2GB - Thursday 22 September, 2005

Alan Jones interviews Harold Scruby re the NRMA Petrol Summit

The headlines continue about petrol today. As I've been telling you, the issue will be on the table again, this time at a summit organised by the NRMA. That's the motoring side of the business not the mob involved in the discredited smash repair system, which we still have under the microscope, by the way - not on. And I'm trying to organise a meeting - well, a meeting has been set down between me and Michael Hawker on that issue.

Now today's summit's got three main aims - to foster community understanding about why prices have risen, to examine options for responding to the situation and to take a look at the regulation of the petrol industry in this country.

Now, I have to say I'm not too sure what the summit will achieve. I think we'd be better off if the Prime Minister rounded up the oil companies and told them to prove that they're not ripping us off. Get them down there to Canberra and just say listen prove that the prices are valid or else the Government will have price controls.

But someone else with concerns about this thing and the whole business about petrol today is the Pedestrian Council's Harold Scruby. He thinks the NRMA is on the wrong road. He says the price of petrol shouldn't be the focus, rather we should be concentrating on reducing our dependence on the motor vehicle. And appropriately today is International Car Free Day, not C-A-R-R, Car Free Day.

Harold Scruby's on the line. Good morning.
HAROLD SCRUBY: Good morning Alan.
So why is the NRMA you think on the wrong track?
HAROLD SCRUBY: I agree with them they've got to have a look at the petrol prices but the main issue that faces this nation is changing our behaviour with the motor vehicle.
ALAN JONES: Quite, and the cheaper you make the petrol why worry about driving the car? You just get in the car and do everything.
HAROLD SCRUBY: Absolutely.
ALAN JONES: I mean this signal is sending a signal isn't it, about we can't keep going on the way we are, this is a finite resource?
HAROLD SCRUBY Look, I saw your editorials for the last two days, I've never agreed with you more, it's just the wrong road. And the NRMA's got to be discussing today and taking the State Government to task about the infrastructure and the rail and the buses and the trams and the ferries and getting a proper public transport system together along with cycling and walking.
ALAN JONES: Yes. I spoke yesterday, talking about those editorials, about the American writer Robert Samuelson from The Washington Post, a very reputable outfit who said quote: "one way or another America should know the era of cheap petrol is over." And that is one of the central messages isn't it?
HAROLD SCRUBY When you go to America, Alan you see the biggest four-wheel drives you've ever seen in the world. And their whole economy is based around it. Just imagine if Hurricane Rita puts petrol prices up to … well, in Europe it's around about $2.25 at the moment and it will go to $1.60 here.
ALAN JONES: And you continue to sponsor the gas-guzzlers.
HAROLD SCRUBY Exactly. I mean we've gone the wrong way. Imagine how the rest of the world would be if China and India had the same car dependency as us.
ALAN JONES: Quite. What you're saying is there are a proportion, a significant proportion of car trips that aren't necessary.
We could start tomorrow by getting rid of transit lanes and making them full-time bus lanes. That would be a start, it would signal that you don't drive in a transit lane, that's for public transport.

I've got a letter from one of the senior police officers round here who said we just can't enforce the transit lane. Now, that would be something you could do without any cost. And that would be a real start to say that this Government is now committed to public transport.
ALAN JONES: Yes, and you make public transport more effective, safer, cleaner and more reliable, run it on alternatives to petrol and diesel and suddenly you're saying we are doing something positive about addressing a future shortage of finite resources.
HAROLD SCRUBY Precisely, precisely.
ALAN JONES: And then of course there's the alternatives. Now, already do you feel that the signals are being met by the public? We see that the purchasing of four-wheel drives is down, there are more people travelling at weekends on public transport. The public are capable of reading the signals, aren't they?
HAROLD SCRUBY Alan, in the Olympics we all knew how good public transport could be.
ALAN JONES: Absolutely.
HAROLD SCRUBY We lost the plot.
ALAN JONES: So what's the message today?
HAROLD SCRUBY The message today is about reducing car dependency, not about reducing petrol prices. Sure, have a look if we're being ripped off…
ALAN JONES: Which is true on anything whether it's baked beans or petrol we shouldn't be being ripped off, should we?
HAROLD SCRUBY No, that's fine but the major thrust has got to be about car dependency and we've got all the State Government people there and the Federal Government and they've got to be getting their acts together and looking at infrastructure, even borrowing for the infrastructure for the road ahead.
ALAN JONES: Undeniably correct. And of course at the end of the day if we start importing 46% of what we're filling our cars up with, and those are the projections, then it may well be that energy shortage is a greater threat to us than terrorism.
HAROLD SCRUBY The other thing, Alan, tomorrow they could change the stupid tariff on four-wheel drives which is  5% over the very small cars which come in at 10%, and at least correct the imbalance there.
ALAN JONES: And remove the import duties on hybrid cars.
ALAN JONES: Good to talk to you.
ALAN JONES: Harold Scruby, and I think we do need a little bit of thinking outside the square today and I hope that's what we get.