Samantha Dunn MP never envisaged a career in public representation. In fact, she "shifted into politics quite accidentally", after her council's decision to shut her littlie's child care centre. A tug-o-war between local council and angry parents emerged, lasting two long years. After which time, Samantha stood for local government - primarily to combat the proposed shutdown. She won. And it wasn't long before she "realized that (she) actually liked public representation, and being a local government councillor". Upon querying Samantha about her diverse portfolio (which includes: forests, North East Link, Doncaster Rail, water, tourism, Great Forest National Park, emergency services and local government), out of curiosity as to how she divides her time between these, she explained, "Some of them are very proactive portfolios, and others are more reactive". But then pointing out, her "more significant and important role is of course as a local member".
Which brings me to the North East Link project - Samantha's current battle. Hence, my agenda for chatting with her; to scrutinise her, and her followers', counterarguments to this major road project. Which, as delineated by the North East Link Project website, "will finally build the missing link in Melbourne's freeway network while increasing the capacity of the Eastern Freeway". Which will encompass:
Linking north to east - by extending the Ring Road to the Eastern Freeway.
Upgrading/widening the Eastern Freeway, purportedly reducing travel times by up to 40%.
Setting aside dedicated bus lanes along the Eastern Freeway.
Thereby reducing travel times for commuters/car users/trucks by reducing congestion. As outlined in their "Business Case - Key Findings", thus also producing economic wins, including enhanced business connectivity and more efficient routes - with an emphasis on faster transportation of freight. This key infrastructural addition to our roadways, consequently generating economic growth for the state of Victoria.
So why would anyone dispute the merit of this project? Well, according to Samantha, "There's an abundance of evidence that points to 'you build more roads, you get more traffic'. It's well known, and the reality is, if we really wanna do something about congestion in the North East, we have to get people out of private cars, and offer them viable alternatives to get around...They don't have choices, so if were really serious about doing something about that, public transport is one of the core answers to getting people out of their car". I put it to Samantha that it was naive and essentially idealistic to thwart progress, and that this proposed freeway is just a side effect of our way of life. To have her retort "I think this project is synonymous with the thinking that we had in the late sixties about how to plan cities....And the reality is, cities, neither Melbourne, cannot have a car-based future. It is simply not possible". But don't we prefer cars regardless? Upon attempting to tarnish her logic, Samantha bouncing back with "The core of the issue, is how to break that dependency". Adding, "...if we get people out of their cars, that'll certainly free up road space for people who have to use the roads".
Whatever side of the fence you sit on, this upcoming forum - designed to cast a magnifying glass over this proposal, and hosted by Samantha, is an opportunity to broaden your perspective, or perhaps broaden theirs. Samantha, outlining the purpose of the evening - "The idea of the forum is to bring community members together to hear from transport experts about what public transport improvements would look like, particularly...this $15.8 billion. If you put that into public transport versus the roads, what you could actually get for that. It looks at how we can improve our existing roads, get trucks off them, and also looks at the environmental and health impacts of the proposed North East Link, because one of the biggest concerns people have is not only about the increased traffic in the area, but the fact it's gonna carve up open spaces here, and community assets as well, let alone it's impact on the Yarra River, with the tunnel underneath it". This forum, which will be held at the spacious Manningham Function Centre, is open to all.