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Wednesday, 19 March 2008
Page: 1232

Senator MILNE (10:48 AM) —I am extremely disappointed. I simply do not understand the coalition’s response to this amendment. We had the Leader of the Opposition yesterday at the Press Club saying that climate change was now a priority for the coalition, that it has changed its position on it and now recognises the importance of climate change; and here we have a government that has made much of climate change in the media surrounding this bill and that, in the second reading speech, said:

Well-planned infrastructure is the arteries of a successful, modern economy and essential to ...

Then there are six dot points, and I am disappointed to say that the last of the dot points—but nevertheless it is there—is that well-planned infrastructure is essential to ‘reducing pollution and greenhouse gas emissions’. That is absolutely correct, that is true—and that is our point. Having said that in the second reading speech, when you get to the actual legislation setting this up you find that there is no mandatory requirement to consider reducing pollution and greenhouse gas emissions—and peak oil did not get a mention at all in the whole speech.

But reducing pollution and greenhouse gas emissions was mentioned. The publicity surrounding the bill talks about it, but when you get to the bill itself you find that it is only something that may be considered at the discretion of Infrastructure Australia or at the discretion of the minister, giving the government and this Infrastructure Australia body the option of not considering it at all if they have a political imperative to build something that will be quite contrary in terms of greenhouse gas emissions.

As I indicated last night, all of the evidence is showing that our transport emissions are out of control and that new suburbs are being built with no public transport access. What we are seeing are clogged arterial roads, and putting in these tunnels is only going to spread the congestion to the connector points outside. This is going to drive really poor urban planning, because you are going to have increased arterial access and then riven development outside the cities and no public transport infrastructure. It is just going to reinforce all of the problems we have, and there is nothing in this bill—nothing at all—making it mandatory for Infrastructure Australia or the government to consider greenhouse gas emissions.

I find it incredibly disappointing when all I am asking for upfront is that it becomes a requirement to report on this. In fact, under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, Australia committed to making efforts to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. We keep going overseas saying we want to do that, yet we have not taken the very first opportunity to take a strategic look—and that is what I like about developing this option of Infrastructure Australia—at infrastructure provisions in the future and say, ‘End this political pork-barrelling at elections, of running around promising people the road that they want, and let us look nationally at providing infrastructure strategically for Australia’s future.’ Infrastructure will deliver the type of Australia you want to live in. And the type of Australia you would want to live in would be one which is reducing its emissions, which has better amenity in the cities, which is reducing its dependence on foreign oil, which takes social inclusion seriously and incorporates that in the functions of Infrastructure Australia and which takes the transition to the knowledge based economy seriously and includes that specifically in Infrastructure Australia.

All I have heard here this morning is that the directions in relation to Infrastructure Australia do not preclude the consideration of schools, universities and libraries, but they specifically include several other things, so there was a decision to leave those out as specific requirements. There was also a decision to leave out as a specific requirement the inclusion of infrastructure for Indigenous communities. And now we have a decision to make discretionary the consideration of greenhouse gases and oil depletion—peak oil—issues. So I can only say that the rhetoric around climate change is now being exposed as just that. The rest of the world will be incredibly disappointed, because this is a major signal of where this government are taking their so-called whole-of-government approach on climate change. If they were really serious about it, they would have it upfront, and that would be a signal to all state governments and local governments that they had better start putting up transport and infrastructure proposals that reduce greenhouse gas emissions—especially in terms of energy infrastructure. It is not just about transport infrastructure; it is about energy infrastructure. If it is only at the discretion of the minister when they look at energy infrastructure as to whether they consider greenhouse gas emissions then we will have new coal fired power stations and we will have more desalination plants. They will not have to look at the greenhouse gas implications of the infrastructure that they are providing. It will be at the discretion of the minister. This brings it all undone. It is pretty threadbare, I have to say, and it is extremely disappointing.

All those people out there who thought they were voting for a government that was going to prioritise climate change are now finding out that, in the consideration of new energy infrastructure, it will not be mandatory to take into account greenhouse gas emissions. Overnight we had the minister, Martin Ferguson, talking about coal to liquids for transport fuels. We are now finding out that he is going to rush through the parliament a bill on carbon capture and storage. It is all without consideration of the big picture of greenhouse gas emission reduction, long-term environmental impacts and the shift to a low-carbon economy. It is all stopgap measures. It is ad hoc. Tragically, this is not going to deliver a whole-of-government infrastructure strategic planning approach for a future in which we have to drastically cut greenhouse gas emissions well beyond the 60 per cent that the government is currently talking about. We are going to need more than a 30 per cent cut by 2020. How are we going to achieve that by passing a bill that allows for the development of infrastructure—that is, more roads and freeways and more energy intensive infrastructure—without the mandatory consideration of greenhouse gas reductions? I have not heard from the minister how we are going to achieve those emissions reductions without this mandatory consideration. I put that to him before the amendment is moved. Minister, explain to me please how you are going to achieve your emissions reductions without a mandatory assessment of emissions from infrastructure developments that are to be recommended.