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Tuesday, 15 June 2010
Page: 3257

Senator PRATT (4:26 PM) —I welcome this debate, because our communities and cities are the places where the climate rubber hits the road. Community action on climate change, as the ACF report shows, can save energy, save time and save money. More sustainable cities can enhance the Australian way of life. Sustainable cities mean less travelling time and more time with families. They mean reduced energy costs and reduced water bills. They ease the strain on family finances. They mean more pleasant, efficient and convenient environments to live, work, learn and play in.

As the ACF’s report shows, there is a significant amount of work being done by many cities across Australia to reduce their carbon footprint. There are indicators related to air quality, green buildings, water and climate change, and the ACF’s report shows many cities are indeed doing their bit to make their local communities more sustainable. But the report also shows that there is still a great deal of work to do across Australia in the area of climate change and energy efficiency. As ACF head Don Henry said this morning:

… our cities can do a lot better to be more sustainable.

From my point of view, this means things like using less water and energy in schools, workplaces and homes. It means relying more on public transport. It means walking and cycling rather than getting into your car.

The Australian government remains committed to taking action on climate change and to making Australia more energy efficient. The implementation of the enhanced renewable energy target will provide greater certainty for large-scale renewable energy developers as well as households who want to take action to reduce their emissions. Legislation to implement the enhanced renewable energy target will be debated in the parliament this fortnight. The RET will see nearly $19 billion worth of investment in clean energy in this nation by 2030.

We also have a commitment of $650 million to the Renewable Energy Future Fund. This funding will provide additional support for the development and deployment of large- and small-scale renewable energy projects and enhance the take-up of industrial, commercial and residential energy efficiency. These projects are going to have a major impact on Australia’s cities. The Rudd government has also established the Australian Carbon Trust and is supporting its work to help businesses to take action to improve their energy efficiency. Earlier this month, the government also announced the first commercial-scale smart grid, which will be based in Newcastle, New South Wales. It is a demonstration project that will lead Australia in advances in energy management. It is about modernising the electricity network, helping people to save energy and connecting renewables into the grid. It is about engaging the community to take action on climate change.

So you can see here that we are implementing an integrated range of policies aimed at improving energy efficiency of homes, appliances, equipment and lighting. It is about giving families more confidence in the purchasing decisions that they are making. The government is also implementing a national program to improve the energy efficiency of Australia’s largest office buildings through providing better information and funding leading-edge green buildings.

I welcome the ACF’s sustainable city index as a vital contribution to the ongoing national discussion about taking action on the state of Australia’s cities. I do not agree with the all the report’s findings, and I think this is in part because there are some gaps in the data. Nevertheless, it is important that we look at and debate the questions that this report raises. And, yes, it is even more important that we act with a sense of urgency on the enormous challenges that confront Australians who live, learn and work in our cities, and indeed on the biodiversity challenges that exist within Australia’s urban landscapes.

It is important to note that the ACF’s document is not only about our environmental footprint and the natural environment but also about a range of other important factors. It is about our quality of life and our communities’ resilience. For each of these performance indicators, data has been collected on a range of important subissues. So, to highlight, for example, community resilience, the ACF has brought together some pretty important issues such as our capacity to adapt to climate change, public participation, education, food production and household repayments.

So when you look at Perth’s vulnerability to the impacts of climate change combined with the high levels of household debt attached to our booming property market, our high levels of food imports and the busy lifestyles so common in Perth, you can easily see how Perth has a low rating, when compared to others, on a resilience score. While I am not sure this rating is entirely fair, as there is a lot being done to address these issues in my home city, it is, nevertheless, great to see this index fostering a healthy rivalry between cities—a rivalry that encourages all our cities to lift their performance on sustainability. I know that the people of Perth will see this report as providing renewed impetus to get in there and get things done and to put the city on a more sustainable footing.

Many people have been working hard now over many years to get Perth to look at its sustainability issues. The former Minister for Planning and Infrastructure, and now federal candidate for Canning, has done a great deal of work on this front. The Gallop-Carpenter governments built the Mandurah rail line and have worked very hard to promote nodes of development along existing transport hubs. This was about increasing urban density in places where there are existing services, and that was something that Alannah MacTiernan led the way on.

The work of the Labor government was directed at undoing the legacy of many years of poor planning. It aimed to reverse the negative trends of the past by putting transit oriented development at the forefront. This means locating moderate- to high-intensity commercial, mixed use, community and residential development close to train stations and/or high-frequency bus routes to encourage public transport use over private vehicles. There are many benefits to this approach and they include: improving the attractiveness of and access to public transport, cycling and walking; providing communities with interesting and vibrant places for people to interact in and to visit; reducing the impact of transport on the environment; reducing household travelling expenses; and providing more housing diversity and affordable housing options.

Since the 1950s, Perth’s urban sprawl has become more dependent on the private motor vehicle than most other cities around the world. Perth therefore generates more CO2 compared to cities with a more compact urban development pattern. So it is easy to see how, on some of the indicators highlighted by the ACF, Perth might score badly. But it is a challenge that the previous Labor government in Western Australia was working very hard to address.

Transit oriented development helps address the issues of climate change by providing people with choices of lifestyles and personal travel that directly or indirectly reduce the use of fossil fuels and thus the emission of CO2. In the coming years, the world’s declining oil reserves will significantly impact on many aspects of Perth’s social and economic structures, in particular its dependence on vehicles. Already, the days of cheap conventional oil are in the past, and it is expected that the demand for oil will eventually outstrip supply. In Perth it is vital that we provide walking and cycling options and a more efficient public transport system across the city to reduce the impact of declining oil reserves. So, concepts such as activity centres and higher residential densities along high-frequency public transport routes are vital ways for our city to reduce vehicle dependence.

There are complex and interrelated issues that impact on the sustainability of Australian cities. These were considered in some depth in the government’s State of Australian cities 2010 report released by Infrastructure Australia, in March this year. This report was produced in recognition of the paucity of national information on economic, environmental, social and demographic indicators relating to our cities. The systematic data collection on which the report is based reveals key trends in the development of our cities and provides a platform of knowledge to facilitate the development and implementation of future urban policies.

This report makes clear that effective action on the challenges facing our major cities will require the cooperation of the community, of business and of all levels of government—local, state and federal. It identifies a wide array of challenges. Given the scope of the challenges facing our cities, there is a vital role for the federal government. We must provide leadership, coordination and funding for large-scale projects that can make a real difference to the sustainability, productivity and liveability of our cities. It is a role that our predecessors—those opposite—were reluctant to take up. In government they avoided this challenge, as they did so many other challenges.

The state of the cities report signals that the Rudd government is willing to tackle this challenge, as it has done on many other hard issues The report sets the scope and context for the Rudd government’s renewed commitment to urban policy and planning, particularly in relation to the need for new infrastructure. For too long, myriad government departments have been involved in these issues with no plan for action, no plan to make our cities more sustainable and more liveable. With the election of the Rudd government, that changed. We do have a plan for green infrastructure and we are taking urgent action. We are, for the first time in the nation’s history, making record investment in public transport and green energy infrastructure. In fact, the Rudd government has committed to the first significant federal investment in urban public transport in the nation’s history. Our Nation Building Program provides some $4.5 billion in funding for metropolitan rail projects in our major cities. That warrants repeating: for the first time ever we have a record national investment in public transport, including rail. The Rudd government takes the sustainability of our cities and the quality of life of urban Australians very seriously. Our Major Cities Unit and our energy and infrastructure investment mean that we are, for the first time in the Australia’s history, tackling the very issues raised by the ACF in its index report. We are making just the kinds of investment in green energy infrastructure necessary to get us on a sustainable footing. Yes, it is important to act and, yes, it is urgent.

Again, I welcome the ACF’s constructive contribution to this issue. Federal, state and local governments; communities and community groups and businesses and individuals must all get on with making our cities more sustainable. Hand in hand with making them more sustainable, they will be better places to live, learn, work and play. I am pleased to have had an opportunity to contribute to this debate today.