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Monday, 24 March 2003
Page: 13323

Mr KELVIN THOMSON (4:05 PM) —I have great pleasure in seconding and speaking to the motion moved by my colleague the member for Batman. The refusal by the Howard government these past seven years, just confirmed again by the member for Cowper, to support public transport is disappointing. What the member for Cowper and other government members fail to realise is the way in which the Commonwealth funding for roads and the absence of Commonwealth funding for public transport skews the playing field. If you are a state government deciding how to meet any given transport need, it inevitably skews the playing field in the direction of building more roads.

A large majority of Australians live in cities and major urban areas and experience the impacts of air pollution, noise, congestion, lack of green spaces and urban sprawl. Our quality of life and our physical and mental health are increasingly at risk from the degradation of urban environments. Transport and urban planning is in urgent need of attention at a national level. As the Australian Conservation Foundation has pointed out, car dependency has grown to the point where the use of cars in Australian cities for commuter and other private travel is second only to their use in American cities. On average, over 80 per cent of Australians travel to work by motor vehicle, and that percentage continues to rise.

This situation is not always—or even necessarily often—a matter of choice. Commuters spend more than three hours a day in many cases driving alone to and from work. The lack of accessible, safe and affordable public transport and the lack of other options, such as cycling, car pooling or working close to home, leave a lot of commuters with no alternative. Many of the new suburbs being built in your own electorate, Mr Deputy Speaker Jenkins, and in the northern parts of Melbourne and other areas, discourage cycling and walking. They do not include readily accessible education, shopping, employment and entertainment facilities and are not built around public transport hubs.

Almost half of the vehicle trips undertaken in Australia are less than five kilometres, reflecting not only our psychological reliance on vehicles but also poor urban design that discourages walking and cycling. This trend is now being reflected in Australia's growing obesity, which is one of our major public health problems. Unfortunately, the knee-jerk reaction of some to these issues is to build more roads. In fact, numerous studies both here and overseas have shown that road building does not relieve transport congestion and air pollution; instead, it encourages car dependency and induces traffic growth in Australia—up to 180,000 additional vehicles on our roads each year.

A new approach to transport and urban planning is needed: one that reduces car dependency and the need for travel and promotes sustainable and livable cities. There is no doubt that there has been a lot of neglect in this area and that changing it will not be easy, but it is essential that it is tackled and that the government consider, as a priority, the challenge of reducing greenhouse gas emissions along with other impacts of road based transport such as congestion and urban sprawl.

I am pleased to see that the New South Wales state government—and I congratulate them on their success in the weekend state election—have recognised the increasing use of private motor vehicles as a very significant and growing air quality issue. In relation to greenhouse gas emissions, as at 2000, transport contributed almost 15 per cent of national greenhouse gas emissions. Emissions from trucks and light commercial vehicles, for example, have increased by more than 32 per cent over the past decade. The transport sector is an important area to approach when attempting to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Linear, let alone exponential, growth in road transport is not consistent with the government's undertaking to actively contribute to the global effort towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The European Union has looked at de-linking economic activity from freight transport demand as a key indicator in measuring progress towards more sustainable development.

In developing our policy in this area, my colleague the member for Batman and I are mindful of the position of the Labor Party conference to `provide support for state governments to improve and extend public transport systems in urban and in regional Australia for employment, education, training, social justice and economic reasons' and `achieve a greater use of public transport, thereby contributing to emission and congestion reductions'. We want to integrate transport, land and environment objectives and ensure that public transport is available to new suburbs and developments.