Victoria election 2014: Regional voters divided over East West Link according to Vote Compass. By Stephanie Anderson. 16 Nov 2014
PHOTO: Victorian Farmers Federation head Peter Tuohey said rural Victorians would get no real benefits from the road project. (Supplied: Linking Melbourne Authority)
The East West Link is a major infrastructure project for Melbourne, and one of the main policy differences in this month’s state election.
But it is not just an issue for city dwellers.
The ABC’s Vote Compass survey showed country voters were also divided on the issue.
About 30 per cent of respondents in the country, and 28 per cent in regional cities, supported the tunnel and strongly disagreed with Labor’s plan to scrap it.
On the other side of the debate, 26 per cent of people in regional cities and 21 per cent of country respondents were against it and strongly agreed construction should be cancelled.
Radfords Meats in Warragul, in the state’s south-east, packages up about 150 tonnes of meat a day, sending it across Victoria and New South Wales in a fleet of trucks.
Its owner Rob Radford said he was a big supporter of the East West Link as a way to reduce congestion in the city.
He was concerned about what would happen if the project was scrapped, and what alternatives Labor had to offer.
“If the Labor Party get in and do what they say they’re going to do well I hope they’ve got a very good contingency plan as an alternative,” Mr Radford said.
“It will put a lot of burden on food processing companies like ourselves that deliver into the Melbourne metropolitan region every day.”
Mary Aldred, from the Committee for Gippsland, said producers in the state’s east were supportive of the project as a way to improve access to markets.
“We need efficient, competitive access to markets,” she said.
“We’re a long way away from capital cities, anything that we can do to ease congestion, particularly getting closer into Melbourne is a big win for this region.
“The other thing is that while a lot of raw products are produced in Gippsland, a lot of them are actually packed the other side of Melbourne.
“So having efficient access to those packers is really important for dairy, meat, transport and other related products in Gippsland.”
Farmers see benefits but want focus on local roads
On the other side of the state, the East West Link is less of an issue.
Peter Tuohey is the head of the Victorian Farmers Federation and owns a farm in central Victoria.
He agreed the tunnel would improve access for producers in Gippsland and said there were long-term benefits to reducing freight congestion.
But he said communities in the north-west would not see any direct benefit from the road project.
“The possibility of improving freight flows into Melbourne is certainly good,” Mr Tuohey said.
They want to see that first mile, that first kilometre fixed up or maintained to a better level.
Peter Tuohey, Victorian Farmers Federation
“It hasn’t really hit the radar in the north-west part of the state because it won’t even affect that in any way.”
He said farmers could see the benefit of the project but many were more focused on local roads.
“The first mile and the last mile is the access point, so you’ve got to be able to get the right trucks into the farm to pick up the product, but you’ve also got to be able to get it into the port efficiently,” he said.
“They want to see that first mile, that first kilometre fixed up or maintained to a better level so it can handle the bigger trucks which we’ve got on our roads now.
“In the north and west of the state [the East West Link] is not really going to improve the situation much there.
“But when you look at it long term, it will decrease some of the congestion at port, so long term it will be good value.”