SUE JACKSON Therapist/Writer/Photographer/Activist

Last year, as the unofficial blogger/photographer to the anti-East-West Link campaign, our battles were my blog's entire focus. But by Christmas, with the electoral win for people power and the dumping of the dud Tunnel, I was suddenly at a loss. What to write about now? Not sure yet. But there will be ongoing musings and images from this Australian life. So please leave a message. (No need to sign into an account. Simply comment as ‘anonymous’; then leave your name within the comment itself.)

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Rats in the Ranks: Yesterday's East-West Link 'debate' in State Legislative Council

Inside our stately Parliament building

What a disappointment! I've never actually attended Parliament before and woke up yesterday feeling excited at the prospect. I had rearranged my work schedule so that I could take the afternoon off to sit in the gallery and hear the debate on the scary proposed amendments to the Major Transport Project Facilitation bill in the Legislative Council, aka the Upper House.
The 'Upper' house proved upper in name only. We did climb this magnificent staircase to get there:

Stairway to Heaven - not!

But the behaviour of the Ministers inside couldn't have been 'lower'.
They stood chatting in groups with their backs to the speaker, wandered around the chamber, laughed derisively and called our insults to the person speaking. This sort of behaviour wasn't new to me, as I've watched the antics of Ministers in Federal Parliament on TV, so I shouldn't have been shocked. Maybe experiencing it 'live' simply made it harder to stomach. Especially as the stakes are so high for opponents of the East-West Link, and as I realised yesterday, for all those in the future opposed to environment and community-destroying projects in Victoria.
I felt particularly ashamed of our adult representatives when a group of wide-eyed primary school kids were ushered into the gallery nearby. The contrast between the impeccably-behaved children above and the rabble below couldn't have been more stark.
The farcical side intensified because our small, quiet, respectable group of protestors was scrutinised throughout by burly security personnel, who sat with us in our eyrie. Obviously they were highly concerned about our radical intentions. In fact Julianne Bell, of Protectors of Public Lands, had been rung in the morning by Police Victoria, who were under the impression that we intended to 'march on Parliament' that afternoon. Maybe that's why they never took their eyes off us, and were instantly on the alert at any displays of radical and forbidden behaviour, like resting our arms on the balustrades or  clapping or, heaven forbid, standing up.
It proved a very long, boring afternoon. I was grateful that I had thought ahead and packed Bill McKibben's 'must read' Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet.
It was past 5 o'clock before the 'debate' actually started, when Brian Tee, the Shadow Minister for Planning, explained at great length to a virtually empty House why Labour intended to oppose the Bill.
By the time Greg Barber, for the Greens, stood up to speak there was hardly a minister left to listen or even to boo his ideas. Greg spoke eloquently and critiqued the Bill clause by clause.
He emphasised that although Labour is now criticising the Government, it was the Labour party itself which began in 2009 the process of over-riding 30 years of environmental law-making in Victoria. All the Liberal party is doing, by this proposal to ignore the community and disempower local councils, is putting the final nails in the coffin. Sadly, Greg's comments fell on deaf, or absent, ears.
By this time it was well past 6pm and I had to get home. I concluded that with that level of 'debate', I can't imagine how ministers ever vote except along strictly party lines. They seem to either absent themselves or have entirely closed minds if they are physically present. What an under-whelming experience the Upper House proved to be.


Blogger MR.GRIM said...

I'm very sorry to hear it was that disappointing. I think chaining yourself to the bulldozer may be the only option... :(
Good on you for going along anyway, I'm sure in some way, it still makes a difference :)

6:45 PM  
Blogger Sue Jackson said...

I hope you are right, Mr Grim. I believe demonstrations of 'people power' are always important, even if (or perhaps, particularly when) the situation seems most unchangeable and dire. Acting is certainly the best way I know to keep my own hope alive.

12:46 AM  
Blogger Luke C Jackson said...

It sounds like a really dispiriting experience. I hope that the lack of true debate doesn't mean that the protest is over.

6:13 AM  
Blogger Sue Jackson said...

Definitely not, Luke. The protest will not be over. In fact it made me realise we have to redouble our efforts. There is too much at stake for people to give up. I guess it just highlighted to me yet again that change will need to come from the bottom up. With the exception of the tiny minority of Greens ministers, State politicians have obviously lost the plot.

2:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The protest is far from over. 7 Councils have now resolved to oppose the East West Link and/or support funding of public transport They represent bout 690,000 ratepayers/residents. In defence of Labor the State Opposition has resolved to oppose the East West Link. Plans for the extension of the Eastern Freeway/EW Link were scrapped by Labor in 2003 and 2008. As Greg Barber has said the EW Link has, zombie like, it has risen from the dead and now it needs finishing off agin for good. Julianne Bell

7:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The ALP can safely oppose the EW Link knowing full-well it will be signed off before the 2014 State Election. They already state they will not rescind the contracts. A future Premier Andrews could well open the Link and proclaim it as another ALP triumph. We must continue the battle against this discredited costly project. Ian Bird

10:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, voting on party lines is a reality of the Westminster system. Debate is a misnomer when it comes to parliament. John Ralston Saul, President of International Pen, is one person who has for many years expressed concern over the decline of civic education, responsibility and involvement; what an appalling example those politicians set for the school kids.

11:06 PM  
Anonymous Tony Ferguson said...

The experience certainly reveals Parliament to be pretty much a rubber stamp. The smug arrogance of government members was a feature.

I spoke with Greens MLC, Colleen (I can't remember her surname at the moment) during the dinner break. She asked me how I liked Greg Barber's speech and said they'd been watching from their office.

3:44 PM  

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