Mike Baird offers mea culpa on WestConnex consultation

June 3, 2016 – 8:19PM

Jacob Saulwick

City Editor

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Mike Baird says the government has not handled the consultation and property acquisition for the WestConnex motorway as well as it should, and been insensitive in some of the areas affected.

But the Premier says he will continue to make controversial decisions, because otherwise he would not be doing his job.

Mr Baird was speaking at a lunch event at Luna Park on Friday, where he addressed the criticism of those angered by the sacking of councils and contentious infrastructure projects.

Premier Mike Baird at Luna Park for the 2016 Corporate Club Australia Business Lunch in Sydney where he addressed ...

Premier Mike Baird at Luna Park for the 2016 Corporate Club Australia Business Lunch in Sydney where he addressed concerns about WestConnex. Photo: Janie Barrett

Asked if there were areas where the government needed to adjust in response to the criticism, Mr Baird said: “I think there are some.”

“I think look at the WestConnex process, the community consultation process hasn’t been perfect,” the Premier said.

He cited Sydney’s inner west, where resistance to the 33 kilometre motorway has been strongest, as an area that would ultimately benefit from the project.

Mike Baird was interviewed by Leigh Sales about how he responded to criticism.

Mike Baird was interviewed by Leigh Sales about how he responded to criticism. Photo: Janie Barrett

But he added: “There are personal individual cases where people’s homes have been acquired and I think the way we’ve gone about it hasn’t been as careful as it should have been.

“And that can be someone giving an off-the-hand comment if they might have had a bad day themselves… you have to be so vigilant on that.

“Because there are hundreds of people that are losing their homes – no one wants to lose their homes. And yes there’s massive community benefit that comes from it but that doesn’t mean that every one of those homes and those families and those circumstances aren’t real people.

Opposition to WestConnex drew thousands to the city in protest on Sunday, May 29.

Opposition to WestConnex drew thousands to the city in protest on Sunday, May 29. Photo: James Alcock

“We haven’t done that as well as we should.”

The comments represent an unusual mea culpa from the government, and a thinly veiled criticism of the approach of the Roads Minister, Duncan Gay. Mr Gay has derided motorway protesters as latte-sipping anti-road zealots.

Nevertheless Mr Baird said that attracting controversy was an inevitable part of attempting to implement change.

Attendants at a Stop WestConnex meeting at the Balmain Town Hall demonstrate the local opposition to the project.

Attendants at a Stop WestConnex meeting at the Balmain Town Hall demonstrate the local opposition to the project. Photo: Dominic Lorrimer

“I strongly believe that unless you are taking decisions that in some sense will be controversial, because you will have resistance … I think you are not doing your job,” the Premier said at the event, at which he was questioned on stage by ABC journalist Leigh Sales.

Referencing a recent protest against the Premier, Sales asked how he differentiated between the sort of criticism levelled at any government, and that to which he needed to pay attention.

“That’s really the question,” he said.

“The moment a government stops listening you’re in trouble. But you also need to be mindful that any change will be resisted. People don’t like it at all.”

Labor’s transport spokeswoman and Member for Strathfield, Jodi McKay, said the government’s insensitivity to those affected by the motorway had been a major issue in the area.

“And nobody has listened to them, the minister has dismissed them out of hand,” Ms McKay said. “It’s just ‘We are building this motorway, we are ramming it through.

“I’m pleased the Premier has acknowledged how badly it has to date but the question is what is he going to do about it now.”

About 330 properties are being or have been acquired for the first two stages of the motorway. Many families have lamented receiving offers from the government well below the market rate.

Source : Sydney Morning Herald

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