Grocon wall collapse — lives sacrificed for profit

A household name for all the wrong reasons.

A strong gust of wind in Melbourne’s CBD caused a brick wall to collapse onto passing pedestrians, killing three people, on March 28.

The wall fronted the site of the former Carlton United Brewery on Swanston Street, which has been under redevelopment by the Grocon company for the past seven years.

Grocon is a household name, but for all the wrong reasons.

Thousands of construction workers protested against the company at another Grocon site on Lonsdale Street, just up the road from the collapsed wall, in September last year.

The industrial dispute focused on health and safety concerns and intimidation against members of the Construction Forestry Mining Energy Union (CFMEU).

At the height of the dispute, the company, in league with the Victorian state government, mounted a police operation in which 500 police were sent in to attack the picket line.

Then last month, a crane driver fell to his death at the Lonsdale St. site.

Coincidentally, the offices of the Victorian CFMEU are opposite the site of this latest tragedy. Union officials witnessed the wall collapse and rushed to help the victims. In a March 28 statement, the union said: "We are all saddened and shocked by today’s events and some of our staff have received counselling as a result of the trauma they have experienced.”

The Age said on April 3 that the tragedy has sparked a move by Victorian planning minister Matthew Guy to call for an audit of advertising signage erected on all building sites across the state. A Grocon advertising billboard attached to the wall was reported to have been a key factor in the collapse and would be a focus of inquiries into the tragedy.

It remained unclear “how planning approval was granted for such a hoarding — if it was granted at all — and why no checks were made,” the article said. The Australian said Grocon had declined to comment on whether it had a permit for the sign.

The Age article points out that over the three decades that the site has been bought and sold, developers and real estate agents have profited to the tune of millions of dollars and the site has lain idle for seven years.

“The loss of three lives has raised questions about how a prized city site could have been left to wither over almost 30 years — and about the dangers that come with such neglect,” it said.

A fitting tribute to the three lives lost would be for the site to be taken out of Grocon's hands and given to the community. Rather than a site of more real estate speculation and profiteering by developers, it could become an inner-city community food garden or green space, or provide other much-needed social benefits.