The anti-East-West Link campaign is going from strength to strength, and is potentially close to one of the biggest victories for ordinary people in decades.
For months the community campaign has been demanding that the Labor Opposition commit to ripping up any contracts signed before the November state election. In late June 3000 people marched around that demand. The campaign also strategically picketed inner-city ALP offices and put pressure on Labor in a range of forums.
In September the ALP bowed to the pressure. They announced that if elected they would not defend the legal challenge mounted by Yarra and Moreland Councils. Opposition Leader Daniel Andrews said that dependent on certain factors – namely the outcome of this case – they would not build the East-West Link even if the contracts are signed before the election.
The Napthine Government responded predictably, calling the move ‘insane’ and ‘reckless.’ VECCI and other business groups also issued reprimands to Labor. Financiers associated with the project expressed concern and declared they would not begin construction until the saga had played out in the courts. After the announcement the Herald Sun began a rabid campaign against Labor but also against the inner-city councils who are part of the legal challenge.
Unfortunately while Labor has shifted under community pressure, its current position is conditional and still remains insufficient. As it stands there is scope for a third party – such as the chosen bidder for the project – to step in and contest the case in the courts even if a Labor government won’t.
The Labor Opposition had a parliamentary majority on this issue for the final sitting days of 2014, thanks to the flip flopping of ex-Liberal Frankston MP Geoff Shaw, who now says he opposes the project. Labor’s failure to act in a decisive way shows that their opposition is far from genuine.
The Napthine Government – which has selected a consortium led by Lend Lease as its preferred contractor for the project – has threatened that taxpayers might have to pay $500 million in compensation if the project does not go ahead.
Outrageously, they claim the details of how the project will benefit ordinary people are ‘commercial-in-confidence’, but simultaneously boast about the massive windfall for any construction consortium involved.
A community picket in August at a Liberal Party’s big business fundraiser successfully drew people’s attention to the ‘cash-for-contracts’ nature of infrastructure planning in this state. Exposing this reality has been one of the key successes of the campaign.
In response to anger about the secretive nature of this dodgy project, the Federal Government has announced new funding guidelines to reduce the importance of a cost-benefit analysis. The aim is to ensure that any future project similar to the East-West Link – which is loss-making from the taxpayers’ perspective but would reap mega-profits for the contractor – won’t attract controversy or be in violation of the current weak rules.
While huge amounts of pressure have been brought to bear on the Liberals, Labor and the companies involved, there is still much to do. As the election draws closer there will be scope to put even more heat on the major parties and the profiteers. This dual strategy has proven to be very effective so far.
In order to maintain the momentum of the campaign a large city-wide rally is being organised for November 15. This rally will be built around opposition to the East-West Link and for investment in public transport as an alternative to private toll roads.
Only a year ago this project was being portrayed as a done deal. The Liberals thought it would be a trump card that they would use to win the election. Thanks to the strength of the campaign, today the East-West Link is perhaps their biggest liability.
This campaign is now close to winning. If we are successful it would be a huge blow to the Liberals and to big business. The next few months will be a crucial time.
By Chris Dite