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Grievance debate: Transport emissions and air pollution

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Sam Hibbins MP
Member for Prahran
9 February 2022

I rise today to join the grievance debate. I want to focus my grievance on the emissions and air pollution created by our transport system here in Victoria, adding to the climate crisis and damaging the health of Victorians.

 

Emissions from Transport

Now, the facts are startling. Around a quarter of Victoria’s carbon emissions come from transport, second only to coal-fired power, and it is growing. Transport is Victoria’s biggest growing source of emissions. Whilst emissions from energy are going down, emissions from transport are rising and are forecast to continue to do so. What is the cause of this carbon pollution and air pollution within the transport sector? It is polluting cars and trucks on our roads, which make up the near overwhelming majority of transport emissions, around half being from polluting cars and then another 38 per cent from trucks and vans and commercial vehicles. In fact the emissions from polluting cars and trucks on our roads are equivalent to one of Victoria’s coal-fired power stations.

 

Air Pollution 

Similarly with air pollution, air pollution is one of the biggest environmental threats to human health, alongside climate change. As the recent parliamentary inquiry into the health impacts of air pollution found, polluting cars and trucks, particularly in high-traffic areas, are the major source of air pollution in Victoria. This includes toxins such as nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide and particulates, causing serious health problems for children and our most vulnerable and triggering asthma and respiratory disease, heart disease, lung disease, stroke, cancer and even low birth weight.

 

Tackling the climate crisis

So to tackle the climate crisis we need to tackle emissions from transport. Similarly, to tackle air pollution and to make sure that we have got clean air we need to address it in our transport system. And what must be at the heart of reducing transport emissions and reducing air pollution is rapidly—we do not have long; it is a climate crisis—shifting people out of their polluting petrol vehicles and into clean, climate-friendly, sustainable transport.

 

Emissions Standards for Cars and Trucks

Now, the first thing I want to talk about is the current state of cars and trucks on Victoria’s roads. We have some of the most polluting, carbon-intensive cars in the world because of our low emissions standards. When it comes to the emissions standards on our cars and trucks and the controls on the types and levels of toxic pollutants that can be emitted from the tailpipe, we are lagging around a decade behind other countries in Europe, North America and Asia. By way of example, the Euro 5 standards we are currently under here in Australia were introduced for new cars in 2016. By this point Europe was already at the next stage, the Euro 6 standards, and they are looking to go to Euro 7 this decade, resulting in significant cuts to air pollution. Now more than 80 per cent of the global car market follows the Euro 6 emission standards. This is Europe, the United States, Japan, Korea, China and Mexico. But back here in Australia it is complete inertia when it comes to introducing stronger emissions standards.

Similarly, Europe has mandated carbon emission reduction targets for car fleets—so does the United States and so does New Zealand, where the Labour-Greens government has recently introduced the clean car standards. But in Australia we have got a voluntary scheme with weak targets and no penalty for non-compliance by car companies.

What does this mean? We have got some of the most polluting, climate-damaging vehicles in the world on our streets in our neighbourhoods. When you look at the oldest cars and trucks on the road, they are still under the old Euro 3 standards. They are around 15 years old and there are a million of them. Of the around 5 million cars on our roads, a million of them are the oldest and most polluting. It means with no standards the car companies have no incentives to send lower emissions vehicles or electric vehicles our way. In fact it has been widely quoted that Australia has become a dumping ground for less efficient, polluting makes and models.

 

Electric Vehicles 

Adding to the most polluting cars—the most polluting cars almost in the world—that are on our roads is the incredibly low uptake of electric vehicles compared to other countries. I think it is around 2 per cent now, which is actually a significant increase on what it was before, but this is still around half of what it is in the United States, and in countries in Europe it is well into double figures. The reasons for this, in addition to the low fuel standards, are obvious: the incentives that are offered in Europe and the United States for electric vehicles are far higher—far higher—than what is offered here. Incentives in the order of $15 000 go a long way to reaching price parity between EVs and petrol cars. Yet we have got absolutely nothing from the federal government—nothing, not a cent, not an incentive—to make the switch to electric vehicles. In Victoria we have the incentive of $3000, introduced in haste after the announcement of a new tax on electric vehicles. Contrary to what the Department of Treasury and Finance here would have people believe, governments around the world are not moving swiftly to put new taxes on electric vehicles. Not in Australia, where Victoria is now going it alone. Other states which have not explicitly ruled it out are waiting until the end of the decade or when the uptake of EVs is actually significant before putting in any road user pricing.

Forward-thinking governments are making pollution more expensive. They have got clean air zones or low-emission zones and congestion levies. They have got scrappage schemes to get rid of old polluting cars. They are enforcing air pollution laws. They are aggressively cutting emissions, pollution and congestion using incentives, penalties and regulation.

 

Car Dependence 

Coupled with some of the most polluting, highest emitting cars and trucks in the world, we are locked into higher rates of car dependence compared to other cities in the world. In Melbourne we have got car journeys to work making up around 75 per cent of commuters—that is double what it is in comparable cities in Europe and South America and Asia—along with paltry rates of active transport. We need to get these polluting cars off our roads. Doing so means that new and expanded freeways and tollways are incompatible with tackling the climate crisis. In Austria the Austrian government has explicitly ruled out expanding motorways in order to meet its climate targets. The Greens climate minister there said simply:

More roads means more cars and more traffic. I don’t want to pass on a concrete future to future generations.

Yet it is fair to say this government have gone on a freeway-building frenzy, widening just about all of our freeways, spending billions on new freeways right around the city, around 100 000 extra cars on the road, including pouring some into the city. Spending billions on toll roads, sweetheart deals with Transurban, tearing through some of our most sensitive urban green spaces—that will actually put more cars on the road. It is climate, environmental and economic vandalism.

 

Walking and Cycling

When it comes to the least polluting form of transport, walking and cycling, increased uptake, which so many people want to do—I am sure members in their electorates and communities know that so many more people want to be able to walk around their community and ride their bikes more—is hampered by the lack of safe infrastructure and dedicated funding. Just under 2 per cent of our transport infrastructure funding is dedicated to walking and riding, and that is well below the 20 per cent recommended by the United Nations. Globally in response to the pandemic more and more people are choosing to ride, and governments around the world are rising to the challenge, rapidly expanding bike infrastructure to take advantage of the opportunity to permanently change travel habits.

It is not just temporary in some places. Look at Paris—over 180 kilometres of permanent bike lanes and goals to make their city 100 per cent cyclable. In Scotland spending on transport initiatives is set to more than triple to reach 10 per cent of all transport capital spending as part of the Greens agreement to enter government. It is even better in Ireland, where spending on active transport will make up 20 per cent of their transport capital budget, again secured by the Greens entering government.

Here in Victoria the government is taking steps with their pop-up bike lanes program, taking a proactive approach with the Department of Transport to work with councils, identifying routes and installing improved treatments. This has huge potential to be expanded and accelerated. The charge has very much been led by local governments, particularly the City of Melbourne, which is fast-tracking separated bike lanes on key routes. Councils are being proactive in rolling out cycling and walking infrastructure. But there still remain significant and key cycling routes in the inner city that should be forming the spine of a citywide bike network. The long-promised St Kilda Road cycleways need to be fast-tracked. In Chapel Street in Prahran, Flemington Road and Royal Parade in Melbourne and Sydney Road in Brunswick, cycling is still hampered by the lack of safe infrastructure. E-bikes and e-scooters are growing in popularity. Incentives for e-bikes and regulation for scooters have massive potential to support the shift away from car use.

 

Public Transport 

Our transit networks have taken a massive hit due to COVID. This is happening around the world, and it is the same in Melbourne. There are significantly fewer people using them. There is a reluctance to get back on—working from home—particularly for our CBD, which the network is geared towards. The risk is that as people return to work, return to the office, we are going to have a future massive risk of traffic, of pollution and of emissions if people do not use transit again, and this is I think already happening in parts of the city. This is a real challenge when tackling climate change, because not only do we need to restore patronage but we need to increase it, which is still relatively low compared to other cities.

If you look across the day, we have got waits of 20 minutes for a train, around 15 for a tram and for buses half an hour to an hour. Weekends are particularly bad. These are people who are not necessarily going in to work and doing peak hour every day—the métro, boulot, dodo, as they say in France—but they are people who are meeting friends, going out, going to the shops, taking the kids to school. They are not going to wait around 20 or 30 minutes at a station and then wait another 30 minutes for a bus at the end of it. Increased frequency throughout the day and especially on weekends will drive increased patronage. That is the simple equation. Again, this needs to happen throughout the week, seven days a week—that is, for many people, if they can get on it in the first place. Lockdowns have highlighted the fact that there are people living in lifelong lockdown who cannot access public transport—people living with a disability, people with mobility issues, the elderly and parents with prams. Accessible transport, which should have been actually in place now, given legislation, just is not in place for so many people who need to get around and need to live their lives. This needs to be at the forefront of making sure that people can actually access public transport: our trams, our trains and our buses.

 

Conclusion

To conclude, reducing our growing transport emissions, ensuring that we have clean air to protect the health of children and our most vulnerable, is absolutely essential to protecting the health of Victorians and to addressing the climate crisis. At the heart of that needs to be the rapid shift away from polluting cars and trucks to clean, climate-friendly, sustainable transport, including cycling and walking, public transport and electric vehicles. This needs to mean clear targets, significant investment, strong regulation and strong legislation. These are the ingredients that will go into driving down transport emissions—making that change. We have a significant opportunity right here, right now. It is absolutely essential. So I would urge the government and all parties, both state and federal, to get on the bandwagon and cut growing transport emissions

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Sam Hibbins MP
Member for Prahran
9 February 2022
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