Motion of Thanks for the Policy Address (on Environmental Protection & Livelihood)

Regarding Environment

MR CHAN KIN-POR (in Cantonese): President, a number of environmental initiatives have been proposed in the policy address this year. Together with the Government’s ongoing efforts, such as the consultation on air quality objectives, there are actually plenty of environmental protection policies awaiting public discussion. However, it is indeed a shame that members of the public seem to have focused their discussion only on the issue surrounding compact fluorescent lamps without showing any keen interest in these initiatives which are closely related to their daily life.

The policy address states that the Government will promote a low carbon economy based on low energy consumption and low pollution, and the relevant proposals include raising the proportion of using natural gas for local electricity generation from the current 28% to 50%. Actually, this proposal is very helpful to ameliorating air pollution, but various problems will arise in implementation.

As pointed out in the consultation paper on the review of air quality objectives published earlier, increasing the proportion of electricity generated by natural gas will ultimately lead to an increase in electricity tariff by 20%, which will practically increase the public’s burden.

I would like to point out that while electricity generation is the major source of pollutant emissions in Hong Kong, using natural gas for electricity generation will greatly reduce the emissions of sulphur dioxide and respirable suspended particulates (RSP), which can greatly facilitate the ameliorating of air pollution and thus warrants additional resource input.

However, I think the Government should not fully transfer the costs to the public because the improvement of air quality will bring many invisible benefits that may not be readily quantified, such as better health of the public, a better image of Hong Kong and an enhanced appeal for foreign investment in Hong Kong. In the policy address, the Chief Executive pointed out that the Environment Bureau had begun to explore the relevant issues with the two power companies. So it seems that certain progress has been made, and I hope there will soon be some good news.

To improve roadside air quality, the Government launched a $3.2 billion grant scheme in 2007 to encourage vehicle owners to replace their pre-Euro and Euro I diesel commercial vehicles with new vehicles which are more environmentally-friendly. The policy agenda has pointed out that as at this September, only a grant payment of about $542 million was made. In other words, over $2 billion is still available under the scheme. Now, the Government has decided that the scheme should expire in March next year as planned. However, we should take into consideration the fact that diesel vehicles are actually another major source of pollutant emissions. I think the Government should make use of the remaining amount to introduce new vehicle enhancement and replacement schemes or even consider using these resources to help the bus companies replace their bus fleets with more environmentally-friendly buses.

Besides, there are actually various reasons why vehicle owners are unwilling to replace their vehicles, such as the concern about their prospects. Therefore, besides providing grants for vehicle replacement, the new enhancement scheme should also introduce a used vehicle buy-back programme for owners who do not intend to replace their vehicles. Subsequently, these used vehicles may be scrapped to pre-empt their resale, which may otherwise cause further pollution to the environment.

Besides, the policy agenda has mentioned that the Government is drafting a bill on banning idling vehicles with running engines, which is expected to be ready for introduction into the Legislative Council for scrutiny within this Legislative Session. Banning idling vehicles with running engines is basically a good idea and is well received by the public. However, members of the transport industry, in particular, professional drivers, have different views on and grave dissatisfaction about it. I hope the Government will resolve the relevant problems through negotiation with the industry before introducing this bill to avoid aggravating the conflict.

The policy address has also proposed promoting the use of electric vehicles and working with the two power companies to launch an electric vehicle leasing scheme by the end of next year to give the public some hand-on experience about the benefits of driving electric vehicles. I strongly support this proposal and I believe this is the major trend. Recently, some electric vehicles developed locally have been launched on the market, and they will soon be the focus of public attention. I believe, when the technology of electric vehicles becomes mature, more people will be attracted to switching to them.

The policy address has also proposed inviting schools to sign a green lunch charter as an undertaking to avoid the use of disposable containers and cutlery and reduce food waste. The Government will provide assistance to schools in switching over to on-site meal portioning. With the adoption of on-site meal portioning, no disposable containers and cutlery are used. The food portions can also be flexibly adjusted according to the need of individual students. This scheme will be able to instill the concept of environmental protection in the younger generation through first-person experience and enable them to foster green habits at an early stage. Actually, as long as we are prepared to do more, there are numerous habits and practices in our daily life through which we can contribute towards environmental protection. Better results will definitely be achieved if the Government can take the lead in promoting these habits and practices.

I so submit.

Regarding Livelihood

MR CHAN KIN-POR (in Cantonese): Deputy President, the policy agenda of the policy address this year actually contains quite a number of measures on Investing for a Caring Society. There are altogether 27 new measures and 46 measures for continuous implementation.

There are indeed quite a lot of government initiatives in this area, however, if we take a closer look, we will find that many proposals are minor items or one-off measures that will not solve the core problems thoroughly and suit the remedy to the case, for example, to resolve the disparity between the rich and the poor, the Government still needs more forward-looking measures. I am going to discuss the individual items one by one:

The first item is the Cross-district Transport Allowance. I understand that a review will be conducted by the Government as scheduled and it is expected to be completed by the end of this year. Nevertheless, since the implementation of the scheme in 2007, as its objective is to encourage people living in four designated remote districts lacking local employment opportunities to look for job openings proactively, it has not been extended to various districts in the territory.

Nevertheless, a large number of grassroots living in different districts are actually facing the same problem of cross-district work and high travelling expenses, which undermine their desire to seek employment. Although they are facing the same problems as the grassroots living in the four designated districts, they are not given any allowances since they are not living there. This precisely reflects that the policy itself is unfair.

For instance, though a grass-roots resident of Siu Sai Wan has a choice between two jobs in Tung Chung and Yuen Long paying $5,000 to $6,000, he will have not much left if the travelling expenses and time are counted and deducted. The high travelling expenses held him back because he is not living in the four designated districts, not eligible for the allowance, and as a result, he turned down the job offers.

Therefore, I think that the scheme should be extended to all districts in Hong Kong, such that all those who meet the requirements can file applications. The Government may respond that the purpose of the measure is to encourage residents in the remote districts to work in the urban areas, if the scheme is extended to all districts in the territory, the original intention will be defeated.

We all know that, in actual implementation, the results of policies will be somewhat different from those anticipated, that is why we need to conduct policy reviews from time to time. On this point, I would like to convey the message that, though the Government’s policy has a good original intention, without comprehensive consideration and thorough planning, problems are eventually found in the course of implementation and effectiveness is lacking for which the Government is subjected to criticisms.

The Government can definitely alleviate poverty more effectively but, as I have noticed, great lengths in the policy address this year are given to fighting drug abuse by juveniles, and I support the measures concerned. Another point mentioned in the policy address is the importance of family core values and family education. It has especially mentioned studying and addressing problems from the family perspective, creating a family-friendly environment and fostering work-life balance.

I personally agree very much with this, so, apart from supporting setting a minimum wage (as a minimum wage can enable employees to live with dignity), I eagerly hope that the Government would take the lead to study the issue and even co-operate with enterprises in conducting joint studies on the introduction of more measures to improve the working environment in Hong Kong.

There is prosperous economic development in Hong Kong and the development of many industries has become mature, coupled with advanced medicine, the retirement age has constantly been lengthened, thus, the demand for senior positions exceeds supply and there are fewer and fewer opportunities for advancement for the youth, and advancement has become increasingly difficult. On the one hand, quite a number of working people (especially young people) find it taxing and feel hard pressed; and on the other hand, many young people who cannot find jobs become dejected, giving rise to various social problems eventually.

Under such working circumstances, wage earners do not even have time for rest or meals, how can conditions conducive to better family relationships be created, thereby promoting a balance between work and life?

I think that the Government should expeditiously address squarely the problem of increasing pressure of life on the wage earners in Hong Kong and the social problems so created.

I always think that the relationship between employers and employees should not be antagonistic and it should be mutually supportive, co-operative and harmonious. The Government can take the lead and even co-operate with international enterprises to examine how best the work pressure in Hong Kong can be relieved. For example, it can make reference to the practices of foreign countries and then introduce various forms of flexible working hours to enable employees to flexibly spend time with their parents, spouses and children, and pursue continuing education with a view to upgrading the quality of work performance.

Lastly, I would like to discuss the issue of universal retirement protection. We all understand that the Mandatory Provident Fund has merits and also plenty of deficiencies. Taking the example of the latest financial turmoil, many people who have chosen high risk MPF investment funds have suffered losses. Another deficiency is that, there are a large number of low-income people in Hong Kong, since they have low incomes, even if the employers’ contributions are also counted, the accrued benefits are still very limited and can definitely not meet their retirement needs.

For this reason, I think that conducting a study on universal retirement protection is a pressing task and the Government must make efforts in this connection. Actually, through introducing measures here and there or giving certain allowances, the Government cannot solve the problem at all. It is utterly essential for the Government to consider establishing a universal retirement protection system in Hong Kong so that all of us can rest assured and enjoy our later years. How can this be done? I believe it boils down mainly to the question of money, yet, the Government should not worry too much and it should not evade the issue because it is the consensus of everybody including this Council that the problems arising from an ageing population are serious.

Our society and its individual members must start saving money whilst young and capable. This scheme is an example. We must save money when there is a surplus and a large number of working people, and we cannot deceive ourselves as well as others. We must make suitable and comprehensive calculations and present the figures for discussion by the community. Then we can decide whether the scheme will be implemented or not, what methods will be adopted and how the money needed will be obtained. We had better engage in positive discussions than evade these issues.

I believe that in 10 to 20 years, with the further ageing of our population, more people may rely on the Government to support their living. It will be too late if the Government only starts conducting a study at that time. I hope the Government will really make up its mind to expeditiously conduct a study on universal retirement protection after its studies on the health care financing proposal.

Deputy President, I so submit.

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