John Englart

John Englart

Citizen journalist at No Fibs
John Englart has always had a strong social and environmental focus and over the past 10 years climate change science, climate policy and climate protest have become an increasingly important and primary focus of his work as a citizen journalist.
John Englart
I am involved in various Moreland-based community groups including Sustainable Fawkner where I blog on local and sustainability issues, Climate Action Moreland and Moreland Bicycle Users Group. I am also a member of Friends of the Earth, off and on, since 1976, and wrote the contribution on the Rides Against Uranium in the 1970s for the Friends of the Earth Australia book to mark the 30-year anniversary of FoE – 30 Years of Creative Resistance.

By John Englart

30 August 2013

The Victorian Government is proceeding with the East-West link tunnel tollroad which would connect up the Eastern Freeway and Alexandra Parade to Citylink severely impacting Royal Park and Moonee Ponds Creek.

It is an $8 billion project with high impacts on the seat of Melbourne, but also traffic and environmental impacts in Wills. It comes at a time when several rail infrastructure projects need to be built to upgrade and renew the ailing public transport network to cope with Melbourne’s booming population.

The State Liberal government came to power on a pledge to improve Melbourne’s public transport, but has instead embarked on a major fund sapping road project. The Federal Labor government in its 2013 budget committed $3 billion for the proposed Metro Rail project (See Melbourne ALP candidate Cath Bowtell on Metro Rail). Tony Abbott has pledged $1.5 billion to the road project and nothing for upgrading public transport infrastructure.

Deputy leader of the Greens and Member for Melbourne, Adam Bandt with Greens Senate candidate Janet Rice launching Melbourne transport policy

Deputy leader of the Greens and Member for Melbourne, Adam Bandt with Greens Senate candidate Janet Rice launching Melbourne transport policy

Greens lead Senate candidate Janet Rice said to me, “A really important effect of the East-West tollway is it will soak up all the transport funding that is available in Victoria.”

I asked Adam Bandt to comment on the impact of the east-west tunnel.

“The east-west tunnel is also going to wreck my electorate of Melbourne, turn it into a rats nest of on and off ramps, increased traffic congestion and wreck Royal Park. There are people who live near Royal Park and use it everyday who are going to lose their homes and lose their only open space.

“As more and more people come and live in the inner city we need to preserve the open spaces and the parks so that people have a place to play and the city has a place to breathe.

“For less than the cost of the east-west tunnel we say today to build the rail line out to Doncaster. We don’t need to build the east-west tunnel because people will be moving around by public transport and bike.

“We fought the east-west tunnel when it was first proposed under a Labor government and now we are fighting it under a Liberal government and we will keep on fighting it until they build more trains not tollways,” he concluded.

My interview with Adam Bandt and Janet Rice occurred at North Melbourne station. They were there to launch the Greens Melbourne transport plan (media release), fully costed by the Parliamentary Budgets Office (PBO). The plan involves redirecting of $1.4 billion of uncontracted road funding from the $24 billion Nation Building Program to upgrade Melbourne’s public transport network, cycleway network, and for diversion routes to remove trucks from residential streets.

Provision of transport infrastructure is primarily a State government responsibility, but often involves Federal funding contributions. The Greens proposals are in addition to the Federal Labor government budget commitment of $3 billion for the Metro rail tunnel proposed development.

Much of this extra money the Greens propose would be allocated to building the Doncaster rail line, a real missing link in the Melbourne public transport network. The provision of this rail line would significantly reduce traffic congestion on the Eastern Freeway and Alexandra Parade obviating the need to build the east-west road tunnel.

Other projects the Greens want to fund include a new linking tram line from North Melbourne to North Richmond, extending the Epping Line to Mernda to service all the new housing estates in Melbourne’s northern growth corridor, funding bypass ramps to remove trucks from residential streets particularly in Western Melbourne suburbs of Footscray and Yarraville, inital funding for an airport rail link, removal of some level crossings, and $50 million funding for bike routes and cycleways as prioritised by Bicycle Network Victoria.

Greens vision for public transport upgrade in Melbourne

Greens vision for public transport in Melbourne

I also interviewed most of the candidates in Wills about public transport and the east-west tunnel.

Labor MP Kelvin Thomson said, “I am strongly opposed to the tunnel and I’ve been so for over 6 years.” He highlighted the importance of the Doncaster rail proposal, the airport link, Labor’s $3 billion commitment to the Metro Rail tunnel, extension of the Epping Line, and even a public transport connection out to Monash University. He also highlighted the east-west tunnel would create the addition of flyovers all over the Moonee Ponds Creek that will damage a lot of creek restoration work. On Royal Park he said, “It is an oustanding piece of open space and we have no business, no right to trash it in the way that the east-west tunnel will.”

Tim Read, the Greens Candidate for Wills was also outspoken against the east-west road tunnel. “For the same money we could put a rail line to the airport, Doncaster rail which would take a lot of that traffic anyway, and still have change left over to buy some trains,” he said.

He applauded the State Labor opposition coming out and opposing the project and told me, “If they were really strong on it they could potentially even block it in opposition. Not just in parliament but by announcing that they wouldn’t honour contracts, if elected, that would potentially throw a financial spanner in the works.”

Adrian Trajstman, the Sex Party candidate for Wills made a statement saying, “The Australian Sex Party opposes the drastic plans for the East-West tollway and would prefer to see the money used for improving public transport infrastructure instead. I would welcome greater emphasis placed on supporting and promoting more environmentally friendly forms of transport such as bike-riding and public transport.”

Independent candidate Dean O’Callaghan commented, “It is a ridiculous proposed solution to traffic issues in this city. Building more freeways only brings more cars and the real solutions to traffic congestion are to give people a real option when it comes to mobility and public transport needs to be invested in, not toll roads, which will obviously cost us all anyway.”

Margarita Windisch from the Socialist Alliance pointed out that the road will only create more traffic congestion and add to greenhouse gas emissions. “So it is going to be another problem with climate change. But the real issue that we have is a complete under-resourcing of public transport. We know a lot of people would use public transport if they had the opportunity, if it was reliable, if it was integrated and affordable. We strongly advocate that instead of the east-west link and tunnel that we heavily invest in public transport.” she said.

Liberal candidate Shilpa Hegde refused to answer my questions, but in an interview with the Melbourne Times said in this party scripted comment: “The East-West Link is a vital and necessary component of Melbourne’s future road network. I’m proud to be a part of the Liberal team that will invest $1.5 billion to get construction under way on Melbourne’s East-West Link in 2014. ”

Although Shilpa Hegde identified congestion as a problem there was no mention of the need to upgrade Melbourne’s ailing public transport network to help meet the transport needs and cost of living for ordinary citizens.

Development of the east west link is currently opposed by 6 metropolitan councils: Yarra, Melbourne City, Moreland, Moonee Valley, Darebin and Glen Eira Councils.

A recent Galaxy poll said that 63 per cent of voters in the eastern suburbs seats of Chisholm and La Trobe preferred the Metro Rail tunnel over the east-west road tunnel. Even in marginal Corangamite near Geelong 53 per cent of voters backed Metro Rail as against 22 per cent for east-west link.

Public Transport Users Association scorecard comparison of policies from the ALP, Liberals and Greens

Public Transport Users Association scorecard comparison of policies from the ALP, Liberals and Greens

See previous Wills election reports

Declaration: Updates made to this article – list of Councils in opposition corrected, add link to Cath Bowtell (ALP) website on Metro Rail.