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Discussion of Matter of Public Importance

MR SPEAKER: I have received a letter from Ms Tucker proposing that a matter of public importance be submitted to the Assembly for discussion, namely:

The social, environmental and economic necessity for a high quality public transport system in the ACT.

MS TUCKER (3.46): The current heavy use of motor vehicles has enormous environmental health and social impacts. In Canberra motor vehicles are the largest contributor to emissions of the principal greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide, and the major source of air pollution and noise pollution. There are significant social, health and environmental impacts; but, rather than seeking to limit their use and encourage a healthier city, we still tend to focus on the facilitation of the private motor car as a priority. Mr Speaker, we are told what the costs of public transport are and that we cannot afford to subsidise it, but we are not told what the full costs of private transport are.

What are some of these costs? Arterial roads wipe out natural bushland and grassland, dissecting and destroying the habitats of native birds and animals. Vehicle exhaust also contributes to the pollution of our stormwater and hence our waterways. Roads and parking areas occupy a large fraction of the city's useful land area, making it unavailable for more productive purposes, such as housing, service and recreation spaces close to town centres. What about the health costs? The many gases, including a number of widely recognised carcinogens, that come out of car exhausts are as dangerous as tobacco smoke. They include carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons, oxides of nitrogen, lead, aldehydes and sulphur oxides. Children, the sick and the elderly are the most susceptible to the effects of exhaust emissions. Then there are road accidents, with an estimated cost to the Australian community of over $7 billion per year. There are other social costs of planning our cities around private motor vehicle use.

The urban sprawl, with its network of arterial roads and planning, isolates people in outer suburbs where public transport is inadequate. This especially affects those who are looking after children, young and older people, low-income earners and people with disabilities. The dispersed nature of Canberra means that many residents have long distances to get to work and to access essential services. This is often used as an argument for getting more and better roads. Currently, we emulate Los Angeles on a smaller scale. By building more and more wider arterial roads, we simply bring more traffic and congestion onto those roads. Even Los Angeles is now belatedly rebuilding a rail system. Spending hundreds of millions of dollars building more roads is not an answer. The more roads we build, the more cars we attract, the more roads we need. It is also important to realise that these demands are mostly driven by commuter traffic during peak hours.

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