Freeway protesters delay tunnel building

Issue 
Early morning picketers. Photo: No East West Tunnel - Take the pledge/Facebook

Every day at 5.30am, residents and supporters gather in the Collingwood area around Alexandra Parade to protest against test drilling for the government's proposed East-West Link tollway tunnel.

Keith Fitzgerald stands to lose the house he has lived in for 69 years if the tunnel is built. He told Green Left Weekly the protests are about more than just his home.

“They've got no right to take our heritage, our history, our parks and our clean air away from us. These are the vital things that we're fighting for and will continue to fight for.

“In Collingwood and Clifton Hill we lose the shot tower and the state school. That's only trivial compared to what they're going to lose over in Royal Park. There's 16 threatened species in the zoo, there's the wetlands and all that.

“We're determined to go on. We'll pull it up to the election to let the people say what's going to happen.”

It remains to be seen whether the protests will prevent the contract being signed before the election. But if they do, there is a good chance the tunnel will be stopped for good.

The three Victorian Greens MPs have opposed the plan from the outset. Labor announced in November that if it won government it would abandon the tunnel plans — but only if no contract has been signed already. This marks a shift, since it promoted the tunnel idea when in government.

A week-long heatwave with daily temperatures over 40 degrees Celsius hasn't deterred protesters. Protester Mel Gregson spoke to GLW while she and others were occupying drilling equipment, preventing workers from moving it to the next site. Gregson lives only two blocks from where the action took place, and is a member of the Socialist Party.

“We've been organising community pickets to stop the test drilling for about five months now, on an off,” she said. “Over the last two weeks we've had a great turnout from the local community, environmental activists, public transport advocates.

“We've been able to seriously hold up drilling and put the government well behind schedule. They need to do this test drilling in order to contract out the project, which they plan to do five minutes before the next election. Our goal at the moment is to try to stop that happening. We're pretty happy with what we've been able to achieve through direct community action so far.”

Gregson said the organisers aim to take the campaign to outer suburbs and regional Victoria, “to talk to people about this project and why it's not in the interests of ordinary people, and why it's all being pushed by the interests of big business.”

Fitzgerald was keen to emphasise that not all protesters are “active” like those occupying the machinery; they welcome all supporters to attend and show their support.

One group of protesters was organising a workshop on January 19 where supporters could “learn about and plan safe and effective direct action with advice from legal, media and first-aid experts”.

Workshop co-organiser Gabrielle de Vietri told GLW: “We felt there was a need to be prepared for safety issues, legal issues, for our own mental preparation.

“We need to be creative, because the official channels we've been given to oppose the tunnel, like around the Comprehensive Impact Statement, aren't going to stop it, because they are run by the people who want it to go ahead.”

Supporters can find out more about this and future training workshops, by emailing workshop organisers at tunnelactionworkshop@gmail.com. To stay informed about the pickets, text the word “tunnel” to 0432447036.