For the second time in six weeks the Reading Room of the Fitzroy Town Hall was the venue of an old style community meeting. Over 80 people were packed in to hear speakers and discuss the best way to stop the Victorian Labor Government’s plans to build a tunnel linking the Eastern Freeway to Melbourne’s west.
The meeting was called by the Socialist Party but many residents groups and individuals helped build for the event. The plan was to not only to provide people with some information about the proposed tunnel but to also launch a broad campaign to defeat the plans.
In contrast to a previous stage managed meeting called on this issue by Yarra Council, this meeting was democratic and provided plenty of time for people to speak from the floor.
The first speaker from the platform was Paul Mees. Paul is Victoria’s number one public transport advocate and an academic who has recently been in the news after a bitter dispute with his now ex employer, Melbourne University. Paul showed that the Eddington report (the report which the State Government commissioned to prove that they needed the tunnel) was full of holes.
He showed that much more could be done to improve public transport in Melbourne with a fraction of the costs of a tunnel. Some of Paul’s solutions included using the current rail lines to capacity and expanding the bus system. Paul also talked about the top heavy bureaucracy who “manages” the public transport system and the massive amounts of resources that are currently being wasted.
The next speaker was Chris Goodman from the local residents group 3068. Chris outlined some of the detail of the plans and showed exactly how the tunnel will affect the area of Yarra.
He explained that perhaps the most ridiculous part of the plan was that after the Yarra Council has spent a fortune on a proposal to redevelop the old Gas Works site it now seems that the State Government want to build a freeway ramp straight through the middle! It seems that between all the fancy reports and the Council and State Government planning ‘experts’ they didn’t realise they all wanted to use the same land!
The final speaker was Socialist Party Councillor for Yarra, Stephen Jolly. Stephen spoke about what would be required to actually defeat the tunnel. He first touched on the forces behind the push including the road lobby, the private investors and of course the State Government themselves. He said that with these powerful forces behind the plans, polite lobbying and small media stunts will never be enough.
Stephen said that all of the best things in our community had been won out of struggle and that we would need to struggle if we didn’t want a tunnel to ruin our local area. While lobbying and media stunts have their place the Socialist Party argues that we also need to organise mass action and to link up with the trade union movement if we want any chance of success.
After some discussion the meeting voted overwhelmingly to endorse the proposal to put a broad and democratic campaign in place in Yarra. This campaign will also link up with the other community groups fighting the plan especially on the other side of town in Melbourne’s west. It will also link up with public transport and environment groups.
It is clear that there is a lot of community anger at the Labor State Governments plans and this could have a spill over effect in the Council elections later this year. The Socialist Party candidates will be challenging all candidates to join them and pledge to oppose the tunnel and campaign for more public transport.
The first organising meeting for the campaign will be held in a fortnight at the Fitzroy Town Hall.