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Wednesday, 19 March 2008
Page: 1230

Senator ALLISON (Leader of the Australian Democrats) (10:43 AM) —That is a very disappointing contribution by the coalition, I have to say. Senator Scullion says that we do not want to direct Infrastructure Australia, but we are directing them on things like efficiency by talking about ‘impediments to the efficient utilisation of national infrastructure networks’. This is a statement about what the priorities should be. So far, we have efficiency but we do not have climate change. We have an oddly worded function which does not in any way suggest the serious priority that should be given to climate change in this country. The coalition is happy to go along with that. We are again seeing the two major parties ganging up and not wanting to take the important steps that would lead Australia to massively reduce its greenhouse emissions. This is a perfect bill to be stating the priorities of the parliament in. It would be a message to all Australia that we think that this is important. Infrastructure which will be planned, advised about and coordinated—all the words that are in this bill, including assisting in the allocation of resources—is going to be around for 100 years. The advice given by Infrastructure Australia is utterly crucial to the future of this country.

This is not just about a bit of congestion here or there or whether there is an Eastlink link-up; it is about whether our cities and our country can respond to a climate change requirement which is massive, which will require fundamental change in the way we do business across the board—in the way that we send goods around the country; in the way that we plan our houses; in the way that infrastructure, the built nature of this country, is going to see us out over the next 100 years. Maybe we will dissolve this organisation and put in another one next year. Maybe that is the intention—I do not know—but I do not see here the vision for how we will cope with this most serious problem facing the country. I do not see it written here. It is buried away under a ‘dodgily’ worded—that is not a very good word, I realise, but I will stick with that—phrase here that is buried at the end of a set of objectives.

It is just unbelievably disappointing that this is what it has come to. The two major parties have again come together and said: ‘It doesn’t matter; it is there. Of course we’ll do it. Don’t worry; it is mentioned. That’s all you have to worry about.’ But it is not given the priority it needs, Minister, and I urge you to rethink this and to make sure that there is a message not only to Infrastructure Australia but more broadly to the whole community showing that this government is prepared to take leadership. This is the government that went to Bali and said, ‘Yes, we’re going to ratify Kyoto,’ and the whole country cheered, Minister. The whole country was relieved that at last we had a government prepared to act on climate change. This bill is an opportunity to demonstrate that not just in symbolic terms but to say: ‘These are our instructions to the people that we want to advise us. This is our priority. This is what we think is important.’ But, no, it is buried in this bill.

I hope that the assurances you have given us make a difference, Minister, but it is certainly not written here in the way that I would want to see. It is not written in here in the way that I think most Australians would want to see. Eighty per cent of Australians want urgent action taken on climate change. They believe the scientists. They hear them and they see the future of this country being in deep trouble, like the rest of the world, if we do not act. Here was your chance and you blew it. And the opposition have folded and not been prepared to use their numbers when they have them to make a difference. Despite all the assurances that we have had from the Leader of the Opposition that there is a new face there that considers such important matters as climate change, you have ganged up together and made sure that this very first opportunity will be a dud.

I am deeply disappointed in the responses of those on both sides of the chamber to this very simple, straightforward amendment which would set the priorities right. That is what we want you to do: we want you to plan infrastructure in this country, bearing in mind the very serious needs of the globe to respond to climate change through reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and it is not here. It is here in a very qualified, limited and low-order priority, and that is a grave disappointment.