Make Roe 8 our urban Franklin Dam

Sam Wainwright, Socialist Alliance candidate for the WA Legislative Council.

The campaign against Roe 8 and the whole Perth Freight Link freeway project has produced an unprecedented outpouring of creativity, community spirit and determination. The past month and a half has produced another phase — the Wetlands Defenders, characterised by their remarkable resilience and courage.

One of our young Socialist Alliance members, just out of high school, is currently locked on up a tree. We know she is well supported by good caring people, the people who have organised this phase of the campaign.

This is a campaign where women have played a dominant role, whether it is lock-ons, people doing administrative work and everything in between. You can debate the sociology of why this is the case, but it is the case, very noticeably the case.

Our main task between now and election day on March 11 is to kick out the Barnett government. We have to throw every fibre, every ounce of energy towards that goal.

There is one immediate thing we need to do after that. We need to call for a proper commission of enquiry into how this project has been progressed: the de-listing of Aboriginal heritage sites without consultation; the secrecy and refusal to release documents; the game of hot potato played by multiple government departments on the question of asbestos exposure; the blatant disregard of environmental regulations; and the use and misuse of police powers.

We've seen the total manipulation of what should be neutral processes of government and departmental procedures. All these need to be subject to a commission of enquiry that has the power to make recommendations, compel witnesses and recommend prosecutions.

If even half of what we believe to have happened in the failure to exercise a duty of care in the handling of asbestos is true, then people have broken the law. Premier Colin Barnett cannot treat the law and government departments as his plaything. If the inside of a courtroom is good enough for the more than 200 of us who were arrested for protesting the destruction of the Beeliar Wetlands, it has to be good for some of them as well.

We must all, including the Labor Party, make qualitative progress on the alternatives to Perth Freight Link after we get rid of the Barnett government, including the planning for the outer harbour, putting more freight on rail and investment in public transport.

All those things need to happen because of the burgeoning population on the Cockburn coast and beyond. Traffic will continue to grow and in ten years’ time, if we have not implemented those alternatives, Perth Freight Link will return. It might have a slightly different name and a slightly different route, but the growth in traffic will be used to justify PFL Mark 2.

In the course of promoting their Metronet plan to expand passenger rail across Perth, Labor has understandably put the emphasis on those parts that touch on seats they hope to win this election. I love Metronet, but we need the parts of that plan that would service the greater Fremantle, Melville and Cockburn areas to be built in the next ten years.

The same goes for the South St light rail proposal popularised by Senator Scott Ludlum. We need to make a start on these kinds of public transport initiatives as soon as possible because otherwise we will be back here fighting this freeway again in ten years’ time.

Say we are successful in giving Barnett the boot and removing Roe 8 from the Metropolitan Region Scheme. What happens then? We need to retain some of the experience, connections, momentum and spirit of this campaign. We need to make it our urban Franklin Dam moment.

Perth’s endless sprawl and freeway construction are two sides of the same coin. We need to start moving our urban fabric in a different direction. We need a different kind of city. There is no perfect blueprint, but look at a city like Berlin, which has the population of Melbourne in a third of the footprint, yet there are parks and gardens everywhere. I’m sure it is not a perfect place, but it demonstrates that a different urban form is possible.

It is not going to happen overnight, but it will be shaped gradually through the decisions we make about transport infrastructure now. We need to say “no” to the endless destruction of the remnant vegetation of the Swan Coastal Plain, fuelled by freeway construction. We have to make this our turning point.

The spirit of community, the preparedness to lock on and the campaigning experience is going to need to come together again and again. So in that sense we need to realise that the defeat of Roe 8 does not mean the end, but the end of the beginning. We've only just begun, so let’s press on.

[This is an abridged version of the speech given by Fremantle councillor and Socialist Alliance candidate for South Metropolitan in the WA state election, Sam Wainwright, at the Great Cross Roads Rally. The rally, held on February 16 in the Perth suburb of Coolbellup, was part of the campaign against Roe 8 and Perth Freight Link freeway project.]