Marginal seats campaign won’t stop East West Link

May 16, 2014
A broad community campaign can beat the East West Link.

Many people are looking for effective ways to fight and get rid of the conservative governments in power in Australia.

Some have chosen the tactic of a marginal seats campaign. This involves intensive campaigning in the individual electorates where a politician holds the seat by a very small majority and is therefore insecure.

This has become a question for Victorians striving for more government investment in public transport and fighting against the construction of the East West tunnel. Some have developed a marginal seats campaign to defeat the state Coalition government of premier Denis Napthine.

There are several problems with such a campaign. First, if the alternative party to the one holding the seat acts in an almost identical way, then the campaigning will have achieved nothing.

The Labor Party, who positioned themselves as the alternative to the Napthine government, has made no commitment to abandon the East West Link to build much needed rail lines such as those to Doncaster and Rowville, or upgrading the Dandenong corridor or building the Airport Rail link.

Moreover, it was the previous state Labor government that refused to build these rail projects. Labor planned the Eastlink, a freeway link running through the Banyule Flats — inner Melbourne's largest and most intact grassy wetland is located in this beautiful reserve — and a road toll linking the western and eastern suburbs.

Even if Labor suddenly develops a positive attitude to public transport before an election, there is no guarantee that it will fulfil its promise. There are many examples of politicians breaking their pre-election promises, particularly when they are beholden to forces like the big construction and road freight companies standing to gain from the East West Link.

The second problem with a marginal seats campaign is that it convinces many people that once an election is over there is no longer a need to campaign to pressure politicians to keep their word.

Third, there is also the real danger that a campaign loses its independence from a political party during a marginal seats effort. The danger includes compromising the demands of the campaign because getting the alternative party into power is the overriding goal.

A fourth problem with the marginal seats campaign is that construction on the East West Link may begin before the state elections on November 29.

The alternative to a marginal seats campaign is building a broad, politically independent, uncompromising movement, which lets no party or politician off the hook on the question of investment in public transport, and on pledging to scrap the East West toll road.

Such a campaign would agitate across all electorates through bold mass rallies and other protest activity. It would seek the support of all progressive organisations, particularly trade unions which in the past have played a crucial role in stopping socially and environmentally destructive developments.

A poll reported in the March 2 Age found that only 24% of Victorians saw the East West Link as the most important infrastructure project. But the widespread opposition to the project needs to be actively mobilised to counter the powerful forces that stand to benefit from it.

Giving ordinary Victorians the opportunity to actively demonstrate their militant opposition would generate debate and attract others to become involved. It would put pressure on all big political parties to take the demands of the campaign seriously. An opportunity to do this is at the rally that various anti-East West Link groups have united to organise, to be held on June 28 at 1pm at the State Library.

This strategy would include action after any election until all the demands of the campaign have been met.


Marginal seats campaigns are undertaken because they promise a low effort "smart" way to win -- also known as a shortcut. But the nature of marginal seats is that the campaigns focused on them are marginal to most voters. It's possible to achieve many things by targeting a particular seat. However, governments (and marginal seats) usually seem to fall based on a large swing across the state or nation. Swings in one or two seats usually only happen if the issue coincides with the seat. Campaigning in marginal seats like Frankston or Ballarat seems unlikely to produce a swing based on an issue in inner city Melbourne. The net effect of many marginal seats campaigns is to marginalise the campaign. If you want a broad swing across the whole public, you have to campaign across the whole public. Not easy, not a short cut, but probably more likely to achieve a win. Of course the other dynamic of the marginal seats campaign is to tie the campaign's fortunes to the good grace of one or another parliamentary party (or to act as cannon fodder for said party), as the article points out. That's probably the bigger danger, but even on the logic of smart campaigning, marginal seats focus is dubious.

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