[By Meave Noonan] On Sunday, March 30, residents and community groups rallied in Brunswick to send an unequivocal message to the Napthine government: “No East-West tunnel! Improve and extend Melbourne’s public transport now!” Police estimated the number of attendees at 1500.
The rally was organised by Moreland Community Against the East-West Tunnel (MCAT), a grassroots community organisation and supported by the council.
Residents in Yarra have been campaigning against the East West Link for some time. The Moreland wing of the campaign came about when the council voted to send a letter to the minister opposing the East West Link but Socialist Alliance councillor Sue Bolton moved that the council needed to organise a public meeting for residents. At subsequent council meetings, Bolton moved that the council allocate $40,000 to a Trains not Tollroads community campaign against the East-West Link.
The public meeting in West Brunswick in November was attended by more than 150 people showing that Moreland residents were concerned about the issue. Then Bolton organised a founding meeting to set up the grassroots community campaign group MCAT.
Almost 50,000 leaflets were letterboxed and handed out on the streets in the lead-up to the rally, indicating that MCAT’s campaign has a lot or support in the community.
Representatives of Moreland, Yarra and Darebin councils attended the rally, and a variety of community groups got behind it in an organisational or supportive capacity. These included Public Transport Not Traffic, Climate Action Moreland, Moreland Bicycle Users Group, Brunswick Residents Network, Tunnel Picket, Royal Park Protection Society, Protectors of Public Lands Victoria. MCAT also received a message of support from the Rail Tram and Bus Union for the rally.
I spoke with some of the community members in attendance. Joe Edmonds, a Parkville resident of 13 years, suggested that adding another toll road would only increase the gridlock on Melbourne roads: “If you use the M1 today, which is the extension of City Link through to the eastern suburbs, you’ll see that it’s at a standstill in peak hour, so we think [the East-West Link] will be the same”.
According to MCAT’s Michael Petit, Melbourne Zoo would be forced to relocate or close altogether, and the silence on this possibility by both major political parties and the media is astounding. The plans for the tunnel indicate that two exit ramps would be located within 40 metres of endangered species habitats at the zoo.
Green spaces are under direct threat, with more than 5000 trees to be cut down to make way for the tunnel, and the few areas of parkland available in the inner north for recreational uses reduced even further. As Paul Sinclair, convener of the Community Sports Alliance, told the crowd, “All the East-West tunnel will do is make people fatter, slower and lonelier”.
Nancy Atkin of the Brunswick Residents Network indicated that the East-West Link would further exacerbate the problem of spiralling car use on roads which have traditionally had high levels of foot traffic and bike commuters. In a survey of 400 Brunswick households, conducted by the Brunswick Residents Network, almost 90% had reported dangerous driving in their streets. 60% of residents in one Brunswick street had witnessed an accident in their street.
Mel Gregson, of the Yarra-based Tunnel Picket, reflected on the achievements of the pickets to stop or delay test drilling. The pickets began six months ago as a group of “ordinary people coming together and taking action”. The picket had not only held back the government’s schedule and successfully halted some of the preliminary test drilling, but was pivotal in turning public opinion against the tunnel. Gregson highlighted that even among Herald Sun readers, support for the tunnel was at only 15%, and there is now “a huge question mark over whether the tunnel will be built”.
As we made our way up Sydney Road, the crowd was regaled by brass band Deep Veined Trombosis. The gathering in Warr Park at the end of the march was addressed by another round of speakers. Jane Garrett, ALP member for Brunswick, spoke of Labor’s opposition to the tunnel in vague terms, and she left the stage amidst loud chanting of “Rip up the contracts!” by the crowd.
Tim Reid, Greens candidate for Brunswick, said: “The Greens are the party clearly saying: We will stop the tollroad, we will cancel the contracts. We ask you to insist Labor cancel the contracts and we will work together to make Melbourne a city for people.”
The final speaker was Socialist Alliance Moreland councillor Sue Bolton: “This tunnel will have an impact on people all over Victoria,” she said. The $6-8 billion needed to fund the tunnel would be pulled from health and education budgets, and “it means less infrastructure … it means no new major public transport infrastructure for a generation or more”.
“These contracts [are] most likely illegal”, Bolton continued, “because the government is insisting that companies put in their final tenders before the official consultation process is finished — how shonky is that?
“The East-West Link could be stopped immediately if the ALP promised that it would rip up the contracts if it wins the state election this year. If the ALP made this promise, no company would enter into a contract to build the tunnel.”
“The state election needs to be a referendum on the East-West Link,”concluded Bolton.
MCAT plans to continue building community opposition. It aims to make the November state elections a referendum on the tunnel. It demands that every candidate and party in the election commit to scrap the tunnel and rip up the contracts, and to use public money to invest in public transport, not toll roads.
A number of actions by anti-tunnel activists are planned for the next few months. A campaign caravan will tour the suburbs, beginning with Doncaster on April 5. A “Children’s March for the Animals” on May 4 aims to draw attention to the impacts of the tunnel on Melbourne Zoo. And a citywide rally, organised by a coalition of community groups, is scheduled for June 28.