The attacks on the East West tunnel picket

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Overland: The attacks on the East West tunnel picket By Mel Gregson 11 February 2014

I’d like to respond to some of the accusations levelled at the community picket to stop the East West tunnel by the Napthine government, the Linking Melbourne Authority, the police commissioner and the News Corp and Fairfax papers. Below are a few claims that continue to be repeated without basis.

‘You have the right to protest, but not to disrupt anything’

This is the same as saying ‘You can protest, but only if it’s ineffectual and the government can easily ignore you’. The point of a ‘picket’ is to stop work from happening. We are attempting to stop test drilling for the East West tunnel. We are doing this because the government lied about its intentions to build the tunnel. Napthine does not, in fact, have a mandate to spend unlimited finds on this project. We are calling on the government to let the people of Victoria decide how billions of dollars of taxpayer money is spent (the vast majority want investment in public transport before toll roads).

‘Protesters are selfishly disrupting people on their way to work’

If this is referring to the people who live in the area or those travelling along Alexandra Parade, then it is not the picketers causing disruption. It is the Linking Melbourne Authority who are blocking off roads to set up drill rigs in the middle of the street and fencing in residents’ cars without warning. The community picket targets drilling sites – that is, sites on roads and parks that have been blocked off by the government.

But if this is referring to the 2–4 people who operate the drilling machining, then yes, our goal is to disrupt their work. They are contracted by the government to do work on a project the majority of Victorians do not support – a project the government lied about. Mind you, they still get paid even when we stop them from drilling. If any of the non-union workers are not getting paid (a story that seems to have been fabricated by 3AW presenters), they should join their union because they are being unfairly taken advantage of by their employer.

At the end of the day, all successful campaigns will cause some disruption. After all, the point is to change what is happening and take some control back into the hands of the community. The question is, what is more annoying: small disruptions now or five years of digging a giant hole that will destroy historic parts of inner-north Melbourne, cost taxpayers billions of dollars and take available funds away from public transport, all for a privately operated toll road that few people will use and drivers will be charged for again if they do use?

‘Protesters should be locked up for criminal behaviour’

So far, not a single person involved with the campaign against the East West tunnel has been charged with or convicted of any offence. This is because most of the community pickets have happened on public land with the support of locals.

In fact, the Napthine government has decided to rewrite the law in order to criminalise peaceful community protest and pickets. This represents a huge attack on civil liberties and should be opposed by everyone who values democratic rights.

‘Money is being wasted on a huge police presence every day’

We could not agree more. Most rank-and-file police seem to agree with us, too. The amount of police resources being used against the community picket is insane and outrageous. But it is the Napthine government who is to blame for this cost. The Napthine government ordered the police operation, and ordered the drilling to commence despite having no mandate to do so. We would much rather Napthine call the whole thing off, but he refuses.

The Police Association, on the other hand, seem to have different intentions. They seem to be trying to leverage the use of police against the community picket as a bargaining chip with the government. One executive member of the Police Association said he expects police will be awarded higher wages in their EBA negotiations if ‘Operation Burrow’ (the operation against the community picket) continues.

‘The pickets are not having an effect’

The Linking Melbourne Authority initially said they had finished test drilling in November last year. They then revised the date to 24 January. Next they said early February. Now they are refusing to say when they’ll be finished.

And that is because our community picket has dramatically disrupted the drilling schedule, to the extent that on some days no drilling happens at all! Considering that the Napthine government is in a race against time to sign the contracts for the East West Link only weeks before the November election, this matters. It matters a great deal.

Check out No East West Tunnel – Take the Pledge for details on how to become involved.

Mel Gregson is one of the founders of ‘No East West Tunnel – Take the Pledge’, an initiative that has called on opponents of the East West Link to participate in direct community action to stop the project. Contact her via the campaign’s Facebook page.

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