MATTERS OF PUBLIC IMPORTANCE;Infrastructure – 15 Jun 2010

I would like to start my contribution by thanking the Australian Conservation Foundation for the excellent work they do in producing the sustainable cities index. It is important to note that the index is not just a measure of environmental sustainability, not that I wish to diminish the importance of measuring environmental outcomes, but also a measure of the quality of life and resilience of cities. It provides a holistic overview of the health of our cities and how smart our cities are in meeting the challenges of the 21st century. It is a useful tool to measure how we are tracking not only at all three levels of government—federal, state and local government—but as a community and society in continuing to make our cities livable into the future.I am personally pleased that the capital city of my home state of Tasmania, Hobart, has been placed a respectable sixth amongst the 20 cities whose sustainability was assessed by the ACF. However, I do not think anyone in this place would disagree that there is much more we can do to improve the sustainability of our cities. As ACF head Don Henry said this morning, our cities can do a lot better to be more sustainable. This could include measures such as using less water and less energy and relying more on public transport than cars.

In regard to the MPI today, it is easy for Senator Ludlam and his colleagues in the Australian Greens to take the high moral ground on this issue, as they do with so many other issues. It is easy for them to preach as if they are the messiahs of the environment and to pretend they possess the only social conscience within this parliament. It is easy from a place where you are not governing, nor offering a real prospect of being the alternative government, to say that something is a priority and more needs to be done. It is easy when you do not have to prepare a budget, you do not have to juggle spending priorities and you do not have to be accountable for the outcomes of the decisions you make. That is what the government is about. The Rudd Labor government takes the issues of the health, resilience and environmental sustainability of our cities very seriously.

I would like to mention some of the social indicators measured by the index before addressing the issue of environmental sustainability. One measure I would particularly like to mention is employment. If there is one thing we know about the unemployment rate, it is that it would be much higher had the federal opposition had their way. Let us not forget that, had it not been for the economic stimulus package opposed by those opposite, hundreds of thousands of Australians who are employed now would either have lost their jobs or not found employment. The sustainability of Australian cities in terms of employment could have been much worse had the Rudd government not taken decisive action in dealing with the effects of the global financial crisis.

The Rudd government is working hard on initiatives that address a number of other social indicators measured by the ACF’s sustainable cities index. On public participation, we are addressing this through our Volunteer Grants Program, which contributes to the cost of training courses, equipment and fuel for volunteers. This program helps support our hardworking volunteers and builds social inclusion and community participation throughout Australian communities, including our sustainable cities. In education we are boosting year 12 completion rates by building trade training centres across Australia which will help address skill shortages in traditional trades and emerging industries—unlike those opposite, who want to stop the building of the trade training centres. This will help boost employment.

In transport we are rolling out billions of dollars in road and rail infrastructure which will help reduce congestion and therefore have the added environmental benefit of reducing Australia’s carbon emissions. A great example of this is in my home state of Tasmania, the Kingston bypass, which coincidentally happens to be about halfway between my office and my home, so it is a road that I will be travelling every day and it is a road I now travel every day with some congestion on it. The Kingston bypass is jointly funded by the Tasmanian and Australian governments. It is a great project and it will be featuring bike lanes and a park-and-ride facility to encourage alternatives to vehicular transport to the city. In Australia’s fastest-growing local government area, these are very important initiatives.

There are a number of programs being progressed by the Rudd government that address the environmental sustainability of our cities. The Australian government’s Solar Cities program is designed to trial new sustainable models for electricity supply and use, and it is being implemented in seven separate electricity grid-connected areas around Australia. It is administered by the Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency, in partnership with local and state governments, industry, business and local communities. Australia’s solar cities are Adelaide, Alice Springs, Blacktown, Central Victoria, Moreland, Perth and Townsville. Each solar city integrates a unique combination of energy options, such as energy efficiency measures for homes and businesses, the use of solar technologies, cost reflective pricing trials to reward people who use energy wisely, and community education about better energy usage in an increasingly energy reliant world.

The Rudd government has committed $650 million to the Renewable Energy Future Fund, which will provide additional support for the development and deployment of large- and small-scale renewable energy projects and enhance take-up of industrial, commercial and residential energy efficiency. We are also establishing the Australian Carbon Trust and supporting its work to help businesses take action to improve their energy efficiency. Earlier this month Senator Wong, the Minister for Climate Change, Energy Efficiency and Water, announced that the first commercial-scale smart grid will be based in Newcastle, New South Wales. This demonstration project will lead to Australia-wide advances in energy management. It will modernise the electricity network, help people save energy, connect renewables to the grid and engage the community in action on climate change.

The Rudd government has also developed an integrated range of policies aimed at improving the energy efficiency of homes, appliances, equipment and lighting to allow householders to give families more confidence about the purchasing decisions that they are making. And we are 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. These examples are just a snapshot of the initiatives that the Rudd government has delivered or will be delivering to help make our cities more sustainable.

While government programs are important, we could make substantial progress by putting in place market mechanisms that encourage the businesses and households within our cities to operate more sustainably. The Rudd government has proposed two market based schemes to help make this happen: the Enhanced Renewable Energy Target, or the enhanced RET, and the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, commonly known as the CPRS. The implementation of the enhanced RET will provide greater certainty for large-scale renewable energy developers as well as households wanting to take action to reduce emissions. The RET will help drive nearly $19 billion of investment in clean renewable energy by 2030. As for the CPRS, we have unfortunately been forced into a situation where we have no choice but to delay the introduction of the scheme because of the intransigence of some members of the Senate.

By voting down the CPRS, the federal opposition and the Australian Greens have voted to guarantee that Australia will fail to meet its international obligations in addressing the serious threat of climate change. If Senator Ludlum were serious about helping to reduce the carbon footprint of our cities—if he were serious about helping our cities to become more sustainable and contribute to tackling climate change—then he would urge his colleagues in the Australian Greens to pass the CPRS at the earliest opportunity. The CPRS is the most economically efficient means that Australia has of reducing our greenhouse gas emissions while meeting the government’s proposed greenhouse gas reduction targets. It is hypocritical of the Greens to talk about sustainable cities and yet act to delay meaningful action on climate change. Their action places them in the same camp on this issue as the climate change sceptics and the climate change deniers in the federal opposition.