Labor backs down on East West Link

Activists protesting on the day Lend Lease won the contract to build the East West Link.

The Coalition government in Victoria has disregarded public opposition and transparency and named a Lend Lease consortium to carry out phase one of the $6-8 billion East West Link toll road.

In a big step forward for the campaign to stop the new road, the Labor Party has announced that, if elected in November, it would not honour the contracts if they are signed before the elections. This reversal of their previous position has come about because of the large pressure from the public, who are overwhelmingly opposed to the project.

Moreland and Yarra councils have launched a legal challenge against the project, arguing the planning minister failed to meet key legislative requirements when he approved the project. If Labor is elected, it has promised no to oppose the councils in the case, due to be heard on December 15. This will increase the likelihood of the case being successful.

Moreland City Councillor Sue Bolton, who moved the council motion that led to the court challenge, said: “It has been grassroots community pressure which has forced Labor to go from a commitment to build the road to saying that it won't recognise dodgy contracts.

”However, we haven't won yet. We have to maintain the pressure.”

The entire project is bigger than many federal undertakings and is expected to cost between $14 billion and 18 billion when both phases are completed.

Residents, activists, environmentalists and councils in the city have been opposing the tunnel with pickets of drilling sites, rallies and demonstrations. At least two local councils in Melbourne have opposed the project and legal challenges have been mounted.

The state election in November means the government is rushing through contracts, rather than heeding calls to let people decide at the polls.

The East West Link is an infeasible and costly project that would lock out resources for a much-needed expansion of public transport that would be a solution to traffic congestion in Victoria. A train line on the Eastern Freeway, for example, would take thousands of cars off the road (an estimated 800 cars per train at peak times).

But the Coalition is pushing an environmentally, socially and economically disastrous project to benefit a handful of powerful corporations that will feed off public funds for decades in the guise of public-private partnerships.

The contracted building consortium comprises Lend Lease, a big building and infrastructure corporation convicted for fraud in the US; its finance partnership arm Capella Capital; Acconia; and French corporation Bouygues.

Infrastructure Australia chief executive John Fitzgerald has warned the opposition that failing to honour the contracts would harm business confidence in the state. He also threatened to withhold federal funding for other state infrastructure if Labor opposes the project, the Age reported on September 12.

Labor does not have to wait until the election to stop the project. It has the numbers in parliament, with the support of independent Geoff Shaw, to stop the contracts being signed now. The public should demand Labor move a motion in parliament against signing the contract, caution the bidders of commercial risk if they went ahead with the negotiations and go the elections on the platform that it would scrap the contracts if elected.

However, the best way of stopping the East West Link toll road disaster is for communities to mobilise against the government and the bidders, and demand the issue be taken to the election.

[Join Moreland Community Against the East West Tunnel for a public meeting on the campaign on Thursday, October 9 at 7pm, Coburg Court House, 1A Main St, Coburg.]

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