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Transport, infrastructure, peak oil and greenhouse planning

My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government, Senator Conroy. Given that the only long-term way to constrain petrol price rises, ease the pain for Australian commuters and reduce greenhouse gas emissions from transport is to reduce oil demand by making system-wide alternatives more available, why is the government spending more than 20 times more on new roads, freeways, flyovers and road tunnels than it is on mass transit?

Secondly, why is the government intent on undermining its own emissions trading scheme and its own emissions targets by driving up transport emissions from its road infrastructure funding?Senator

Answer

CONROY-Thank you for that question. Can I be very clear from the outset: the government went to the last election with a very clear program to address infrastructure bottlenecks in this country. It was a very clear program that included road funding and a fund to develop ports, broadband and other areas that were clearly identified. Not only do we not shy away from your claim, we are proud that we went to the election with this suite of commitments, and we intend to deliver on each and every one of them. We also have, at the same time, a comprehensive package to address climate change. So it is possible for us to address both the infrastructure constraints-we inherited them from those opposite, who spent 11½ years avoiding the Reserve Bank's warnings, because they just could not understand that, as the economy grew, it introduced capacity constraints-and climate change. Not only do we have a comprehensive package to address climate change, we also have a package designed to ensure that the economy can continue to grow without the inflationary pressures that those opposite have left us.

As I mentioned earlier, we have the highest inflation rate in 16 years. This is an opposition that has lost touch with the issues affecting ordinary Australians and the pressures that are being put on Australian families. Not only are we proud, we will continue to go forward with both our environment package and our infrastructure package to deal with those issues that you have raised.

Supplementary Question

Senator MILNE-Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I note that the government has a policy to drive greenhouse gas emissions up at the same time as they have a policy to bring greenhouse gas emissions down. Given that it is not clear how the government intends to do both at the same time, I ask: will the government refer all of its road funding election promises to Infrastructure Australia to examine the plans against alternatives, such as urban mass transit, and regional and intercity rail links? If not, why does the government think it is more important to implement populist election pork-barrelling road funding than to fulfil the Prime Minister's promise to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and be a world leader on climate change, since you cannot have it both ways?

Supplementary Answer

Senator CONROY-I would disagree completely. We have a comprehensive package to address both of these issues. On the issue of public transport funding, I accept that the previous government were not interested in public transport funding. But this government recognises the importance of the seamless movement of people and freight both within and between cities. You asked whether we would refer this. We debated this at some considerable length in Senate estimates, Senator Milne, as you know. I made it clear over and over again to you and those opposite that our election commitments are guaranteed. The Prime Minister has made it clear that we will continue to deliver on our promises on infrastructure and road funding and we will deliver on our promises on climate change. Your paradigm where we cannot have both, we reject utterly. We reject utterly the claim that you cannot have both. (Time expired)

Motion to Take Note of Answer

I move:
That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Minister representing the Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government, Senator Conroy, to a question without notice asked by me today relating to Climate Change.

As I indicated in my question, it is very clear that the only long-term way to constrain petrol price rises and ease the pain for Australian commuters as well as to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from transport is to reduce demand by system-wide alternatives. I listened to Senator McGauran saying this government came to power without debt. There was a massive debt in the Australian economy in terms of climate and in terms of infrastructure. When this government came to power we had a total collapse in the Murray-Darling system as a result of long-term drought made worse by climate change and we had had a decade of complete neglect on climate change and peak oil.

In 2006 I moved in the Senate for an inquiry into Australia's future oil supply and alternatives. In that inquiry we demonstrated the argument very strongly for peak oil-the recognition that Australia was running out of any self-sufficiency in oil and would soon become dependent on expensive imported oil; that cheap, plentiful oil was over; that we needed to invest massively in public transport; and that we needed to get ABARE to smarten up its ideas on predicted prices. We looked at a whole range of things like going to AusLink and forcing them to look at alternatives-to review the road funding and get some decent analysis on future oil supply-and the government of the day did absolutely nothing. The Howard government completely ignored the recommendations of that inquiry, and now we sit here with this government ignoring them as well.

The key point I chose to make today was that the Prime Minister said he wanted to be a world leader in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. At the same time, the government, in the budget, has approved $4.3 billion worth of funding for transport which is 20-1 going to roads, freeways and cross-city tunnels-the whole shebang-and not to urban passenger transport, in particular urban rail. We do not want duplication of services; we want proper linkages and improved outer suburban transport to regional and intercity rail links. That is where money should be being spent, but it is not.

Senator Conroy told us that the government intends to massively increase road funding and road use and at the same time reduce greenhouse gas emissions from transport. That is fascinating, because you simply cannot have it both ways. Certainly, we need mandatory vehicle fuel efficiency standards-absolutely right-and we need them very soon. We needed them a decade ago. China and plenty of other countries around the world have them; we do not. We need them. But, on their own, they are not enough. We need to reduce the number of cars on the road and make the ones that are there more efficient. Reducing the number on the road means a massive investment in public transport.

You just have to look at other cities to see how far behind the rest of the world Australia is. London and Paris are investing in centres where you can take your electric vehicle and plug it in. They have free vehicles in the centre of the city. You pay 75 pounds in London for a key that gives you access to plug-in. You can book the car and drive it in the city, recharge the battery and leave it at the centre, and so on. Paris has just announced 4,000 of these, following up on a free bicycle strategy that works in the same way. Where are we in Australia? A mile behind.

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