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Tony Abbott wants direct action on carbon – let’s give it to him

Prime Minister Tony Abbott

After the days of heat and toxic white bushfire haze, it was blessedly cool and drizzling as I trudged back up Sydney St after handing over another investigation report to ICAC.

I’d had some fat months doing contract research for the Commission. Steady work, to be sure, but too much immersion in the affairs of Eddie and Moses and their mates, and despair sets in – although I guess if a few ex-politicians, bureaucrats and ‘entrepreneurs’ go for a long stretch in the Big House, it’ll have been worth it.

Once upon a time, many long Sydney years ago, when I was just starting out in the private investigations caper; when I was a young and spiffy marsupial and didn’t have all the scar tissue and bits chewed off my ears, I’d have been elated;

I’d have felt the world was making progress. But not now, because I look at NSW politics and I just know that while ICAC is sorting a bunch of dumb jerks who had their hands in the till, the new government is letting the big end of town get away with robbery on an unprecedented scale. It’s always the legal corruption that’s the worst.

So I repaired to the Brushtail Cafe to drown my sorrows in cider. The back room was humming with activity as the Werrong Lane Zero Carbon Group prepared for Sunday’s Day of Climate Action rally at Prince Alfred Park.

“What’s the big meme?” I asked.

“We’re going for ‘Stop WestConnex!’” said Joadja, who’d taken time off from the bar to help paint placards. “We reckon the biggest thing Sydneysiders can do to about carbon emissions is to cut road traffic, and after a decade of traffic flatlining, we’re on the cusp of making that happen.

“The message is that WestConnex Motorway project is a monstrous attempt to lock Sydney into a motorway future, right at the very time when global warming is making car-dependency not just an ecological madness, but an economic one as well.

“Passenger cars are the greatest single producer of carbon emission in the transport sector. And you know, in terms of bringing down our greenhouse emissions, the carbon produced by cars is a low-hanging fruit because the vast majority of all the kilometres we travel by car are in cities and it’s in the cities that we’re best-placed to bring those kilometres down, dramatically, by providing good public transport.

“You see, it’s not just what they’re going to do – if we don’t stop them – it’s what they’re not going to do. If they build WestConnex, it’ll soak up all the money that could be building the new public transport infrastructure we desperately need – rail and light rail.

“In spite of this, Tony Abbott is super keen to throw federal money at WestConnex. He’s made a big point of refusing to spend federal dollars on railways and public transport, even if it’s on projects conservative state governments want to build. He’s a real car ideologue, is Tony. He doesn’t really believe in human-induced climate change, or even, maybe, that our climate is changing for the worse.

“He’s thrown his weight behind wasting money on Sydney’s biggest-ever motorway extravaganza while the public are trying to get out of their cars because of the price of petrol. Trouble is, peak period public transport is at capacity. It’s absolute madness. If we were to spend the same as WestConnex on rail and light rail, the total amount of kilometres we drive would fall – dramatically.”

“Geez, Jo, that’s the longest speech I’ve ever heard you make,” I said, when she drew breath and stepped back to admire her latest placard. Tarkis took advantage to get in his own two-bob’s worth.

“Plus, WestConnex is going to involve millions of tonnes of concrete, and concrete itself is a big producer of greenhouse gasses. It accounts for around five or seven per cent of world carbon emissions. There’s going to be something like 15 kilometres of tunnel – at least a four-lane tunnel – plus elevated road, plus widening of the existing M4 Motorway from Parramatta to Strathfield. That’s a shit load of concrete. And on top of that there’s the huge amount of fossil fuels consumed in all the digging and tunnelling and carting of spoil.

“You want to know what the inside story is? WestConnex is also a mission to rescue the tollway companies. Abbott wants to help O’Farrell get Sydney’s road traffic rising again after a decade when it hasn’t grown at all. They know that if traffic stays static – let alone if it starts to fall – the tollway companies are finished. They predicated their whole investment on traffic creeping steadily upwards, year after year, but because that’s stopped happening, they’re sitting on an ever-growing mountain of debt.”

“So in a nutshell: if it’s direct action on Carbon Tony wants, let’s give it to him in spades,” I said. “See you on Sunday,” and I shuffled back to the bar to get another cider.

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