The Summer of Roe 8

Published on Mon 20 March 2017 7:40pm

It is a shame—and I say it is a scandalous shame—that no-one in the Liberal government or in Main Roads Western Australia had the bottle to say, to a tired and desperate government, ‘Hold on a minute; after eight long years of nothing, surely this can wait until April.’

Mr Wilson (7:40pm) — A couple of Saturdays ago, a summer that has at times been infuriating and heartbreaking changed into something altogether different. Back in December, it was another story. Back in December, without good reason, without proper planning or preparation, work began on the destruction of 100 hectares of remnant bushland in the Beeliar Wetlands. Roe 8, a project that had gone nowhere for eight years, a road that quite literally goes nowhere, suddenly became a matter of huge urgency. And so began an incredible and difficult summer that has seen an extraordinary effort by thousands of ordinary people in my community who simply would not accept an abject failure of government—citizens who stood up, or sometimes sat down, linked arms, and said ‘No.’

There has been a kind of poetry in what has occurred—even if sometimes it has been a tragic poetry, a poetry of dark symbols and bitter ironies. Walking east from the Shakespearian streets of Coolbellup, you come down the hill alongside a corridor of flattened bush to the edge of Bibra Lake at the intersection of Hope Road and Progress Drive. It is at Hope and Progress where two massive pine trees had stood since the day they were planted by John Dixon in the year 1900 to celebrate his marriage. A few weeks ago they were chopped down to stumps and left to stand in a fenced enclosure like exhibits in a display of human stupidity.
This is not a case of being hypersensitive—or of saying that no tree can ever be felled, because of course clearing has occurred and it will occur, and trees will sometimes be cut down for a railway or a road or a house or a hospital. But this was a case of utterly senseless destruction. And in the end it was that bloody-mindedness, that careless and senseless damage at the intersection of Hope and Progress, that told us everything we needed to know about the Barnett Liberal government and its federal Liberal boosters.

After last Saturday, with the election of the McGowan Labor government, the loss of those trees and all those hectares of bushland has been made totally pointless, as any reasonable person might have expected. Since the election, a number of Liberal ministers and party officials have said they knew last year the election was gone. Well, it is a shame they did not bother to speak up before the hundred hectares were cleared and the millions of dollars were wasted.

It is a shame—and I say it is a scandalous shame—that no-one in the Liberal government or in Main Roads Western Australia had the bottle to say, to a tired and desperate government, ‘Hold on a minute; after eight long years of nothing, surely this can wait until April.’

My community wants to see investment in productive infrastructure at a time of high unemployment and record underemployment. That should include projects like the North Lake Road Bridge, and public transport in the form of METRONET; it should include support for freight-on-rail, and the development of South Quay and the Kwinana trade coast.

We need that investment to provide a comprehensive and long-term solution to freight and passenger congestion. We need that investment to underwrite the creation of jobs in shipbuilding, rail infrastructure and tourism. Yet so far all we have heard is threats from the Turnbull government to withhold funding from such projects and to give WA less than what we currently get, which is next to nothing.

The people of Western Australia have made their view of the Perth Freight Link perfectly clear. The claim by Liberal members, state and federal, that there was a ‘silent majority’ in support of this project has been thoroughly exploded. The truth is: the clear-voiced majority has spoken. It is the same clear voice you could hear from the protestors at dawn in Coolbellup, day after day, or out doorknocking in Bicton, or walking down yesterday with hundreds of community members to the intersection of Hope and Progress and seeing the new green shoots emerge from the waste.

At a time when people question the value of civic engagement, we should take heart from the battle fought to save the Beeliar Wetlands and to create a sensible transport future for Western Australia. I want to acknowledge, first and foremost, the strength of purpose and leadership of traditional owners and Noongar elders throughout the struggle. I also want to acknowledge and thank those people who made particular contributions on the front line: Kate Kelly, Felicity McGeorge and Save Beeliar Wetlands; Kim Dravnieks and Rethink the Link; Piers Verstegen and the Conservation Council; Barry Healy and Fremantle Road-to-Rail; local councillors like Tim Barling, Sam Wainwright, Rachel Pemberton and Phil Eva; and local mayors like Brad Pettitt, Logan Howlett and Ron Norris.

We should respect and take heart from what a community campaign can achieve—from the influence that ordinary citizens can have through activism, commitment, patience, forbearance, reason, resilience, and solidarity in a cause that is right. Even on the darkest days—which, of course, were typically white-hot in the dust and glare of a Freo summer—when we witnessed banksia woodland and wetland ecosystems being turned to mulch, there were hundreds and hundreds of men, women and children who continued to believe it was not too late to stop Roe 8. And you know what? Hallelujah! We were right.

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