As the City of Monash endorsed a report this week appealing for greater consultation over the proposed ‘sky rail’ project, a motion by Oakleigh ward councillor Theo Zographos calling for the council to adopt “a clear position opposing sky rail” and to support disaffected residents in their fight against the plan was voted down.
The 21-point motion submitted by Cr Zographos, which also requested that the council “condemn” Oakleigh MP Steve Dimopoulos for his advocacy of sky rail, was defeated by six votes to two.
In what is an increasingly acrimonious local debate over the Andrews government’s proposal to replace nine level crossings along the Pakenham-Cranbourne train line, Cr Zographos described the council’s decision as “a disgraceful betrayal from councillors who are supposed to represent our community”.
Taking to social media after the vote, the councillor accused the mayor of “a complete disregard for decency and impartiality” and that “the Labor dominated council … put party political interests before the community’s interest”.
Cr Zographos said fellow councillors “voted twice not to allow residents who had gathered at the meeting [to] have input into the discussion” and that amendments such as “explicitly stating that the state government should put the rail underground, and review its decision to build a sky rail were also voted down”.
Meanwhile, in a statement provided to Neos Kosmos, Monash Mayor Stefanie Perri strongly refuted the allegations, saying the community was better served by the council keeping lines of dialogue open with the government and the Level Crossing Removal Authority, “to keep voicing residents’ and council concerns, and keep pushing for information and improvements, rather than to take a rigid oppositional approach”.
The mayor said the council had a responsibility to advocate “for the best possible outcomes for our community” and that its role was to voice concerns about aspects of the sky rail proposal and seek information in order to undertake detailed assessments.
“We are also fulfilling our responsibilities by advocating strongly for improvements to the sky rail project, in case the government does decide to go ahead with this plan,” she said.
Cr Perri added the council would request “a thorough and documented explanation” from the Level Crossing Removal Authority of the investigation used to determine the selection of the elevated rail option at each location, and that the council had concerns for impacts on residents who live near the proposed elevated rail sections, particularly those to the east of Poath Road, Hughesdale.
The council also noted that it wished to see state government commit to providing “a high standard of maintenance of the areas under the elevated rail for at least the next 20 years, including a commitment to ongoing graffiti removal”.
Cr Paul Klisaris, who opposed the Zographos motion, rebuffed any suggestion that the council was acting in anything other than local residents’ interests.
“We did not say ‘we back sky rail’, we said we want more information on the plan and its impacts. That’s what we’ve asked for,” said Cr Klisaris.
“The council recognises the complexity of the project and this is something both sides of politics have turned their back on in the past, in terms of replacing these dangerous level crossings. Now a state government is prepared to do this.
“We will continue the dialogue, and will encourage the opportunity for the community to ask questions. We’re not going to be part of a ‘Salem witch hunt’ being orchestrated by one councillor.”
Earlier this month Premier Daniel Andrews promised local people affected by the sky rail project one-on-one consultations with government officials.
Asked why the project was not sent to Infrastructure Victoria, the state’s independent statutory authority that provides expert advice on infrastructure needs, Mr Andrews said his government would not “wait around for years and years doing endless studies on this”.
The government says 2,000 jobs will be created as nine level crossings are removed between Caulfield and Dandenong as part of the $1.6 billion project.