The more the government goes on the offensive to make out they have a solid business case and financial backing, the less solid the project looks.
Spruiking the fact that four multinationals showed up at the trough to receive a lazy risk free 8 billion from the tax payers while the crown takes all the risk hardly builds confidence that the project won’t be a financial disaster. It’s just a stage show to make the project seem less half-baked than it actually is.
The constantly changing design shows that Linking Melbourne is caught on a hop and doesn’t really know what to build. The tender invites firms to design their own modification of the road.
Napthine, like the RACV’s Brian Negus, tout the road as a congestion buster to hapless motorists, but can’t say how much congestion it will bust. It won’t reduce congestion anywhere except for a few narrowly defined routes, and that will be a transient gain. Napthine referred to the frustration of motorists on Hoddle St, even though he knows that the East-West link will make Hoddle Street much worse until another north south freeway is called for as critical infrastructure. How much worse won’t be released till November. The Baillieu government shelved the Hoddle Street Study on election, moving the study team onto the Doncaster Rail Study.
The latest intervention was Transport Minister Terry Mulder desperately calling a protest on the weekend as ‘rent-a-crowd’. Mr Mulder, these people stand to lose their homes. Some will have a motorway built within a meter of their bedroom windows and not be compensated. No one had to pay them to attend.
It is encouraging that Mr Mulder or his spies attended the rally and felt it necessary to put down the ground swell of opposition. If the minister were to take a walk around Clifton Hill or Collingwood he would see real people displaying opposition to this scheme on their front fences and verandas with Trains Not Toll Roads placards sponsored by the City of Yarra.
It is also pleasing to see both Planning Minister Matthew Guy and Local Government Minister Jeanette Powell take a swipe at Yarra’s $200,000 campaign budget. It shows they fear people power will derail this poorly thought out road. Opposition is growing in the Cities of Melbourne and Darebin. Local councils were instrumental in convincing the WA government to build rail in Perth, so no wonder the government is anxious.
Mr Mulder has a good understanding of public transport and knows this road tunnel is political – designed to fix votes, not congestion. But like VicRoads, he has to dance to the leader’s devious tune. The main objective seems to be to wedge the ALP and the Greens in inner urban seats such as Melbourne and Batman.
Courageously, Opposition leader Daniel Andrews stood up to oppose Napthine’s mad scheme even if it may cost the ALP in some middle suburban marginal seats.
The ALP’s opposition to this road is real and unequivocal, despite support for other roads including East-Link, Peninsular Link and most likely some variation of West-Link.
The federal seat of Melbourne will suffer many of the impacts. ALP candidate Cath Bowtell opposes the road. She must remain non-committal about what the ALP will do, deferring questions to transport spokesman Richard Wynne and a report promised by the end of this year.
Sitting Green member for Melbourne Adam Bandt has always been such a vocal opponent of the road that the Liberals are preferencing the ALP ahead of him.
The Socialist Party who organised the weekend’s rally that provoked Mulder will also field a candidate, former Yarra councillor Anthony Main.
The ALP candidate for Batman, David Feeney is still untangling his parachute so is probably unaware the proposed exhaust stack will be in his new electorate. Having won pre-selection, he hasn’t felt much need to campaign on local issues. Let’s hope he is less bullish for the old fossil industries than his predecessor Martin Ferguson.
Make no mistake, governments with slim majorities can be bloody minded, especially when spending someone else’s money. But if they fail to win the argument that this road is justified or even necessary, then the project could become for them what WorkChoices was for Abbot and Howard.
With all the power of government, Naphine may be tempted to sack councils, change laws to bypass consultation, fast-track legal challenges and hide financial details. He can outspend the community campaign and threatens to ride roughshod over it. But there is always a cost.
Talking tough is their strategy to assist Abbot in the federal election. It makes this road seem more real than it is.
But when their own seats are on the line a year from now, will the liberals be prepared to risk it all for a handful of votes in a handful of seats?