East West Link protests a futile waste of police resources

Herald Editorial: East West Link protests a futile waste of police resources. 9 August 2014

Police stop traffic as the East West Link protesters walk down Alexander Pde. Picture: Nicole Garmston

The small group of misdirected East West Link serial pests have cost Victorian taxpayers dearly, both in financial terms and in community safety.

Today we reveal that this futile ragtag group of protesters has consumed 36,000 police hours, taking officers away from their usual beat and depriving them of time to respond to crime, to calls for assistance and from investigations.

The shocking waste of resources, uncovered through documents released under Freedom of Information, shows just how badly a self-appointed group of radicals can hijack public resources.

The financial cost of this police manpower — on top of the 2779 overtime hours booked (which in itself runs to about $200,000) — is enormous and likely to run into the millions.

Yesterday the Herald Sun reported on the judicial criticisms levelled at a Supreme Court battle instituted by one of the protesters, Anthony Murphy, which threatens to consume more taxpayer resources in defence of the $8 billion link.

Others to back the fight against the Napthine Government’s green-lighting of the project include Moreland and Yarra councils in a separate court action. More costs and potentially more delays.

Meanwhile, the FOI data reveals police were forced to allocate 4954 shifts to monitor and deal with East West protests since September 30 last year.

Numerous times, little more than a dozen demonstrators blocked public and private transport northeast of the CBD and had to be wrested from test-drilling sites.

Among the wasted resources, there were 3443 shifts worked by constables and sen-constables, 961 sergeant shifts, 287 sen-sergeants, 97 inspectors, 64 superintendents.

For much of the time at protest sites in Fitzroy, Clifton Hill and Brunswick they were left idle, either observing the protesters or on standby in case clashes erupted.

Planning Minister Matthew Guy is right when he says that every Victorian should be angered by the huge waste of police resources and the costs involved in dealing with such a small group of demonstrators.

The right to peaceful protest is a central plank of any working democracy.

So is the right for governments to govern, for people to go about their business and travel unhindered and for the community to have available to it an effective police service.

Not one which is tied up because of a tiny collection of protesters intent on causing as much inconvenience as possible.

There is always room for sensible debate about the balance between roads infrastructure and spending on improved public transport networks.

The Napthine Government is aiming to spend $24 billion on new road and rail projects. The Eddington review identified the East West Link as a priority for the state’s economy.

The East West tunnel is an essential project for the current and future needs of Victoria. It will also generate 3000 much-needed jobs.

The second stage linking to Port Melbourne has now attracted federal support.

It’s time this irrelevant protest group packed up and allowed progress to take place.

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