East-West Link campaign puts public transport back on the agenda

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Socialist Party Australia: East-West Link campaign puts public transport back on the agenda. 6 March 2014

The East-West Link is the Victorian governments headline project: a toll road tunnel that connects Melbourne’s Eastern suburbs to the Port of Melbourne. At a projected cost of $14 billion it is one of the largest road infrastructure projects in the world.

By Mel Gregson, Socialist Party

The project has been controversial since it was first proposed under a Labor government in 2007 and public support for the project continues to decline. The latest Age/Neilson poll puts support for the East West road tunnel at just 24%! More popular transport priorities are the Metro Rail project and the removal of level crossings. This demonstrates that Victorians want investment in public transport prioritised over the building of more roads.

The current Napthine Liberal/National coalition government is unpopular in the polls. This is no surprise considering the Liberals promised a rail line to the Melbourne Airport, as well as a rail line to the eastern suburbs of Doncaster, would be prioritised during this term. Both projects will fail to progress as the East West Link swallows the state’s transport funding.

With an election looming, the struggling government needs to be seen to be addressing the jobs crisis created by the collapse of the manufacturing sector. However, Napthine’s headline infrastructure project – The East West Link – will do almost nothing to address unemployment. The jobs that would be created by the project would be short-term construction jobs, not the kind of permanent skilled jobs being lost across the state.

The solution is simple. Scrapping the monumental waste that is the East West Link and investing instead in public transport would not only help soothe Melbourne’s traffic congestion woes but could also revitalise the state’s manufacturing industry.

A clear transport plan to provide all of Melbourne’s suburbs – as well as regional Victoria – with integrated, efficient 24-hour public transport would see tens of thousands of jobs created in Victoria’s flailing manufacturing sector. As the car manufacturers abandon Australia, their discarded factories and workforces should be retooled and retrained to manufacture trains, trams and buses.

A publicly owned and controlled revival of the manufacturing sector could not only ensure Victoria has the public transport infrastructure it needs for decades to come, but offer the only a real solution to the jobs crisis.

However, this obvious solution is directly counter to the interests of the road and oil lobby, and the neo-liberal ideology of those who do their bidding in government. Both major parties have wasted billions investing in roads, at the expense of public transport, because of their slavish commitment to big business and market capitalism. The fact that both the Liberal and the ALP are willing to waste public money on a road project that will cost taxpayers more than it will return in benefits highlights the lunacy of private interests dictating public policy.

In this context, the significance of the community campaign against the East West road tunnel (stage one of the East West Link) is huge. We have pointed to the profit motives behind major road projects and brought the question of public investment into public transport to the forefront of political discussion. Pressure is mounting on the ALP to commit to ripping up the contracts if they are signed before the election.

We have a real chance of derailing the destructive East West road tunnel.

The long term challenge is that none of the major parties want to take on a program of serious public investment into the manufacture and construction of public transport. Only the mass mobilisation of people will force change. We need to build a new force in politics, a new workers party that unashamedly puts the needs of ordinary people before those of big business. Ultimately only a socialist program of public investment and democratic planning can wash away the wasteful fouls of capitalism and create a sustainable world where decisions are made of the basis of human need, not private profit.

Community pickets force government to abandon tunnel test drilling (again!)

From the No East West Tunnel – Take the pledge Facebook page

Earlier this week the Roads Minister Terry Mulder said that test drilling for the proposed East-West Link has ended. This is despite the Linking Melbourne Authority (LMA) previously planning to drill at least nine more bore holes across inner city Melbourne.

This climb down is a clear win for our campaign!

While Mulder pretends that the job has been completed on time, the truth is that the government had directed Yarra City Council to issue permits for at least nine more holes in local streets. At the same time the Melbourne City Council had issued a permit to drill three holes in a park adjacent to Princes Street in Carlton. None of these holes have been completed.

At a community meeting a last month Victoria Police Assistant Commissioner Andrew Crisp confirmed this by saying that the LMA had informed him that they would be “drilling into April” in order to complete the remaining holes.

This is not the first time that Mulder and the LMA have lied and said that the test drilling was finished. The LMA originally claimed that the test drilling was completed in November 2013. They then returned in the dead of night to drill four holes previously hampered by our community pickets in December 2013.

Subsequently they announced that about 16 more holes were required and that they would be completed by late January. Now, in early March, only a fraction of those holes have been drilled with the government now signalling that they have given up.

Clearly our pickets, occupations of drill sites, and lock ons have hampered the works. It seems the decision to halt the drilling came on the back of two disastrous polls for the government. One estimated that a mere 24% of people saw the East-West Link as a priority while another (in the pro-tunnel Herald Sun!) estimated that only 15% of people support the East-West Link.

It seems the government has decided to halt the works as they are beginning to realise that they have very little support for this project. The vast bulk of people support the demands of the picketers for more public transport.

The risk they ran if they were to continue the drilling is that our pickets and pro public transport alternatives would be in the spotlight leading to them bleeding even more support for the project. Clearly they have decided to cut their losses.

The most important lesson from this back down is that collective direct action works. If we stick together and build this campaign even bigger we can stop not just the preliminary works but the entire disastrous project!

Stay tuned for information about the next steps of our campaign. Like the No East West Tunnel – Take the pledge Facebook page, text ‘tunnel’ to 0432447036 for regular sms updates and follow the #TunnelPicket hash tag on social media.

Community radio station 3CR also has an archive of stories from the pickets which you can listen to here.

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