The campaign against the East-West tunnel in Melbourne is entering a new phase. With the pickets against the preliminary drilling over for now, it is imperative that the campaign draw wider layers of people in.
The community pickets against the preliminary drilling kept the controversial project in the headlines on an almost daily basis for close to six months, and caused delays to the government’s schedule.
The pickets have had a galvanising effect on public opinion. From being ‘a done deal’ not so long ago, the project is now not only dogged with controversy, but is seen as being directly in competition with the better public transport system Melbourne needs.
While the government was seemingly prepared to throw massive amounts of police and PR resources at the community opposition, it did not anticipate the impact of the community pickets on public opinion. Recent Age/Nielsen and Herald Sun/Galaxy polls put support for the East-West Link at 24% and 15%, respectively.
These polls were the turning point that convinced the government to call off the preliminary drilling and try to reduce the effect the community pickets were having.
The East-West Link project reveals a lot about the nature of planning in Australia today. The public-private-partnership (PPP) model, pitched as a money-saver for the taxpayer, is in fact the direct opposite. The Government has kept its business plan for the project secret, as it knows that while the big firms involved will profit, ordinary taxpayers will not get a return on their investment.
Further to this, the State Government has plans to sell publicly-owned infrastructure, such as Medibank and the Melbourne Port, to part-fund the project.
This disturbing reality might be more tolerable if the aim of the Link was, as the government claims, to reduce congestion. Unfortunately big business interests lie behind the plans for this project at every level. Trucking magnates like Lindsay Fox want quicker freight connections from the ports to the eastern suburbs, and will be the real beneficiaries of this project.
In late March, when faced with a group of residents wanting to talk with him about this destructive project, Premier Denis Napthine simply drove through them, resulting in one person suffering multiple foot fractures. This is a telling reflection of how planning happens in this State, with government and big business ramming through agendas that are clearly against the interests of ordinary people.
For the same money, Melbourne’s public transport infrastructure could be vastly improved. The polls show that the Metro Rail, Airport Link, Doncaster rail, the rail extension to Mernda and level crossing upgrades are all projects ordinary people want to see prioritised before roads.
Expanding public transport would not only be better for the environment but it creates more long term, skilled jobs. When the State Government, feeling the pressure from the shift in public opinion, announced a $2 billion plan for public transport in the South Eastern suburbs, its own figures showed that per dollar spent the rail project had the potential to create three times as many jobs as the East-West Link!
It is now crucial that the latent support for the more public transport is turned into something more active. The ALP is already feeling the pressure to tear up the contracts if the Liberals sign them before the November election. The involvement of people from the outer suburbs and regional Victoria in an active movement for better public transport would put still further pressure on them.
Beating back the East-West Link project and winning investment in public transport infrastructure is but the first step. By bringing the banks, the big transport and construction firms and the public transport system into public ownership we could begin to develop a sustainable plan to ensure our transport needs are met, jobs are created and our environment is protected in the long term.
By Chris Dite