Infrastructure Tony put trucks before people in Victoria

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Tony Abbott has turned a deaf ear to voters in Victoria's vital marginal seats who are calling for the Metro rail be built before the East-West Link. Deputy editor Sandi Keane investigates this controversial road tunnel and its impact on the community.

Francis Street: highest concentration of trucks & diesel of any residential street in Australia

IN AN EXCLUSIVE Galaxy Poll for the Herald Sun, 63 per cent of voters in Chisholm and La Trobe and 53 per cent in Corangamite sent a clear message to Tony Abbott and Victorian Premier Denis Napthine — they want the $9 billion Metro public transport project, not the controversial $8 billion East-West Link.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has made his preference clear as have the voters by pledging $3 billion to the 9km Metro rail tunnel. The would-be prime minister, Mr Abbott, on the other hand, opted instead to fund the East-West Link, pledging $1.5 billion.

What’s behind Tony Abbott’s push for the controversial East-West Link in the face of opposition from marginal seats?

In what seems like a headlong rush to get contracts signed before a likely return of a State Labor government in Victoria next year, he’s locked his pledge of $1.5 billion into the May budget.

Yet last week, Mr Abbott was still refusing to say whether he’d seen the traffic figures let alone a cost analysis.

Mr Abbott’s explanation for such haste is, according to the ABC's Rafael Epstein, that
'...senior people at Infrastructure Australia have assured him that Melbourne's controversial East-West road link is the most important, most urgent road project in Victoria.'

However, as the ABC’s Mark Colvin reported, Infrastructure Australia lists other roads and a rail project well ahead of the East-West project.

So, what’s driving Tony Abbott?

Sadly, due to a lack of political will, party donations for the 2013 election won’t be made public until February 2015. Abbott’s change of heart on a carbon price at the last election was explained by the sheer scale of mining donations that year, as depicted in a graph by Crikey eighteen months later, entitled The Rise and Rise of Mining Donations:

(Image courtesy Crikey.com.au)

The Yarra City Council – north of the Yarra – has dug in against the road tunnel — one that includes the demolition of 120 homes. It’s campaigning for Trains not Toll Roads. The backlash is growing. A total of 23 Councils have now joined the pro-rail Wrong Way Go Back campaign.

The Victorian Opposition leader, Daniel Andrews, has declared the project a “hoax”.

West of the river and out of the media spotlight, Napthine’s proposal dealt a blow to a thirty yearlong campaign against the trucks. The former Brumby Government’s $380 million Truck Action Plan would have taken a million trucks off Yarraville’s residential streets by constructing new ramps connecting West Gate Freeway and Hyde Street at Yarraville. It was shovel ready, with the first stage funded when the Labor Government lost the election.

The Napthine government has claimed that the East-West Link will dispense with the need for Brumby’s plan.

Maribyrnong City Council disagrees. Independent Councillor Grant Miles said his Council originally supported the East West Link because it was supposed to start from the west in accordance with Rod Eddington’s plan.
“We know freight traffic is predicted to triple in the next 10 years and we’re already saturated with 20,000 trucks every day."

It’s a big concern to the young families who’ve moved into the area, like the young mother of three I’ve come to interview.

Boxed in by two conga-lines of diesel-belching trucks, any attractive features of this residential street weren’t immediately apparent to me. Francis Street, Yarraville, in Melbourne’s inner west, is used as a popular shortcut to the docks by seven thousand trucks every day. It’s claimed to have the highest concentration of trucks and diesel emissions of any residential street anywhere in Australia.


Turning off Francis Street at last, Yarraville delights. It’s world of picket fences, heritage gems, cottage gardens and tree-lined streets. They owe their survival to developers opting for more fashionable suburbs. Now they’re a draw card for young professionals who see Yarraville nudging Fitzroy as tomorrow’s hipster central.

A young child swinging on the gate calls out as I arrive. Bikes of various sizes line up on the verandah ready for family outings. Her Mum, a young, attractive brunette appears with the remote to usher me through the front gate.

I comment on the vegetables growing in water tanks that match the smart, grey weatherboard house. Inside, it’s open and airy with a sunny indoor/outdoor living area overlooking a leafy park and tennis court easily accessed through the back gate.

Rebecca’s husband, Josh, an electrician, designed the renovation and subcontracted.
“Not a day goes by when I don’t come in and appreciate this house. I love it so much and it’s such a great street,” she says. It was painted white at first but after a year it was so disgustingly dirty, we repainted it dark grey."

While they were renovating, Lola, her neighbour, cooked meals for Rebecca’s husband. Describing her fondly as the “Matriarch of Yarraville”, Rebecca said she also brings in the washing and helps look after the kids.
“Everyone in this end of the street knows each other, has each other for dinner, barbecues. It has such a great vibe. That’s Yarraville – all over.”

Bringing in the washing is one thing but delivering a baby is another as was the case when another neighbour delivered Rebecca’s second child, which decided to arrive sooner than expected.

Rebecca's 3 year old, weeding the veggie garden

Lola pops in with her husband Peter. They’re on their way to Crown Casino for lunch and Lola’s cerise nails (stylishly matching her top) are still wet. She’s shakes her elegant hands dry as she gingers up the discussion on trucks:
“We’ve been fighting trucks since 1984. VicRoads told us then at a meeting at the Seddon Bowling Club: ‘If you allow the semi-trailers, we promise not to let the B-doubles come down,’ but it was a lie."

Rebecca and another neighbour fought to get their children into Kingsville Primary School to avoid having to cross Francis Street. But picking up her two girls by car from the school in Somerville Road is also a nightmare, according to Rebecca:
“You can’t get in or out because of the stream of trucks.”

This fires Lola up:
“The trucks go through red lights.  We had a meeting eighteen months ago with Terry Mulder’s staff including Andrew Elsbury. He couldn’t believe his eyes when he stood at the crossing and watched sixteen trucks go through the red light!”

Once, when Lola was crossing, a semi sped through in spite of the Lollypop Man. She reprimanded him and was rewarded with:
“I’ll f…ing come back, run you over and kill you”.

Yarraville's heritage gems

Would-be buyers charmed by the Yarraville’s heritage streetscapes and cool eateries apparently don’t notice the trucks because they house-hunt on weekends. As Rebecca says:
“People are getting out because of the trucks but some actually go around taking down the anti-truck protest signs. They don’t want potential buyers knowing there’s a problem.”

Rebecca complains she was woken up again during the night by the trucks.

Recently, Samantha McArthur, President of the Maribyrnong Truck Action Group told Independent Australia:
“EPA’s monitoring has shown that noise levels in this area, particularly in Francis Street, exceed the government’s own guidelines."

A government spokesperson advised Independent Australia at the timethat it was committed to delivering the whole of the East West Link but Rebecca’s three-year old, Charlotte, might well have grown up by then.

The Shadow Minister for Roads, Luke Donnellan, admitted that even if Labor wins next year’s election, they’d be hamstrung if contracts were signed:
“If the government spends $8 billion, we’ll be severely constrained in what we can do as it will tie up the budget for many years to come.”

Rebecca who is forced to triple wash her home-grown vegies can’t understand why both the Victorian Government and the Federal Opposition Leader are ignoring the health of Australia’s children:
“The World Health Organisation declared diesel a carcinogen. Why are we allowed to sit in these fumes when the Truck Action Plan is within reach and so affordable?

"Give back what was promised to us, Mr Napthine. Stop poisoning our children and, please Mr Abbott, don’t rush this decision at the expense of our children. They deserve clean fresh air. It’s a pretty basic right. It would do the truckies a favour as well."

The day after my interview, Melbourne was crowned the world’s most livable city for the third time in a row. Out of a field of over 144 cities, Melbourne won because of its perfect score for education, health care — and infrastructure.

Yarraville Village.

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