Great Western Highway Duplication

The number one move in the New South Wales Government's playbook when it comes to rolling out projects opposed by communities is the "divide and conquer" move. That is exactly what is currently unfolding in my electorate of the Blue Mountains with the Great Western Highway supposed duplication project. The Liberal Government is running an absolute sham of a consultation process, which is more about guiding people toward its preferred option and shutting out opposition than it is about genuine community consultation and problem solving. Not that long ago secret meetings were happening in the upper mountains, where the Transport for NSW team met with a school and told them that they would be fine and would not have to worry because there was already a preferred option selected. Then there are other groups who cannot get a say or play a role, no matter how hard they try. I guess the outlook is not as optimistic for them.

 

Now we have another instalment of the not-actually-consulting consultation process. The Blackheath Co‑Design Committee has been formed as part of the consultation process in the Blue Mountains. It is soon set to be walked through the four terrible route options for the proposed Great Western Highway development. The committee informed Transport for NSW that it wanted local elected representatives to also be invited to attend—the ward councillors, me as the State member and my colleague Susan Templeman, the Federal member. The response it got was a threat to completely abandon the consultation should anyone other than the members of the committee attend. Transport for NSW threatened to cancel community consultation with a specific community group if the elected representatives of that exact community were to attend. Let that sink in for a minute—Transport for NSW would rather shut down consultation altogether than actually consult. I would welcome a briefing on what is happening now. I would welcome the opportunity to be included and I would welcome the opportunity to—dare I say it—be consulted. And so would my community.

This entire process is infuriating and disappointing but, unfortunately, unsurprising. Orders from above have stymied the project team on the ground and their message is even harder to sell. A project is decided on and then, just step by step, it happens—no matter who wants what or what is best for the locals. The people who are "consulted" are "carefully" chosen and the elected representatives who dare to ask questions or raise opposition to any or all of the project are cut out. If Transport for NSW is serious about developing a plan that will work it would be working with the community and with elected representatives who know their community, and it would be looking at numerous reports that have been completed by different flavours of government over the past couple of decades on this very issue—like the Central West Transport Needs Study 2009. It is clear to me that Transport for NSW is not working the way it should. This sort of process is not created by a department that is solution focused; it is the process of a department that is hamstrung by the higher-ups.

For the benefit of the House, I have a petition in circulation that is gathering signatures by the thousands. It will be brought to this place. It expresses alarm at the potential impact on local amenity in historical villages and the environmental impacts of any widening works along the road corridor that might affect or diminish our unique bushland setting within a World Heritage listed national park. It expresses alarm at the potential creation of a private toll road—because that is what that lot opposite do best—through the mountains and the loss of residents' homes to compulsory acquisition and demolition. It expresses alarm at the Coalition Government allowing longer and larger trucks—something a handful of years back The Nationals leader promised the Government would not do; I have that promise in writing. The petition also expresses alarm at the refusal of the Government to invest in freight rail so that towns and villages might be safer, cleaner and quieter. It asks for the Government to release its business case for the proposed motorway/tunnel.

No-one knows what a community needs or does not need better than that community. But they are the only people that Transport for NSW is not interested in hearing from. The New South Wales Liberal-Nationals have got a plan: They know what they want to happen with this project and in the long run not much else matters to them. But, unfortunately for the Government, I have the backing of my community and we will not go quietly.