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from Barry J Rumpf

Following from his cancellation of the East/West Link project, Daniel Andrews had to come up with an alternative. His pig headedness comes to the fore with his determination to ensure that this project never succeeds.

Early in his role as PM, Scott Morrison recognised how vital this project was to the solution of Melbourne’s ever growing traffic problems and offered Andrews that the Commonwealth would pay for the tunnel construction if Andrews passed the necessary legislation to compulsorily acquire the properties that lay in its path. Most of these had already been acquired or were in the process of being acquired, by the Napthine Liberal government.

Andrews’ response was to reject Morrison’s offer and promptly set about selling off those properties that had previously been acquired.

His immediate counter move to salve the public outcry over the contract cancellation was to announce the construction of the Westgate Tunnel project. This tunnel, according to Andrews was far more vital for the wellbeing of Melbourne’s citizens than the East/West Link. One cannot help the feelings of derision when it is noted that the East/West Link was to serve suburbs in what were traditionally Liberal seats whereas the Westgate Tunnel was in the centre of Labour heartland.

Neither depended on the other and both could be described as necessary components of an integrated freeway network.

westgate 

The purpose of the Westgate Tunnel is twofold. One is to divert heavy truck traffic from the industrial west of Melbourne to the port. Curfews were already in place to restrict this traffic during sleeping hours and weekends from travelling through inner suburban streets. It caused significant disruption to industrial activity. The other is to ease the volume of traffic on the Westgate Bridge which has reached capacity

The contract was let to a consortium for a cost of $6.7 billion, now blown out to $8 billion.

The project involved the construction of two tunnels under the Maribyrnong River directly into the Port of Melbourne by using huge tunnel boring machines. Construction started in 2018 and it took some 6 months to construct the operations base and assemble the boring machines. Work proceeded until the accumulation of spoil from the tunnelling was found to contain noxious chemicals and the disposal then had to conform to EPA standards and strenuous objections from residents in areas where it was intended to dump the spoil. The land which the consortium had earmarked as a dumping ground was not suitable and alternatives had to be found. These involved extra costs for the consortium which took the view that as the soil contamination was a factor that should have been known to the government and the EPA compliance was imposed by government regulations the government should pay the extra cost. The government refused stating that it was up to the contractor to work something out. A Mexican standoff ensued and the contractor stopped work resulting in 300+ workers being laid off.

Work proceeds with the ancillary projects, which are extensive, but the dispute over the disposal of 1.5 million cubic metres of spoil remains unresolved.

The second string to Andrews’ bow to solve the East/West Link debacle was to announce the North/East Link. This is a $16 billion project that will link the Eastern Freeway to the ring road system that traverses Melbourne’s north and west. It will complete the link as intended for the East/West Link by a very round about route. These two projects are costing, so far, $24 billion to solve a problem that was costed at $8 billion and that the Federal government had offered to pay for anyway.

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The North East Link will not however ease the congestion at the end of the Eastern Freeway for traffic heading to the CBD. The Eastern Freeway is to be widened to 10 lanes but will still result in a dead end. The official line is that the traffic diverted to the North East link will reduce the volume on the Eastern Freeway and that will relieve the congestion at the dead end in Collingwood. This is flawed thinking because traffic heading to the CBD and beyond will get no benefit. The main beneficiaries will be people travelling to Tullamarine Airport and industrial traffic heading to the northern suburbs.

This project has been strenuously resisted by local councils in the affected areas. It will involve the loss of considerable parklands and playing fields together with major intrusions into areas regarded as safe Liberal heartland. There has been talk of mounting legal challenges to this project by some affected councils but as time goes on I believe they will come to nothing.

Construction is due to start in 2021 and finish in 2027. Some preliminary peripheral work has already started along with property acquisitions. If Andrews is returned to office at the 2022 election the project will not be completed before the following one in 2026 by which time I expect he will have retired and the predictable problems of cost overruns will be somebody else’s burden.

Of all the grief and pain Andrews has inflicted on Victorians nothing matches that which emerges from his destruction of the brown coal generating industry in the LaTrobe Valley.

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Andrews is a disciple of the climate change fraud. During the reign of the Kennett government from 1992 to 1999 the State Electricity Commission, a government entity that operated the LaTrobe Valley brown coal deposits and power stations, was dismantled and the power stations sold off to foreign private enterprises to pay off debts incurred by the previous Labour governments of Joan Kirner and John Cain Snr. The coal fields were retained by the government. When Andrews came to power he embarked on a programme to close down the coal fired power stations that produced all of Victoria’s domestic electricity needs and also fed the national grid. His rationale was the emissions of carbon dioxide.

He raised the amount of royalty that the power generators had to pay for the coal they extracted to a point where they became unprofitable and the Hazelwood station was closed down. The remaining generators still provide the bulk of the base load power but the compensating rise in renewable energy generation has pushed domestic power prices to stratospheric levels. The aluminium smelter at Point Henry, near Geelong was closed. The Portland aluminium smelter is alive through government subsidies but is expected to close next year. In addition to that he also banned the on-shore exploration for natural gas of which Victoria has copious quantities.

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This policy has recently been overturned by agreement with the Federal government.

These are just the major catastrophes of the Andrews government. Other minor skirmishes occur almost daily. For example, we do not have a gang problem in Victoria according to Andrews and his politicised police chief yet home invasions are no longer news, they are so common.

Victorians managed to survive the ravages of the Cain/Kirner governments. Hopefully we can survive Andrews as well but I am not holding my breath.

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