Campaign to save Royal Park

May 5, 1999

By Angela Munro

MELBOURNE — A costly "review" of the 1987 master plan for Royal Park in Melbourne's inner north has been used to legitimise the construction there of a corporate hockey, gridiron and netball stadium, and associated administrative offices, for the 2006 Commonwealth Games.

Not only was there no opportunity for community consultation on the matter; this was explicitly ruled out by the hired facilitators of two public meetings which were (stage-)managed by the intimidated local council.

At the end of 1998, the state planning minister amended the planning scheme to allow the three-storey stadium on the western wall of the Royal Melbourne Zoo to proceed.

The stadium was declared a "project of state significance" and therefore, perversely, requires no public information about or involvement in its planning. The minister then dispensed with an environmental impact assessment because it was not compulsory.

Members of the Royal Park Protection Group, who discovered that in Victorian law there is apparently no such thing as a park, have forged an alliance with some trade unionists and environmentalists, notably the forest campaigners of Friends of the Earth, to challenge the gutting and commercialisation of this public parkland, which was reserved in the mid-1800s. The RPPG is calling for assessments of the environmental impact of the proposed stadium and of alternative sites.

Having signed the contract in mid-March, the construction corporation Multiplex fenced a construction site of around five hectares. The fence was repeatedly dismantled by protesters, but completed on March 19. Then the carnage of clear-felling a largely indigenous woodland began.

A fortnight ago, 16 protesters gained access to the site, some securing themselves to trees, and refused to leave. They rejected charges of breaching the peace by impeding work and illegally occupying parkland.

The legal basis for the development and activists' exclusion from the parkland has baffled everyone — police and Multiplex employees included. Before protesters have been removed by police, a member of the new park management committee (an employee of the government's Major Projects Unit) has read out a prepared script which claimed the right to "revoke your licence" to use the park under trespass regulations of the City of Melbourne, whose powers over the site have been quashed.

One hundred people joined a RPPG demonstration on April 30. To offer help to the campaign or for further information, phone Angela on (03) 9347 6560, Julianne on (03) 9347 6953 or Friends of the Earth on (03) 9419 8700.

[Angela Munro is the convener of the RPPG.]

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