Labor launches legal bid to see business case for Melbourne East West Link road

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Guardian Australia: Labor launches legal bid to see business case for Melbourne East West Link road. 14 August 2014

Victorian opposition applies to civil and administrative tribunal for right to see Linking Melbourne authority’s full business case

Local residents protesting against to stop Melbourne’s East West Link road project. Photograph: AAP/Daniel Fogarty

Labor is trying to force Victoria’s Coalition government to make public the business case for the contentious East West Link road project.

Luke Donnellan, Victorian Labor’s roads spokesman, has applied to the Victorian civil and administrative tribunal to compel the Linking Melbourne authority, which is overseeing the project, to release the documents.

The Victorian government has said the business case, which is a full analysis of the project’s impact, is exempt from freedom of information laws because it was prepared for consideration by cabinet.

Donnellan claims only a summary of the voluminous business case has been seen by cabinet, thereby invalidating this exemption. The hearing concluded at Thursday lunchtime and a ruling is expected within two weeks.

“We are seeing if there’s a little crack we can jump through,” Donnellan told Guardian Australia. “This whole process shows that the government is all over the place, they are making up policy on the run.

“They have overcooked the economic activity that will come with the road and there are serious concerns around the traffic estimates. We have multiple objections to it really. It’s been a secretive process and it’s just not a priority. There are many other ways to spend $8 billion, such as on Melbourne Metro.”

The 18km East West Link will stretch across Melbourne’s northern suburbs, connecting the Eastern Freeway to the Western Ring Road.

The Victorian government approved the western section – a 6km piece of road which will cost $8 billion – in June.

Despite refusing to release the business case, the Victorian government has put forward a study that shows the new road will cut travel times by up to one hour.

However, the plan faces fierce opposition, with two local councils lodging legal challenges to it. Critics claim the road is expensive, uses up money that should be used for public transport and unfairly evicts people from their homes to make way for construction.

There are also concerns that the road will eat up part of Melbourne’s Royal Park and disturb animals in the nearby Melbourne Zoo while doing little to ease traffic congestion in the long term.

Should the Victorian government sign all the relevant contracts before November’s state election, Labor has said it will honour this work if it wins power, despite its opposition to the East West Link.

“We have to honour the contracts, we can’t raise the issue of sovereign risk,” Donnellan said. “We don’t want to sit on the sidelines like pork chops, like the Greens will. There’s not much we can do to unscramble the egg.”

The Linking Melbourne authority refused to comment on the case while Terry Mulder, Victoria’s transport minister, had not answered questions at the time of publication.

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