New South Wales Premier Mike Baird – known in Sydney as ‘Casino Mike’ among a growing band of angry punters – is facing a community revolt, with thousands of demonstrators turning out yesterday to denounce his ‘anti-democratic’ agenda.
The unrest comes at a bad time for Baird’s counterparts in the Federal Government, as they pitch for re-election at the July 2 poll later this year.
Around 4,000 people protested at Sydney’s Town Hall on Sunday on issues as diverse as the forced amalgamation of local councils, the Westconnex tollway, lock-out laws, tree clearing, coal seam gas, and creeping police powers.
In a welcome to country, Aunty Jenny Munro captured the mood when she said the state government have “widened their target now to poor people in general: We’ve all got to move now, the developers rule”.
The Premier is under pressure over a suite of reforms that many in the community see as being stacked in favour of big business and political allies, instead of local communities and the public at large.
The popular backlash has grown in particular after Baird sacked local councils around the state. At yesterday’s rally, the former Mayor of Leichhardt, Darcy Byrne received a warm welcome.
“We are all here today because Premier Baird is completely out of control and it’s time to send him a message, to take a stand and say we will resist his rule,” Byrne said.
“On May 12, in the most undemocratic, authoritarian action seen by a leader of this state in living memory, Mike Baird with the stroke of a pen got rid of 42 Mayors and every elected Councillor in the local governments that they represent,” he said.
“But there’s more to come, because the Liberal government has put the noose around the neck of another 23 Mayors that they hope to extinguish in the next couple of weeks.”
The move has prompted a remarkable wave of civil resistance. At least two of the first meetings of these new ‘super councils’ – the Inner West and the Mid-Coast Councils – have been shut down by rowdy ratepayers.
At the demonstration, prominent anti-coal seam gas activist Dayne Pratzky urged “everybody to occupy your undemocratically elected councils’ meetings, exactly like we did a few days ago in Foster”.
“Honestly Mike Baird I want you out, I want you gone,” he said. “I want us to take back our democracy, I want us to take back our councils. Mike Baird should be ashamed of himself: He’s destroying this state, he’s destroying this city, and he’s destroying our communities.”
Some of the communities with most to lose are in Sydney’s Inner West. The three Councils Mike Baird did away with when he created the Inner West Council had been waging war on the Premier’s signature project, the $16.8 billion Westconnex tollway.
The controversial development will carve up large parts of Sydney, has already displaced local residents in the city’s Inner West, and has been undermined by modelling which shows it will not ease congestion in the way the government has claimed.
A spokesperson for the Westconnex Action Group, Pauline Lockie has already lost her home. “It is going to have a huge impact on people across New South Wales for generations to come,” she said.
“But if you’re out there feeling like you don’t know much about Westconnex, or you don’t really understand what it’s all about, then I can assure you that you are not alone, and its’ not your fault,” she said.
“It is part of a deliberate strategy by the Baird Government to do everything it can to shut down transparency around this tollway, so that it can try to bulldoze as much of Westconnex through our city as possible before people realise the truth: Westconnex is a scam.”
In a sign of how the issues agitating local communities are interlinked, protestors are now facing off with a police force that has had its powers significantly bolstered since Mike Baird took office.
Greens Parliamentarian David Shoebridge said “the machinery is in place… to turn New South Wales into a police state”.
He identified consorting laws; drug dogs; vamped up move-on powers; a recent raft of anti-protest laws; and a public safety order power which allows police to restrict citizens freedom of movement with no avenue for recourse as evidence to make his case.
Notwithstanding the growing powers of New South Wales Police, protestors marched on state Parliament without incident. The demonstration was organised by the March in March group that hit out at the Abbott government’s agenda in a similar broad-scale in 2014, which suggests there’s likely to be more protest in coming months.
As many of the chants and placards alluded to, there’s a growing sense in New South Wales that “Mike Baird is the one per cent”. A key message from demonstrators was that “our communities are not for profit, [and]we will stop it”.