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Wednesday, 8 June 1994
Page: 1545

Senator MARGETTS (6.53 p.m.) —The Greens WA support the concept of a better cities program in principle, but this program has done too little and, unfortunately, is winding down under the government's deficit reduction strategy. This is a very short-sighted attitude. The community will ultimately pay enormous environmental and social costs if our cities are not restructured properly. It should be noted in this context that the majority of Australians live in cities and, therefore, the Greens consider the program essential from the standpoint of energy conservation, social equity and environmental quality.

  It is potentially a major component of any plan to make our cities ecologically and socially sustainable. There are initial costs involved with making some of those changes, but most of those changes make savings in both environmental and social terms as well effecting savings to the economy in the medium term. It is extremely difficult for states to do that without that initial incentive because the federal government is cutting down its grants to the states year by year.

  We are currently faced with massive problems in our cities. Car dependence in Australia is amongst the worst in the world, and this has resulted in massive urban sprawl and traffic problems. Pollution levels are dangerously high in many Australian cities, with high levels of ozone, lead, carbon oxides, nitrogen oxides, sulphur oxides, benzine and aromatic and polycyclic hydrocarbons. Demographic problems have also arisen, with low income earners being squeezed into the poorly serviced urban margins and being caught in the poverty trap that we have heard so much about in the last few days.

  There are soaring costs of physical infrastructure as the urban sprawl continues and there is massive pollution of waterways. There is increased demand for resources such as wood, water, brick, stone, et cetera and an increase in crime rates as the sense of community that once maintained cohesiveness disappears. Proper restructuring of cities could reduce energy use substantially; could reduce imports of cars, steel, oil et cetera; could reduce the need for roads and parking; could provide significant real employment; and could create a healthier and more sociable society. The better cities program is certainly valuable, but the states unfortunately maintain a commitment to roads and urban sprawl.

  In that context, the current debate concerning the shift to put more funds into general grants is of great concern. The Commonwealth government has an important role to play in promoting ecologically and socially sustainable cities, and therefore the Greens feel strongly that this ought to be part of their criteria for providing funds, not just in this area, but in regional development areas. The creation of conditions for this purpose will also ensure that taxpayers' funds are used in an efficient manner that avoids massive social and environmental costs in the future. Surely that is what good government is all about.