In the lead-up to the Victorian state election in November 2014, the East West Link tunnel toll road continues to be a divisive and unpopular issue for the Premier Denis Napthine and his Liberal Government.
The toll road is projected to cost $8 billion to connect the Eastern Freeway and Alexandra Parade to Citylink as phase one, with subsequent extension planned to the Western Ring Road.
The issue was a factor in federal electorates in Melbourne in September, 2013, and probably contributed to The Green’s Adam Bandt’s re-election as the Member for Melbourne, and helped Greens candidate Tim Read supplant the Liberals for second in the Wills electorate based upon the City of Moreland.
Read my account from September 2013 on public transport versus East West Link toll road issue on No Fibs.
According to Josh Gordon’s February 2014 article in The Sydney Morning Herald, infrastructure estimates show that the project would recoup only about 80 cents for every dollar spent.
But the government fiddles the books by using agglomeration, saying that wider economic benefits need to be included. It has refused to release the detailed business case for the project.
Labor Opposition leader Daniel Andrews has opposed the East West Link tunnel, but has said the Labor Party, if elected this year, will honour the contracts if already signed to continue the project.
Inner city councils of Melbourne, Yarra and Moreland have all opposed the East West Link project with the City of Yarra establishing the Trains not Toll Roads website.
Grassroots websites include Yarra Campaign for Action on Public Transport.
A tunnel picket has now been active for six months to stop or delay drilling for soil samples. Ongoing protest and arrests have kept the issue public and in the media.
Napthine Government spooked
Many believe the Napthine Government is spooked by the traction in the public transport issue and announced an overhaul of the transport zones, effectively making all of Melbourne’s suburban public transport system zone 1 and abolishing tram fares in the CBD, at a projected cost of $100million to the budget.
Abolishing zonal fares would remove inequalities in local fares in areas such as Moreland’s northern suburbs which overlap zone 1 and zone 2.
But the move was criticised by Tony Morton from the Public Transport Users Association, who argued that zone 2 residents, and ultimately many zone 1 public transport users, may find they are paying more for short journeys.
“When there’s just one or two basic fares regardless of distance travelled, it rapidly becomes uncompetitive for short trips,” said Dr Morton.
“The people likely to suffer in the longer term are those who want to use public transport to go to their local shops, to take the kids to school, or who work somewhere other than the inner city; in other words, the majority of people in Melbourne’s suburbs.”
Opposition Leader Daniel Andrews announced that Labor would continue the changes if it won office.
Brunswick rally for trains not toll roads
Moreland Community Against the Tunnel (MCAT) organised a rally and march in Brunswick last weekend with the support of City of Moreland Council.
Speakers included a welcome statement by City of Moreland Mayor Lambros Tapinos (Watch the video 2:58) and a speech by Paul Sinclair (Watch the video 1:17) on the impact of the East West Link tunnel on sports fields and clubs, already lacking in Melbourne’s northern suburbs.
Mel Gregson, from the tunnel picket, outlined why the project is a social disaster, an environmental disaster and financial disaster.
Gregson told the rally: “Because we have been so successful in our campaign, the government has, for the second time, halted the preliminary test drilling works they have been doing across the inner north, and we believe the reason they have altered this work – they still have a number of sites they need to get samples from – because they don’t want us on the news every day talking about the social ramifications, the environmental ramifications and the financial ramifications of this disastrous project.
“In order to take our platform away, they have actually stopped doing some of the work that they need to do in order to contract out this project.”
See her explain how the tunnel picket started with ordinary people coming together and taking action.
Gregson said the campaign had three major demands: Scrap the East West Link tunnel, rip up any contracts signed by the Liberal Government because they do not have a mandate, and use public money to invest in public transport.
Pressure will be brought to bear on opposition parties and candidates around these demands.
“We can absolutely win this campaign. There is no doubt about it,” Gregson said to cheers from the crowd.
Melbourne had turned on a warm autumn day for the rally and march, which stretched 1.3km up Sydney Road past coffee shops, restaurants and pubs to end at Warr Park.
Police estimated about 1500 people were on the march. Photographs down Sydney Road show a significant number of people.
Further speakers entertained and lectured people at Warr Park, with perhaps the most entertaining speech from local comedian Rod Quantock (Watch the video 3:20), who combined satire with some biting commentary over the latest IPCC report on the impacts of climate change.
“There is no justification for what is being proposed by the state government and we must remember while there is somebody from the Labor Party here today, if the contracts are signed, the Labor Party won’t rescind those contracts,” said Quantock to boos from the crowd.
“This project is a madness. It follows all the other freeway building madnesses of the world,” Quantock said.
“It is there to make rich people richer. It is not to move traffic. You have probably been told that less than 10 per cent of traffic getting on to the Eastern Freeway wants to go to the end. This is for trucks, this is for Lindsay Fox, it’s for Toll Holdings shipping, it’s for those people and a dream that we would have a Port at Hastings.
“As the climate changes and as sea level rises and petrol becomes $20 a litre, these people are living in the past. There is no place for this tunnel.”
The Greens/ALP contest for the seat of Brunswick
The dwindling crowd also heard from Jane Garrett MP, the Labor Member for the seat of Brunswick.
Although she took to task the environmental record and promises at the 2010 election of the Baillieu/Napthine Government, most of her speech was spent attacking the Liberal Government on discrimination law and the Abbott Government policies on repealing racial discrimination and introduction of Knights and Dames.
Many in the audience would have agreed with her many criticisms, but her speech was seen as an avoidance of the question of a future Labor government tearing up any contracts rushed through and signed by the Napthine government.
The end of Garrett’s speech was met by calls from the crowd to “Tear up the contracts”.
Garrett was followed by Tim Read, who has recently been preselected by The Greens to run for the seat of Brunswick. Read put in a credible performance against Kelvin Thomson in the federal seat of Wills in September, with most of his support coming from the southern portion of the electorate in Brunswick.
His speech focused on East West Link and a sustainable future for Melbourne.
“It’s a big challenge for our city because this will decide a lot about the way we live. Whether we want a city for cars or a city for people,” he said.
“The Liberal government knows what they want. They want $6 billion of concrete and tar, $6 billion of public risk and private profit.
“This will suck funding out of public transport for over a decade. We can forget about more frequent trains up the Upfield line, forget about more frequent trams at peak hour.”
He clearly delineated the Greens stance from the Labor Party on the east-west link: “The Greens are the only party saying how we will stop this project; we will cancel the contracts.”
This brought cheers from the crowd. “… And we are asking you to insist that Labor does the same. We look forward to working with them, to building a city for people, because we need to change direction and not build more of these massive freeway projects.”
Read also linked construction of the East West Link with climate change and carbon emissions. “This is Victoria. This is the brown coal state, with the highest emissions per person, and we have got to cut carbon where we can and part of the solution is smarter transport decisions.”
Moreland Councillor Sue Bolton then made an impassioned speech.
“It shows that people are very, very concerned about the wider impacts of the tunnel,” she said.
“The fact (is) that more people from more parts of Melbourne are realising that this tunnel will have an impact on people all over Victoria.
“Even people in the Bush are affected by this tunnel, because it means less infrastructure, it means money being cut out of health and education budgets, it means a lot of other cutbacks.
“Even in regional areas there are people campaigning for a train to Leongatha, and a train line from Geelong to Bendigo which used to exist but was pulled up by governments years ago.
“We have lost so much public transport infrastructure as a result of governments pulling it up. So we need to rebuild that transport infrastructure and build new transport infrastructure,” she said.
“If this tunnel goes ahead there will be no major transport infrastructure for a generation or more.”
To highlight the issue for the ALP, Bolton said: “There is a very simple way the tunnel could be stopped dead in its tracks; if the ALP promised to rip up the contracts, no company would sign a contract to build the tunnel”.
“These contracts will most likely be illegal anyway because the government is insisting that companies put in their final tenders before the official consultation process is finished.
“How shonky is that?
“That means the ALP has plenty of grounds to promise to rip up the contracts. We need all parties who say they are against the tunnel to pledge to rip up the contracts.”
Watch her speech:
The East West Link project is deeply unpopular, according to opinion polls, with many people favouring the metro rail project to increase rail capacity in the suburban public transport rail system or grade separation and elimination of level crossings.
A Doncaster railway in the centre of the Eastern Freeway could also be built for a fraction of the cost of the East West Link, which would provide a public transport alternative to many people currently using the Eastern Freeway to get to work.
There are also desirable extensions to the public transport system to Rowville and Monash University and Mernda on Melbourne’s northern fringe.
After the false promises on public transport from the 2010 election, the Victorian Government is deeply distrusted on transport issues.
The focus of spending so much money on one road project in Melbourne also increases regional and rural anger for being ignored.
Ignoring funding and infrastructure for regional and rural Victoria was the mistake that Premier Jeff Kennett made, resulting in the 1999 election of a Labor government with Steve Bracks as Premier, governing initially with the support of independents.
One of the more interesting seats to watch in the Victoria state election in November will be the contest in Brunswick with the Greens Tim Read challenging Jane Garrett MP, a national vice-president of the ALP.