Words by: Charlotte Clark
You may have heard about the 500-year-old King Jarrah Eucalyptus tree that was illegally felled in Coolbellup in January. It caused huge unrest in the community; it was valued for the large number of nesting hollows needed for the endangered Carnaby’s Black Cockatoo, as well as being a rare symbol of maturity and strength in the area’s native bushland. The stump (healthy until it was felled) is wider than a grown man is tall. Authorities have denied that the felling was the start of land clearing for the Roe Highway extension, part of the Perth Freight Link (PFL).
The King Jarrah felling issue might seem like a fairly obvious choice to introduce the Perth Freight Link debacle, but it serves as an ugly, poignant reminder that the government have their sights set on bulldozing a huge chunk of valued bushland to make space for an ill-planned highway.
That being said, it’s time to get up to speed with PFL as things heat up for 2016; here’s a rundown of the basics and the latest. I’m going to attempt to write this without swearing.
Where exactly do they want to build this thing?
The only section of PFL that has been decided upon with any certainty by the Department of Main Roads is the 5.2km extension of the Roe highway, known as Roe 8 (Section 1). This is the part that runs through ‘protected’ Beeliar Regional Park (Beeliar Wetlands).
No other part of the highway has been locked in (section 2, section 3, option 1, option 2, tunnels, Roe 9 – these are all just words to describe various hypotheticals right now). There are no plans laid out to join the Fremantle end of PFL to the Port, just 1.5km of “we’ll figure that out later”.
So they get to build a highway through a Regional Park?
Not quite. A Supreme Court decision in December 2015 stated that the decision to approve Roe 8 by the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) was invalid. Chief Justice Wayne Martin found the EPA didn’t follow their own policies regarding offsets when imposing environmental conditions on the project back in 2013.
Politicians and community groups had varying responses to the ruling, and another group have recently announced plans to launch another Supreme Court challenge against Roe 8, this time on Aboriginal Heritage grounds.
What about that end part that doesn’t link up to Fremantle Port?
Well, there is a chunk of North Fremantle, which includes a row of Heritage buildings, that was quietly set aside as a road reserve in November 2015. No idea why, but it happens to be the land needed to get from the end of PFL to Fremantle Port – potentially the missing link at the end of the Road to Nowhere. There are no plans for the road reserve as yet.
If it doesn’t get where it’s meant to go, why was it proposed in the first place?
This is the most important point – PFL still doesn’t actually solve the problem it was initially designed to! It was brought back into the limelight in 2014 to move heavy vehicle traffic off Leach Highway, but Peter Newman will tell you why it will do no such thing.
As a Professor at Curtin University, Infrastructure Australia member, and a respected expert in sustainable transport, Newman knows much more about Perth transport economics than I do. As he puts it, Perth Freight Link “dropped from the sky” – this short video is a great summary of the transport mess. Or watch Newman presenting much a more comprehensive review of PFL economics and feasibility.
Surely the Government has realised their error of their ways by now?
Premier Colin Barnett still thinks Roe 8 is really important, and wants to appeal the Chief Justice’s December 2015 decision.
Transport Minister Dean Nalder probably thinks it’s really important too. It’s worth noting here that Nalder’s wife’s family owns a trucking company, and some of the companies winning PFL contracts give sizable donations to selected political parties.
Environment Minister Albert Jacobs gave the environmental tick of approval for Roe 8 in mid-June 2015, around the same time as the EPA’s now invalid approval. He is exuding the confidence that Roe 8 is an environmentally sound project, and that all due processes have been followed to ensure as such.
On a related note, I attended an Environment Forum with Minister Jacobs (a qualified arborist) in North Perth last week, where I asked him about the King Jarrah felling in Coolbellup. He seemed relatively unfamiliar with the issue, yet confident that it had nothing to do with the construction of Roe 8 and that it was a necessary, properly executed action. To give him credit, the delivery of his portfolio at the beginning of the forum was endearingly eloquent, and full of the political party enthusiasm native to right leaning politicians delivering dialogue on leftist issues. It was as though he wanted to believe that he was doing right by the state’s environment.
So what have the EPA got to do with it now?
This is also a very important point. The EPA have been asked to reassess the environmental conditions for Roe 8 – once a new chair and delegates are appointed. This is in addition to the Government’s appeal of the Supreme Court decision, and a ‘health check’ of the EPA.
Live in the Northern or Western suburbs? Think PFL won’t affect you?
Unlikely… If it goes ahead, it could pave the way for the Stephenson Highway. This would come off the Mitchell Freeway at Osborne Park, run around Herdsman Lake, cut through Bold Park, and join the West Coast Highway at North Cottesloe (it’s essentially the red line on this map), completing the ring-road around central Perth that the government are itching to create. As Peter Newman puts it – right idea, wrong plan.
This does sound far-fetched, but the 61-year old Stephenson-Hepburn Plan from which the Stephenson Highway originates was also the genesis of the proposed PFL.
At least it won’t cost anything (more than my taxes) once it’s built, right?
If built, Roe 8 would be WA’s first toll road.
We’ve got to transport freight around somehow though…
Sure we do. Railways. The infrastructure is already there – it’s a valid freight option. Together with the long-anticipated Outer Harbour down in Kwinana. The industrial land there is already government owned, and doing a whole lot of not much! The previous government had budgeted for an Outer Harbour and were all for increasing rail capacity. The current government stalled these plans upon their election in 2008, and have since received a cool $925m in Federal funding, specifically to build a PFL through to Fremantle.
What’s happening federally?
Last week the Senate supported a Greens motion for the Federal Auditor General Grant Hehir to investigate said Federal funding for PFL. There has still been no cost-benefit analysis or full business case released for the link, even though Senators have requested them, and held a Senate enquiry in Fremantle last October. Greens Senator Scott Ludlam continues to ask questions that no level of the Government seem to want to answer. Either that or they don’t know. Which they should.
Is there anything else going on?
The WA Government are currently in the throes of introducing new anti-protest laws. Far beyond anything previously seen in Australia, this will be a huge violation of freedom of speech. Under these laws individuals will be guilty until they can prove their own innocence. The legislation criminalises peaceful protest, intent, and is currently due to pass in March 2016. This is a slight side issue, but will directly affect PFL protest groups.
Surely there’s nothing can be done to stop it then?
Despite all the odds, there is a still an increasingly large groundswell of highly motivated, passionate, and organised volunteers dedicating a hell of a lot of time to doing everything it can to convince the government to rethink this monstrosity.
Major community and campaign groups include:
Rethink Perth Freight Link Alliance (includes 34 Community Groups and 5 Local Governments)
There’s plenty more background to PFL (about 60 years’ worth), but this is where we currently stand. And no swearing! Which is no mean feat, given Perth Freight Link is such a fucking ridiculous idea.
It’s a complex, messy topic, but if you live in or love Perth it will affect you. If you want to help stop this madness there are endless ways to get involved, and now is the time to do it. If this is allowed to go through Perth will be stuck with an inefficient freight transport system, to the tune of nearly $2 billion and one very fragile, very alive native wetlands.