$18b East West Link ‘requires special laws’

The Age: $18b East West Link ‘requires special laws’. August 4, 2014. Clay Lucas, City Editor, The Age

Legal advice from a constitutional law expert has placed a fresh focus on the pace with which the Napthine government is pushing through plans for its signature transport project, the East West Link.

The government does not plan to create special legislation for the $14-18 billion freeway under Carlton and Royal Park, which it says it will begin constructing within three months.

Instead it will rely on an act created in 2009 and modified last year to streamline the planning process.

But Michael Crommelin, the Zelman Cowen Professor of Law at Melbourne University’s law school, said it would be highly unusual for a project of its scope to be launched without specific laws supporting it.

‘‘A project of this scale does require project specific legislation,’’ said Professor Crommelin, who was initially contacted by the Opposition seeking his views on the project.

Previous recent major freeways – CityLink, EastLink and Peninsula Link – all required specific acts of Parliament to be put in place, in part because they involved compulsorily acquiring homes and properties.

Professor Crommelin said signing contracts for the road and beginning construction without an act in place to back it would place the project in a similar situation to the federal funding of chaplains in schools, which was struck down in June.

In that instance, he said, ‘‘the issue was that in the school chaplaincy program, the Commonwealth without legislation entered into agreements with various bodies to provide chaplaincy services in school’’.

He said contracting a major consortium to build the road without legislation would be highly unusual.

‘‘The government will at some stage enter into major contracts with the project builders, and those contracts will involve major [financial] commitments on the part of the government, stretching over a long period of time,’’ Professor Crommelin said. ‘‘Those sorts of contracts require legislative authorisation.’’

Opposition planning spokesman Brian Tee said the government was ‘‘hell-bent on avoiding scrutiny’’ of the project and for that reason had not gone through a process followed by previous governments.

‘‘It’s outrageous – this road will consign Victorians to a generation of debt. But have they even thought it through properly?’’

A spokeswoman for Roads Minister Terry Mulder said the government had amended Labor’s 2009 Major Transport Projects Facilitation Act to ensure projects of state significance like the East West Link avoided duplication and unnecessary red tape.

Jackie Fristacky, the mayor of Yarra Council, which is involved in legal action with another inner city council in a bid to delay the project, said that the government should be creating an act of parliament to support the road.

‘‘The project is so politically unpopular that I would expect parliament not to support it,’’ said Cr Fristacky.

Debate over the need for legislation to support the road came as residents in Carlton, Clifton Hill, Fitzroy and Collingwood meet on Tuesday night in relation to their homes being taken by the government for the East West Link.

Some residents have been notified the process of compulsorily acquiring their homes will begin in early August. Those outside the project area – which was gazetted by the government last Wednesday – are still unclear on whether their homes will be bought.

Among them is Ande Bunbury, who lives just outside the project’s boundary and whose home will face onto a major site of construction. Ms Bunbury said, if the project went ahead without her property being bought, she was ‘‘screwed’’.

‘‘I’m down $200,000, I’m facing years of disruption, noise, cracking, vibration immediately outside my windows,’’ said Ms Bunbury.

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