Government spin on East West Link hides inconvenient facts

The authority responsible for managing the East West Link has sent residents in inner-city Melbourne an eight-page brochure extolling the virtues of the new motorway.

The newsletter says that work is set to commence on the project to build 4.4 kilometre twin tunnels between the Eastern Freeway and City Link in Moonee Valley. It would create about 3700 jobs, including 150 for automotive workers facing unemployment from the closure of Ford, General Motors and Toyota plants in Melbourne and Geelong.

Nowhere does the newsletter mention the estimated $14-18 billion cost of the project; or the fact that the government has resisted efforts to release the business case for the plan; or that the project will bury the much-demanded Doncaster train link to the city.

It is clear the real aim of the “newsletter” is to intimidate and hoodwink opponents. Nowhere does it acknowledge the widespread and strong community opposition to the tunnel, the fears of smokestacks near schools and early childhood centres, the loss of green spaces in Moreland and Royal Park, nor the impact of noise levels from road overpasses on residents of housing estates in Moonee Valley.

The spin blithely claims that the tunnel will reduce travel time between the Hoddle Street and the Eastern Freeway and City link by seven minutes. But nearly 80% of the traffic exiting the freeway turns south to head into Carlton and the CBD. Even the two-page “map” of the project shows no off ramps into the streets of Collingwood, Fitzroy and Carlton.

The impact on Royal Park and the Melbourne Zoo is glossed over: the tunnelling will be a combination of boring and cut and cover. This confirms the fears of environmentalists and the public that most of the work could be through the much cheaper method of cut and cover.

The brochure put forward spin about creating a jobs network — at the same time reports emerge that the project could be a massive attack on union rights through flying in foreign workers on temporary worker visas.

Despite claims the authorities will manage air quality, the planning minister has ignored the specific objections on environmental, economic, social and procedural ground raised by at least three local councils and planning experts.
The intentions behind the newsletter are hard to disguise; intimidate opponents into thinking that their campaign is lost and hoodwink voters in outer suburbs to re-elect the coalition.

While communities and activists opposing the tunnel need not throw in the towel just yet, there is a risk the focus of the anti-tunnel campaign could be diverted into re-electing the ALP.

Labor initially said it would honour the tunnel contract but now opposes it, not on policy grounds, but on the basis of legal challenges mounted by the city councils of Yarra and Moreland. A clear majority to Labor in the election could mean that it can renege on its opposition, bow to corporate lobbying and allow the tunnel to be built with slight modifications.

Without the presence of strong public transport supporters in parliament and a sustained community pressure, the ALP can easily succumb to the attractions of a tunnel “lite”. It bears pointing out that the ALP has not pledged to the one project that will bury the tunnel plan for certain; building the train line to Doncaster.

Instead of a vote-ALP campaign, the anti -tunnel struggle would do better in dragging Labor kicking and screaming into locking in the Doncaster rail as the first step towards a sustainable and integrated mass public transport system.

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