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Wednesday, 24 June 2015
Page: 4371


Senator MILNE (Tasmania) (10:51): I am glad to hear Senator Macdonald at last expressing some concern for rural Australia, because for the last year he has been defending the Abbott government's increase in the fuel excise as government policy. It is interesting that he has now discovered what the Greens have been saying—since day 1, I might add—and that is that the poorest people live furthest from the centre of the city, often drive the oldest and least efficient vehicles and have least access to public transport. Those have been the facts for a very long time. We have endlessly pointed out the impacts of the fuel excise on the poor, especially in rural and regional Australia.

I rise today because it is a great opportunity to set the record straight on a lot of nonsense that has been talked about on fuel excise. Let's go back to the very first principles. Firstly, the Greens want to see a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions as climate change is the emergency we are living in. Secondly, we want Australia to be a prosperous country with cities comparable with the world's best. We want amenity in our cities, because the overwhelming majority of people live in urban centres. We have to design our cities for the 21st century. Only yesterday, The Lancet mentioned the advantages of how redesigning cities to bring down greenhouse gas emissions also contributes to public health—more walking, more cycleways, more public transport. What is not to like about that? It addresses the obesity crisis at the same time as it addresses greenhouse gas emissions. Australia's cities are falling absolutely behind the rest of the world. We have to redesign the urban environment for the 21st century, and that is not happening. That is fundamentally the point that the Greens have made from day one.

We need to be raising money in order to spend it on the things that we need and raising the money in a way that actually contributes to social change. I would like to remind the Senate of what the Treasurer, Mr Hockey, said. He said:

Over the next six years, the government will help to build new roads, new rail, new ports and airports.

He went on to say:

And to help pay for this, the government is re-introducing fuel indexation where every dollar raised by the increases will be linked by law to the road-building budget.

He then continued:

Shovels will start moving within a matter of months.

He cited projects and said:

… in New South Wales construction on the $11 billion WestConnex project will start within 18 months. …

The $18 billion East West Link in Melbourne starts work before Christmas …

He went on to say that that is where the government's priorities would be. The people of Victoria did not want the East West Link. People in Sydney do not want WestConnex. There was no way that the Greens were going to provide the Abbott government with the money to build exclusively roads and prioritise two projects which we were campaigning against because the communities did not want them.

It happened at the exact same time as the government dumped commitments to public transport projects. Let me remind the Senate what they were—the Melbourne Metro, which had previously had money allocated to it, the Perth light rail and the Brisbane Cross River Rail. These projects, which were meant to be funded, were axed in favour of bitumen, not steel rails, but bitumen. All the Abbott government can think about in the 21st century is bitumen. It shows that they do not understand the way the world is moving.

If you were interested, as the government is, in just raising money—and this is a pure revenue raiser, not a transformative measure—and if you were genuinely interested in and actually knew the way the world was going, you would not be seeking to raise revenue from petrol excise because it may have crossed your mind that the transport fleet is rapidly going to convert to electric vehicles. We already have hybrids, and we will go to fully plug-in electrics. When you go to a fully plug-in electric, you will not pay a fuel excise, and that is increasingly the way it is going to go. The wealthy are going to go straight to electric vehicles and the residualised cost is going to end up with the poorest people who drive the oldest and least efficient vehicles. They are left behind paying an ever-increasing fuel excise whilst wealthier people buy their Nissan LEAF and never have to pay fuel excise again. That is why cities around the world that have the smarts are saying, 'We need to get into massive investment in public transport, and we will raise money for roads from congestion charges, or it will come from restructured taxes on use of roads.' That is the way the world is looking at how you would actually structure the cost of investing in infrastructure when the world is moving away from fuel excise as such, if you regard it purely, as the government does, as a revenue raiser.

I also want to talk about why it is such a great thing to invest in public transport. One example I can give you is the Epping to Chatswood line in Sydney. It was the first major rail line in Sydney for two decades and it was finished in 2009. The evidence on that shows that it helped spur a surge of activity in the Macquarie Park area in Sydney. In fact, it led to an extra 1½ to 2½ per cent growth in spite of the global financial crisis. So that is a classic case of where investment in a rail project led to extra economic activity around the rail line. You are not going to get that with roads. In fact, what happens when you build motorways and freeways is that you get greater congestion, greater urban sprawl, cities sprawl further out and the poorest go right to the edges. For all those people who think that, automatically, an increase in fuel excise leads to a decrease in greenhouse gas emissions, it does not if you spend all of the money on not putting in alternatives like public transport but just build more freeways. That is why I had such an objection when former Prime Minister Rudd said he wanted to free up land on the edge of the cities, cheap land to build cheap housing to address housing affordability. That is the worst-case scenario because it condemns those people to poverty. It condemns them to poor amenity in their lives because cheap housing is going to be expensive housing through being costly to heat and costly to cool. Plus, they are not going to have public transport. They will have to spend a whole lot more to get to work and to be on their daily commute.

We have a situation where, if you are serious about addressing a genuine 21st century upgrading of our cities, you would be saying, 'What do we need to do?' We need to decrease congestion, we need to increase access to fast, efficient, safe public transport. We need to help improve people's health with better air quality, with more opportunities to walk, to cycle, to be part of looking after their own health and having better amenity in their urban environment. You would be planting more trees, having more parks and more shaded areas, because global warming, especially for Australia, is going to make life in a concrete jungle much more unpleasant than it already is. When you look around the world and see the sorts of projects that people are supporting, that is exactly what they are doing.

Go to what Infrastructure Australia has as its priority list for public transport. As the first thing it has that it would spend on the cross-river rail and Brisbane transit ways. The second thing would be Melbourne Metro, and the third thing would be the Adelaide east-west bus corridor. The next category for real potential is Perth's MAX Light Rail, Brisbane's east-west bus way, Sydney's north-west rail, Melbourne's Dandenong line and the Gold Coast's light rail. And in the early-stage category would be Brisbane for a rail line, inner Sydney for a regional bike network, Sydney for a light rail, Western Australia for an airport rail link, and Canberra for a transit corridor and metro rail lines. They are Infrastructure Australia's clear directions in terms of where and how to spend on public transport. Yet this government said, 'We actually don't want public transport; we're going to kill those projects, and we're going to put every single dollar into roads and start by increasing congestion in Melbourne and Sydney with East West Link and WestConnex'—increased congestion, increased greenhouse gases.

Let me go back to my point about addressing global warming. Transport is a major emitter, an increasing emitter, in Australia. So, what are we going to do about it? When we tried to negotiate the clean energy package with the Labor Party, I tried to get mandatory vehicle fuel efficiency standards consistent with the European Union in the package. That would have made sense—to actually phase in those mandatory fuel-efficiency standards. Labor opposed it outright. They would not have it, and they have continued to oppose it, until the car industry shuts down in Australia. Why? Because the car industry here was not building fuel-efficient vehicles, was not building the vehicles that would have met the standards we wanted to set. And why didn't we require it of those companies, to build on that platform? Because the platforms they had were old-fashioned. Other places around the world had forced those vehicles to be more fuel-efficient. We were building cars here that were exactly the same vehicles as were being built by the same company elsewhere in the world, except that elsewhere in the world they were building them to higher standards.

The first thing you would do is mandatory fuel-efficiency standards. I have a private senator's bill in this parliament, and I have no doubt that my Greens colleagues will continue to work with that legislation to get mandatory vehicle fuel efficiency standards. That is the first thing you would do: upgrade your transport fleet. The whole objective should be getting people to drive less and, when they do drive, to drive more efficiently. In that context, you get people to drive less by getting a government to invest in public transport. And to get them to drive more efficiently you facilitate them in being able to get those more fuel-efficient vehicles. That is exactly the position of the Greens, and that is why we have argued it all along.

In the midst of all this we have had the Treasurer, Mr Hockey, coming out and saying that I would not answer his telephone calls in relation to fuel excise. Wrong. He never rang my mobile, ever. Let me put it on the public record here in the Senate: he never, ever rang. If you want someone to answer the call, you have to make it in the first place. It is fairly fundamental, but somebody who only supports bitumen and not 21st century measures maybe does not understand that. Secondly, he has clarified the record to say, 'Oh, no, actually I rang the office, and the office did not get back to me.' Well, I can say that I do not believe that is true either, because my staff absolutely understood that if ministers rang then the message had to be passed on—and it was passed on. It is peculiar that it was passed on for every other minister and just not the Treasurer—according to the Treasurer's assessment.

Minister Cormann knows that when he sought a meeting I did make myself available. His office asked for a meeting when he was overseas. I made myself available at a suitable time. The call was not made. Something came up. That is fine; those things happen. On another occasion I met with Minister Cormann in my office. At that point, again, I put the Greens' position: we wanted money for public transport and clarification of whether every dollar was going into the roads the government prioritised, and Minister Cormann made it very clear that the government's policy was, whether or not the money was hypothecated or not hypothecated, that all of it would be going into roads, into East West Link, WestConnex and the other roads the government had prioritised.

The pig-headedness in this debate was the failure of the government to actually think about fuel excise as a transformative, 21st-century measure, to look at what Australia's vision is for how we want people to move around the country in this century. What is our vision for that? How do we make it fair for people who are poorer and in many cases, as I said, have further to travel by virtue of the fact that they are forced into the outer suburbs, or people who live in rural areas? How do we deal with that? How do we deal with competitiveness of our cities? I can tell you that when you speak to chambers of commerce around Australia they are very worried about the fact that both Melbourne and Sydney are congested compared with other, comparable, cities.

Many people will remember that when Ken Livingstone introduced the congestion charge in London there was a lot of criticism. But London has been transformed. It is amazing to see the public transport in London now. You would be crazy to take a car into London when you can take public transport so easily, so efficiently. It is regular, it is safe and it is reliable, and that has made a huge difference compared with how it used to be. That is what we could have done in Australia, and that is why the Greens said that we want money spent on public transport. It is why Senator Di Natale made that point and continues to make that point in relation to the Greens' position—because we want to bring down greenhouse gas emissions; we do not want to increase congestion; we do not want to increase greenhouse gas emissions by building motorways and freeways, leading to urban sprawl and increasing those emissions when we can see the way the world is going.

Let's have a conversation about what we want our cities to look like. I congratulate my colleague, Senator Ludlam, who has done fantastic work looking at how you would transform Perth. He worked with the Property Council there, and they came up with a model for seven representative public transport corridors. They were looking at how that would not only contain urban sprawl but lead to greater infill along those corridors. It would build more connected communities along those corridors, make it cheaper for people to commute and make a local community around those corridors.

The Property Council in Perth are not people with whom the Greens often have a great deal in common, but I have to say that they are totally on board with us around Australia, looking at how you can actually have a strategy of planning that leads to better amenity in our cities. I congratulate Senator Ludlam and I know that Senator Wright is keen to be looking at exactly the same thing for Adelaide, because it makes sense.

The overwhelming issue of the century is that people want to be happy and healthy and they want to live in a connected community. They want to bring down greenhouse gas emissions. All of those things are achievable if you change your mentality from bitumen to rail; if you change your mentality from petrol to electric vehicles and public transport; and if you change your mentality on revenue raising from just wherever you can grab that revenue to actually using it as a transformative measure.

My final remarks are with regard to the Labor Party. Last year Mr Shorten referred to Mr Abbott, during an SBS interview, saying, 'I'm not going to increase taxes, no new taxes' and then increasing the tax on petrol. Mr Shorten said:

We were never going to vote for that. A crocodile wouldn't swallow his nonsense.

Well, it seems the crocodile has swallowed the nonsense on this occasion. Mr Shorten went on to say:

That's why we're standing up for the 300,000 senior citizens getting the supplement. That's why we're standing up against the petrol tax.

Until, of course, we now discover that they are not. Finally, in a Radio National interview, he says:

I know that people say this is only a small increase but over time it compounds. People need their cars to get to work, to pick up the kids. When you increase transport costs it flows onto every aspect of the economy. It's sneaky, this measure. They won't take it through the Parliament. It does affect cost of living. The other thing about the way they're doing it is that if they're unable to convince Labor or the Greens then what happens is—because they're doing it by regulation rather than legislation, that if they're unable to convince us to change our principles in the next 12 months, which they're not going to be able to do of Labor, under the way they're constructing their sneaky manoeuver all this money will go back to petrol companies. It's very ill thought out.

Indeed it is, and I am surprised. But it is the second time in a week that Mr Shorten has backflipped. Having said he was not for turning on the renewable energy target, he did: he slashed it to 33,000 gigawatt hours. He was not for turning on the petrol excise—until he is.

We need a vision for Australian transport that is about reduced greenhouse gas emissions and modern, healthy cities. That is what this should be about, and looking after the poorest in our community. That is what the Greens were trying to do, and that is what has not been achieved in this deal which simply confirms both Labor and Liberal want bitumen. (Time expired)