WA transport minister Dean Nalder is mounting an insurgency against Colin Barnett, trying to force the premier into completing the Perth Freight Link in one go.
At least, that’s the theory of state Fremantle Labor MP Simone McGurk, who notes Mr Nalder and federal finance minister Matthias Cormann seem to be singing from the same song sheet when it comes to a tunnel under much of Freo.
The tunnel proposal — which mysteriously fell into the lap of the West Australian newspaper midweek — would see the link go underground through White Gum Valley before re-emerging at Marmion Street and Stirling Highway.
The premier has ruled out planning and financing the link’s second stage yet — the bit that connects Roe 8 to the port — and Ms McGurk sees the ongoing publicity as a sign the transport minister is trying to outflank his boss.
When asked in state parliament on Thursday about Mr Nalder’s future in his government, Mr Barnett said he wasn’t going to speculate on future Cabinet positions.
Labor leapt on the equivocation as proof there’s a growing chasm between the pair over the future of the controversial PFL.
“I reckon Nalder and Cormann are trying to pressure Barnett into doing the freight link in one go,” Ms McGurk told the Herald.
Mr Nalder had previously told members of the White Gum Valley precinct the proposed tunnel, which would go under the golf course, would affect between 120 and 140 homes. It wouldn’t have emission stacks but would be vented at entry and exit points.
Precinct member Stephanie Jennings, who was at the meeting, said the minister reminded the group three times that Fremantle was a safe Labor seat and local opposition wouldn’t impact on the election outcome.
He’d also speculated that a completed freight link which reached the port would cost around $2.2 billion.
“It’s hard to justify such a huge state government spend of over $2.2b, thinking you’ll solve a traffic congestion issue on Leach Highway,” Dr Jennings told the Herald.
Earlier this week 35 police were dispatched to protect WA Main Roads staff, who were conducting ground water testing along the route through the Beeliar wetlands.
As word spread that the work was under way a crowd quickly formed: many were upset at the heavy police presence.
Cockburn mayor Logan Howlett and Aboriginal elder Sealin Garlett called for the works to be delayed until a Supreme Court challenge to Roe 8’s environmental approvals is heard this coming week.
About 150 protestors booed the drilling, but many quietly accepted move-on orders from police and didn’t disrupt the operation, some saying they were keeping their noses clean in preparation for a tougher fight if — or when — Mr Barnett sends the bulldozers in.
• See the Herald’s Facebook page for our updates of the protest through the week, and our online edition for more photos of the protest and rallies.
by STEVE GRANT