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’.