Address to the Comprehensive Impact Statement (CIS) hearing for the East West Link

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As presiding deity for this talk here is Bill Peterson, the mayor of Fitzroy, being arrested in his mayoral finery in 1977, at a protest against the F19/Eastern freeway—back when police still wore ties. It was because of these protests that the freeway now stops at Hoddle St instead of running all the way to the then Tullamarine freeway, now City Link.

Image: As presiding deity for this talk here is Bill Peterson, the mayor of Fitzroy, being arrested in his mayoral finery in 1977, at a protest against the F19/Eastern freeway—back when police still wore ties. It was because of these protests that the freeway now stops at Hoddle St instead of running all the way to the then Tullamarine freeway, now City Link.

Address to the CIS hearing for the East West Link, 10 April 2014 – Andrew Kelly

My name is Andrew Kelly. I am a resident of Fitzroy, but where I live would be well back from Ground Zero, should the project go ahead.

For the last thirty or so years I have been teaching ancient languages at various American and Australian universities. I’ve never been involved in sustained political action before, but I have thrown myself into the campaign against this project.

Like many others, I’ve done this because the project, like Ralph Nader’s Chrysler, is bad under every heading. Different things have moved different people to come out against it, but for summary we can arrange the project’s failings into concentric circles of woe, depending on the range and immediacy of those impacted.

At the immediate centre is damage to Royal Park and the inner city, and the loss or degrading of houses. That is terrible—because it is for no public good.

Further out, across the whole city the project would lock us into dysfunctional transport. Transport is about much more than getting people to work and boosting the economy. The transport system of a city determines in significant ways what a city is like, and a good one is indispensible for a humane and flourishing society.

Road rage and the absurd antipathy between drivers and cyclists are just one sign we are on the wrong track.

Above all, mode choice must be a primary driver, that the four modes of walking, cycling, public transport and private motor traffic are integrated and balanced, with people encouraged to slant toward the cheaper healthier simpler end. If you want to drive, or need to, then drive. But what we must avoid above all is continuing to build situations where people have no real choice other than to drive.

But effective transport can only be conceived as an integrated whole. That is not happening here.

This project is nothing but a road, oblivious to anything outside itself. It’s the work of road engineers and their ethereal surrogates, the traffic modellers, with hardly a champion in sight among academic experts in transport. Its gestures to public transport have proved token and hollow.

A case in point is that it can actually consider cannibalising the rail reservation down the freeway. That’s an outrage.

In Thailand recently the yellow shirt faction deliberately built its road across the oncoming railway construction of the red shirt faction, killing off its rival project. We don’t seem to be doing a that much better job when it comes to rational integration.

The congestion-busting game-changer has vanished—all we are offered now is marginal and short term relief. That’s a pretty dreary ambition. If by 2031 we’re only to be back where we are now, let’s fix that now instead of waiting for its repeat then.

And then if we turn our attention out beyond the city to the state, there are the financial implications. For all Victorians the Availability Public-Private Partnership threatens to be fiscal nightmare, effectively a 25 year long hire-purchase agreement—junk infrastructure on the never-never.

The money that wants to enrich itself at our expense and risk has even distorted the form of the project—that money prefers a single big long-running project to invest in, while it may very well be that our real needs are smaller and more scattered. A remark of Kenneth Davidson’s, that the problem with Doncaster Rail is that at $1.5 billion it’s too cheap.

But what disturbs me perhaps the most is the poor adherence to democratic values, both from those who made the founding decisions and among those who took up the task of implementing them. The record of the LMA in dealing with their fellow citizens has not been good. We have sunk to a new low here. We must correct this and not allow it to occur again.

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Image: Barricades on Alexandra Parade against freeway construction in 1977.

Like many others who have been at these hearings, some of whom are here today, I’ve taken part in the picketing of the test sites, for long runs of weeks getting up at 4 a.m., and some days at 3 or 2; having fastidiously polite conversations with more police officers than I’d ever met in my preceding fifty years; and, like a number of others, several times chaining myself to drilling equipment.

But most of the time the picket in fact resembles this hearing—a group of people talking about transport and policy, one difference being that here if you sit down the police present will never try to haul you away.

We’ve not taken up this course of action impulsively or for fun, and we didn’t do it quickly; but because finally we saw we were facing a process that was impervious to criticism and incapable of genuine consultation. Whatever you say to it the juggernaut just keeps rolling on.

All that comes back to us has been slogans, ads, brochures, animations, photo ops, consultation that is not consultation—all of this just spin, designed to further the interests of the project. When they meet strenuous disagreement they respond with denigration, dismissal and the use of force.

What there hasn’t been much of is argument or persuasion.

No explanation was ever given for why the Government stepped away from its election commitments which were to invest in public transport. We had Terry Mulder saying before the election “You can’t build your way out of congestion” and even afterward giving assurances that the tunnel was not to be part of their policy.

Almost every week now someone somewhere is hosting a forum, a meeting, a seminar, an event criticising the project. But not once have I seen or heard of anyone in authority or any supporting expert going there and trying to persuade opponents of the project that their views are incorrect, to try and bring them round. That’s very odd to me. Even if they did not succeed, the mere act of trying earns respect.

The real argument from the proponents has simply been that it’s a done deal, that you have no choice, so what colour would you like the fume stacks?

These hearings in fact are the first occasion the LMA have had to enter into any dialogue of substance. I think everyone can see they have not done such a great job when facing critics they are not permitted to ignore.

Sharp lawyers have not been enough to cover the essential bankruptcy of their position, the shallowness of the project’s preparation or the inadequacies of its underlying assumptions.

On the political front too we have the recent Summary Offences Legislation, and earlier the almost as draconian provisions of the Transport Facilitation Act Amendment, which assigns fines of over $8,000 for entering so-called Designated Areas.

It appears that the Summary Offences Act was hurriedly concocted to secure the project against direct opposition. Under it you could face two years imprisonment without any crime having been committed, simply for standing your ground on public land, quietly and without violence.

That legislation, whether used or not, is a shocker, and I don’t think even the MP’s who voted for it realise how radical its implications are for our democracy and the nature of public space.

Obviously, that people may be going to jail or facing massive fines is outside the panel’s terms of reference, but this is the landscape we are in, and it’s part and parcel of how the project is being forced through—as if all that matters to them is that they get their way.

In this environment, whether to bore or cut-and-cover through Royal Park cannot be an in-house engineering question. In total over the past six months many hundreds have been out before dawn against the geotesting drilling—a very early stage of the proceedings—supported and encouraged by thousands more. If it comes to ploughing a vast open trench through the park, there will be many, many thousands opposing.

The government always has force on its side. But is that any way to build a city? It would be a terrible crisis for the Victoria Police as well, and might well blight their relationship with the community for a long time to come.

Brent Lamb spoke here about people loving their old freeways turned into living parks; and Craig Czarni told us the norm overseas is now for projects to be implemented harmoniously, and with sensitivity. That is not the case here.

As a society can we afford a project whose first sod is turned inside a wire cage ringed by riot police?

This project is an old idea that has been living in a bottom drawer at Vic Roads for sixty years. Each time it comes out dressed up in some new set of rags it is resisted. It was maybe easier to forgive in 1977 than it is in 2014.

Old as it is, this ‘21st century road’ has a curiously static view of the future—cars will be slightly cleaner, petrol and parking cheaper; and of course there will more cars but, it seems, the same congestion.

This round will be the last time anyone tries to build it. Rapid change lies ahead, some of it, I hope, good—what will increasingly networked and self-driving cars means for the road network?—but on the other hand more likely than not we face environmental stringency. If difficulty times lie ahead, we need to set up a humane and effective transport system sooner rather than later. This project is not a step in that direction.

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Image: Melways 1st edition 1966. Here Alexandra Parade is still a parade—before 1977 made it arterial. It stops at Hoddle St, continuing much reduced as Alexandra Parade East to Merri Creek. In 1994/5, again in the face of resistance, the road area was widened reducing the median reserve which up till then had actually functioned as an park.

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