People power can stop the tunnel and win better public transport

[Statement by Socialist Alliance, March 28] A campaign of rallies and pickets has helped turn the tide of public opinion against the East West Tunnel, convincing many people that the proposal is an environmentally, socially and economically disastrous non-solution to the problem of congestion on the Eastern freeway. We need to extend this campaign into a big city-wide movement and exert maximum pressure on the government, and Labor and the Greens, to reject the tunnel and make real investments to renew and extend public transport.

Public opinion is against the tunnel

A poll reported in the March 2 Age found that only 24% of Victorians saw the East West Tunnel as the most important infrastructure project, compared to 42% who saw the Metro rail project as the most important. Even among Coalition voters only a minority (37%) saw the tunnel as the highest priority.

The tunnel is being built despite the wishes of ordinary people. Many people see that congestion will not be relieved, that homes in Hoddle St, Alexandria Parade, Moonee Valley and Flemington will be unnecessarily destroyed, and up to $15 billion of public money that could be used to revitalise public transport will be wasted.

But powerful forces are in favour of the tunnel: big construction, road freight and other corporate interests and politicians and mass media outlets who serve big business. We need to keep mobilising public opposition to counter these interests.

A mass campaign can win

Public opposition to the tunnel has been encouraged by pickets of work sites, rallies, community stalls, petitioning and letterboxing undertaken by a range of groups. Big campaigns in the past that have won progressive change – campaigns to end the Vietnam war, to isolate the apartheid regime in South Africa, to save the Franklin River, to save the Upfield train line, the Greens Bans that saved heritage areas and public spaces in Melbourne and Sydney – have been organised in broad, democratic coalitions and have often combined mass rallies and forms of civil disobedience such as community pickets. Socialist Alliance is active in local groups but also supports a united city-wide campaign, which has the potential to mobilise mass opposition to the tunnel.

Labor must rip up the contracts

The Napthine government is on the nose, not only because of the tunnel but also because of its near destruction of the TAFE sector and its attacks on education and health workers. Socialist Alliance supports the election of a Labor government in the state election in November, and the maximum vote for the Greens as a generally more progressive force than Labor.

Labor in its transport policy opposes the tunnel and promises better public transport. But Labor once in office has often dumped its better promises and more closely followed the same corporate interests as the Coalition.

Labor should be pressured to state that it will not only oppose the tunnel now, but stop it once in office, and repudiate any contracts related to the tunnel.

The Greens, who if they are able to win lower house seats might decide who forms government in the event of a close election, have a good transport policy and in some statements indicate they would vote to stop the tunnel. But in some instances the Greens have backtracked on progressive positions, for example supporting some neo-liberal policies as part of the former Tasmanian government. They too need to make a clear stand to stop the tunnel.

A political alternative is needed

Defeating the tunnel and winning better public transport would be a big step forward for ordinary people and the environment in Melbourne. But we need a political alternative that can truly represent our interests against the destructive greed of big businesses and the politicians who serve them. Socialist Alliance will be standing in the upcoming state elections as a step towards such an alternative, and calls for the left to come together around a platform that puts people and the planet before profit. We also campaign year-round for refugee rights, for the rights of Aboriginal people, against climate change, for democratic and militant unions and around all issues that a radical political alternative needs to stand for.