Junk Explained: Why Is Sydney’s Inner West Revolting Against Mike Baird?

It's not about the lockouts (this time).

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Remember that time you had to get out of bed on a Saturday, drag yourself to your local church and vote in a council election you gave absolutely zero shits about?

Turns out the Premier of NSW didn’t really care about that election either.

Two weeks ago, “Casino” Mike Baird decided to sack a stunning 42 local councils across Sydney and replace them with 19 new amalgamated councils that will be run by handpicked administrators until September 2017.

The move has been highly controversial to say the least, and comes after growing community opposition to WestConnex, a $16 billion dollar transportation project that will see new motorways built through Parramatta, the Georges River and Sydney’s inner west.

Opposition to the project in the inner west has been particularly strong. Until they were unceremoniously booted from office, councils in Leichhardt, Ashfield and Marrickville had been intent on blocking any further construction.

WestConnex faces opposition on numerous fronts. In 2015, the NSW auditor-general Grant Hehir issued a damning report into the project’s approval process, outlining poor government oversight that bypassed the regular processes for reviewing initiatives costing over $100 million. Some of those opposing the project, meanwhile, allege WestConnex’s approval has been the result of corruption.

“We know that it’s dirty. We know that this government is dirty,” says Marrickville Counsellor Silvie Ellsmore, who was among those sacked by the Baird government.


WestConnex traverses a number of areas in which the Baird Government has sacked local councils. Source: The Big Smoke

The appointment of Richard Pearson – a Department of Planning and Infrastructure staffer who was intimately involved in the approval of WestConnex – as Administrator for the newly-formed Inner West Council has seen community anger boil over. Last night hundreds of protesters took over the Inner West Council’s first meeting and refused to let Pearson conduct any new council business. The crowd was extremely angry, drowning out any attempt the new administrator made to speak with cries of “shame” and “we want our Mayor back”. As he exited the chambers after only a few minutes, one protester spat in Pearson’s face.

The now-sacked Mayor of Leichhardt, Darcy Byrne, is at the forefront of opposition to the NSW Government’s actions, and sees a connection between the council sackings, the approval of WestConnex and NSW Government plans to open the inner west to large-scale development.

“Mike Baird is installing handpicked administrators who will have the same powers as a dictator,” Byrne told Junkee. “There’ll be one person making decisions for the whole of the inner west. We had no idea they would be arrogant enough to just do away with democracy.”

Like many of those angry at the Baird government’s move, Byrne sees a connection between the dismantling of local democracy and the Liberal government’s desire to expand large-scale development across the city.

“I think it’s inescapable to conclude that now that they’ve gotten rid of any organised opposition, they can give the green light to WestConnex, they can prosecute the lockout laws, they can pursue high rise development and wall-to-wall skyscrapers. Whether or not you call that a conspiracy, the people of the inner west should be very, very afraid”.

Junkee has contacted the Premier’s office for comment; we haven’t heard back yet.