Page 4944 - Week 15 - Thursday, 15 December 2005

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In retail and planning, let us encourage local production because transport costs of imported goods will rise; encourage a diversity of types of shops at shopping centres so people do not have to drive all over Canberra for their Saturday shopping; maintain social and health services at town centres; increase the availability of neighbourhood centres in areas with demonstrated needs; require medium density developments to plan for shared social space and social mix, including affordable housing; and locate community facilities close to bus and/or light rail stops. These are long-term things, but let us start now.

MRS DUNNE (Ginninderra) (4.14): I welcome Dr Foskey’s raising this matter of public importance because it so happens that I was addressing precisely these and similar issues at the Brisbane state of Australian cities conference just a fortnight ago. The conference—here is its program—was a multidisciplinary, multipartisan event during which I shared the platform with the likes of Professors Patrick Troy, John Quiggin, Frank Stilwell, Brendan Gleeson and Nicholas Low.

We all agreed that we needed to avoid the use of sustainability as a talisman, to get rid of magical thinking that characterises much of what is said when we talk about sustainable development, because we often merely name things as sustainable in the hope of making them so. One of the results of this is the cognitive distance between professed environmental beliefs and its practices. Sadly, this is no better illustrated than in Canberra, where a large number of people express very deep concern about general environmental issues while engaging in some of the most wasteful consumption in the country. As I have said before, it seems that our collective ambition seems to be to install a green shopping bag in every four-wheel drive vehicle in Canberra.

Another consequence of the way we approach sustainability is to encourage a sort of blanket opposition to sustainability itself, manifested by what I consider a fairly unfortunate article in today’s Canberra Times, which ends up by mounting a defence of cars against all things. As we all agreed at the conference, we have to abandon the either/or perspective, which is an unhelpful polarisation, particularly when discussing the relationship between private car use and the development of effective public transport systems. Private cars and public transport must be complementary; they need not be in direct competition.

Obviously, permanently higher energy costs are a reality. To talk about the end of the cheap fossil fuel era is not to engage in doomsaying but to echo the sober research of nearly all observers outside the more deluded echelons of the oil industry. We are near the time of all-time global oil peak production—the point at which no increased production is possible—and there will be only gradual depletion. The estimates vary but some time between 2005 and 2017 seems to be the best guess. Of itself this will not produce a sudden crisis, unless there is politically-inspired panic on other grounds, but it will mean a permanent rise in the cost of energy, however generated. There are not going to be many cheap energy alternatives. Hydrogen energy at this stage is out of the question, if only because hydrogen requires more energy to produce than it returns.

Natural gas supplies are at greater risk of depletion than oil supplies. Wind and solar will only produce a fraction of what we are currently using, let alone what we will use—especially with the growth of industrialised economies like India and China—and they

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