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Transport planner backs higher fuel prices -

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ELEANOR HALL: Well no one likes paying more at the pump.

But one leading transport planner is pushing for the price of petrol to be allowed to go even
higher.

Dr Paul Mees says high fuel prices are actually a blessing in disguise that could move us away from
a car culture and towards one that's more environmentally sustainable.

He says the Government should be focusing not on bringing down the price of fuel but on developing
alternative modes of transport.

As Jane Cowan reports.

JANE COWAN: It's not the popular view, but if you ask transport planner Dr Paul Mees about higher
petrol prices, he says, bring them on.

PAUL MEES: What we're getting is a small taste of what's to come and the fact that it's coming now
in my view is an advantage because it means we might have time to prepare.

JANE COWAN: Dr Mees, from the University of Melbourne, says motorists complaining about high prices
at the bowser are forgetting that fuel would soon have had to cost more anyway, to address the
problem of climate change.

PAUL MEES: The whole point of an emissions trading scheme is to make things that produce a lot of
greenhouse emissions more expensive and since 20 per cent of our emissions come from transport that
inevitably was going to meant that petrol prices would go up.

JANE COWAN: Now he says rather than trying to keep petrol prices down, governments should be
letting them go up and focusing instead on developing transport alternatives.

PAUL MEES: The public debate is completely missing the mark. See if you go to somewhere like
Switzerland say to Zurich the wealthiest city in the world.

They're not experiencing pain from rising petrol prices because the majority of travel is either by
public transport or on foot or by bicycle and all that's happening is they're having to modestly
upgrade services on the very, very high standard public transport network to accommodate demand.

So in well organised cities and countries, they've been planning for this eventuality for at least
a decade and they're ready for it.

The problem in Australia is that we've just been ignoring all the warning signs and the current
state of debate suggests that large sections of our political establishment want to continue to
pretend that these problems aren't real.

JANE COWAN: Dr Mees says for too long the climate change debate in Australia has honed in on
electricity generation while letting the transport industry off the hook.

PAUL MEES: In Europe and North America, the climate change debate is about transport as well as
about electricity generation and I've been a bit perplexed that transport hasn't received much
attention here.

JANE COWAN: Dr Mees says Western Australia is the only state that's really in a strong position to
weather sustained high petrol prices.

PAUL MEES: West Australians have in fact invested a lot of money in the last few years in
dramatically expanding and upgrading Perth's rail system and they must be entitled to feel a little
bit pleased with themselves as they watch petrol prices go up.

But none of the other Australian state governments have really done anything at all and the Federal
Government has had a policy of refusing to fund public transport and has put all the money into
roads.

JANE COWAN: How confident are you then that this actually will provide the impetus to concentrate
more on public transport?

PAUL MEES: I'm hopeful but I'm not confident because there's a lot of inertia built into the
system.

There are very large and powerful vested interests associated with for example, toll road
construction - who will fight to keep our transport policies based around this unsustainable trend
of more and more car and truck travel.

It won't be able to be about that into the future.

JANE COWAN: And the car industry knows it.

ANDREW MCKELLAR: Well we have seen an effect in the market.

JANE COWAN: Andrew McKellar is the Chief Executive of the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries.

He says higher petrol prices are already providing new impetus for car manufacturers to invest in
alternative technologies.

ANDREW MCKELLAR: Only a week or so ago we heard a senior executive from General Motors
contemplating the prospect of a hybrid commodore being built in Australia.

There are advanced battery technologies, alternative fuels and ultimately things like hydrogen fuel
cells.

So there are many things that car makers are looking at.

JANE COWAN: And I suppose demand from customers who simply can't afford to run fuel guzzling car is
a greater motivator for car manufacturers than the ideals of climate change?

ANDREW MCKELLAR: Well at the end of the day the hip pocket is one of the most powerful forces and
manufacturers are responding to that.

ELEANOR HALL: Andrew McKellar from the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries. Jane Cowan with
our report.