Protesters are facing legal threats over their fight to protect the Dandenong Ranges from the yellow fluorescent arches of McDonald's franchises.
In a proposal first rejected by the local council last year, McDonald’s was later given approval by the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) to build a restaurant opposite the local primary school in the small town of Tecoma. VCAT made the decision despite strong opposition from local residents, including a petition with 2000 signatures.
“Once McDonald’s get their foot in Tecoma, it’ll become a corporate race to [tourist lookout] Mt Dandenong’s Sky High,” one protester told Green Left Weekly.
McDonald’s has begun using legal means to intimidate protesters.
Lateline reported on July 17: "The McDonald’s company is suing protesters who oppose the development of one of its restaurants in the Dandenong ranges, in outer Melbourne ... While McDonald’s said it respects the right to protest, it has the right itself to build in a safe and timely manner."
The July 18 Herald Sun reported that McDonald’s is "demanding damages that may reach as much as $325,000 for delay in construction of the controversial development."
If carried, the Supreme Court injunctions may prevent people going to the site and using social media to encourage other people to go there.
Shane Anderson, one of eight people injuncted said "this is a broad community campaign. Targeting a few individuals will not intimidate the community."
Despite the corporate intimidation inflicted on them, the community remain strong and determined to continue their fight against McDonald’s. Commuters are greeted by protest signs stamped along electricity poles as they travel up the mountain and the campaign’s bright, red and yellow campaign T-shirts have almost become the hills uniform.
Community members had turned the vacant block of land into a community garden where meditation sessions, working bees and meetings were often held before they were evicted.
The rooftop sit-in has ended, but a seven-day picket continues at the site.
Two weeks ago the Construction Forestry Mining Energy Union (CFMEU) withdrew its construction workers from the site on July 3, preventing any work starting for the time being. This was a blow for McDonald’s, which had just been granted the final permit needed to demolish the site.
The same day an attempt at physical intimidation occurred. A 50-year-old woman is expected to be charged by police with trespass after sustaining lacerations to fingers. She fell from a wall after occupying a roof at the site.
In a statement on July 8, the No McDonald’s in the Dandenong Ranges group said: “It is our understanding that the woman’s medical reports show that she has several broken fingers, severe bruising and lacerations consistent with being dragged or pulled.
“We also believe eyewitnesses claim she was pulled from the roof by the head/hair from several over-zealous McDonald’s security staff.
"The Tecoma community are in shock over the alleged assault by McDonald’s security staff that occurred [on July 7]. If proven, this is a step too far taken by McDonald’s.”
There are signs that the tide is turning, however. The Herald Sun said on July 3: “‘Do you want fries with that?’ No, they don't. Nor do they want litter and what they think could cause an increase in crime based on statistics of criminal activity around other McDonald's restaurants. People can put pressure on councils, but they can't vote against VCAT. A change to the law should make VCAT give weight to local attitudes. Their voice should count for something."
The CFMEU is respecting the picket and the community are more determined than ever to continue the fight and ensure the only arches in town are those of the natural, green hills.
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