The gloves are off between the Minister for Western Sydney and Western Sydney Regional Organisation of Councils president, who have traded barbs over the region’s hot topic – the M4 toll.
Minister Stuart Ayres on Friday accused Stephen Bali of misusing his position as WSROC president to push Labor’s agenda ahead of a potential campaign for the state seat of Blacktown, and called for him to resign.
Cr Bali had questioned the state government’s rhetoric about free alternatives to the freshly tolled section of the M4.
Cr Bali said the government was “contradicting itself” by offering Parramatta Road as an option, when plans were already in place to reduce the capacity of a famously congested road.
“We do not for a minute suggest the revitalisation of Parramatta Road should not happen, but if increasing the capacity of one road and reducing the capacity of its alternative isn’t funnelling, I don’t know what is,” he said.
Mr Ayres hit back, calling Cr Bali’s comments a “shocking misuse of his position” and demanded he step aside.
“If Mr Bali is going to inappropriately use his position as WSROC president to prop up his Labor campaign for Blacktown he should treat western Sydney residents with respect and resign immediately,” he said.
Cr Bali, who is also the Blacktown mayor, has expressed his interest at being Labor’s candidate for October’s Blacktown by-election after former MP John Robertson retired in August.
Mr Robertson has talked up the prospect of the Doonside resident taking on the role, and encouraged his Labor Party colleagues to vote for Cr Bali in preselection.
On Monday Cr Bali defended his position and pointed to similar comments made by his WSROC predecessors Alison McLaren and Tony Hadchiti.
He said he was “saddened” that Mr Ayres had resorted to “personal and political attacks”, describing it as an “easy deflection” from the issue at hand.
“Toll reform has been on the WSROC agenda for almost a decade, regardless of whether its president has been Labor, Liberal or independent,” Cr Bali said.
“The questions that I have been asking, and WSROC, and the western Sydney residents are: why are we paying tolls for 43 years, way beyond the cost of building the extensions to the M4?”
Mr Ayres said Labor had ignored the M4 for years and challenged Cr Bali to promise the people of Blacktown the toll would be removed under a Labor government.