The Tyranny of Vested Interests

In 1964, the ship Alkimos was wrecked on a reef off the coast of Western Australia at a time when our largest city, Perth’s, suburban sprawl had not reached that far. The ship was Greek but had a varied and colourful history, including on-board murders and criminal activity, under different names and flags. Attempts to salvage it failed and it was written off and left on the reef to break up. Over the years the wreck was visited by divers and adventurers, many of whom reported ghostly apparitions and experiences, and some of whom disappeared with their boats. The suburb eventually built on the nearby coast was called Alkimos.

Recently in Western Australia we have had a change of government, from the party that has invested heavily in providing a modern electric train system to serve Perth, to the parties that have traditionally run public transport down and mainly promoted one-person-one-car travel.

It didn’t take long for the new government to cancel plans for extension of the northern branch of the electric train system to Alkimos.

This was the explanation provided by the new minister as reported in the local paper:

‘Lands Minister Brendon Grylls said the State Government had put the extension of the railway line on hold in the uncertain economic climate.
In the meantime, Alkimos residents would have the use of a free CAT bus service taking them to and from Clarkson station.
“But the businesses that wish to come to Alkimos, to set up in the commercial precinct, actually don’t want the notion that everyone wakes in the morning, jumps on the train and heads south,” Mr Grylls said.’

Huh? On that reasoning, everyone who lived in Fremantle, Midland, Armadale, Thornlie or Mandurah, the end-points of the other branches of the train system, would jump on the train every morning and head to Perth, leaving these places like dormitory towns. You can’t force a person to stay in a place where he doesn’t want to be by denying him an efficient train service.

The statement doesn’t make sense until you realise that the minister has been told by car and oil industry lobbyists that there can only be cars, there must only be cars, there will only be cars. The same old message, and the same parties in power who have always obeyed it.

The minister doesn’t care about people moving about, but he wants it done by car. When his coalition was last in power, they talked and talked for 8 years about a new branch of the train system to the rapidly growing city of Mandurah, 70 km (44 miles) south of Perth. But not a spade was turned to make it happen. When the Labor party came to power in 2001 they set about bringing the new line to reality. They decided on a route straight down the middle of the cars-only freeway, which upset car lobbies. The project and the minister responsible for it were subjected to daily attacks and obstruction from all sides for 6 years until it was finished. It has of course been a big hit with the public.

Of course it is an Australian tradition to decry any major project of civil engineering, and to try to stop it and to destroy the people in charge of it. The Kalgoorlie pipeline and the Sydney Harbour Bridge are examples. C.Y. O’Connor, who built the Kalgoorlie pipeline, rode his horse into the sea and shot himself.

In the case of this Mandurah train, the minister responsible was our own iron lady, one Alannah McTiernan, who punched through it all, gave as good as she got and got the job done.

The point is that in whatever we need to do to stop global warming or to set the world on the path to a sustainable economy, we must confront the power of vested interests. The car industry and the fossil fuels industry have a hammerlock on governments in Australia, as they do in the United States and other places.

People in our countries elect governments to ‘power’, but the real power is held by shareholders and executives in major companies and industries, who are not elected by the people, are not accountable to them and are only concerned with their own wealth and safety.

It’s all very well to say that governments need to do this and that, but the real holders of power in our countries know what they want done or not done. The centres of economic power control the media, the media control the politicians.

Some people might say ‘Hit the streets! Bring on a revolution!’ but history has shown that a revolution can entrench in power a violent corrupt incompetent clique who are even less accountable and even harder to shift. I come back to the point I made in the post ‘Evolution, not Revolution’. Peaceful evolution is the only way to break the tyranny of vested interests, so that power passes permanently to the people. Our ‘democratic’ systems are well short of what they need to be. We can’t assume that modern democracy is the pinnacle of progress and that there is no need to improve it. We don’t just need to change and develop our economic systems and environmental management, we need to move forward with our political systems.

This will be a long and hard road. Note the words of a soldier fighting for American independence from Britain, scrawled on a drumhead in 1776: ‘Tyranny, like Hell, is not easily conquered’.

2 Responses to The Tyranny of Vested Interests

  1. Lesley Fahey

    I know this is not quite the point of your entry, but it continues to amaze me that the West Australian public still have not seemed to realise that Labor governments build public transport infrastructure and Liberal/coalition governments do not.

    In regards to Allanah MacTiernan. She is an unacknowledged and largely unappreciated gem. At least the Armadale people appreciate what she has done for them – she was recently given the keys to the City. Congratulations to her! If a woman didn’t have to be 20 times as good as a man to achieve the same status in WA, she would be the leader of the Labor party instead of whatshisname. (She was only 19 and a half times as good.)

    Nastily, the Libs have quashed Armadale’s hopes of weekend trading – which would have been wonderful for that City and for the people in the suburbs round about, for obvious political reasons.

    Going off on another tangent -those whom we elect may not wield the most power, but in a society with democratically-run elections, those whom we elect are a reflection of ourselves. It’s quite scary to think that when we are looking at Colin Barnett we are actually looking at ourselves in a mirror!!

  2. Janet Cheeseman

    Lesley said: “… it continues to amaze me that the West Australian public still have not seemed to realise that Labor governments build public transport infrastructure and Liberal/coalition governments do not.”

    I have often wondered about this too, Lesley. In a State where Labor Governments have built and extended a wonderful modern metropolitan rail network, with promises of more in the future, and where the people embrace train travel, even more than the government had expected, it seems counter-productive to boot them out at the next election.

    Alan Carpenter was an enthusiastic, energetic and personable Premier. But he was also arrogant, and I think this was his downfall. Shortly after he had taken over from Geoff Gallop, I heard on the TV that the Premier had told striking unionists to get back to work. I remember thinking ‘That doesn’t sound like Geoff Gallop’. And indeed it wasn’t. And indeed I don’t think it would have been. Alan Carpenter also decided to close or downgrade Royal Perth Hospital despite this being really unpopular with the public.

    Last September, Roger & I went on a bus tour around Perth. It was part of a package when we stayed at a hotel in Perth. It was a lovely sunny day and we visited the most beautiful places around Perth. It was a public holiday and people were everywhere out and about enjoying themselves on the beaches and by the river and in Kings Park.

    I thought that an ex-local could not learn much from such a trip, but I was wrong. The bus driver was very talkative. He told us that the Richard Court Liberal Government had been booted out because the people didn’t like the Belltower, just as the Charles Court Liberal Government had been voted out before for closing the Fremantle Railway. He told the passengers, mainly from other States, that there are no toll roads in Western Australia because the people have not allowed their Governments to build them. He told us that in W.A., lotto money goes to the community and not to the government, as it does in other States. West Australians have not let their successive Governments get their hands on these funds. I knew of course that lotto funds went to the community, but didn’t realise how much this differed from the other States.

    Putting all this together with the fact that the Carpenter Labor Government lost the last election by a only handful of votes in one seat and that Colin Barnett ‘snatched defeat from the jaws of victory’ in 2005 with his water canal proposal, it shows that the people of Western Australia really want a say in the running of the State. Individually, they feel more powerful if they know that very few of them could bring down a government which is not performing as they would wish.

    They perceive Alan Carpenter as arrogant. They do not want to be told what to do by their Premier, they want to be able to tell him (or her) what they want and what they don’t want. So he has to go, despite his many good works. Of course, they and the whole State are poorer for their decision for the next four or more years, but they conclude that that is the price of democracy.

    It would be great if this people power could be harnessed to overcome the power of vested interests, no matter what the colour of the Government.

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