On Tempe F6 Corridor freeway extension

February 6, 2010

Hundreds of residents turned up in the rain at Tempe wetlands today to learn more about the RTA’s plans for a F6 corridor freeway extension to nearby St Peters. I understand  that Tempe wetlands, rejuvenated by the local Council at a cost of $17m in recent memory, will be covered over by a four-lane freeway. The concreting over is something straight out of a Joni Mitchell song! That this can even be considered in this day and age with focus on climate change, air pollution, residential highrise replacing former light industrial beggars belief. And this, after expressways and highways have been constructed nearby.

Why are we doubling up on highways already built a few years ago? Why are we doubling the size of the M5 when it was only built a few years ago? Why are we moving trucks carrying containers from Port Botany along this road when we’ve had a perfectly adequate hard rail network doing so for decades?

I’m writing to my local Council wardsman indicating regrettably that the next Council elections are rapidly shaping up to be one-issue elections for me personally. Basically, I can’t vote for a Council wardsman who can’t influence State politicians that concreting over wetlands that they have paid for is not a good look. (Hang on, I think I’ve paid for the wetlands in my Council rates.)

I’m writing to my local Member of Parliament, the Premier of NSW, indicating also that the F6 corrdior freeway extension is also a one-issue election for me. Roll on March 2011! She has  a perfectly good hard rail goods line running from Port Botany through Sydenham to the west. Why put containers on trucks along the M5? Her RTA wants acess from the Sutherland Shire and Wollongong to industrial areas in South Sydney. Where are those industrial areas? They have moved out of South Sydney to Western Sydney since 1990. Those industrial areas have been replaced by car showrooms and highrise apartment blocks – the likes of Danks Street and Green Square are proof of that.

I’m sure those present at today’s rally will write letters to their local pollies full of human interest stories about the air quality for their littlies and lots of emotional handwringing about Saving the Planet. I’m just going to cut to the chase and indicate I won’t be voting for them – regardless of how bad their competitor campaign candidates are, regardless of ‘other issues’, regardless of what happens between now and the next election.

As if the arguments weren’t already clear enough, here’s some to consider:

Green credentials vs highway construction. I find it absolutely incredulous in this day and age, when the ALP federally is promoting positive action on climate change, that the NSW State government is expediting further above-ground highway construction in Sydney suburbs. Car access from the south is already perfect: up the Princes Highway and around the Eastern Distributor.

State government destroying what Local government creates. I am taken aback at the NSW State government concreting over wetlands rejuvenated at the cost of $17.3m by local Council. Somewhere along the line, my Marrickville Council rates paid for one and taxes will pay for the other. I’m confused about who I can trust with spending my taxes properly. I pay one lot of taxes to have wetlands created; a year or two later, my taxes go to paying for them to be concreted over.

Road to Nowhere. I undersand this F6 extension ends up in ‘nowhere’ at St Peters without any adequate distribution network thereafter. I’m not at all swayed by the fact that this has been in the offing since the 1948 County of Cumberland transport plan. Back then there was a solid public transport system and not a word about pollution or carbon footprints or saving the planet.  I am old enough to remember when the word ‘ecology’ was invented in the late-1970s. The atrocious mis-handling of toll contracts in general and the M5 airstacks in particular, ongoing support for car companies (especially in the latest tax concessions for small business owners) and the mis-handling of the Airport railway stations contract are all at cross-purposes with ALP talk of ‘Saving the Planet’. Out of all these mixed messages surely comes the conclusion that future highways have to be underground and the air emitted from them has to be of the highest possible quality. For things like sea containers in and out of nearby Port Botany, those ‘boxes’ need to travel around by rail, not on our roads.

Government sequestering of Tempe green space. NIMBYism is all about protecting your own territory without “giving” up things for the common good. Well, I am tired at the way green space in Tempe is sequestered on a regular basis by governments: Olympic carpark, M5 freeway construction, desalination plant construction work. Every time a government needs us, we hand over our sporting fields and playing fields and green space without so much as a whimper.  I accept major infrastructure for the common good or the broader public benefit. I’m not sure voters in Liberal-held seats are so compassionate and civic-minded when it comes to their green spaces being taken over in similar ways. Give me some examples of similar altruistic behaviour in St George, Sutherland Shire, Wollongong! Are Tempe’s working class/working families too soft a target? Are Tempe’s ALP voters being taken for a ride? Is the ALP making too many assumptions about rusted-on supporters? While Tempe residents are routinely alienated from their green space, what is particularly galling in this instance is the permanent alienation created by a F6 corridor freeway extension.

‘Growing’ public transport as an alternative. I have lived in Tempe long enough to see bus services not increase over time in response to population growth. Local rail services have decreased. Two platforms on Tempe Railway Station are now idle. They were busy twenty years ago. Politicians at all levels of government remain uncommitted to public transport for the inner city gentrifiers moving into Tempe, nor for the car-dependent long-term NESB migrants who live here. Replicate that across every suburb in Sydney and mine is not some ‘narrow’ perspective of reality: what if my experience is being duplicated across Sydney? 

Mixed messages and political fallout. I can only conclude that the ALP’s commitment to confronting climate change, reducing pollution and improving the quality of the environment is rapidly deteriorating into simply hypocritical lip-service. While talking earnestly about climate change and carbon reduction on the one hand even up to and including the world stage, it is happy for ‘business-as-usual’ back at home with endless highway construction into the future. I appreciate the ALP will do anything to win over voters in non-Labor held seats elsewhere in Sydney by providing them with an extra 30 seconds of car travel-time into and out of Sydney CBD. But in any post-mortems conducted after the ALP loses at Council, State (and perhaps even Federal) elections, it ought not overlook the impact of this F6 extension in particular and transport decision-making in general.

The Hon. David Campbell MP, Minister for Transport and Roads; the Hon. Anthony Albanese MP, Member for Grayndler; the Hon. Kristina Keneally MP.

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