In Victoria the Napthine Liberal government is on the back foot. A few months ago they had hedged all their bets on the East-West Link toll road as a vote winner.
Months of community pickets at test drilling sites for that project coupled with rallies and other public actions have turned the situation around. Polls show that less than a quarter of Victorians support the toll road and most want investment in public transport instead.
As a result the government has made a series of hasty announcements promising to invest more in public transport should it win the election in November. Napthine’s state budget – which included some major rail projects – was an exercise in damage control.
The Herald Sun, which had been running the most prominent campaign for the Link, now says Napthine’s ‘train revolution is just the ticket’ and implored Victorians to ‘vote train!’
Unfortunately these plans are poor imitations of the sort of new infrastructure and upgrades that Victoria really needs, and they are vague on timelines and details. Nevertheless, Napthine’s response shows that when people mobilise they can force change.
Napthine might have hoped his budget had neutralised the pro public transport campaign, but these hopes came crashing down when Tony Abbott brought down the federal budget.
While promising $3 billion for the East-West Link the federal budget rips $80 billion of funding from the states! These cuts mean Napthine’s infrastructure promises – whether real or phoney – can not possibly be met.
Unfortunately Labor are still maintaining fake opposition to the project. The Labor Party says it is against the East-West Link, but that if contracts are signed they will honour them. This is a political decision to prioritise financial markets and big business interests over community need.
That said the Labor Party, just like the government, is susceptible to mass pressure. Already they have been forced to change their position several times and have now announced they will not build Stage 2 of the East-West Link.
This, however, is not enough. Pressure needs to be brought to bear on Labor forcing them to commit to ripping up the East-West contracts and prioritise funding in public transport should they win the next election.
A court case challenging the secrecy surrounding the project’s business case is currently unfolding in the Supreme Court. While the success of this case is not assured it may well play a role in helping to delay the signing of any contracts and making some of the details of the project public.
Most importantly though real improvements to public transport will not be won in the courts or by voting for one or another big business party. Real change is made by mass movements not politicians or judges.
The next event aimed at helping to develop a pro public transport movement is the June 28 ‘Trains not tolls’ rally in the Melbourne CBD. A good turn out can send a strong message to the big business interests behind the East-West Link and the parties that represent them.
Just like the successful Bentley blockade against Coal Seam Gas drilling in New South Wales, mass action can put a halt to the East-West Link. We desperately need better public transport, not more private toll roads, but only a mass movement of people will be capable of defeating the big business interests that lie behind the Liberals’ pro roads agenda.
By Chris Dite