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IT WAS meant to be a pre-election good news story about how Premier John Brumby was taking action to unclog trains and roads in Melbourne's crowed inner-west.
But last night the government was in damage control after its multibillion-dollar transport dream turned into a PR nightmare.
Mr Brumby and Public Transport Minister Martin Pakula were refusing to say ''sorry''to dozens of distressed residents of Footscray who found out from the media their homes would be bulldozed to make way for the $4.3 billion Regional Rail Link.
Yesterday morning, Mr Brumby said ''every effort'' had been made to contact the affected home owners at the same time as he was announcing the route of the rail line to a business lunch at Zinc restaurant in the city.
But hours later Mr Pakula revealed that government officials who had been dispatched to deliver the bad news fled when they saw television camera crews in the area.
He said the officials had found the situation ''very stressful'' and had made the judgment that it would be better not to have such a ''personal and private conversation'' with residents in front of TV cameras.
He was ''disappointed and annoyed'' some residents found out from the media rather than the government that they were losing their homes.
''I think if we were going to have our time over, the Regional Rail Link team would have been there [in Buckley Street, Footscray] slightly earlier in the day,'' Mr Pakula said.
''It was certainly not the intention that anyone would find out from the media. It is not the way I wanted it. It is a matter of some regret.''
When pressed, Mr Pakula would not say sorry.
''I think what residents want to know is what is happening with their properties and why what happened happened and how it occurred, and I'm going to provide them with that explanation,'' he said.
Mr Pakula, whose upper house electorate includes Footscray, said he did not plan to visit the residents but would write to them conveying his ''regret'' over what had happened.
But the opposition and the Greens condemned the government's bungling.
''I think it is cruel and heartless,'' Liberal upper house leader David Davis said. ''You need to inform people, you need to consult with people and you need to treat them with a measure of dignity.''
Local Greens MP Colleen Hartland described the government's actions as ''rude and contemptuous''.
Mr Brumby said it was appropriate to make the announcement on Monday at a business lunch while efforts were made to inform residents individually at the same time.
''Of course you feel for anybody that is affected as your home is your castle, but we have gone to huge lengths to make sure that everybody in those communities was given advice and warning,'' he said.
''Every effort was made to contact those people.''
Mr Pakula said residents would get market value for their property and compensation that was still to be negotiated.
Up to 26 houses in and around Buckley Street will be razed for the rail line that will run from Southern Cross Station to Werribee. It is due to be finished in 2014.
Some residents yesterday still did not have final confirmation their homes would be forcibly acquired, although the Department of Transport did make contact through home visits and by telephone.
Resident Nick Fahey did not hear from the government on Monday and assumed his house would not be affected. But yesterday the department's land manager called to say some or all of his property was likely to be acquired.
''We still haven't seen a letter, which has left us in a greater state of suspense than if they have provided no information at all,'' he said. ''I support the project, and I accept that someone is going to get battered in the process, but I'm pretty shocked by their management of this. I can't recall a process as spectacularly bad as this one.''
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