As if the East-West Link project would not be controversial enough as such, things are likely to get worse as concerned citizens could learn from a comment published yesterday in The Age. Considering the content’s significance one can’t help to wonder if democracy in Victoria is only meant to be a placeholder or if it truly exists.
Not that there is much need to talk more about the East-West Link itself, I believe there has been said enough. Besides, the quality of the information one can gather from its website speaks against the project anyway. What is more of concern is the fact that the Napthine government has plans to shut the mouth of those who do not agree with this absolutely irresponsible project. According to The Age “the government will also introduce what it calls a ”risk-based” assessment regime, where community issues deemed to be ”marginal” or of ”little consequence” will not be examined before proceeding”, words that usually force Amnesty International to jump at those who uttered them. However, as we can reader further “Mr Mulder said it [the parliament] did not believe this would threaten Victoria’s charter of human rights, because members of the public were not restricted from making written submissions.”
What sounds like dictatorship to anyone with some critical thinking lies miles apart from ideals of a democracy. I have argued before that public participation in Australia doesn’t get the room it deserves when it comes to assessments of future developments, and things seem to be particularly bad in this case. One only needs to participate in the community survey: a survey that shows how bias can fundamentally change the outcome of a survey. To be honest, this survey would make a very good example for ”how-not-to” design a survey in whatever schoolbook.
True, Melbournians like their cars and one is likely to win their hearts if they are promised more roads. However, this doesn’t mean that Melbournians are stupid, and even if the survey doesn’t mention alternatives nor talk about costs, people can put two and two together. The Age has warned tax payers about the consequences of the project before the government considered to silence us. It might estrange readers not to find any word about costs on the government’s website. However, digging a bit deeper, they soon might find that there is likely a strategy behind it.
All the information we can find is somehow an embarrassment and not at all in line with what best practice guidelines teach us. Not that one has to be an expert, even a layman can see the difference if they compare the quality with a similar project currently under evaluation in the UK. There, the public can learn about the costs and economic benefits, both explained in detail and not just in vague assumptions as is the case with the East-West Link. Even an equity analysis is available. There are a number of very informative documents such as a draft environmental statement with different degrees of complexity to address the public as a whole and taking into account that “the public” is not a homogenous group. All these documents are available well before the approval and with enough time for the public to study them and react.
Yet, another point is quite different in the UK development: it considers current global environment concerns and is aligned with measures to prevent further degradation. True that not everyone likes public transport in Melbourne, but that is not because Melbournians do not care for the environment, it is simply because the public transport system is worse than those in developing countries. Needless to say that the AUD$ 8 billions calculated for the East-West-Link could significantly improve it, a vision that only makes sense for people who think a bit further than the project team: “In the next 20 years, Melbournians will make nearly 19 million person-trips around the city every day, an increase of 34 per cent on 2006 levels. Nearly 14 million of these trips will be made by car (74 per cent of all trips).” A remarkable analysis!
As others have stated before “the Stone Age didn’t end because we ran out of stones”. It’s probably about time to think into the future instead of holding on to the past and knowing that “the East West Link would be one of the largest infrastructure projects ever constructed in Melbourne” as we can read on the project’s website, the government should be happy that the public expresses its feelings about it. After all, we still live in a democracy.
If there are rallies against the East-West-Link then it’s not that Melbournians do not know what to do on their weekends, it’s simply because we think that we deserve a voice. No government or project developer will shut us up – at least not as long as we live in a democracy!