Up to 500 people rallied in the inner Melbourne suburb of Fitzroy on December 15th to protest against the building of a proposed car tunnel – the so named East/West Link.
The community rally was chaired by comedian Rod Quantock. Speakers included Yvonne Kirk from the Public Transport Users Association, Julianne Bell from the Protectors of Public Lands VIC, City of Yarra councillors Jackie Fristacky, Steve Jolly and Amanda Stone, and Mel Gregson from the group organising a picket to stop building.
Other speakers included former independent MP Phil Cleary, state ALP MP for Richmond Richard Wynne, lecturer in Transport Planning at Melbourne University Dr John Stone, local Fitzroy resident Keith Fitzgerald (whose house is under threat of demolition for the E/W Link) and Residents for Rail to Doncaster Advocacy group member Mary Merkenich.
Stone pointed out that, contrary to the practices of the first owners of this land, our society was not looking after the land. This project will destroy our green spaces.
Fristacky likened the state government’s action to an inept business that doesn’t meet demand, in this case the demand for public transport. One example of this is the case for rail to the Tullamarine International Airport. There already exists a rail line only one kilometre from the airport, but the state government has not been able to provide that one extra kilometre.
Jolly pointed out the hypocrisy of the Victorian premier, who has been praising Nelson Mandela as a freedom fighter but then introduces legislation to fine protestors $720 and ban peaceful protests. He described the laws as being similar to the ones which existed in apartheid South Africa. He said polls show that only 24% of Victorians support the East/West Link, while 74% oppose it.
Fitzgerald, who has lived in Collingwood for 70 years, said he felt let down by our so-called democratic system. He added that the government has no mandate to build this tunnel. And he asked how it was that the politician Geoff Shaw, whose vote is crucial to the Liberal/National State government’s survival, had all his 24 charges, including misconduct in public office and obtaining property by deception, over the use of his government credit card and car dropped. Yet at the same time, peaceful protesters are being targeted.
Merkenich said if a rail line was built to Doncaster in Melbourne’s northeast, traffic and congestion on the eastern freeway would be cut and then any justification for the East/West tunnel would be gone. This would also reduce the stress drivers face in the congestion on the eastern freeway, the air pollution created by so many cars, the noise pollution residents living along the freeway have to endure and many potential road accidents.
She demanded a clear and indisputable guarantee from all political parties that the Link will not be built, including the tearing up of any contracts if necessary. She also demanded that the money set aside for the link -- calculated to be between $8 and $15 billion – be used immediately to fund rail upgrades and the construction of new rail lines, such as one to the Airport and one to Doncaster.