Moreland City Councillor and Socialist Alliance member Sue Bolton delivered the following speech at the Trains Not Tolls rally in Melbourne on June 28. The rally was organised to protest against the new East West Link motorway.
It’s great seeing people here from all over Melbourne, because this issue affects not just people from the inner city where the East West Link is designed to go, but it affects people from all over Melbourne and all over Victoria.
Earlier this year when an opinion poll showed that a majority of people supported public transport over the East West Link, the government was sent into shock. Since then, the government has been focusing its advertising campaign on trying to promote itself as a public transport government, trying to say that the East West Link is part of helping public transport.
They’re even trying to sell their [May 6] state budget as a public transport budget, despite the fact that the lion’s share of the money will go towards the East West link. There’s only around $40 million allocated this financial year to the underground rail project, but $500 million to the East West Link.
That means that the rail projects they talked about in the budget may never get built because governments have a habit in Victoria, and all over Australia, of promising public transport projects which then vanish in the next budget. One year we saw the Rowville train line and the Doncaster train line announced, but then later they vanished into thin air.
Most of the announced spending for the Metro rail link has been postponed until 2017-18, which means they have no intention of building it.
The project that stays, that keeps coming back like a bad smell, is the East West Link. Some supporters of the East West Link have told me they want it but they also want public transport.
One of the messages that everyone here needs to take to the rest of the public is that we can’t get both. If the government spends more than $18 billion on the East West Link, there will be no money left for serious upgrades in public transport.
Who believes there won’t be cost overruns? One of the companies that was in the running for the contract was Lend Lease; they’ve been convicted of fraud in the United States for overcharging for projects.
The government also claimed in the TV advertisement launched last night that the East West Link would take trucks off local roads. Do you believe that? The only way we can take trucks off roads is by shifting freight onto trains. We need a two-pronged solution: public transport and also rail freight.
What we need is a massive infusion of funds for public transport, because ever since the early 1960s governments have been grinding down public transport, following the US model. .
When the Melbourne Commonwealth Games were on in 2006, the government at the time promoted public transport and made it free, and people were happy to use it and to leave their cars behind. But you have to create the alternative before people will shift to public transport.
Anyone here who is a shift worker, or a blue-collar worker, or a worker in an industrial estate, knows you often can’t get to where you need to go by public transport.
So there needs to be a real alternative. Melbourne will become absolutely gridlocked if we don’t make the shift and remove cars from the road by providing a real alternative.
Even in the inner-city areas where public transport is better, like the area I represent, the Moreland municipality, it’s still not great. If you have to go from east to west, even in Brunswick, it’s crap. If you live in the north of Moreland – Fawkner, Glenroy, Pascoe Vale – there are areas that have no accessible public transport.
Why is the government keeping the business case secret? Because it is lies. Why are state governments all over Australia pushing massive road projects instead of public transport? Because this is corporate welfare, a cash handout for the big construction companies.
For decades, governments have been ripping up public transport infrastructure. I used to be a bus driver in Brisbane, where in 1968 they ripped up the tram network. The same thing happened in Sydney earlier. And there used to be tram networks in regional Victorian cities that are no longer there. We need to rebuild all this public transport infrastructure.
We can’t wait until the election to stop this project. We need to campaign now, because we know that the government is trying to ram this project through as fast as possible, with a very shonky process, to get the contract signed and start work building the fences and start some of the construction work before the election.
If Labor were prepared to promise to rip up the contracts, it would kill this project stone-dead. There are plenty of reasons to rip up the contracts because they’re so shonky. That’s why we have to campaign now and not just wait until the election.
We need to build massive protests, we need to build more protests like this, and we’ll need to engage in civil disobedience.
We will do everything possible to stop this project. There are many more jobs in rail than there are in roads. That’s what we need right now when so many jobs are being destroyed.