State Government delays signing East West Link contracts amid court appeal

Herald Sun: State Government delays signing East West Link contracts amid court appeal. Emily Portelli. 23 September 2014

The Hoddle St exit from the Eastern Freeway during morning peak hour.

The State Government has agreed to hold off on signing contracts to start construction of the embattled East West Link for another day after a court heard the project will cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars.

Brunswick resident Anthony Murphy lost his initial attempt to stop the toll road earlier this month when the Victorian Supreme Court found the state did not breach consumer protection laws with a misleading and deceptive cost- benefit estimate.

The court also rejected Mr Murphy’s request to access the Napthine Government’s business case for the 18km cross-city road.

Ron Merkel, QC, acting for Mr Murphy, today told the Court of Appeal that preventing the “substantial loss-making project” from going ahead was in the public interest.

Mr Merkel said the project would cause a substantial loss to the state, without any real benefit.

“(The Government is) about to sign a contract that will put it into hundreds and hundreds of millions dollars loss,” he said.

Mr Merkel said nothing was stopping the government from publishing a truthful business case to the public, an action that could leave Mr Murphy with no ground for relief in the court’s eyes.

Justice Clyde Croft earlier ruled that the government’s activities were not the subject of consumer laws because, in designing the toll road, it was not carrying out a business.

Mr Merkel told the court Justice Croft made a series of fundamental errors in dismissing his client’s case, including denying him access to government documents to use as evidence.

Neil Young, QC, for Linking Melbourne Authority, said the judge was entitled to determine preliminary questions based on incomplete material to ensure delay and costs were kept to a minimum under new legislation.

He said even if Mr Murphy’s appeal was successful, the court would not order that the government – keen to lock in the contracts before the state election on November 29 – be prevented from entering into the agreements.

Mr Young said the only relevant order would be for the state to publish the correct financial information.

“I think this is an attempt just to block the project and block the contracts,” he told the court.

Representing the state, Mark Moshinsky, QC, told the court no contracts would be executed before 4.30pm tomorrow.

Mr Murphy – who is funding his claim with donations and pro bono legal assistance – also wants the government and Linking Melbourne Authority to pay the costs of the appeal.

Taxpayers will fund a separate action against the link by Moreland and Yarra councils later this year.

Mr Murphy’s case continues tomorrow.

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