Gillard promises roads; ignores angry summer

Australia’s recent “angry summer” was defined by extreme weather events.

All the stereotypes about western Sydney were covered last week when Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s visited dozens of electorates in the area to try to stop them switching their vote to the Liberals in September’s federal election.

She spoke about being tough on foreign workers, promising “Aussie” jobs for “Aussie” workers, using rhetoric about “queue jumpers” borrowed from the asylum seeker debate. She also promised to build a new WestConnex motorway that would connect western Sydney to the CBD.

NSW Liberal Premier Barry O’Farrell, who has promised a similar plan built mostly with private investment that would create toll-roads, opposed the plan.

Gillard said: “The congested western and south-western Sydney road network will put the handbrake on the state’s economic future, with the cost of urban congestion in Sydney expected to rise to $7.8 billion by 2020 if no action is taken.

“Currently, over 200,000 vehicles use the M4 and M5 every day. Over the next 20 years, one out of every three new jobs created in Sydney will be along the M4 and M5.”

There is no doubt that the M4 and M5 are heavily congested. Many households in western Sydney rely on a car, because there simply isn’t the public transport to serve their needs.

A 2008 study by the University of Western Sydney, North-west and west-central Sydney employment strategies, found that one of the main barriers to job creation in the region was the lack of public transport.

Building more roads is not a long-term solution to congestion. It will only entrench individual reliance on cars and continue the social and economic inequalities western Sydney faces.

Even Scott Charlton, the chief executive of toll-road company Transurban, thought the plan was outdated. He told Fairfax: ''Public transport is really the most efficient way to deliver people into the CBD.''

Investing billions of dollars of public funding in new roads is also extremely short-sighted when it comes to tackling the problem of climate change.

The Climate Commission released a report on March 4, which found Australia’s recent summer — which it called the “angry summer” — was defined by extreme weather events.

In the past three months, 123 weather records were broken — including the hottest summer on record, the hottest January and the hottest day ever. Many towns experienced record floods and heatwaves.

The report said “more than 70% of Australia experienced extreme temperatures at some stage during the heatwave of December-January 2012-13”.

Shockingly, as the impacts of climate change are becoming more obvious, the federal government has not renewed funding for the National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility. The government established the body in 2008 and provided $28 million over four years to coordinate climate change research and make the information available to decision-makers.

Fairfax reported: “The group has helped develop 140 projects across 33 universities, and about 100 staff are expected to be affected by funding cuts.”

There is no excuse for allowing this funding to be cut. Gillard has already promised $1 billion to build the WestConnex plan, and it is estimated to cost $13 billion in total.

The federal government should scrap the WestConnex plan and commit to spending that money on improving public transport that is not run for profit, but in the interest of commuters and residents.

The Socialist Alliance calls for:
• No new motorways.
• Prioritising the continual upgrade and improvement of public transport options. The provision of road transport must come second.
• A complete overhaul of suburban and intra-urban passenger rail systems, and incorporating buses and light rail into an overarching public transport plan.
• Making public transport free and frequent.
• Re-nationalising all privatised public transport and rail freight and stop the privatisation of suburban and outer-suburban bus routes.

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