A NSW parliamentary hearing spiraled out of control after a government MP said witnesses peddled “conspiracy theories” and drew a heated response.
A committee investigating the government’s handling of land purchases for major transport projects invited Sydney residents Friday to have their say.
Among the witnesses were people who said they were not adequately compensated when they were forced to give up their homes inland to make way for the WestConnex highway.
Among the witnesses was former St. Peters resident Richard Capuano, who said in a submission to the investigation that transportation authorities had treated him with disdain when his home was purchased in 2014.
Camera IconNationals MP Wes Fang was heavily criticized for his comments. Credit: Included
He said he had been given an independent appraisal of his home at $1.4 million, but was only offered $850,000 by the former Roads and Maritime Services agency.
He said a judge eventually found he owed $1 million but was “punished” for appealing the government’s offer.
At Friday’s hearing, Mr Capuano argued that some of the money the government made from the sale of WestConnex should be used to compensate former residents.
“Use that money to pay us back… Recognize what you’ve done and just seriously pay us back,” he told the committee.
Several of the witnesses said they believed the takeover process had been “corrupt”, and were reprimanded by Nationals MP Wes Fang.
Camera icon Former St. Peters resident Richard Capuano argued that he and others should have been given greater compensation for their lost homes. Credit: Included
“I just wanted to say something about one of the things that was said, and it’s about this ongoing theme that this is somehow corrupt,” Mr Fang said.
“I don’t see how it can be corrupted by the government…I’ve been in government for the past five years, I never knew we could corrupt a process in the way indicated by the testimony today.”
“These wild conspiracy theories are presented as facts.”
Mr Capuano opposed the comment.
“You said you showed empathy for what happened to us — what do you think about payments?” he asked.
when mr. Fang began to answer, interrupting Mr. Capuano him to say “don’t give me a politician’s answer”.
The committee’s chair, Greens MP Abigail Boyd, was trying to organize the hearing when people started talking at the same time.
“I don’t know enough about your situation,” Mr. Fang began, before being interrupted again.
“Have you read my entry?” Mr. Capuano intervened.
“You have to calm down,” Mr. Fang replied.
Shortly after the exchange, Ms Boyd said the committee was out of time and called off the hearing.
“The evidence we heard today was very disturbing, but unfortunately not surprising,” Ms Boyd said afterwards.
“Stories of the Liberal-National government trampling on communities are now so widespread that it’s more unusual to hear of a process of mutual respect.
She said former residents were “at the mercy of a land acquisition process that has heavily benefited government agencies, developers and landowners.”
“Residents who lose their homes don’t have a good chance of receiving anything close to what they are due,” she said.
Mr Fang said afterwards that he did not believe the “conspiracy theories” helped the residents.
“I think there are genuine concerns about the land acquisition process and that the bureaucrats could benefit from empathetic training,” he said.
“However, it is clear that a number of affected residents are delving into conspiracy theories that do not help their case.”