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Wednesday, 19 March 2008
Page: 1227

Senator MILNE (10:26 AM) —by leave—I move Greens amendments (1) and (2):

(1)    Clause 5, page 3 (after line 17), after paragraph (1)(b), insert:

            (ba)    greenhouse gas emission and oil consumption implications of any development;

(2)    Clause 5, page 4 (lines 12 and 13), omit paragraph (2)(g).

These amendments address specifically the very concern I have about the greenhouse and climate change agenda of the government. The government has said that climate change is a priority, that it is very important. The reason I believe the minister is incorrect in what he has just said is that he makes it very clear that the only time that advice on infrastructure policy issues arising from climate change will be considered is if Infrastructure Australia thinks it fit to do so or if the minister requests them to do so. As I said before, I have absolutely no doubt that Infrastructure Australia will not think fit to assess the oil implications or the greenhouse gas implications because Infrastructure Australia is going to be heavily lobbied by and have at least three people from the corporate sector who have a vested interest in building more roads. They will not assess the implications—they have not to date.

Infrastructure partnerships do not recommend urban rail, for example. It has never entered their heads and it never will. That is the whole point. If we have a minister who desperately wants a cross-city tunnel or a tunnel under Melbourne, they will not give a directive that Infrastructure Australia consider the greenhouse gas implications or the peak oil implications. In fact, oil is not even mentioned here as a consideration. Climate change is considered in terms of emissions but not in terms of anything about energy security into the future. So we are going to have a situation where the minister will decide when and if the greenhouse gas ramifications of any project are to be considered. We know that the government picks and chooses on that. The fact that this government has refused to consider the greenhouse gas implications of the Gunns pulp mill in Tasmania is a classic case. They know full well that that project is going to release at least 10 million tonnes of greenhouse gases a year and they have said specifically that they will not look at it. That is what the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts has said—he will not look at it. So why would I have any confidence whatsoever that this government is not going to just cherry-pick itself those projects it will suit it to have looked at for greenhouse gas implications? That is why I want it moved out of additional functions ‘subject to the whim of Infrastructure Australia or the minister’ as to whether it will be considered and instead moved to a primary function. I want it to be that Infrastructure Australia et cetera ‘advises on matters, including in relation to the following’, and ‘the following’ is, as I have said in my amendment, the greenhouse gas emission and oil consumption implications for any development.

We know that new road infrastructure in cities has driven the massive expansion of car use in Australian cities. If you want to reduce car use in Australian cities, you have to move to rapid investment in public transport and in particular in urban rail. I welcome that the minister has said on the record that Infrastructure Australia, in looking at nationally and significant transport infrastructure, will include urban public transport and urban passenger rail. It is on the record now that that is what they can consider.

What I do not like about what the minister said was some words in relation to ‘in the fullness of time’, or ‘in the future’, or ‘in the next few years’. I would like a commitment from the minister now that when he is talking about the inclusion of urban public transport and urban passenger rail it can start from the beginning, that this is not something they might consider in the future but something that will be in the consideration from the start. That is the intention of these amendments: that it becomes an obligation of Infrastructure Australia to report on greenhouse gas emissions and oil consumption. That means they will have to look at the car use, the predicted emissions, and alternatives. As I indicated last night, there is no requirement for Infrastructure Australia to consider alternative ways of providing the same sort of transport access that some of these proposals might come up with. I recommend the amendments to the chamber.

I welcome Senator Ian Macdonald saying that the consideration of climate change is important because, until 24 November last year, he was a climate sceptic. In the last period of government he was one of the most critical of the importance of greenhouse gases and the importance of climate policy. I really welcome his change of position on that and assume that the coalition will be supporting my amendments to move greenhouse gas emissions to the front of the agenda and to being a primary function, because that is what Senator Macdonald was specifically saying a moment ago.

I notice that the opposition amendments are trying to take away ministerial direction in terms of assessing the greenhouse gas implications. I oppose that because, the way it is currently worded, if these amendments do not pass then at least there is the opportunity for the minister to require it. If you take away ministerial discretion you can guarantee absolutely that greenhouse gas implications will never be considered by Infrastructure Australia. It is being set up in such a way that those people who have never considered greenhouse gas implications will never consider them. I am indicating I will not be supporting the opposition’s move to take out ministerial direction. I am urging the other parties in the chamber, consistent with Senator Macdonald’s statements earlier about the importance of greenhouse gas implications and also consistent with Senator Allison’s long-standing commitment to greenhouse gas emission reduction and consideration of peak oil, to support the amendments. They are also consistent with government policy, and consistent with Prime Minister Rudd’s statement in Bali, that Australia wants to be a leader in greenhouse gas reduction and in climate change. If you want to be a leader, then greenhouse gas reduction does not become something which is at the whim of Infrastructure Australia, or at the direction of the minister; it becomes a mandatory advice function of Infrastructure Australia upfront. I commend the amendments to the committee.

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN (Senator Bartlett)—Senator Milne, I am just clarifying that you  have moved amendments (1) and (2) together.