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Wednesday, 19 March 2008
Page: 1238

Senator ALLISON (Leader of the Australian Democrats) (11:17 AM) —I will respond to your question too, even though you did not ask me, Senator Macdonald. I hesitate a bit because I have heard you ask this question umpteen times and you do not seem to ever take much notice of the answers that are given. I have not seen the latest statistics, but I think Australia is either No. 9 or No. 10 on the list of greenhouse gas emitters. In other words, we are the 10th largest emitter. It may not seem a lot—somewhere between one and two per cent, I think, is our contribution to global greenhouse gas emissions—but we are No. 10, and that means that there are hundreds of countries that emit less than we do. Now, if we and all of those countries took the same attitude you would like to see this country take, Senator Macdonald, then what chance would there be of us ever being able to get global cooperation? Zilch. Absolutely zero.

Not only that but also we are the biggest emitters on a per capita basis, because we are big wasters. Sure, we have got a big country and we have got to transport people around it, but on that point, Senator Macdonald, as I travel around country Victoria mostly but other states as well, the constant refrain I get is: ‘The public transport doesn’t serve us. There’s so much money that goes into roads, and it’s fine if you’ve got a car and it’s fine if you can afford the petrol to get yourself from point A to point B, but what we want is a decent bus service from Geelong to Bendigo,’ or from Shepparton to Echuca or some such, ‘and it’s not there.’

The implications of that are that young people, old people, families with not a lot of income and many, many people in country areas are disadvantaged by the sorts of attitudes and policies of the former government and state governments—I acknowledge that; state governments are no different in terms of seeing it as important to put money into roads and not look at the alternatives. I think a lot more money needs to be put into transport generally. Look at the Roads of National Importance program. That money was spent on a freeway around Melbourne! And we all know that it was done for political reasons. Political parties said, ‘We’ll get more votes out in the Scoresby area if we put this freeway in.’ Everyone knows that. That is common knowledge, absolutely common knowledge. So I am just as critical of state governments as I hope you are, Senator Macdonald, but I am also very critical of your government because for almost 12 years it ignored public transport.

There was a very good program under the former Labor government called Better Cities. I think that was its name. You can chuckle, Senator Macdonald, but it did include public transport, and that is crucial—public transport in the country, in the city, everywhere. There are people who do not have cars or have cars but cannot afford to drive them who need public transport, and it is missing. We would get a lot of people off the road if we improved the level of service in public transport in our cities and elsewhere. It is the least that Infrastructure Australia should be looking at. Anyway, I think we have clarified that it will, and that is a very good thing. But I wanted to pick up—sorry, we seem to be missing a minister altogether now. We were on our third minister, but he has absented himself from the chamber. Obviously, not exactly—

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN (Senator Troeth)—There is a minister here, Senator Allison.

Senator ALLISON —Thank you, Chair; I am glad you pointed that out. His crouching down made him invisible to most of us. Minister, we will have to go through it all again, I am afraid, because you were not here for much of the last debate—

Senator Ludwig interjecting—

Senator ALLISON —You were listening. Excellent. Well, you would have heard Senator McLucas point out the step forward on greenhouse gases at Bali, and, yes, we all said that was a great thing, but then she said that we could not question the commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions because this government was at some stage going to do an extension of the mandated renewable energy target, and we welcome that—there is no reason why it should not start tomorrow instead of having to wait till 2009 or 2010, however. But the point is that that is about electricity. MRET is about electricity; it is not about transport, and that is principally what we have been debating for the last hour or so. Senator McLucas also mentioned emissions trading. Again, emissions trading is about electricity and industrial processes and the like; it is not going to cover transport. So we are still searching, Minister, for a commitment from the government to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through infrastructure, and as we all know the biggest slab of the Infrastructure Australia agency’s work will be related to transport.

I would have asked Senator McLucas, who mentioned this, but I put it to you, Minister, that the only initiatives that this government have seriously made a commitment to, are MRET and the emissions-trading system. We still do not seem to be having a greenhouse trigger in the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act anytime soon even though, as I recall, Senator Lundy in 2003 moved an amendment to that effect. So the amendment is there; it is ready to go. Turn it into a bill, Minister, and put it before us. You will find that there will be widespread support for putting that trigger in place. It is in your policy. You have moved in the past on putting it into bills. Let us have a government bill that does that. Then we will be satisfied that there is some mechanism by which we and the rest of the population can challenge decisions that have enormous implications in terms of greenhouse emissions. There will be a law there.

Minister Carr made the mistake of saying that there will be an EIS on anything to do with greenhouse. That is not so. We all know that is not so. The federal law does not cover greenhouse, which is crazy because the federal environment laws are about matters of national significance. There is no more significant matter than greenhouse. I am getting fed up with saying this, Minister, because it is clear that these amendments will go down. As has been said many times before, that is an unfortunate signal because, like Bali, this was an opportunity for the government to say: ‘We mean what we say. Greenhouse is important, and we will act on it.’ This is the first chance to do it and there has been a failure on the part of government to do that. Minister, I would be grateful if you could acknowledge that emissions trading and the mandate of renewable energy targets have nothing to do with the vast bulk of the work that is likely to come through Infrastructure Australia, which is transport.