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Wednesday, 19 March 2008
Page: 1237


Senator MILNE (11:10 AM) —I thank the senator for the opportunity to respond to that question. I was perhaps premature in suggesting that he had changed his position in relation to climate change. I had regarded him as a sceptic until today and I was about to change my position, but I now see that the sceptic has returned. The first point to make is that Australia is impacted by climate change probably more than a lot of other places in the world. We are a desert country and, if you go anywhere in rural Australia, people will tell you immediately how we are already being impacted by climate change. If the implication is that Australia should carry on with business as usual with our emissions but expect the rest of the world to reduce theirs so that there is a reduced impact on Australia, that is a ‘Pull up the ladder, Jack; we’re all right’ kind of process.

Australia has agreed that there is a moral obligation for every country in the world to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. We have ratified the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and we have now also ratified the Kyoto protocol and made a commitment to reducing our emissions and to joining the rest of the world as part of a global commitment to reducing climate change because we understand that the impacts of climate change do not stop at national borders and that we are impacted the same as everybody else and have an obligation the same as everybody else to reduce our emissions.

Per capita, we are the worst, most selfish people in the world when it comes to greenhouse gas emissions. We have a huge obligation to reduce our own emissions. People who are thinking about climate change all the time are now reaching the position that we should be moving to contraction and convergence, whereby we contract our emissions so that developing countries have some leeway to develop—albeit by decoupling economic growth from energy use. That is our main challenge and that is the way in which Australia could not only do it but assist other countries to do it. I am certainly a supporter of contraction and convergence and of deep cuts, and I certainly understand the impact of climate change on Australia. To suggest that, because Australia’s emissions are a small percentage of total global emissions, we should therefore not worry about it so much and should not look at our transport emissions is an unethical and immoral position.

In terms of roads, at no stage did I say that there should not be adequate, efficient, high-class transport to service Australia. In fact, that is my total commitment in this whole discussion. That is why I support a strategic approach to infrastructure development: because I want to see better, more efficient transport. But I want to see the wheels keep turning in an age of oil depletion and carbon constraint. In order to do that, you have to prioritise things like urban passenger rail and mass rapid transit for buses in cities.

The Howard government for a decade precluded investment in urban passenger rail as part of infrastructure development, which is in part why we are in the mess we are in now in terms of congestion in our major cities. It is in fact by putting more people in cars that we make the amenity of life in cities even worse, because when you put more people in cars you get high levels of congestion, you get high air pollution, you slow down the city, you lose productivity from the city, you end up with whole suburbs like those in Western Sydney that are ill served or not served by public transport, and you get expansions in Melbourne for the same reason—all those issues apply.

Whether Senator Ian Macdonald likes it or not, the Leader of the Opposition, Brendan Nelson, has said that the Liberal Party is now concerned about climate change and, I presume from that, is concerned about meeting Australia’s obligations. That is the context in which I am here today saying we need to not only meet our obligations for deep cuts but also do it in a way that provides the services. That is the challenge—to be clever and innovative about infrastructure development. My concern is that by leaving out a compulsory requirement to report on greenhouse gas emissions we are going to have business-as-usual propositions coming forward from infrastructure developers and from the states, because they have shown very little capacity for innovation to date. Through this amendment I am putting out the challenge: let us have highly efficient, modern transport and, at the same time, lower emissions. That is our challenge. Many people want cycleways to be part of Infrastructure Australia’s development, but if you are not going to have greenhouse gas emission and oil depletion assessments you are not going to get prioritised investment in cycleways in our cities—and that would deal with issues like obesity as well, which people are increasingly concerned about.

So, if you have an opportunity to use infrastructure to improve public health, to improve air quality, to make a city move faster and therefore make it more economically efficient, and to reduce emissions, then you should do so. That is the perspective I am bringing here today. It is not about going back to the Stone Age; it is about making sure that we do not build white elephants in cities, as has happened in New South Wales and Victoria, but that we build infrastructure that is suitable for a carbon constrained 21st century.