from construction sites and yet this government will not even agree with Recommendation 24 to extend the ‘zone of influence’ from 50 to 100 metres.
Recommendation 11, the request to immediately provide an indication of what it would cost to cancel Stage 3 of WestConnex, has simply been ignored despite the potential disastrous effects of this stage on the Inner West and the significant potential for huge budget overruns due to construction complexities.
Shamefully, the positive responses to recommendations are few and far between, although it is good news the government will act on construction safety and noise mitigation. The government will facilitate an independent safety review of the construction activities of WestConnex in line Recommendation 16 and will monitor and report on new noise mitigation measures within a discrete time table in line with Recommendation 18.
We are appalled that the NSW Liberal Government has not seriously addressed a significant number of the Recommendations made by the Public Accountability Committee’s Inquiry into the Impact of WestConnex.
The Greens acknowledge and thank the tens of thousands of people who have made submissions to this Inquiry and the various planning stages, as well as those who have campaigned tirelessly to expose this disastrous toll road and the negative impact it has had and will continue to have on our communities, our neighbourhoods and our environment. We will continue to stand with you.
Jenny Leong MP, Member for Newtown
Jamie Parker MP, Member for Balmain
Abigail Boyd MLC, NSW Greens Transport spokesperson
Cate Faehrmann MLC, Greens Environment spokesperson and committee member on the WestConnex Inquiry