House debates

Monday, 16 June 2008

Grievance Debate

Public Transport

9:18 pm

Photo of Kelvin ThomsonKelvin Thomson (Wills, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

In my speech in the address-in-reply debate in February this year, I praised the work of the activist organisation GetUp! in putting together and promoting a people’s agenda for this, Australia’s 42nd parliament. One of the elements of that agenda was support for public transport. In the last couple of weeks GetUp! has engaged in a follow-up to that initiative, with an email campaign promoting the need for public transport infrastructure. I have received around 200 of these emails and I dare say other MPs would have received similar correspondence. The GetUp! members take the trouble to personalise their emails, which I think is a good thing. While it is pretty much impossible for us as MPs to provide individual replies when we receive so many emails, it is good for us to get a feel for exactly what our constituents are thinking, and it is a reflection of their real commitment to the issue that constituents go to the trouble of personalising their remarks.

Public transport infrastructure is one of the great unmet needs of our time. Ever since the car took off in Australia, post-war public transport infrastructure has failed to keep pace with suburban growth. In my own city of Melbourne, there is a strong public transport infrastructure of train and tram lines out to Melbourne’s city limits circa 1950, but beyond that there is precious little. The million Melburnians who live beyond Melbourne’s 1950 city limits have to drive cars in order to leave their suburbs. Those who commute to the city or other parts of Melbourne to work face long, expensive and tiring trips to and from work every day. Taking their cars through the inner suburbs turns many inner areas into traffic sewers, doing nothing for the quality of life in inner Melbourne.

In the 21st century, the need to increase public transport is not just about congestion and quality of life. We have to reduce our carbon emissions to tackle global warming. In Australia, transport accounts for 14 per cent of carbon emissions. Without change, our transport carbon emissions are predicted to grow by 42 per cent by 2012 and 67 per cent by 2020. This is simply unacceptable. How on earth are we going to cut carbon emissions if transport emissions head in the other direction? For this reason, I regard it as essential that transport emissions are included in the emissions trading scheme being developed by the new Labor government. I regard the suggestion by the Liberal leader, Dr Nelson, that transport be excluded from emissions trading as an attempt to undermine our efforts to cut carbon emissions. Sadly, it is ongoing evidence that the Liberal Party still do not get it on the issue of climate change and global warming. They continue to be part of the problem.

There has been an unfortunate history of neglect of public transport in the last 50 years. State governments have been guilty of it. So have federal governments. When the Liberal-National Party coalition has been in government, the National Party have always demanded and been given the transport portfolio. They invariably spent all the transport money on roads, mostly to pork-barrel their own electorates. National Party transport ministers never give a cent for urban public transport. I hope this will now change. It certainly should change, and I welcome the statement by the Prime Minster:

… hasn’t the time come for some decent, decent public transport systems, invested in by the national government across our major cities …

There are plenty of worthy urban public infrastructure projects ready, willing and able to go. In Melbourne, the Eastern Transport Coalition incorporates the councils of Greater Dandenong, Knox, Manningham, Maroondah, Monash, Whitehorse, and Yarra Ranges. It is holding a major public transport summit on 4 July to talk about how to get better public transport in Melbourne’s east. Its chair, Councillor Mick Van de Vreede, has said that, following the Eddington study, it is clear that we need a transport plan for the rest of Melbourne and, in particular, the eastern suburbs. He is right, and the sorts of projects that plan could end up giving effect to are, for example, a rail service along the Eastern Freeway corridor from Victoria Park to Doncaster; a heavy rail connection from Huntingdale station to Rowville, along the median of Wellington Road to Stud Park shopping centre; or duplication of the Belgrave and Lilydale lines beyond Ringwood station, with the addition of a third track in a number of locations along the Belgrave and Lilydale lines. I do not wish to involve the chair in debate, but I dare say the chair has some good ideas for improving public transport access to Monash University. I support the Eastern Transport Coalition’s request for funding for a feasibility study into these projects, with that funding to come from the $75 million announcement in the budget for the preparation of business cases for the Building Australia Fund to consider.

The Eddington Report into Melbourne’s transport infrastructure was released in April, and it is now open for public comment. It has many commendable features—in particular, plans for a rail tunnel from Footscray to Caulfield; a rail link from Werribee to Sunshine; and the proposal for electrification to Sunbury. But I do not support its proposal for a $10 billion east-west road tunnel. It is not just a question of the money, though we all know how these road projects have an uncanny knack of blowing out to double, or more, their pre-construction estimates. It is a question of how such a controversial megaproject will completely soak up the time and energy of the Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government, of departmental officers and of engineers so that other projects simply get postponed.

If the tunnel goes ahead, it will be inevitably at the expense of public transport infrastructure in the eastern suburbs and other areas of Melbourne’s outer suburbs. It is those projects that we really need to meet Melbourne’s transport needs. This is not anti motorist, or anti truckie. Indeed, I believe many truckies and motorists who have no choice but to use the roads would welcome an invigorated public transport network which reduced road congestion and shortened their travel times.

Public transport infrastructure is not cheap—nor are roads, yet we manage to find the money for them. The consequences of our failure to invest in public transport in the past are already apparent enough in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane. Our living and working conditions will get worse, they will not get better, unless we tackle that problem.

There are two alternative scenarios for our major cities as we go forward into the 21st century. There is the scenario of more and more people spending more and more time in more and more cars paying more and more for petrol as it starts to run out, getting stressed and anxious sitting becalmed in traffic jams all over a town defaced with tunnels, overpasses, off-ramps and exits by planners desperately trying to catch up with the ever increasing demand. And there is the other scenario: a network of trains and light rail vehicles moving large numbers of people in a calm, sustainable way both to the city and to local communities which are quieter, healthier, wealthier and less stressed. This is the choice we face, and we will not be thanked by future generations if we do not face up to it and address it.

The greatest challenge facing the 21st century is the challenge of climate change. We cannot tackle climate change by building more roads. By all means let us build more transport infrastructure—let’s be a nation of builders—but let it be public transport infrastructure, let it be for trains, trams and buses. We cannot build our way out of congestion. We have been trying it for years and it does not work. Time and time again we have seen that increasing road capacity in congested road networks generates and induces more vehicle trips. US studies have shown that those United States cities with a decent rail system have fewer congestion problems than cities which do not have a decent rail system. Professor Ross Garnaut’s paper on transport and urban planning included an issues paper which found that building new roads may make Australia’s greenhouse emissions from transport issues worse. He noted that the provision of road infrastructure may induce growth in passenger car use by reducing the competitive advantage of public transport, and possibly inducing additional travel.

These are urgent and serious matters. I am impressed with the understanding that GetUp! members have of these issues. I urge all my parliamentary colleagues to listen to what they are saying and to tackle the task of public transport infrastructure with the sense of urgency and commitment that this issue requires.

Photo of Ms Anna BurkeMs Anna Burke (Chisholm, Deputy-Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! The time allotted for this debate has expired. The debate is adjourned and the resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.