I’ve watched a few pea and thimble games in my day, but even by the standards of the shysters operating around 25th Street, near Union Square in New York City, last week’s spruik by NSW Treasurer Dominic Perrottet is a doozy.
And with the Federal Fiscal Follies duo of Cormann and Frydenberg in charge of the national treasure, the Dom Perignon of Epping might just pull this one off.
As usual the head-in-the-sand suckers of NSW remain none the wiser.
On July 4 2019 Treasurer Perrottet called on the Australian Government to stump up BIG bucks to finance a portion of the public-private partnership known as the Sydney Metro.
So what makes this a shell game? Well, Dom wants wads of your money to hand over to international consortia currently building a slew of massive projects.
In his press release Dom glibly notes the NSW Liberal Coalition Government is pouring more than $100 billion of your dough into infrastructure. This he proclaims, continues a trend begun after the landslide election win eight years ago.
But like Oliver Twist the Dom says, “please sir, I want some more”, boasting that:
“We’ve invested $130 billion in infrastructure projects since 2011 and have added another record $93 billion in the 2019-20 budget for schools, hospitals, roads, rail, water infrastructure and stadiums.”
Try as you might to follow which thimble the pea is under, you won’t notice the “investment” is actually an allocation of public money to a bevy of corporations hired to build and in turn, invest in a web of private projects.
In the case of the WestConnex behemoth, which is slashing at my back door, the tell-tale beeps of microprocessors on commuters’ front windscreens is the kerching of cash pouring into the corporate coffers of the likes of John Holland.
Take a moment to evaluate the record of Dom’s other projects.
Children attending schools in the majority of NSW communities are spending their formative years crammed into demountable classrooms.
Nothing to see here. So Dom and his boss Premier Gladys Berejiklian decide to appeal to ScoMo for an even bigger bag full of public money to gleefully proclaim their slogan, Let’s Get it Done NSW!
But it is the ‘marks’ of NSW who are getting done.
Word has it a cohort of top shelf lawyers planned to visit Macquarie Street recently, bearing writs to settle the misfortunes of Sydney’s blighted light rail project.
Dom’s fiscal shell game means we the people, the soft targets, get squished as a demoralised Emerald City inexorably loses its shine.
One of the many monsters changing the character of the old city of Sydney, is a corporate cash cow called WestConnex.
Each day tens of thousands of motorists speed across Sydney’s Anzac Bridge toward the City West Link in Rozelle. Most are homeward bound to various parts of David Williamson’s Emerald City.
What these commuters do not realise is the sparkling waters of Blackwattle and Rozelle Bays below Anzac Bridge, disguise layers of sludge; a toxic legacy dating to the early days of colonial NSW.
A key portion of the encroaching motorway known as WestConnex Stage 3 B, tunnels under the reclaimed land formerly known as the Rozelle Rail Goods Yard. This 14 hectare-plus site, sits a few metres or so above the ominous slurry.
But if Dom’s appeal is successful, the Fiscal Follies duo just might pick up the tab in the name of ‘stimulus’ and blithely finance the latest insensitive development foisted on the State by a clutch of international builders.
Now-a-days Rozelle’s citizens and the aforesaid commuters, watch an army of workers in high viz vests, measure and mark the underground grids that define this highly prized real estate. Once the data is correlated, engineers mark out where tunnel entrances and spaghetti junctions begin and end.
What alarms me is the cavalier approach of the gormless engineers and town planners. It seems none have bothered to research the history of the locale. This old portion of Sydney, AKA The Inner West, attracted the likes of Walter Burley Griffin and Edmund Blackett. The former crafted an incinerator to burn waste manufactured by foreshore industries. The latter designed a Norman-inspired abattoir, which initially fouled the waters of the inner harbour bays.
The skeleton of Burley Griffin’s incinerator is preserved in a portion of Bicentennial Park in nearby Glebe.
The old industrial precinct around the budding Rozelle Interchange is home to historic relics. One is a putative convict-built sluice that still drains storm water into Sydney Harbour. Another artefact is an anti-aircraft gun pit buried in Easton Park, built to defend the port from possible Japanese air attack.
Few people seem to realise tunnels and coal mine shafts honeycomb the Balmain peninsula. Some pits date to the early decades of the Colony of NSW.
The curve of Sydney Harbour at the bottom of Johnston Street Annandale, a few metres from the Abbey built in 1877, is called Rozelle Bay. I cannot discover its indigenous denomination. Whatever its original name, Rozelle Bay is a shadow of its former reach. At least half its foreshore was back-filled and released for the use of toxic industries such as the tanneries of Glebe. A plaque in nearby Bicentennial Park, attests to the poisonous legacy of these putrid work sites.
According to historian Shirley Fitzgerald the 1882 Royal Commission into Noxious and Offensive Trades, detailed animal slaughter on a massive scale.
The Royal Commission tallied 524,415 sheep, 69,991 cattle, 31,269 pigs and 8,348 calves, butchered on or near the site of the Rozelle Goods Yard. As their remains were dumped into Blackwattle and Rozelle Bays, their blood gushed into the water. I dare say much of the offal settled onto the marshy seabed around the City West Link.
The Blackett-designed abattoir finally closed in 1913 and the meat works relocated to Homebush. Thereafter the land was used as a rail marshalling yard for the maintenance of freight carriages working the Darling Harbour cargo wharves.
This industrial-cum-port land, designated The Bays Precinct, is the last of such land remaining in Sydney. The precinct is said to be one of the largest urban transformation projects in the world. This reclaimed portion of Sydney Harbour is now the site of a WestConnex entry portal which leads to a weave of yet-to-be-built tunnels, and a planned subterranean harbour crossing. Also coming, is a stop for the partially privately-run, above-mentioned Sydney Metro.
Putting aside the years of spillage from the Glebe tanneries, the coal tailings and ash, the coveted White Bay Power station is the site of an unmitigated debacle created by none other than the former NSW Premier Mike Baird.
Sadly my house might be resumed for Westconnex Stage 3 B.Countless properties in St Peters are badly impacted by another disturbed garbage dump. Sydenham, Haberfield, Burwood, Concord and other communities endure similar nightmares, as do the suburbs of Cammeray, Willoughby and Wahroonga on Sydney’s North Shore.
For the citizens of Leichhardt, WestConnex looms as a modern day cloaca, which for the foreseeable future will spew unfiltered emissions every bit as toxic as the effluent of industries past.
But what the hell. Roll up and listen to the smooth talking shyster, before laying down your wad of cash. And if you happen to pick Dom Perignon’s thimble hiding the pea, he’ll gladly return the money he’s already taken from you.
Psst. Nobody ever wins.
Henry Johnston is a Sydney-based author. His latest book, The Last Voyage of Aratus is now on sale.
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