Canberrans deserve a well-connected city, where they have a choice to live close to work and amenities, and a city built on principles of sustainability.
High-quality, frequent, reliable, and sustainable public transport is central to that vision. Building light rail is about taking long-term decisions that address the serious challenges this city faces in the future - population growth, congestion, climate action and urban sprawl.
Canberra's population will grow by around 100,000 people in the next decade. How will they move around? Our congestion is growing three times faster than that of other mainland capitals. A total of 63 per cent of our greenhouse gas emissions come from transport, mostly cars. The annual lost productivity cost of road congestion in the ACT is predicted to exceed $500 million by 2031. If we want a different outcome, we can't keep doing what we did before.
Whether they lack the foresight, the imagination, or the fortitude, it is untenable for the Canberra Liberals to have no vision to address the reality of these challenges. Our city needs solutions, not platitudes.
Experts across the disciplines, from town planners to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, are clear on how cities should develop. We can't solve climate change or congestion by building more roads. More roads just fill up with more cars. Instead, we need high-quality denser housing based around great public transport and walking and cycling corridors.
The ACT Greens understand that we must invest in new public transport infrastructure such as light rail to make Canberra more sustainable and liveable as we grow. While any new public transport infrastructure will have a short- to medium-term cost, the longer-term cost of doing nothing is significantly greater.
Those who have used light rail between Gungahlin and the city have already seen the benefits. We know that 43 per cent of people surveyed on light rail said they never used public transport before using light rail. The network will be even more useful once it connects to the fast-growing Parliamentary Triangle, Inner South, and Woden, and later to Belconnen, Russell, the airport, Tuggeranong, and other key places.
Three months ago, the Commonwealth announced a new national security precinct in the Parliamentary Triangle for 5000 staff. If the Canberra Liberals had their way, would these staff drive from their homes out in Kowen or west of the Murrumbidgee River and park in Barton, significantly increasing emissions, congestion, and worsening Canberra's quality of life?
The preferable alternative would be to give people the opportunity to live closer to where they work, to opt for a home on a dedicated public transport corridor.
In this term of government, the ACT Greens have consistently argued in the Legislative Assembly for more and better buses, a faster transition to a zero-emissions bus fleet and faster delivery of light rail stages 2 and beyond. Not only has Stage 1 in Canberra been a great success, there are also many other examples of light rail being rolled out, such as the Gold Coast and Newcastle. While the NSW Liberal government has already committed to the project, NSW Labor has now promised to accelerate the Parramatta light rail as part of their election platform.
Locally, we have seen welcome support from Federal governments of both persuasions, with the former Coalition government committing $132.5 million, and the Albanese government adding $85.9 million of funding. Canberra is a growing and evolving city. The vision of distant suburbs connected by wide, expensive freeways was in vogue in the 1970s, but this century's reality is we need something different. We need focused investment in schools, hospitals, local amenities, and high-quality, frequent, reliable, and sustainable public transport, including light rail. This is something the ACT Greens understand and will keep working to deliver.
This is an opinion piece published in the Canberra Times on 11 January 2023.