Thursday, November 10, 2005

Malcolm Turnbull on Sustainable Cities Inquiry

On 12 September 2005, the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Environment and Heritage tabled its report on the inquiry into sustainable cities entitled "Sustainable Cities".
On Tuesday night Liberal Wentworth MP and member of the committee Malcolm Turnbull provided an informative and animated overview of the report, why the Federal Government undertook this inquiry, what the report recommendations are, how will they be implemented and what this report means for Sydney. It was no surprise to hear that the bi-partisan report dovetails with the Council's campaign for a shift in investment in the City from roads to public transport. In fact the report points to this growing trend all over the western world - including car loving USA. Malcolm's address dealt in detail with one of his recurring topics - water recycling with a scathing assessment of the Carr/Iemma government's proposal to build a desalination plant. Another PPP that has all the hallmarks of a one sided deal like the CCT. It should be noted that Council adopted my resolution to oppose the desalination plant as a solution to Sydney's water crisis instead calling upon the government to implement improved water reycling and harvesting methods.

Malcolm was joined by Professor Peter Newman who is the NSW Sustainability Commissioner who explained his response to the report saying that finally the Federal government has seen the light for our capital cities. A thorough Q&A session included the ABC celebrity host Adam Spencer dishing up the old 'the Howard government will not sign Kyoto' mantra which was deftly hit for a six by Malcolm pointing out that we are on target to exceed reductions in greenhouse gas emissions dictated by Kioto and people should move beyond the signing of a piece of paper to more sustained outcomes for the environment. The transcript of Malcolm Turnbulls speech is below and viable at is web site:

Links to the report and evidence transcripts are at the bottom of the speech.

"Sustainable Cities" - Malcolm Turnbull speaks in the City Talks Series at Sydney Town Hall
Tuesday, November 08, 2005
Lord Mayor, Clover Moore, thank you very much for your kind words and for inviting me to speak tonight. Robert Whitehead, marketing manager of the Sydney Morning Herald, thank you for your support of this event and in particular for the outstanding series on the state of Sydney which your newspaper published earlier this year. Councillors, former Lord Mayors, Ladies and Gentlemen, About six weeks ago the House of Representatives Standing Committee on the Environment produced a report entitled “Sustainable Cities”. Mal Washer MP was our chairman, although the inquiry had commenced in the previous parliament with Bruce Bilson as its Chair.

The Report considers the state of our great cities, describes their unsustainability and makes important recommendations about how the Commonwealth can provide further national leadership to ensure our cities are developed sustainably and responsibly. The Committee is a bipartisan one. It had six Liberals: Mal Washer, Russel Broadbent, Jackie Kelly, Stewart McArthur, Jason Wood and myself and four Labor members: Jennie George, Kelly Hoare, Harry Jenkins, Duncan Kerr. There were no dissentients from its recommendations. The members were from New South Wales, Victoria, Western Australia and Tasmania and from both city and regional electorates. Peter Newman has already given us the best definition of sustainable development from the 1987 World Commission on Environment and Development (the Brundtland Commission): “..development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” But first a little background. We are an urban nation: nearly two thirds of our population live in our capital cities and more than 80% live in cities with populations of more than 50,000. 40% of our population live in Sydney and Melbourne alone. These cities not only house the bulk of our population they are the main drivers of our economy and becoming more so as services occupy a larger part of our GDP.

It has been obvious for many years that our cities face enormous challenges. Congestion, pollution, water and power shortages to name just a few. We live in the driest continent, yet Australia consumes the most water per capita in the world 1540 kilolitres per annum. North America is 1510 and Europe 665. In a world challenged by global warming our greenhouse gas emissions are also the world’s highest at 27 tonnes per capita per year. Another UN Report puts us second in Co2 emissions, just behind the USA. With petrol prices rising in response to growing demand from China and India, our dependency on the automobile has increased. Vehicle kilometres travelled has increased by almost 60% in cities like Sydney between 1980 and 2000. Our domestic waste stream is 620 kilograms per capita per year: second only to the United States. We recycle very little of our waste water, around 2% in Sydney. Our high consumption, low sustainability cities are bad for our health too. Our automobile dependence has made us fat. The Committee heard that by living on a free way ‘you are four times more likely to be obese than if you do not.” Are these the inevitable consequences of urban growth? Is this just a by product of prosperity, a modern example of “where there’s muck there’s brass.” Are the proponents of sustainability condemning us to a poorer, less comfortable world? Not at all.

Consider public transport. Peter Newman has demonstrated that cities with a higher useage of rail, as opposed to private automobiles, are wealthier not least because they spend less on transport. Many world cities as wealthy or wealthier than our own (London, Berlin, Paris, Zurich to name but a few) emit much less CO2 in transport emissions. Consider water: do we seriously imagine that we would be poorer if Sydney were to have a sustainable supply of water. Our unsustainable cities are the inevitable consequence of years of complacency, of years of folly. Sydney’s unsustainability is probably the most perilous in Australia. We are literally at risk of running out of water due to a failure to embrace sustainable management of our water. There are more cars on our roads than ever with more congestion, more pollution and more expense.

We are witnessing today, literally under our feet, the latest chapter in this sorry and perverse tale of mismanagement:the Cross City Tunnel. After receiving an upfront golden handshake of over a hundred million dollars, the State Labor Government set out to ensure that the tunnel operators achieved the highest possible revenue. They did this by creating congestion in the city and surrounds to force people into the tunnel. Their contractual obligations, not yet fully revealed or understood, involve substantial financial risks for the Government should it dare, heaven forbid, to improve the quality of public transport in the vicinity such as to reduce vehicular traffic below the owners’ assumptions on the major arterial roads connecting to the trunnel. An obvious avenue for expansion of our public transport network as Gary Glazebrook explained in his report on light rail commissioned by the City of Sydney is from Central and the CBD out along Anzac Parade, servicing the showground precinct, the racecourse, University of NSW and the southern end of the Eastern Suburbs. But this is part of the prime catchment for the Cross City Tunnel. Why do we build new rail infrastructure? To provide an alternative to private vehicles and reduce traffic on the roads. Yet if that were done, the Labor Government would face a renegotiation of the CCT contract and potentially a heavy financial cost. So here is the short, harsh reality: the Labor Government here in Sydney has entered into a contract compelling it to inflict congestion on our city and deterring it from expanding public transport all in the interests of ensuring a privately owned tunnel can make a profit. All this at a time when it is obvious that a key priority of Government should be to provide alternatives to private vehicle travel to reduce congestion.

Former NSW Auditor General Tony Harris astutely described this complacency when he said that Bob Carr’s political style had been so successful it had become a model for all other State and Territory Labor leaders. “Gone is the idea that governments should lead and should challenge vested interests. It has been replaced by Carr’s model: a government should act more like a concierge offering modest assistance to residents but not intervening. Governments should certainly not reform markets or challenge society, even if that is necessary to enable them to meet contemporary problems.” [AFR 18/3/2005 p. 83] What a contrast with the Federal Government! With a strong economy offering every temptation to complacency and resting on the laurels won from past reforms, John Howard’s Government approaches its first decade with an enthusiasm for reform as keen as it was on the day it was elected.

We have known for decades that oil was a finite resource. We have known for decades that water is a scarce commodity not a free good. Yet, with few exceptions, State Governments have persisted in and exacerbated unsustainable practices to the point where the viability of our cities is at risk. For millennia a necessary requirement of urban life has been a reliable supply of safe drinking water. The remnants of the Roman aqueducts still march across the European countryside reminding us that water science and engineering is a perennial problem. Great cities have died, literally, when the water ran out. Assuming there are no increases in water supply all of our largest cities will face a significant water deficit: a gap between sustainable yield and demand. Sydney and Brisbane will be the worst off with a gap of 38% and 33% respectively. To put that in absolute numbers, if you assume Sydney’s sustainable yield is 600 billion litres (itself an optimistic assumption), total demand will be 826 billion litres. The NSW Government’s own Metropolitan Water Plan stated last year “Sydney is using more water than is sustainable…water could be a key limiting factor on Sydney’s future growth and prosperity.” And those limits could be considerably more severe than we think. We have seen very significant reductions in rainfall across Southern and Eastern Australia. The average stream flow from 1911 -2003 in Perth was 285 billion litres. From 1975 to 2003 it had reduced to 164 billion litres. The fall is even more precipitous if you consider the mean over the last 7 years where it has reduced to 120 billion litres.

Turning to Sydney, there is grave concern that the estimates of sustainable yield, based on 95 year averages, are no longer valid. If, as it would appear, there has been a real shift downwards in rainfall, then the long term averages are irrelevant. Sydney’s 600 billion litres of sustainable yield may be a serious over estimate. For example the long term average inflow into the Hawkesbury Nepean system is 1,442 billion litres pa. The average over the period 1991-2002 is 697 billion litres. More than a decade ago Sydney Water knew that it needed substantially to augment the water supply for Sydney. This was driven by growth in demand. That need of course is much greater now with the drop in streamflows. There were basically only two viable options: a new dam, or large scale recycling. Everything else was either not big enough, or in the case of desalination, too expensive. The Labor Government vetoed both a new dam and raising the dam wall at Warragamba and then for a decade has done virtually nothing. They just hoped it would rain. But the rains did not come and we find ourselves now in the extraordinary situation where the dams are only 38.8% full. If the drought continues for two years the city will run out of water. And what has been the price of this folly? In a desperate effort to find a quick fix, Morris Iemma’s Government has resolved to build a desalination plant. The desalination plant, likely to cost around $2 billion, is estimated by the Government’s own consultants to deliver fresh water at a cost of $1.53 per thousand litres.

The former Premier Mr Carr described desalination as bottled electricity and that was no exaggeration. As the parliamentary library recently noted the energy requirement for desalinating seawater is between 4 and 5 times as high as it is for wastewater reclamation. So this is not only the most expensive water available, it will also generate substantially increased greenhouse gas emissions. For whatever reason Sydney Water has declined to embrace recycling The opponents of recycling have contended that people will not drink recycled water. This “yuk factor” is a false issue both in terms of science and practicality. It is scientifically false because we know there is no obstacle to purifying waste water. The drugs and pathogens which need to be excluded have a larger molecular size than the salt which is removed by R/O. So, as Prof Greg Leslie, has pointed out if you believe R/O can desalinate it can certainly purify. But from a practical point of view there is simply no need to introduce recycled water into the potable water system.

There are ample uses for recycled water: industrial, parks, gardens, street cleaning and above all, replenishing the streamflows of our rivers and thereby replacing the potable water currently released into them. The desalination plant is likely to be the greatest white elephant ever constructed in this State. A plant of this kind has to have a take or pay contract so that the owners know they will be paid something even if, because of high rainfall, there is no need for their water. The normal deal is 60% of the contract price. So if the plant is to provide 180 billion litres at $1.50 a kilolitre that’s $270 million a year. If the rains come and the dams full, our State would be up for $155 million for water it never received. But it is better to pay 90 cents for water you don’t receive than $1.50 for water you don’t need. On the other other hand recycling achieves an important environmental objective: cleaning up the oceans regardless.

The failure to provide for a sustainable water supply for this city has resulted in water restrictions which are likely to become more severe unless there is a major break in the weather patterns. The approach has been to make people with gardens feel they are responsible for the water shortage, as opposed to the politicians who failed to plan for our water needs. The truth is that we all benefit from our gardens. We should be able to water them, we should aim to have enough water to maintain a green city. As my friend Ian Kiernan, the founder of Clean Up Australia, says again and again it is not the supply of water which has failed us, we have failed to manage our water. This failure to embrace recycling is particularly puzzling given the National Water Initiative. A Howard Government initiative to which the States signed up at COAG, it has the backing of $2 billion of Federal money in the Australian Govt Water Fund, It has as a key objective for urban water reform: “ encourage the re-use and recycling of wastewater where cost effective.”

Peter Newman has spoken about transport already and I touched briefly on the problems of car dependency in our city already. I would simply re-emphasise that it is patently obvious that we need to promote the use of public transport and we cannot do that unless we are prepared to make mass transit safe, reliable, clean and above all faster on the main corridors than private cars. Distance is a temporal not a linear concept Yet the government’s answer has been to speed up the cars and slow down the trains. So what’s the solution offered by the Sustainable Cities Report? The National Competition Policy over the last decade has together with other economic reforms driven by the Howard Government substantially improved our productivity.

It has been a Commonwealth led initiative with incentive payments to the States for opening up their sheltered monopolies to competition. This recognised that all governments would share in the benefits of economic growth occasioned by this reform and that the bulk of that benefit would accrue to the Commonwealth. The Sustainable Cities report recommends we follow that model and establish a Sustainability Commission which would agree on sustainability benchmarks against which government policies would be judged. The allocation of Federal funds , especially to transport, water and other infrastructure, would depend on meeting those benchmarks which would of course also apply to the Federal Government. Incentive payments should also be considered to reward governments which meet the benchmarks. This would reinforce the leadership shown already with Auslink which included $1.8 billion in rail projects that should double the freight capacity of the North South rail network within 5 years. It would reinforce the $2 billion of the Australian Government Water Fund which is committed to supporting the objectives of the National Water Initiative. The Sustainable Cities Report makes a number of other important recommendations consistent with those relating to governance. These include: - Australian Government transport infrastructure funds include support for public transport and active transport (dedicated bicycle ways) - Removing the FBT concessions for company cars which encourage greater use of these motor vehicles - The preparation of an independent report on the water options for all of our major cities - A doubling of the photovoltaic rebate and further promotion of the use of solar energy.

I commend the report to you. It can be found on the website at this link where you will find not only the report but also transcripts of evidence and all of the submissions received.

I said at the outset that the state of our cities is the consequence of complacency. This meeting tonight shows we are awaking from our slumbers. We can working together reclaim our cities, for ourselves and for our children.

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