In every single major Australian city, people are stuck in their cars. It is making us late for appointments, costing us at the petrol pump and reducing the time we can spend at home with our friends and families. For decades, the response from state and federal governments has been to plough billions into bigger motorways, extra lanes and ever-more complex spaghetti junctions. This has achieved as much as loosening our belts to reduce obesity.
The initial sigh of relief is always short lived. From the Monash Freeway in Melbourne to the Mitchell Freeway in Perth to the M4 in Sydney, no matter how much a road is expanded it inevitably clogs up. And with 18 million motor vehicles registered in Australia, there are no more notches left on our motorway belt. We have hit peak road. Something has got to give. It is simply not efficient to build more tollways. They drain government coffers and destroy communities.
The signs are there for all to see. The sooner we accept it, the easier it is going to be for everyone. You just have to look at the failure of the East West toll road in Melbourne. This was a project that was going to rip through homes and parklands at a cost of $1 billion for every kilometre. The Liberals kept the business case in a locked cabinet, and for good reason—because, for every dollar that was spent on the project, Victorians would have seen a benefit of a mere 45c. But the community would not stand for it. It was the people who won that campaign, with the Liberals losing what was dubbed by former Prime Minister Tony Abbott as 'a referendum on the East West Link'. Labor might have leapt to power in Victoria on the back of the Greens' and community's campaign against the toll road, but they do not seem to have learnt the lesson. They announced that they are pouring $400 million into adding more lanes to the Monash Freeway. It will inevitably become a 10-lane carpark.
This week we saw Brisbane's Airportlink sold to Transurban for $2 billion—60 per cent less than it cost to build just a few years ago. This loss of $2.8 billion comes off the back of a mess experienced since the start of this project by shareholders and every person paying tax. What a disgraceful waste. Four thousand kilometres away, the community is rallying against the Perth Freight Link, where the Liberals have once again underestimated the extent of the community outrage. A very similar story is playing out in Sydney with the Baird government's secretive WestConnex motorway.
The Greens will continue to stand with those who are protecting their homes, their wetlands and their parks until these bad projects are dumped. These governments must start making decisions in the interests of the people they represent rather than the interests of big motorway businesses. If they fail to do so, they will be thrown out.
The solution to our congestion woes does not lie down the same old path of more and more massive polluting tollways. We must give people a new way. We must give them an option of getting to work, to the shops or to visit a friend in a way that is quicker, cheaper and easier than driving their car. This means prioritising tram, train and bus projects and paths for people to safely walk and ride their bikes.
We hear a lot from many on the government benches about the need to reduce public spending. The good news is that shifting our focus from roads achieves just that. It will free up our roads for the people who need them most. Modelling from Vancouver—a city with a very similar transport makeup to Melbourne—shows the high cost to society for every kilometre driven by road. Travelling on public transport has a cost too, but it is a fraction of that of roads. In contrast, when someone walks or jumps on their bike, the health benefits provide a net gain to society as a whole. I will repeat that. There are massive costs to society for every kilometre travelled by car but big benefits to society for every kilometre walked or cycled. Under former Prime Minister Abbott and Prime Minister Turnbull, this economically responsible new way forward has been beaten by an ideological insistence on roads. Prime Minister Turnbull may be good at taking selfies on trains, but that has not addressed the lack of transparency and waste that we are still seeing with toll road projects around the country. We must put this old way of thinking where it belongs—in the past—and make it quicker, cheaper and easier for all Australians to get around.