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Opposition Member discusses Sustainable Cities program.

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Wednesday, 14 September 2005


JULIE McCROSSIN:   Now to talk this morning about bicycles, and whether we like them or not and whether we need to have more parking stations around the railway stations all around our great big city. The focus is on having a more sustainable and green city and that’s been exactly the focus of a group of federal parliamentarians, and it gives me great pleasure to welcome Jennie George, federal member for Throsby, Deputy Chair of the Standing Committee on Environment and Heritage, who was saying Sydney and indeed all the cities of Australia need to be more green.


It gives me great pleasure to welcome Jennie, who of course spends a lot of time in her seat in Wollongong. Good morning, Jennie.


JENNIE GEORGE:  Good morning, Julie.


JULIE McCROSSIN:   Now what have you been talking about? Are you saying we have to be more sustainable, more green? Why are you talking about this and what’s the key thing that you want to change about a city like Sydney?


JENNIE GEORGE: Well I think all Australian citizens realise there’s something going drastically wrong in our cities. I mean, they’re facing water shortages in lots of cities, power blackouts. They see crumbling infrastructure; they see rivers that are dying and they begin to think: well, this is just not sustainable, and on all the environmental indicators, Australia as a nation, could perform a lot better. So our committee spent the last couple of years talking to lots of community organisations, planning organisations, building organisations—a whole range of people—to see what it is that we might be able to do at the federal level because as you know, Julie, in lots of issues of importance to the nation is always this, ‘Well, it’s a state government’s responsibility, no, it’s the federal, no, it’s local government.’


JULIE McCROSSIN:   Well, indeed, the Lord Mayor of Sydney Clover Moore was on Breakfast this morning and she’s a state member as well, and they’re seriously considering having a car-free day in the city to give pedestrians the run of the city. They’re focused enormously on things like the increasing use of public transport and bicycles but they say the federal government needs to give them more money.


JENNIE GEORGE:  Well, absolutely, and that’s one of the major recommendations coming out of the committee. We’ve argued that the national government, the federal government, has to take a leadership role in this. We’ve suggested, at the national level, that we establish an independent sustainability commission and that we try and get the states and local government and territories signed up to a national set of targets across the areas like water, energy, transport and that funding would depend on commitment to leading those targets so that we would exercise some leverage by the federal governments, which regrettably has vacated the field.

If you look back to the days of Gough Whitlam, there was a role for federal governments in extending basic services out to the outer metropolitan areas and the new suburbs but we seem to have left all those issues to state and local government and we think there is a really important role for the federal government to play.


JULIE McCROSSIN:   Yes. What’s interesting to me, Jennie, is that the Chair of this group that have made these recommendations for a more sustainable Sydney and other capitals is a Liberal Party member, the Chair Mal Washer. So you actually have bipartisan support on your recommendations.


JENNIE GEORGE:  Well, interestingly enough, Julie, the committee is majority government members, so the Labor Party members are in the minority on the committee and we really worked very hard to achieve a bipartisan report. We put aside politics and decided what we thought was in the long-term interests of the nation, considering seventeen million people, I think, at the last count, being in cities and the suburbs, so the government at the national level cannot vacate the field and we think we can draw on the experience of some good examples overseas. The Swedish government has done a similar thing in drawing up environmental objectives that bind the nation and there’s public reporting. I think the issues are just too important, and I think the Commonwealth government has a lot of leverage through the funding arrangements that can make our cities more sustainable in the future, and particularly I know in Sydney, there’s a big issue to do with water. I know a lot of my constituents raised that with me.


JULIE McCROSSIN:   I’ll cut to that in a moment. Jennie George with me, the Deputy Chair of a federal group who are saying Sydney needs to be more green and more sustainable. I’m going to ask Jen what she thinks are the two or three single most important things we must do to make Sydney more sustainable. What do you think we need to do? Is it in the area of transport? Is it in the area of water? Is it in the area of energy use in your home? What do you think should be the major focus to make a city like Sydney more sustainable?


Let’s go to water, Jennie George. From your report is Sydney the worst city when it comes to recycling waste water? Recycling only three per cent. Is that right?


JENNIE GEORGE:  Well, that’s certainly the data that was provided to the committee. I think Sydney and Perth stand out as Sydney is with major water issues. And what we are saying in the recommendations is that there’s an obligation, we think, at the national level for the national water authority to dispassionately put out a range of alternatives about how we address the water issues into the future.


JULIE McCROSSIN:   What do you think about desalinisation? Do you have a view on that?


JENNIE GEORGE:  Well, we have a view that there’s not one magic bullet to solve all the problems that we contend with. But when you look at Sydney, I think the major issue is recycling and reuse and that comes down to also the public perception that needs to be changed. A lot of people who were asked the question would say: no, they didn’t want to rely on recycled water and yet this is what occurs in many countries across the world. We’re only recycling about three per cent of Sydney’s water supply. The bulk of water usage goes out into the ocean. I think we can do better than that and desal is one option that should be considered along with a range of others. But you’ve got to weigh up the energy costs of desalination and what happens when you don’t need to draw on that supply.


JULIE McCROSSIN:   Yes, Jennie, thanks for helping me with that word. It’s new to me, which shows I need to learn more about it.


Richard has rang in. Good morning, Richard.


RICHARD:   Good morning and welcome, Julie, to 2BL, or 702, I should say.


JULIE McCROSSIN:   Thank you. 


RICHARD:   I think Jennie’s right on the ball. I’m a councillor on Bankstown and we’re always asking to be recognised in the Constitution. And your producer said, well, what’s the benefit? Under the Better Cities program, the local government was recognised and we need to go back to that because local government is the thing at the coalface; it’s the organisation that people come to straightaway and yet in New South Wales we’re got rate pegging, which obviously reduces the services you can provide.


JULIE McCROSSIN:   Richard, thank you very much. I know that’s something people feel very passionately about in local government—more recognition for the work that you do and they want it in the Constitution as well.


Jo, you’ve got a view on cycle ways. We’ve had arguments for and against this morning, the use of bicycles in the city. Good morning.


JO:   Hi. Firstly, I’ve just got back from Europe and the cycle facilities there were simply incredible. I think Sydney could learn a lot from that and, secondly, I’d like to say to every motorist who yells at cyclists to get off the roads, perhaps their energy would be better spent actually asking for facilities for cyclists because cyclists don’t cause any harm and if we have good facilities, we can actually add to the environment by not polluting it by driving.


JULIE McCROSSIN:   Jo, thank you very much. We did have an angry caller earlier wanting numbers on cyclists—very concerned about their behaviour at times. But I guess, environmentally, there’s no question that more bicycles rather than cars would be a good idea.


Jennie George, I just want to hear what you see as the key thing we need to do in the area of public transport. Where’s the focus there for a city like Sydney?


JENNIE GEORGE:  Well, I think one of the problems has been that the bulk of federal expenditure goes into highways and roads and often public infrastructure is allowed to crumble and not satisfy the needs of the community. If I can give you an example from my own region: we have about 18,000 people that commute out of the Wollongong area to work in Sydney and they are reliant on a transport system that might have been sufficient 50 years ago but it’s not meeting the needs of an increased population. So what we’re ...


JULIE McCROSSIN:   But surely there’s a big focus now on CityRail. The new Premier in New South Wales has made it one of his three top priorities.


JENNIE GEORGE:  Absolutely. But what we’re saying is that the federal government should value-add the efforts of state government by putting more funds into light and heavy rail. And I think light rail is a very underutilised option in our major cities. When you look at Perth—when we went over there—the government there has invested in a rail line, both north and south, which is being built at the moment and they say that with the reliability of the service north that they’re getting a lot more people and patronage back on the public transport system. The problem with the system at the moment is that the infrastructure is outmoded and I think the government could play a role, at the federal level, in looking at options such as the very fast train proposal, for example.


JULIE McCROSSIN:   I should say, in Perth, I’ve been to ... at the end of the new line at a place called Mandurah and there’s big discussions there at local government level about putting housing around the railway station, too, to put the population near the public transport.


Jennie George, thanks for alerting us to this.


JENNIE GEORGE:  Julie, before I go, I think the committee is going to take this report and go to the major cities and have some public engagement and public consultation. We’d like to hear what the community thinks about our proposals so it doesn’t just lie on the bookshelves. It’s a report that’s a work in progress.


JULIE McCROSSIN:   Thank you very much, Jennie.


JENNIE GEORGE:  Okay, thanks Julie.


JULIE McCROSSIN:   Thank you. Jennie George, a federal MP for the seat of Throsby and Deputy Chair of this federal standing committee on the environment Sustainable Australian Cities—making it happen. The Chair, a member of the Liberal Party and indeed coalition members dominate and a series of very green recommendations.