By-election editorial

File:Arthur Streeton - Hoddle Street, 10 pm, 1889.jpg

Arthur Streeton, Hoddle St., 10 p.m, [Hoddle Street to Junction] 1889, Painting, oil on cardboard. Retrieved 16 July 2012 from NGV Collection search

YCAT is a community campaign against a proposed $12 billion plus tunnel that would cement Melbourne’s dependence on the motor car.

Significantly, this will also starve public transport projects of capital for another generation. That means no funds to fix level crossings, no Rowville rail, No airport rail, no Doncaster rail, no Mildura service restoration and no cash to fix the Frankston line.

Money spent on this white elephant will impact negatively on public transport projects across the state, not just clog up the roads and air of the inner north.

As a community campaign, YCAT lobbies against the tunnel  to all  parties in all levels of government. YCAT supporters are drawn from members of all the parties, as well as those who belong to none. This helps to keep the campaign focused on the transport issues and not beholden to the needs of parties to campaign.

Next Saturday, a by-election is to be held in the State seat of Melbourne. The proposed tunnel would travel through this electorate  as well as others. The electorate also includes some of the proposed Metro stations. Sixteen candidates have nominated, but none from the Liberal or National party.

The front runners are Cathy Oke, for the Victorian Greens and Jennifer Kanis for the ALP. Both have experience as Councillors of the City of Melbourne. While the City of Yarra has strongly opposed the tunnel, with an active campaign, the City of Melbourne has been less outspoken. This may be starting to change with Melbourne putting conditions on the drilling permits requested by Linking Melbourne in Royal park.

While neither candidate will be able to upset the slender majority held by the Baillieu Government this term, the issue for YCAT is which candidate is most likely to campaign against the tunnel and for Doncaster rail.

The ALP has a mixed record. Jennifer Kanis asked about the East-West tunnel by The Sunday Age said

“Look, the proposal we have before us is Ted Baillieu’s  east-west tunnel and what he’s proposing is bringing more traffic into Melbourne. It’s not going to fix congestion, it’s just going to move it from Hoddle Street across to Nicholson Street and Rathdowne and Lygon. What needs to happen is for Hoddle Street to be fixed. It’s a street that’s at capacity but one where you don’t need to destroy homes or parkland to fix. And if you fix Hoddle Street, our view is that you fix a lot of the congestion in other parts of the city. So no  east-west tunnel.”

In response, we could start by referring Ms. Kanis to the Hoddle Street History Walk, compiled by the 3068 Group to highlight the significance of Hoddle St, including the elms, churches and occasional town hall.

It is not clear what ‘fixing’ hoddle street means. The Brumby government commissioned a $5 million study to ‘fix’ Hoddle Street. YCAT was represented on the Hoddle Street Study Advisory Group – a study which never released its findings due to the incoming Baillieu government’s election promise to fund a study into Doncaster Rail.

This meant the Hoddle Street Study’s terms of reference were superseded.  At the final advisory group meeting before the study folded, we were briefed that:

  • Grade separation cost-benefit ratios did not stack up and the on/off ramps would be detrimental to pedestrians.
  • An overhead bus-way was considered and rejected, there is already an elevated train
  • A cut and cover tunnel  was considered and rejected due to the West Richmond rail tunnels.
  • Time-marked lanes were rejected.

Options that were favourably considered by the study included:

  • A new tunnel under the Richmond rail line to alleviate congestion from cars avoiding the Exhibition St toll -changing the tolls would be simpler in every way except the political.
  • A small diameter bus-only express tunnel from Victoria Park to Richmond Station, with local buses, like the impossibly slow #246 remaining on the surface.

Now only an FOI request can bring these draft options to light.

Some of the findings released by the study included important information in support of public transport.  Significantly, more people already travel to the city by bus along the Eastern Freeway than by car and only 25% of cars turning into Hoddle Street reach CityLink.

The study reported that the Hoddle Street peak lasts 8 hours and the road was at its busiest at midnight on a Saturday night. Including free public transport in the price of tickets to MCG, Melbourne and Yarra Park events were deemed out of scope, but an obvious way to reduce congestion without spending billions.

The community has good reason to be suspicious of the ALP’s recent statements that they do not support the East-west tunnel.

The tunnel was after all strongly supported by the Brumby Government and ALP’s consultant Sir Rod Eddington. The ALP appointed Sir Rod to head up Infrastructure Australia but he acknowledges that the cost-benefit ratio for the tunnel is lower than for the a metro linking North Melbourne with South Yarra.

While inner city candidates realise the tunnel is toxic to their electorate, the  ALP is divided on the tunnel. For example Martin Ferguson, the federal member for Batman, holds an electorate that includes Clifton Hill where the tunnel will begin. The resources minister has been too busy spruiking coal exports to comment on the tunnel. Will Ms. Kanis be ensnared by the same political restraints that subdued her predecessor from fighting the tunnel?

Cathy Oke’s response to The Sunday Age question “Do you support an east-west tunnel?” was:

“The Greens have consistently opposed the east-west tunnel, the east-west tollway, whatever version of a new road that has been proposed for the east-west link. We believe that to ease congestion, to get people from the  eastern and  western suburbs to their jobs in the city, we need to provide better public transport. For the people who live in the inner city and see the congestion on their streets, the solution isn’t a new road or tollway. The solution is better public transport. We know the bulk of the people who work in the city are coming from outside the electorate and they’re the ones who are on the roads. Remove the bulk of those and hopefully you’re going to ease the congestion for those who are going from east to west.”

YCAT agrees completely – the question for voters is who will be the best advocate against the tunnel/toll road, what ever form, and who will advocate most strongly for a Doncaster rail.

Is it someone who might possibly influence ALP policy from the inside or someone who’s party has the right priorities to begin with.

Chris Goodman and Freda Watkin, YCAT Commitee


2 thoughts on “By-election editorial”

  1. John Cox says:

    The East-West tunnel may be infrastructure but it is not the infrastructure Melbourne needs. As we have seen with all major road projects, the traffic congestion they purport to relieve actually returns within a few years because of induced demand. The only real way to relieve traffic congestion is to get people out of their cars and on to rail. New passenger railways (Doncaster, Rowville, Melbourne Airport) should be the highest priority for any government serious about moving Melburnians.

    But moving people is clearly not the priority. Bodies like Infrastructure Australia appear to be asking a different question: how can we use infrastructure projects, including the sale of existing infrastructure, to generate windfall profits for lucky (or well-connected) private companies?

    Pity the rest of us who elect governments to serve the public interest. The East-West tunnel is a white elephant. It failed its cost-benefit analysis because it delivers no appreciable benefits. Its colossal cost ($10+ billion) will wipe out all transport funding for Victoria for a generation. Yet that $10 billion provides a very big pie for the cronies, camp-followers and carpet baggers to feast upon.

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