Browsing articles in "Opinion Pieces"
Apr 20, 2017

Record Store Day and the Magic of Music – Opinion – The Herald Sun

MUSIC is a part of us. Like literature, it speaks to us about who we are, where we have been and how we understand our journey through life. It’s one of our key forms of expression.

That is why independent record stores have a very special place in our culture, a place that will be celebrated on International Record Store Day on Saturday.

This event, in its 10th year, will be celebrated in 30 countries as a tribute to the importance of independent record stores in our culture and our economy.

In the words of the late, great Chuck Berry: “Music is an important part of our culture and record stores play a vital part in keeping the power of music alive.”

Down the generations, just about everyone has spent time in independent record stores, thumbing through record and CD racks, looking at band T-shirts or posters or buying tickets to live performances. We might have been after something specific. We might have been just killing time.

In 2017, digital technology allows us to buy or stream music without leaving our lounge chairs. We can go online and immediately download or stream the latest song by our favourite artist.

But it’s just one song. You don’t hear it on the album with other songs that were carefully chosen and placed in a specific order by the artist. You don’t get to feel the CD or record in your hands, read the liner notes or look at the pictures and artwork.

And because you don’t have those experiences, you can’t discuss them with your friends.

Australian band Grinderman, a side project of the great Nick Cave, put this concept somewhat more colourfully in a statement released for a previous Record Store Day.

“Do yourself a tremendous favour and go to a record store today. The relatively mild exertion of getting off your fat, computer-shackled ass and venturing out to find the object of your desire, the thrill of moving through actual space and time, through row upon row of records and the tactile ecstasy of fondling the freshly discovered treasure — all this will augment and enrich the mental associations the music invokes in you for the rest of your life.”

Record stores also enrich social links. Who hasn’t seen groups of young people milling around CD racks, exploring their growing independence while schooling themselves on our cultural history, as illustrated by our music?

Back in 1970s two young men were browsing in a record store in the US state of Georgia and stopped to have a chat about common interests. Michael Stipe and budding guitarist Peter Buck went on to form one of the most influential American bands of our times — REM.

And Nick Hornby’s awesome novel, High Fidelity, perfectly outlined the record store culture. Later turned into a movie starring John Cusack, the book told the story of Rob Gordon, whose life and relationships are centred on his record store and compiling endless lists of his top five records in any particular category.

Australian independent record stores also play a critical role in local communities. The musical development of just about all professional musicians in this country would have been very much influenced by their patronage of independent stores.

Independent music stores are often the only places you can buy recordings from local bands who are just embarking on their careers. If you go to a department store or one of the big music chains, you won’t find that debut recording of the new band that plays in the pub around the corner from your house.

Record stores are important. It’s not just nostalgia or the revival in the popularity of vinyl records, welcome as that is.

It’s also about jobs, small businesses and the continuing expression of our culture through music.

In Australia on Saturday, more than 180 independent record stores will mark the event with live music, DJ performances and other in-store activities as well as fundraising for various charities.

Across the globe, the international music industry will celebrate the occasion with the release of many new musical recordings, not just from new artists, but also from established names.

For example, previously unreleased recordings of songs from one of my favourite bands, The Smiths — The Boy With the Thorn in his Side and Rubber Ring — will be released on a limited edition, 5000-copy run.

There will also be new recordings by the late David Bowie, Lou Reed, Pink Floyd and Prince.

As the enigmatic US singer Tom Waits says of music stores:

Folks who work here are professors. Don’t replace all the knowers with guessors.

“Keep’em open. They’re the ears of the town.”
This piece was first published in The Herald Sun on Thursday, 20 April, 2017

Apr 18, 2017

Rail critical to economic revival – Track and Signal Magazine

Construction of railway lines has long been a catalyst for economic development.

From the opening of the trans-continental railway a century ago to the construction of mass-transit railway systems in our capital cities, railway lines have been critical to our economic development.

They still are.

That is why it is disappointing that in recent years rail investment has fallen when we should have been boosting our economic capacity in response to the decline in mining investment.

With productivity in Australian cities under assault from traffic congestion we need to invest in public transport. And as we seek to lift the job-creating capacity of industries outside of mining, we must invest in the freight rail required to goods to market.

This is why businesspeople and economists, including Reserve Bank Chairman Philip Lowe and his predecessor Glenn Stevens, have been calling for more infrastructure investment.

However, in the Coalition’s first two years in office, total public sector infrastructure investment fell by 20 per cent.

Australian Bureau of Statistics figures released in January show the value of work conducted for the public sector has been lower in each of the 12 quarters presided over by the Coalition Government than in any of the 21 quarters under the Labor Government after our first Budget in 2008.

We must do better at a time of low interest rates and economic transition.

Investing in the right infrastructure projects now will create jobs and economic activity in the short term while yielding long-term productivity gains that will drive future prosperity.

We should start in our cities by attacking traffic congestion, which is a hand brake on productivity growth.

Infrastructure Australia’s advice is clear – without action now, traffic congestion will cost the nation $53 billion a year by 2031.

We need to act.

When the Federal Government took office, it cancelled billions of dollars’ worth of investment and transferred the funding to questionable toll road projects like Melbourne’s collapsed East-West Link and the Perth Freight Link.

Having failed to commence a single new public transport project, it is time the Coalition changed direction.

It should release funding now for the Melbourne Metro and Brisbane’s Cross River Rail project, both of which were approved by Infrastructure Australia before it even took office.

After years of Commonwealth stalling, the Andrews Labor Government has been forced to go it alone on the Melbourne Metro, leaving Victorians to confront the fact that they receive less than 8 per cent of the Commonwealth infrastructure budget despite accounting for a quarter of the national population.

In Queensland, the Government is refusing to fund the Cross River Rail project, which would provide a second rail crossing of the Brisbane River in the city’s CBD.

With the existing Merivale Bridge approaching full capacity, failure to act now will hold back economic growth in the nation’s third biggest city.

The Government should also get behind the proposed Perth METRONET and the expansion of the Adelaide light rail network through AdeLINK.

It must also begin serious planning to connect Sydney’s Badgerys Creek Airport to the Sydney’s passenger rail network from the day it opens.

Its current plan of a passenger rail link some time many years from now will limit the job-creating potential of the new airport and reduce the funds that might be raised toward its cost through value capture.

In the freight sphere, it’s time to get cracking on the Inland Rail Project between Brisbane and Melbourne.

Travelling through the agricultural heartland of the Australia’s east, Inland Rail would lift the export capacity of tens of thousands of businesses.

That’s why the former Labor Government invested $600 million on improving parts of the existing rail network that would form a part of Inland Rail and also allocated a further $300 million for ongoing work.

Since then, not a further sleeper has been laid, despite promises for action in both the 2013 and 2016 election campaigns.

To further boost export capacity, the Government should adopt Labor’s proposal to complete the duplication the Port Botany Freight Line and expedite the Maldon-Dombarton line to link the Illawarra region with south-western Sydney.

It should also get serious about advancing High Speed Rail between Brisbane and Melbourne via Sydney and Canberra.

In 2013 the former Labor Government allocated more than $50 million to establish a High Speed Rail authority to advance planning and begin to secure the corridor.

The incoming Coalition Government scrapped that funding and, nearly four years later, has yet to outline an alternative approach.

This is despite strong support private sector for High Speed Rail and the recently tabled parliamentary committee report endorsing the need to establish an authority to secure the corridor.

High Speed Rail would be an economic game changer for all communities along its path, including the Gold Coast, Casino, Grafton, Coffs Harbour, Port Macquarie, Taree, Newcastle, the Central Coast, Wagga Wagga, the Southern Highlands, Albury-Wodonga and Shepparton.

Infrastructure development in Australia has been allowed to lag behind demand because of a lack of vision.

If we really want to set up long-term national prosperity and create jobs for future generations, it’s time to start building.

This piece was published in the April-June 2017 edition of Track and Signal Magazine.

Apr 17, 2017

Turnbull Government must change tack on infrastructure – Opinion – The Australian

If you asked businesspeople to nominate Australia’s biggest economic challenge, you might guess they would name tax rates or the budget deficit.

But you’d be wrong. According to an Australian Institute of Company Directors’ survey of 833 directors last July, the problem that most worries businesspeople is Australia’s low level of infrastructure investment.

Eight-five per cent of the company directors said they believed current levels of infrastructure investment, particularly in regional areas, were too low. The issue topped the list of concerns ahead of the budget deficit, the ageing of our population, education and tax reform.

But it’s not just the business sector. The Reserve Bank has made repeated calls for additional investment in railways and roads to generate economic activity and jobs, and take pressure off the housing affordability crisis.

With the 2017-18 budget looming, it’s time we started listening to the experts.

Investing in the right infrastructure projects has two important economic benefits. In the short term, construction supports economic activity and jobs. But over the medium to long term, building the right projects unlocks productivity gains that fuel further job creation and greater prosperity.

Take freight in Sydney. The former Labor government established and funded the Moorebank Intermodal Company and appointed Kerry Schott as chairwoman to drive the project, which has now begun construction.

This is a sound project, allowing for the transfer of freight from road to rail. It will reduce traffic congestion by eliminating 1.2 million truck trips a year through the city, providing a link to the port and the north-south rail corridor.

But if the government funded the Australian Rail Track Corporation to have a separate loop line near Moorebank and to complete the duplication between Mascot and Port Botany, it would be far more productive. It makes no sense that a train can be held up for the “last mile” into the port if another train is exiting along the same track. These simple upgrades would cost $200 million and repay the investment many times over. It’s a no-brainer.

Good infrastructure projects equal jobs — now and in the future. That’s why we need to invest now. We should also invest in urban public transport to reduce traffic congestion that the experts warn is a handbrake on productivity growth.

But we must also invest in regional infrastructure — better freight rail, better roads and a fibre-based broadband system powerful enough to allow regional businesses to overcome the tyranny of distance.

Now is the time to progress high-speed rail by creating an authority to co-ordinate across jurisdictions, preserve the corridors and engage with consortiums that have a proven record of construction and operation of such a nation-building project.

Far from shaping the future, the Coalition has reduced infrastructure investment. There is no $50 billion program, as the government claims. The Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development, which is actually rolling out the program, values it at $34bn over the government’s first five years in office with another $8bn set aside for some unspecified period in the future.

Australian Bureau of Statistics figures show total public sector infrastructure investment fell by 20 per cent in the Coalition’s first two years in office.

More recent ABS figures show that in the 12 quarters in which the Coalition has been in office, total quarterly public sector infrastructure investment has been lower than it was in every single quarter under the previous Labor government.

While the government frequently re-announces ongoing projects devised and funded under the former Labor government, it has failed to achieve progress on any new transformative projects.

It is yet to lay a single sleeper on the Inland Rail project. This freight rail link between Brisbane and Melbourne would allow producers to get their goods to port more quickly. During the 2013 election campaign the Coalition promised it would commence construction by 2016.

Part of the problem is the government’s refusal to take expert advice.

When it came to office, it funded road projects without business cases by transferring funds from public transport projects that had been approved by Infrastructure Australia, such as Melbourne Metro and Cross River Rail.

Meanwhile, the government’s Northern Australia Infrastructure Fund, created two years ago, has not funded a single project and the government is now proposing to create an infrastructure financing unit within the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet.

None of this is needed. Infrastructure Australia already exists to assess projects and advise on funding models. The government must use next month’s budget to change direction on infrastructure investment.

As the respected industry group Infrastructure Partnerships Australia has pointed out, there is no shortage of private capital available for investment in infrastructure projects, provided they stack up.

And as the Reserve Bank has pointed out, low interest rates mean it’s a good time for governments to borrow for new infrastructure projects, provided they are properly assessed and will boost productivity.

It’s time to get on with it.

This piece was first published in The Australian on Monday, 17 April 2017: http://bit.ly/2ogRiOE

Mar 20, 2017

Why Anthony Albanese wants politicians to take craft beer seriously

Poet Henry Lawson once wrote: “Beer makes you feel the way you ought to feel without beer”.

Many Australians would agree, particularly at the end of a hot summer’s day.

But in 2017 there’s a serious economic side to beer that needs genuine attention from Australian governments – the significant potential for jobs growth in the craft beer industry.

Australia’s annual consumption of beer has been declining in recent years.

But despite this, craft brewing is growing strongly and has taken nearly 10 per cent of the national market.

The industry is worth about $400 million a year and, according to Austrade, there are about 200 small breweries around the nation.

The research shows that drinkers in their 20s and 30s in particular are attracted to boutique brews for their variety in taste as well as the fact that they are produced locally, in their own communities.

Craft beer looms as an economic opportunity that we cannot afford to ignore.

If we get the policy settings right, this industry could deliver thousands of new jobs. And like many other small businesses, they tend to employ locals.

However, based on the feedback I received from brewers in Sydney’s inner west, current policy settings need some work.

They were created at a time when big international brewers dominated the industry and they work against the expansion of craft brewing.

For example, the rate of federal excise charged for a keg containing 50 litres of beer is less than the rate charged for smaller kegs.

This works in favour of big brewers and against small brewers.

Excise accounts for about 46 per cent of a small brewer’s costs – almost half of the costs to actually produce the beer.

This makes no sense. It must be reviewed.

Craft brewers also warn they are being strangled by paperwork that consumes about a day out of each week – time they could better spend on marketing and product development.

Their third problem is the difficulty they face obtaining town planning approvals to establish small bars on site at their breweries, in the same way that many wineries offer wine-tasting facilities on site.

While such applications need to be balanced against the rights of nearby residents, the industry points out that, just like wine-tasting, beer-tasting has no heritage of promoting anti-social behaviour.

Beer enthusiasts are in it for the taste, not the volume.

Local government regulation in this area is somewhat inflexible. It needs to be updated to facilitate economic development in communities that are crying out for job creation.

There is also huge potential in craft beer tourism – whereby operators set up walking tours where enthusiasts visit several breweries to sample different types of beer.

Craft beer tours are already available in the inner west as well as in Adelaide and Melbourne and other parts of the country.

But I’d like to see more.

Sydney’s inner west is just one area with thriving small breweries providing jobs for locals, supplying pubs and restaurants and attracting tourists.

Regional centres around Australia are developing local brewing centres as well as the capital cities.

So it is time for governments to work with the industry to set this already promising industry on the path to greater prosperity.

In particular, we should be working with beer producers to lift exports, particularly to Asia.

In China alone, for example, the market for premium beer is expected to be worth $35 billion by 2020. Chinese purchases of Australian wine have skyrocketed in recent years. We should add beer to the menu.

Because beer is perishable, Australia’s proximity to such massive markets offers us a real advantage over potential rivals.

The need for continued economic growth to drive job creation demands that Australia grasp these opportunities.

Anthony Albanese is the Member for Grayndler and Shadow Minister for Tourism. Inner west brewery Willie the Boatman named a beer after him.

This piece was first published in The Sydney Morning Herald  on Monday, 20 March 20, 2017
http://bit.ly/2nTe7HX

Mar 5, 2017

Opinion Piece- Going to the footy is good for the economy

As an eight-year-old watching the 1971 Rugby League Grand Final at the Sydney Cricket Ground, I could never have imagined the important role that football would come to play in the Australian economy in the 21st century.

While the mighty South Sydney Rabbitohs took home the premiership that year, the entire Australian economy is the beneficiary of the stunning rise in sport-related tourism in this country.

Each weekend thousands of Australians travel to watch their favourite sporting teams compete interstate. As they gather like tribes on enemy territory to enjoy their teams’ away games, they flood local economies with money for accommodation, food and associated tourism activities.

This economic activity creates jobs. That’s why we need more of it.

The rise in sporting tourism is the result of a happy confluence of events over the past three or four decades. The first is the rise of national sporting competitions across many major codes, including rugby league, Australian rules, rugby union, soccer, cricket, basketball and netball. The second is the steady decline in the cost of air travel thanks to competition created by the rise of budget airlines, which have brought air travel within reach of average Australian families.

In 1988 I saved for months to raise $1900 to fly return to London. Nearly 30 years later, you won’t pay much more than that, and you can fly between Australian capital cities for less than $100.

For governments and for communities that are home to major sporting teams, this presents an economic opportunity. We need to understand that sporting facilities have become important components of economic infrastructure and support communities that aspire to develop world-class stadiums.

The trend is well underway in our big capital cities. Melbourne’s claim to be the sporting capital of Australia is hard to resist when you consider the quality of its sporting stadiums. They are central, comfortable and easily accessible by public transport or on foot from CBD hotels.

Likewise, Brisbane’s Suncorp Stadium is perhaps the best rugby league facility in the world. Hotels, pubs and restaurants in its vicinity thrive because of its existence.

Next year Perth will open what it is already promoting as the nation’s best multi-purpose stadium and thousands of new hotel rooms are under construction right now to cater for the anticipated resulting tourism demand.

Adelaide businesses have been beneficiaries of the redevelopment of the Adelaide Oval, a magnificent facility that has included the roof climb as a tourism experience.

Likewise, the Sydney Cricket Ground has been renovated to improve the amenity while respecting the historical character of the ground.

Now it is time to for governments to think harder about the potential for sporting tourism in regional Australia.

In Townsville, for example, federal, state and local government are working together with the private sector to develop a new home for the North Queensland Cowboys. If we get that development right, the new stadium will not just create short-term jobs in the construction industry, but will also attract thousands of rugby league fans from around the nation to the completed stadium. While they will go to Townsville to see their teams battle the Cowboys, many will stay for a long weekend or even a week to sample the region’s tourism offerings, such as the Great Barrier Reef.

Last year I visited Geelong’s Kardinia Park, the home of the Geelong Cats, where officials are seeking government support for the continuing expansion of the ground, which earlier this month hosted international cricket for the first time.

And in Canberra, there is a growing push for construction of a bigger and more central stadium that could attract weekend visitors from Sydney and beyond for the city’s Raiders and Brumbies, as well as for visiting AFL teams.

There’s also great potential for soccer’s A League to drive regional growth. Centres including Gosford and Newcastle, and indeed Western Sydney, have their own teams backed by very loyal fans who are happy to follow them far and wide.

Of course, there is only so much public money available for contribution to developing sporting stadiums. But with the changing patterns of behaviour, we need to understand that the economics of sport and tourism are changing. They will keep changing too. The past year has seen an amazing explosion in women’s sport, including netball, cricket, AFL, soccer, rugby league and rugby union. There are so many opportunities to be grasped.

Now’s the time for governments, sporting codes and tourism organisations to work together to harness and maximise the potential benefits in the national interest.

This piece was first published in The Huffington Post  today: http://huff.to/2lJFAtR

Feb 24, 2017

Strategies in Place for Cheap Transport – Opinion – The Australian

The efficiency of Australia’s ports is critical to our efforts to broaden Australia’s sources of economic and jobs growth in the wake of the end of the investment stage of the mining boom.

At a time of economic transition, we must ensure that our railways, roads and ports have sufficient capacity to support non-mining sectors, particularly in regional areas.

Businesses crave logistical certainty.

That’s why 2017 is the right time to lift investment in transport infrastructure, a point made repeatedly by business leaders and economists including Reserve Bank chairman Philip Lowe and his predecessor, Glenn Stevens.

We could start by getting on with the long-proposed Inland Rail project linking Brisbane and Melbourne, which would significantly boost capacity through our nation’s eastern agricultural heartland.

The former Labor Government invested $600 million improving those parts of the existing lines that would form part of Inland Rail and left $300 million in the Budget for further work.

But since 2013, not a single sleeper has been laid.

That’s not good enough.

In NSW we need to increase the capacity of the Port Botany by completing the duplication of the Port Botany Rail Line as well as the Maldon-Dombarton rail link, which would connect Port Kembla and south-west Sydney.

But as important as it is to lift investment, that investment must meet long-term strategic imperatives. If the wrong projects are funded, it will divert funds from productivity boosting projects.

The Perth Freight Link was announced in its 2014 Budget, without the benefit of a detailed plan or any cost-benefit analysis into the project.

While the stated aim of this project is to take trucks to the Port of Fremantle, planning has been so chaotic that on the current design, the road would stop 3km short of the port.

That’s not good enough either.

But the broader strategic issue is that the Port of Fremantle will reach full capacity within just a few years.

Rather than building the Freight Link, we should focus on port capacity in the long term.

It makes more sense to focus on the development of the Outer Harbour proposal, along with investment in public transport in Perth to take cars off the roads and deliver productivity gains across the entire economy.

Strategic planning is critical.

Last November, in his annual address to Parliament on infrastructure, the Prime Minister announced a plan to develop a strategy to increase the productivity and efficiency of Australia’s freight supply chain.

This is unnecessary. The work has already been done.

Under the former Federal Labor Government, Infrastructure Australia and the National Transport Commission were tasked with consulting with industry, as well as the states and territories, to produce the National Ports Strategy and the National Land Freight Strategy.

Together with the creation of national regulators, historic shipping reforms and Labor’s Government’s record infrastructure budget, these strategies provided a strong foundation for rising productivity and faster economic growth.

In the globalised world of the 21st Century, the prices consumers pay and the health of businesses more depends than ever on having better, less congested roads, faster, more reliable railways and modern, efficient sea and air ports.

The National Ports Strategy, produced in January, 2011, promotes better long term planning on the waterfront, with operators required to publish 15 to 30 year master plans detailing expected growth at their ports and the facilities required to handle that growth.

It also streamlined environmental approval processes and established protocols for better planning around ports, with state and local planning authorities required to implement “buffer” strategies to prevent encroachment on the ports as well as road and rail corridors.

The National Land Freight Strategy set out principles for greater focus on an integrated transport system designed to move goods into and out of major ports and around our country quickly, reliably and at lowest cost.

These strategies provide a clear framework for moving forward.

Anthony Albanese is the opposition spokesman for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development.

This piece appeared in the Australian newspaper today.

ENDS

Feb 24, 2017

Make Airport the Way to Land a Job – Opinion – Daily Telegraph

Employment opportunities at the Western Sydney Airport hold so much potential that they demand genuine and intense community engagement.

Our task is to ensure that as many of the new jobs as possible are filled by people from Western Sydney and that those jobs include training components that deliver skills they can use for the rest of their working lives. It’s not just jobs building the airport; it is jobs building the road and rail infrastructure and then ongoing jobs created by the airport as a catalyst. These jobs should have a training component providing transferable skills for local young people and re-skilling opportunities for mature age workers.

We need to collaborate on a jobs and skills plan that provides a skilled workforce capable of contributing not just to the airport, but to future projects. This effort should engage the entire community including councils, business groups, schools and universities, TAFE, unions and others.

The airport project should result in hundreds of young people from Western Sydney being engaged on the construction site as apprentices.

Labor leader Bill Shorten pointed the way, committing a future Labor government to ensuring 10 per cent of the workforce on Commonwealth funded infrastructure projects should be apprentices. The Western Sydney Airport is the perfect opportunity.

Schools and TAFEs in Western Sydney must be equipped to prepare today’s young people for the apprenticeship opportunities that beckon.

Likewise, we must think now about what industries have potential to flourish once the airport begins operations and collaborate with TAFE colleges and the University of Western Sydney to encourage them to focus more heavily on those skills.

On Tuesday I spent time with western suburbs-based company Celestino and Penrith mayor John Thain and his team to discuss the 2500 hectare Sydney Science Park in Luddenham.

This is an exciting development which is encouraged by the airport that will provide 12,000 jobs for the region in innovation, education and research. It will include 3400 dwellings on site. A deal has already been done with Catholic education to provide for Australia’s first K-12 STEM school in the country, which will accommodate 2000 students.

The Sydney Science Park exemplifies the multitude of business opportunities associated with the airport.

Anthony Albanese is the opposition spokesman for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development.

This piece is an extract from a speech to yesterday’s Western Sydney Aerotropolis Summit. It was first published in today’s edition of The Daily Telegraph.

 

 

Feb 22, 2017

Infrastructure investment will boost regional jobs – Opinion – The Newcastle Herald

One issue over which there is bipartisan agreement in Australia is the need to find new drivers of jobs growth in the wake of the decline in mining investment.

Australia can no longer rely on mining to drive growth, so we must invest in innovation to build new industries, while also boosting growth in existing sectors like agriculture.

While that is a huge economic challenge, it also offers magnificent opportunities, particularly for regional centres like the Hunter – if we get the policy settings right. This means investing in the railways, roads and communications technology that businesses need to thrive.

Reserve Bank Governor Philip Lowe has urged the Federal Government to invest in transport infrastructure to reduce traffic congestion and drive economic growth. Mr Lowe is correct. Strategic investments now will boost the economy by generating jobs and economic activity in the short term, while also lifting productivity and capacity in the long-term.

However, in the Turnbull Government’s first two years in office, total public sector infrastructure investment fell by 20 per cent. Bureau of Statistics data released last month show the value of work conducted for the public sector has been lower in each of the 12 quarters presided over by the Coalition Government than in any of the 21 quarters under the Labor Government after its first budget in 2008. That’s lower in every single quarter. The cuts have slowed the progress of key road projects, including the Pacific Highway upgrade, important for increased productivity as well as road safety. A forward-looking government would take the hand-brake off that project and get behind other infrastructure projects.

It should start in the Hunter, where completing the Glendale Interchange would unlock huge economic potential of the Cardiff Industrial Estate and the Glendale shopping precinct. Independent economic analysis has found this project would create about 10,000 long-term jobs. This is why Hunter Councils describes the Glendale Interchange as the region’s most-significant infrastructure project.

We should also expedite progress on the proposed High Speed Rail link from Brisbane to Melbourne via Sydney and Canberra. High Speed Rail would turbo-charge travel between capital cities on the east coast, while offering new opportunities for regional centres along its path including Newcastle. It would provide real opportunities for companies to base their operations in Newcastle, as well as shortening commuting times to Sydney.

In 2013 the former Labor Government allocated $50 million to create a High Speed Rail authority to start securing the corridor for the line. The incoming Coalition Government scrapped that funding and, almost four years later, has done nothing to advance the project.

The regions also need fibre-to-the-premises broadband, not the copper-based fraudband at twice the price and offering half the internet speeds that were promised. High speed broadband should be an economic enabler for the regions. But in the past four years, Australian internet speeds have tumbled from 30th in the world to 60th.

When governments take a short-term, hands-off approach to nation building, they miss opportunities to build the foundations for waves of future economic growth.

But it takes political vision.

This piece was published in The Newcastle Herald today.
http://bit.ly/2kWPW9o

Feb 13, 2017

High speed rail will help Canberra and the bush – Opinion – Canberra Times

One issue over which there is bipartisan agreement in Australia is the need to find new drivers of jobs growth in the wake of the decline in mining investment.

Australia can no longer rely on mining to drive growth, so we must invest in innovation to build new industries, while also boosting growth in existing sectors like agriculture.

That’s a huge economic challenge. But if we get the policy settings right, it’s also a magnificent opportunity, particularly for rural and regional Australia.

Getting the policy settings right means investing in the railways, roads and communications technology that businesses need to thrive.

Fibre-based broadband is particularly important. In the 21st century, high-speed broadband can conquer the tyranny of distance, providing new opportunities for economic activity and job creation right across the nation – not just in the capital cities.

In the Turnbull Government’s first two years in office, total public sector infrastructure investment fell by 20 per cent. Indeed, Bureau of Statistics data released last month shows the value of work conducted for the public sector has been lower in each of the 12 quarters presided over by the Abbott-Turnbull governments than in any of the 21 quarters under the Rudd-Gillard governments after the first Labor budget in 2008. That’s lower in every single quarter.

The cuts have slowed the progress of important road projects around the country, including the upgrades of the Pacific and Bruce Highways, which are critical for increased productivity as well as road safety.

We also need to achieve progress on the inland rail link between Brisbane and Melbourne, which would expand freight capacity through our nation’s agricultural heartland. Building this project is a no-brainer, which was why the previous Labor Federal Government invested $600 million upgrading existing track that will form part of the line and allocated $300 million to get the project under way.

But despite the Government promising in the 2013 and 2016 election campaigns to fast-track inland rail, not a further sleeper has been laid.

Our nation should also invest in the proposed High Speed Rail link from Brisbane to Melbourne via Sydney and Canberra, which would turbo-charge economic development in regional Australia.

High Speed Rail would allow people to move between capitals in as little as three hours. It would slash the journey between Sydney and Canberra to 40 minutes, quicker than it takes to travel from Sydney’s suburbs to its CBD.

Delivering this project would provide new options for companies to base their operations in Canberra, reducing their costs and providing more jobs in the nation’s capital.

But that’s just Canberra. High Speed Rail would be an economic game-changer for all communities along its path, including the Gold Coast, Casino, Grafton, Coffs Harbour, Port Macquarie, Taree, Newcastle, the Central Coast, Wagga Wagga, the Southern Highlands, Albury-Wodonga and Shepparton.

It was this potential that was behind the former Labor Government’s 2013 decision to allocate $50 million to a high-speed rail authority to advance planning and begin to secure the corridor. The incoming Coalition Government scrapped that funding and, nearly four years later, has yet to outline an alternative approach, despite strong support for high-speed rail on its backbench and in the business community.

The regions also need fibre-to-the-premises broadband, not the copper-based “fraudband” at twice the price and offering half the internet speeds that were promised.

We should be using everything technology has to offer to boost growth in rural and regional Australia. In the past four years, Australian internet speeds have tumbled from 30th in the world to 60th. Second-rate broadband is not good enough, particularly for regional Australia.

When governments focus on productivity and capacity building, they can make a real difference to regional economies. For evidence, look no further than Canberra’s Majura Parkway, which was funded in 2011 and opened in April last year. This project has boosted the ACT’s productivity by diverting thousands of trucks around the Canberra CBD, ending the situation where they contributed to traffic congestion by travelling through the centre of town.

Such productivity gains are available all over regional Australia.

When governments take a short-term, hands-off approach to nation building, they miss the opportunity to build the foundations for waves of economic future growth. As John F. Kennedy said: “Things don’t happen, they are made to happen.”

Anthony Albanese is the Shadow Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development.

This opinion piece was published in today’s edition of The Canberra Times.
http://bit.ly/2lEcEEh

Feb 8, 2017

We must get up to speed on road safety – Opinion – The Huffington Post Australia

We all know the uncomfortable feeling.

You are driving along a highway at the speed limit.

Suddenly, a semi-trailer appears out of nowhere and begins tail-gating your vehicle. It seems the driver won’t be satisfied until you pull over and let him pass.

There’s a likely explanation for this risky behaviour — the imposition on the driver by his employer of an unrealistic deadline for the delivery of the load. That’s why he’s speeding.

In Australia in 2017, we should not tolerate a situation where unchecked market forces compromise public safety.

This is why it is almost incomprehensible that the Turnbull Government abolished the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal  last year with no alternative road safety strategy in place.

The former Labor Government created the RSRT in 2012 to set minimum pay rates that would allow truck drivers to make a fair living while removing incentives for them to adopt unsafe practices such as speeding or, even worse, abusing drugs to stay awake.

The creation of the tribunal was a road safety measure.

It was a position based on extensive consultation with trucking companies, the Transport Workers Union and safety experts who agreed to strip incentives for dangerous behaviour out of the system in the public interest.

That is why it is so disappointing that the Government scrapped the tribunal after some owner drivers rebelled against a finding on pay rates which they believed was unreasonable.

Rather than looking rationally at their concerns, the Prime Minister whipped up the controversy in the lead-up to the federal election as part of his broader war on trade unions.

It is always a mistake to allow politics to compromise decisions relating to road safety, particularly when our road toll is rising after years of decline.

The Bureau of Transport, Infrastructure and Regional Economics has reported there were 1300 fatalities on Australian roads last year – 8 percent more than in 2015. Fatalities in December of last year were up 23 percent on December, 2015. Trucks account for only 2 percent of registered vehicles in Australia. Yet they are involved in 16 percent of all traffic accidents.

These disturbing facts require a serious policy response. But since the RSRT was abolished, there is now no national safety plan for heavy vehicles.

That’s not good enough.

The Government has a responsibility to respond seriously to the fact that the road toll is once again headed in the wrong direction.

A serious policy response should involve greater investment on roads to ensure they are in good condition.

What we have seen is reduced infrastructure investment that has seen a slow-down in the progress of important upgrades to the Bruce and Pacific Highways.

A serious approach would also involve addressing the structural characteristics of the transport system that encourage unsafe driving.

This isn’t about unions. It happens that the TWU, which represents truck drivers, has shown leadership in this issue. But its advocacy is about road safety, not just for its members, but for all Australians.

Late last year, Transport Minister Darren Chester, concerned about the upward trajectory of the road toll, announced an inquiry to find out what was going wrong. Research is always welcome, but the link between lax regulation and road death is well and truly established.

It’s time to re-examine the structural problem with a transport system that puts the imperative to minimise costs ahead of the far more serious issue of public safety on our roads.

It was graphically highlighted in 2000 when a parliamentary committee produced a unanimous report highlighting the problem. Page one of that bipartisan report said: “Risks are compounded by the commercial imperative on transport operators to maximise the return on their investment, the demands of customers and by the pressure this places on transport workers to undertake longer hours with fewer rest breaks.”

Indeed, NSW Nationals Senator John Williams, a former truck driver, told the Senate on March 20, 2012, that he understood why Labor had introduced the RSRT. Senator Williams said: “We are talking about safe rates. We are talking about what truckies are paid, especially the contractors when they unload at Coles and Woolworths. I do not have a problem with what you are proposing.”

It is clear that the acceptance of the need for a tribunal by Senator Williams and his colleagues was put on ice last year for political convenience.

But the time for politics is over.

It’s time to re-examine the structural problem with a transport system that puts the imperative to minimise costs ahead of the far more serious issue of public safety on our roads.

Safe rates mean safer roads for all.

This Opinion piece was published today by The Huffington Post
http://huff.to/2kjUreV

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Contact Anthony

(02) 9564 3588 Electorate Office

Email: A.Albanese.MP@aph.gov.au

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