VTA urges police intervention to stop protest

Industry group wants police to stop a protest from going ahead that will block a bridge in Melbourne's west

By Ruza Zivkusic-Aftasi | November 8, 2012

Victoria Police is being asked to step in to stop a protest group from blocking a bridge in Melbourne’s west to raise concerns about heavy vehicle traffic.

The Maribyrnong Truck Action Group (MTAG) is planning to hold a protest at Footscray’s Shepherd Bridge to pressure the Victorian Government to bankroll infrastructure projects to remove trucks from local roads.

The Victorian Transport Association has labelled the plan a media stunt and wants the police to stop it from going ahead.

VTA CEO Neil Chambers says the MTAG’s behaviour is "dangerous and irresponsible".

"Why are they protesting by disrupting the general public who is trying to go on about their business, going to work and getting their kids to school, and the transport industry trying to deliver goods when their fight seems to be with the Baillieu Government?" he says.

"Why don’t they do like other protesters and take their protest to the steps of the Parliament House?"

A spokeswoman for Victoria Police says the force is aware of the planned protest and is in liaison with the MTAG "to work toward an outcome of least disruption".

"It is not the role of Victoria Police to 'stop' protests as such. We respect the right of the community to express their views in a safe, lawful and orderly manner," the spokeswoman says.

The MTAG wants Premier Ted Baillieu’s government to build ramps on the West Gate Bridge to stop trucks using residential streets in the west.
The planned protest will be the second one held in two years if it goes ahead.

MTAG President Peter Knight says the group is protesting because its calls for the government to take action are falling on deaf ears. He says the area has the highest level of diesel pollution in Melbourne.

"We don’t like doing this. I’d much rather do other things with my time than to have to worry about all of this but you get pushed into a situation," Knight says.

"Truck drivers are not our enemies. We have a lot of sympathy for them and we don’t like disrupting traffic.

"We’re very upset with the Government and also with industry bodies like the VTA, which just will not engage in substantial dialogue about how to solve this problem," he adds.

Knight is particularly critical of former VTA CEO Phil Lovel, who he says does not support the construction of the ramps and does not like the MTAG because it argues on behalf of residents.

"That’s actually a very personal stance taken by Phil Lovel who has held back this issue at every single opportunity," Knight says.

"Phil has done a lot of damage not just to residents in the area but also to truck drivers because of his unwillingness. His egoistic approach to this has been one of the reasons why these ramps have not been built."

Knight says Lovel should leave the trucking industry, claiming the respected industry veteran is past his prime.

"Instead, he’s staying around and looking over Neil Chamber’s shoulder making sure that Neil does the job. The guy has been in the industry for 30 years and his ideas come from 30 years ago."

Chambers says Lovel is seeking legal advice about the MTAG’s statements against him.

The MTAG claims VicRoads has stopped monitoring truck curfews on residential streets and has accused the government department of "abandoning its responsibilities to residents affected by trucks".

The protest is due to be held at Shepherds Bridge in Footscray on November 27 for 30 minutes from 8am.

ATN is awaiting comments from VicRoads.

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