Which portfolio should the Greens take?

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It’s a commonplace in politics, as it is in most things, that it’s better to focus limited resources on a few objectives than to spread them thin over a broad front.

So I’m therefore more than a little surprised that the Greens in Victoria, fresh from winning the Federal seat of Melbourne, are reportedly going to demand the Transport portfolio if they control the balance of power at the next State election (here and here).

If true that strikes me as a curious demand. There are doubtless complex political issues around why the Greens would even want a Ministry, but in terms of the scope for improving the environment it seems to me that Energy would be a more logical choice than the Transport portfolio.

There are a number of reasons for this view.

First, as this report prepared for the 2008 Victorian Climatechange Summit shows, electricity is a far larger generator of CO2 emissions than the transport sector. In Victoria, 64% of all carbon emissions are generated by the residential, commercial and manufacturing sectors. Almost all of this carbon is emitted from coal-fired power stations.

In comparison, all passenger transport in the State – by both car and public transport – generates 14% of Victoria’s total carbon emissions. The transport of freight is responsible for another 5%. Comparable figures are also published in The Victorian Transport Plan.

So on the face of it there’re potentially much bigger gains for the environment from clean energy production than there are from clean transport. Read the rest of this entry »

High speed rail – are the Greens as shallow as the rest?

Bob Brown let us know yesterday with his call for a high speed rail link from Brisbane to Melbourne that the Greens are just as susceptible to populism as Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott.

In April he costed a Sydney-Canberra-Melbourne link at more than $40 billion. Yesterday he pointed to a survey commissioned by the Greens showing 74% of Australians support high speed rail. That’s not surprising because it is an attractive and beguiling idea – 94% of readers of The Age support it. After all, China and Europe can’t seem to build enough high speed rail and President Obama has grand plans for an extensive network in the US.

The idea of some form of very fast train service connecting Sydney-Canberra-Melbourne has been around at least since the 1980s. A number of feasibility studies have been undertaken, all of which concluded that it wouldn’t be feasible without massive Government assistance. So it’s worth asking a few questions:

  • why would we want to commit billions in Government subsidies to replace one form of public transport (planes) with another (trains)?
  • why would we want to replace the four airlines that currently compete vigorously on price and service on this route with a single monopoly rail operator? Read the rest of this entry »

The VFT and Green’s preferences

This blog has devoted a fair bit of attention to the proposed Very Fast Train between Sydney-Canberra-Melbourne (here, here and here), wondering what warrant there is to replace one form of public transport with another.

More attention in fact than any of the mainstream papers or denizens of the blogosphere have mustered, as far as I can tell.

So readers might be interested in this article by Gary Johns published in The Australian last week. It’s notable because he conjectures that the VFT might be the price the Government has to pay to secure Green preferences in this year’s Federal election.

Don’t think I agree with his analysis of the Greens mind (this is the former Special Minister of State in the Keating Government, isn’t it?) but I think his sources on the economics of the VFT are impeccable. Here nevertheless is a less-than-complimentary take on Johns. Read the rest of this entry »