“NO TUNNEL, NO WAY, WE’RE GONNA FIGHT IT ALL THE WAY! NO TUNNEL, NO WAY, WE’RE GONNA FIGHT IT ALL THE WAY!
WHAT DO WE WANT? PUBLIC TRANSPORT! WHEN DO WE WANT IT? NOW!”
It’s 6am and the community picket is underway, blocking the entrance into Alexandra Parade a busy road through inner Melbourne. They are determined that the drill bringing up soil samples for a new road tunnel will not be active today. Two men are locked on to the top of the drill with bicycle D locks, a fitting symbol of their commitment to a sustainable mode of transport. There are police everywhere, surrounding the fence around the drill, surrounding the protesters. Search and rescue have been called in to remove those locked on and with them, have come detectives, police commissioners and riot police. The oddest sight is a neatly dressed blonde woman, with patent pumps, sleeveless flowered top and a gun in a holster at her side. All the police carry guns, which makes it all the more scary when they move in, en masse, to drag people away from the fence. One woman is thrown to the ground.
“SHAME! SHAME! THIS IS A PEACEFUL PROTEST! THIS IS A PEACEFUL PROTEST!”
This argument has been brewing for some time, a century, some may say, as the rail connection between East and West Melbourne was proposed over 100 years ago. As consecutive plans have been shelved, the road network has grown, until now, the inner city is ringed with busy arteries carrying commuters and trucks from one side of this sprawling city to another. The residents of the inner North have had enough.
Since September 2013, they have been gathering in the early mornings to form a picket line at the drill sites, which pop up without warning on residential roads throughout the area. Frustrated with a lack of communication and openness from the State government, they feel their only hope is direct action, delaying the work on the road for just long enough to stop the contracts being signed before the next election. The government is responding by proposing a draconian new law which will make it easier for the police to move on a public assembly and prosecute protesters. It is scheduled for the first day of parliament when it re-convenes after the summer break on February 4th.
The small group of perhaps 40 protesters are steely, rising each day to renew their commitment to this campaign and to each other. As at all picket lines, it’s the solidarity which they say gets them out of bed at 5am, even when the day promises another 40 degree scorcher.
“Tunneling under this road will cause havoc”, says local resident Keith Fitzgerald. His house is earmarked for demolition and he has been approached about a compulsory purchase order. “It will cause years of dust and noise while they dig it, it will destroy the character of the area, it will damage the community. What’s more, the road will not solve their transport problems. Roads never do. The cars will just fill it up just as they fill all the other roads. The government has not done its homework.”
It’s true that there is no business plan for this road and that the current State government – a Liberal government, which in Australia means right wing – does not have a mandate from the people. It looks like they won’t survive to another term, so the protesters want the opposition Labour party to promise not to honour any contracts. They have so far refused.
So today, the picket line is drawn again and the police take shifts to stand with them, setting up a canteen on the grass verge between the carriageways which 100 years ago, was laid down for a railway track.
“A railway link will carry people from the outer suburbs into the city. That’s where they want to go. This road tunnel is being made principally for trucks, to bring goods from the manufacturers in the East to the port in the West. It’s not even for people, but it is public money which will pay for it and then people will pay again to use it. There will be no more money to pay for public transport for decades.” says local resident Mel Gregson.
Melbourne retains the title of world’s most liveable city and the public transport system – the network of trams and trains which make it easy to move about in the inner city – add greatly to that experience. Here is a chance for Melbourne to join the world’s most progressive cities and say “no” to cars and “yes” to public transport.