Senate debates

Tuesday, 13 February 2018


Urban Planning

8:00 pm

Photo of Jordon Steele-JohnJordon Steele-John (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

Tonight I'd like to talk with the chamber about our cities. Today, 50 per cent of the world's populations live in city environments. When done badly, these can separate us as communities. They can have a massively detrimental impact upon the environment. They can embody, in short, some of the worst excesses and most profound failures of the vulture capitalist system which now so dominates the global environment. But, when done properly, cities and their designs can embody the very best and most innovative qualities of the human spirit. They can bring us together and embody principles of environmental sustainability and social justice which I believe live at the heart of the true Australian dream, if such a thing still exists.

In many nations of the world—in Germany and Sweden, for instance—this opportunity of cities and their ability to transform our presence here on planet Earth into something which lives with the planet instead of against it, and which brings us together rather than pulls us apart, is something which is recognised by government and actively invested in. Here in Australia, unfortunately, there is a profound absence of imagination when it comes to sustainable cities planning, in every aspect, from housing to transport to social cooperatives and different methods of trading essential resources. This absence on the field, if you like, has led to a situation where local communities, local governments and the private sector have had to pick up the ball and run with it as far as they can.

I'd like to share with you one example from my home state of WA which sits, not surprisingly, within the boundaries of the City of Fremantle, which is proudly committed to being 100 per cent carbon neutral by 2025. I'm talking, of course, of the WGV project in White Gum Valley. It's a housing development which embodies some of the very forefront of international thinking in the space of sustainable cities and community design. It is 70 per cent more energy efficient and water efficient than a design in the more traditional style; it incorporates elements of social housing and community housing at its core; it brings in elements of culture and community by partnering with local artists to create spaces for creative activity; and it utilises a world-leading peer-to-peer power-sharing technology which has been pioneered right here in WA by Power Ledger. If anybody in the Senate would like to take an opportunity to just have a quick look at what that company has achieved in the last 12 months, I think you'll agree with me in saying that Elon Musk might soon have some WA home-grown competition on his hands.

These developments show us what's possible when people in government, in the community and in the private sector apply themselves to the space of sustainable cities with energy, vision and commitment. I cannot fathom what we might be able to achieve as a nation in this space if that same vigour were embodied in our national government. This is not just an issue of environment or society; it is fundamentally also an issue of inclusion, because, of course, the built environment has such a profound impact on the way in which our society is able, or otherwise, to include all of its members. During my time in this chamber, I intend to build upon the work of my predecessor Scott Ludlam in this space to ensure that, when we talk about sustainable cities, we talk not only of environmental and social impact but also of ensuring that, as we rebuild, we build out the discrimination which is so often at the heart of the built environment. I thank the chamber for its time.