Parliament Updates

The Congestion problem

27 November, 2019



In a recent community survey of Warringah, one of the top topics was traffic congestion. It's the No. 1 problem in Warringah and top of mind every morning and night in the peak periods seven days a week. This is no surprise, as Warringah has some of the most congested roads in Australia. The New South Wales state government yesterday announced that the first stages of the Western Harbour Tunnel and Beaches Link program are moving to the next stage of the planning process. I welcome this announcement, but more is needed.

While we wait in our cars, another problem is apparent—air quality. The Lung Foundation points to the clear evidence that pollution from vehicles is leading to poor health outcomes for vulnerable populations, like children, the ill and the elderly. Ambient air pollution contributes to over 3,000 premature deaths each year. Even at low concentration, nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide and ozone are impacting the health of Australians. Coal-fired power stations and motor vehicles are the main sources of sulphur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide. Compared to petrol vehicles, diesel vehicles emit a much higher amount of nitrogen dioxide.

Australia's fuel is amongst the worst in the OECD countries. Australia's current fuel standards are so bad that they were banned in Europe 10 years ago. After 21 years, the regulated standards for nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide and ozone in our air are currently under review. Given the overwhelming importance of clean air to our health, the government needs to work with the states and territories to: firstly, lower the threshold of nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide and ozone, and alter the reporting metrics; secondly, expand the network of compliance monitors to reflect the particular risk from widespread source emissions and hotspots, such as traffic on major roadways; and, thirdly, make air quality monitoring data publicly available through a coordinated national website, allowing access to real-time and historical data.

We need to improve the quality of fuel available to ensure access to the latest vehicles, providing savings for motorists from more fuel-efficient vehicles and delivering those health benefits. In April this year, the government quietly postponed a regulation. This means that Australia won't reduce the sulphur content in petrol and will retain the current regular unleaded petrol until 1 July 2027. I call on this to be brought forward. In October this year, the state government announced that it is shifting Sydney's entire 8,000-strong bus fleet to an electric fleet. This is a landmark decision. It is one of the first tangible policies towards the state's goal of reaching zero net emissions by 2050.

In order to solve the dual problems of congestion and air quality, we need more infrastructure—and the tunnel is a start—and we need short-term solutions, like increased public transport and a focus on improving our air quality and our fuel standards.