Guardian: East West Link contract signed by Victorian government. Melissa Davey. Monday 29 September 2014
High court rejects a last-ditch effort to delay the controversial $8bn roadway project
The Victorian premier Denis Napthine and minister for transport Terry Mulder after signing the East West Link contract. Photograph: Mal Fairclough/AAPImage
The Victorian Coalition government signed the contract to construct the controversial East West Link project late on Monday afternoon, after the high court rejected a last-ditch effort to delay the deal being finalised.
Brunswick resident Anthony Murphy had hoped to block the contracts for the $8bn roadway from being signed until 17 October, claiming the economic modelling used to justify the project was flawed and misleading.
But Justice Susan Crennan told his legal counsel, Ron Merkel QC, that the government and the consortium of building companies which had won the tender for the project faced significant losses if an interim injunction were granted.
“Having reviewed all of the relevant material urgently” Crennan found “more is at risk for the respondents if the interim injunction is granted than for the applicant”.
“I’m not convinced the applicant’s prospect of success outweighs the consideration of loss to the respondents and third parties,” she said.
Earlier, the government’s counsel said the tender winners – a consortium led by construction company Lend Lease – would be “innocent third parties” if the injunction were granted because it would cost them $435,000 for each week the contract was delayed.
A possible rise in interest and foreign exchange rates while the government waited to sign the contract would also be extremely costly to the government and taxpayers, the court heard.
Murphy would still be free to argue against the business case for the project, Crennan said, after the court of appeal overturned a supreme court decision earlier on Monday to rule in favour of a retrial of his case against the 18km, cross-city road.
Merkel told the high court the East West Link was a “loss-making project of significant proportions” and that orthodox economic modelling had shown the government would lose “20 cents for every dollar invested”.
Opponents of the link have criticised the government for what they see as a lack of transparency over the project and have repeatedly pushed for the business case for the project to be released.
The government had undertaken that it would not sign any contracts until after 4pm Monday, once the high court decision had been made.
At 4pm, Napthine alerted the media that the contract would be signed at 4.45pm.
The Victorian attorney general, Robert Clark, said the government had made clear they were on a timetable that included the contracts being signed “around the current time”.
“We’ve got motorists suffering increasing congestion and the government sees no reason why we shouldn’t get on with this project and deliver benefits to all Victorians.”
When asked why the government could not wait to sign the contracts until after the 29 November election, Clark repeated that the government had committed to a timetable.
“We are committed to getting on with doing it.”
But the opposition leader, Daniel Andrews, made the project an election issue last month when he vowed to dump the project if Labor is elected, after receiving legal advice.
Labor is relying on a supreme court challenge to the link by Moreland and Yarra councils, due to be heard after the election on 15 December, arguing that any contract cannot be validly entered into while the issue is before the supreme court.
Their stance has not appeared to hurt them in the polls, with figures released to Fairfax on Monday showing Labor holds an election-winning lead – 52% to the Coalition’s 48% on a two-party preferred basis.
James Merlino, the deputy opposition leader, told reporters on Monday the road project “lurches from one legal challenge to the next”.
“Any contract signed before the election is not worth the paper it is written on,” he said.
“Denis Napthine is desperate to sign any sham contract before the election because he doesn’t want to take it to the people and allow Victorians to decide.” Labor would instead invest in public transport if elected, he said.
Victorian Greens leader, Greg Barber, said the full contents of the contracts must be made public immediately.
“Right now, today, so the voters can see what the Libs have gotten us into,” he said. “The Greens are resolute that we won’t support any government that intends to proceed with the road.”
A statement from the community group opposing the project, Public Transport Not Traffic, said the road had no mandate from Victorians and they were disappointed that Napthine had signed the contract.
“To sign a contract weeks before the election is a slap in the face to all those that voted on the Coalition’s public transport promises in 2010,” the statement said. “Community groups across Melbourne will continue to campaign for Napthine to be removed from office come 29 November.
“From the start, this toll road has been a dodgy deal done behind closed doors.”