Socialist Party member Yorran Pelekenakis recently interviewed RMIT academic and public transport advocate Paul Mees. Paul spoke to Yorran about the Victorian State Government commissioned Eddington Report and public transport in Melbourne.
YP: What are your views on the Eddington Report?
PM: Both of Eddington’s tunnels are unnecessary, but the road tunnel would be actively counter productive, it would make Melbourne a worse place socially and environmentally. The rail tunnel is merely a waste of money.
YP: Why are rail services currently being run at below capacity?
PM: It’s in Connex’s interests to continue to do that because they can demand subsidies from the government. If it becomes publicly accepted that they’re not running the system to capacity then they shouldn’t have their contract renewed when it expires next year. They also shouldn’t be paid larger and larger subsidies to run the system less and less efficiently.
YP: Why does the Labor government continue to give subsidies?
PM: They seem to have an ideological bias in favour of privatisation that’s as virulent as the Kennett Liberal Government. Secondly, they’re receiving poor advice from their department because the people who are advising them are the same people who set up privatisation under Kennett. To admit privatisation has failed would be effectively asking for themselves to be sacked or demoted.
YP: You argued private-run public transport has cost $1.2 billion more than if it had remained in government control. Why is the government so keen to continue with privatisation?
PM: Many of the private interests that benefit from privatised public transport spend a lot of time and money ingratiating themselves with the Brumby Government. They make campaign donations directly or indirectly by turning up to fundraising events. Yarra Trams for example, their chairman is David White, who is a former Cain government cabinet minister and heads a lobbying firm called Hawker Britton.
YP: With all your criticisms of the government why do you argue that PT should be government run?
PM: I don’t believe public transport should be run by ministries which are deeply politicised entities. I support an independent public corporation that is separated from the day to day political spin cycle. It needs also to be made accountable and responsible to the public by having open and participatory decision making processes. We need user and worker representatives on a governing board of a body that can help make it more responsive.
YP: What’s your opinion of the Yarra Campaign Against the Tunnel (YCAT)?
PM: I think they’re doing good work. I think it would be great if we could find some way of linking up the different local groups so that their campaigns can collectively produce a stronger voice.
I think the next step has to be taking the campaign to the local government elections. Making sure that we have local councils elected that will fight on this issue and not just issue platitudinous statements along the lines of “wouldn’t it be nice if people rode their bikes more?”. We need councils that will actually throw there resources and their political clout behind getting the transport agenda changed.
What happens in local government was illustrated by what happened in the City of Yarra at the start of 2005. A number of us attempted to get Yarra to vote in favour of campaigning around public transport. Stephen Jolly from the Socialist Party and the three Greens to their credit, all voted in favour of it. But the Labor councillors and the Independent, Jackie Fristakie, voted against it. So it was defeated.
I tell you, the road lobby observed that and that was one of the things that made them think it was time to have another go at the tunnel. We haven’t, as yet, had a local council that’s prepared to put the necessary muscles and dollars behind a community campaign – perhaps after November.