The campaign against the staging of the 1996 Grand Prix in Melbourne's Albert Park is gathering momentum. A demonstration of 20,000 people against the Kennett government on February 10 was led by the Save Albert Park group. As the construction works proceed and the full devastation becomes evident, the Save Albert Park campaign appears headed for a more intensive confrontation with the Grand Prix Corporation and the state government. TULLY BATES and JEREMY SMITH spoke to actor and leading Save Albert Park activist JOHN DIEDRICH for Green Left Weekly.
How do you assess the impact of the campaign so far?
The campaign is going unbelievably well. It's extraordinary, it just grows and grows and grows! We're having an enormous impact in the community in general, although we have not stopped them destroying the park. Our primary function is to save the park and have the Grand Prix moved somewhere else in Melbourne.
What links have you made with other campaigns and communities?
We've connected up with the people from Richmond Secondary College. Richmond has been very helpful in guiding us, especially in [organising] actions in the park. We've connected with CAFE (Coalition Against Freeway Extensions) and the Moreland freeway people. We have to link up because there's strength in links and connections.
What is the Victorian ALP's attitude to the campaign?
The Victorian ALP have come out of a great electoral defeat. One of the reasons they were defeated was the perceived economic mismanagement; the Grand Prix was lauded as the economic saviour. The ALP had taken the view that we've taken — that the Grand Prix is fine for Victoria, but a disaster in Albert Park. The ALP proposed the Docklands as an alternative, and I think that they've done a very good job, in that particular instance, of being a viable opposition.
Why do you think that the campaign has been so successful?
The whole process has been such a disgrace that people who would otherwise be easy going are saying, "I've had enough". It has galvanised people. With the resources that we've had at our fingertips — largely people skills and commitment — we've taken on this state and this quasi-state organisation [Grand Prix Corporation].
What is the next step?
We will continue to have actions in the park and will be forming an assembly of people to work on restoring the park once the race has moved. [The issue] is not going to go away. This organisation started 12 months ago. At first there were 20 people sitting in a room. Last night we had a meeting of 400-500 people.
The concrete will be poured soon. Is that a point of no return? How far is the campaign prepared to go?
It's never gone past the point of no return — even if they pour the concrete. We may be stuck with that road, but if we can't dig it up we'll be planting trees all along it so it is a proper park road. We may not be able to stop them from turning it into a racetrack but, by God, we can make sure it's turned back into a park. The only irreversible thing is the destruction of all the trees. If they are mad enough to have a race there once, we'll make sure it's the only race that's on there.
What are the implications of the government's attacks on the Albert Park community for parliamentary democracy, or democracy in general, in Victoria?
What kind of democracy is it when a government turns on its community and then uses the police to do the same? People are standing up in peaceful protest and are being confronted by the police and dragged away. All the community groups have taken a pledge of passive resistance, which is right, but it's a very unlevel playing field when the full weight of the state is thrown against the community.
They're asking us to live under an electoral dictatorship where you get the opportunity to express your opinion once every four years. In between you must shut up and do as you are told, no matter what the ramifications.
It's not as if this government sat down with everyone over a period of months and consulted with them and everyone agreed, then we all changed our mind and decided we'd go and fight the park. We had no choice.
Do you think you can win the campaign?
I believe that we can. We've established our credentials; we're not just here because we thought it was a good idea at the time. We really do want to win this campaign and we can. I've got a good deal of faith in this community.