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The East West Link and Melbourne’s democratic ‘deficit’

From Election Watch http://electionwatch.edu.au/victoria-2014/east-west-link-and-melbournes-democratic-deficit

by Professor Richard Tomlinson is Chair in Urban Planning at the Melbourne School of Design, Faculty of Architecture, Building and Planning at the University of Melbourne.

When the State Government of Victoria was preparing metropolitan Melbourne’s 2014 strategic plan, Minister Matthew Guy’s Ministerial Advisory Committee found that public transport and protecting public open space were the top concerns of Melbourne’s citizens.  Despite this the State Government’s latest planning strategy, Plan Melbourne(link is external)prioritises the East West (road) Link and commits resources to the eastern half of the link, which will compromise Royal Park.

Professor Roz Hansen, resigning as chairwoman of the committee late last year, commented that(link is external): “We are not being asked by government if we want this project; we are being told we must have it noting that there isn’t a week that goes by that the evidence against this project grows and grows.  …  Metropolitan road transport solutions used in the 1960s and ’70s do not make a great 21st century city”.

Is this criticism fair?  When Professor Hansen goes on to say that “if you only have one pot of money to spend on a major transport improvement it is not the East West Link”, is the point not just that there is only one pot, but also that the pot is dependent on grant funding from a Prime Minister who has indicated that his government will not fund public transport?
Without a constitutional mandate to prescribe State investment in private transport, but in a context of “vertical fiscal imbalance” where the Commonwealth Government gets more tax revenue than it needs, it can set the funding parameters for major transport infrastructure projects.


Within these parameters, the State Government selects for metropolitan Melbourne the project it either determines to be the best on merit or, at the least, the one most likely to score funding.  Cynics might question whether there is a third filter which favours those projects most likely to score votes in the next state election.


Excluded from all these decision-making constructs are Melbourne’s citizens as a metropolitan constituency.  Representatives in the Victorian Parliament whose seats are located in metropolitan Melbourne are preoccupied with their prospects in the next State Election. Their focus is not on a wholistic vision for the future metropolis, but on their seat and their party. In the absence of a vote as a metropolitan constituency there is a metropolitan ‘democratic deficit’.

Notably absent from the comment regarding there being “one pot of money” is recognition that there need not be just one pot.  Were there to be a revenue-generating metropolitan government that could engage in its own municipal infrastructure finance options, metropolitan voters could pursue more than one major project with relative independence from the State and Commonwealth governments.

Australian media and academic commentary pays remarkably little attention to the constitutional anachronism  – arising from negotiations over the roles and responsibilities and funding of state and Commonwealth governments – that effectively locks out mention of local government.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott has initiated White Papers on the Reform of the Federation(link is external) and the Reform of Australia’s Tax System.  Not included in either is a concern with effective metropolitan governance.

The global trend is that city-regions the size of Melbourne become relatively independent of both state and central governments.  Metropolitan voters determine the city-shaping infrastructure projects that affect their economic, social and environmental future.

Without metropolitan government and with a Commonwealth government controlling the pot of money, not only is democracy compromised, so too is Melbourne’s economy.


Rally for Public Transport – November 15


This public rally has been organised by a range of community groups that stand against the East-West Link.15Nov2014poster_crop_

Our demands are:

  • Scrap the East-West Link!
  • Rip up the contracts!
  • Invest in public transport!

We will be meeting at the State Library at 1pm on November 15.

Speakers and more information will be announced soon.

Follow #Rally4PT

For more info text ‘trains not tolls’ to 0432447036 or visit No East West Tunnel – Take the pledge
Facebook event: Rally for Public Transport – November 15

Help promote the 15 November Rally

Download November 15 rally leaflet (A4, pdf, 2.3m)
Download November 15 rally poster (A3, pdf, 6.1m)

The Inaugural Paul Mees Public Debate

The Inaugural Paul Mees Public Debate was held on 14 October 2014 at the RMIT Capitol Theatre on the topic: “That public transport planning is too important to be left to politicians” The following is live-tweeting of the debate.

Continue Reading…

Take the Quiz

quiz_After reading this article: First major Melbourne rail line in 80 years still six months off from Clay Lucas, The Age,  October 9 2014  try to answer the following quiz.

The new rail line has been built and is ready to open but the government won’t open it because:

a) It was not the Liberal’s idea so they can’t take credit for it.

b) It is under budget so they can’t blame the other side for cost overruns.

c) They are afraid that any teething problems could embarrass the government.

d) It demonstrates Federal Finance for rail infrastructure is an establised part of the knitting for Melbourne’s western suburbs, which makes Tony Abbott’s ‘no-rail’ policy look silly.

e) It makes the Naphthine governmnet look silly because the East West link is an expensive fiasco that ended in court, meanwhile they have quietly delivered a major rail infrastructure.

f) All of the above.


Continue Reading…

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