Crikey reporter Jane Nethercote writes:

John Howard’s $2,000 bonus for
LPG conversion is a relatively cheap way of appeasing Australians being
hit at the pump. It’s also a political stunt that says a lot about the
Australian way of life – and the Coalition’s endorsement of the status
quo.

Cars are big polluters. Six sickly substances can pollute the air, especially in cities, causing us harm, says Environment Australia: carbon monoxide; nitrogen dioxide; fine particles; ozone; sulfur dioxide and lead. Cars and other vehicles tick most of the air pollutant boxes.

That’s why the Department of Environment and Heritage suggests
that kids should think about alternatives – “before you set out on a
trip, think about whether you could get there by scooting, cycling or
walking.” But while they’re being taught one thing, they’re learning
another – the government rewards those who drive and ignores those who
are seeking out alternatives. Not only that, but the government also rewards
those who drive the biggest fuel guzzlers, as Christian Kerr noted on
Tuesday (item 9).

In regional areas where public transport
isn’t a viable option, it makes sense for the government to support
beleaguered drivers. In the big cities where there’s good access to
public transport, less so. And where there isn’t good access to public
transport, addressing this issue should be the priority, not finding
ways to drive around it.

Last year, the bipartisan Standing Committee on Environment and Heritage handed down its Sustainable Cities report,
which noted that “sustainable transport logistics” are vital to
“reversing the problems of automobile dependence”. And that means
ensuring that “alternative means of
transport, such as train, tram, pedestrian or cycling, are well
serviced”, especially on city fringes.

There
has “still been no response from the Government” to this report, says
Denise Boyd, campaigns director at the Australian Conservation
Foundation. And yet, if the government wants to lessen the impact of
rising oil prices, “sponsoring LPG conversions and making ethanol
blends more widely available at service stations is not going to be
enough”.

Meanwhile, it’s worth noting that the government is only promoting LPG conversion for its cost saving benefits, not because
it’s a more environmentally friendly alternative to petrol.

On
the petrol issue, the government’s environmental omissions speak
volumes. Then again, hippies aren’t voting for them anyway. And it’s
all about politics, isn’t it?

Peter Fray

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