Browsing articles in "Opinion Pieces"
Jul 20, 2017

The case for an Australian shipping industry – Opinion – Lloyd’s List Australia

Australia is an island continent “girt by sea” located in a relatively remote part of the globe.  Almost all of our imports and exports are transported in the hull of ships. Equally significantly, a tenth of global sea trade flows through our ports.

However, despite this obvious reliance on the maritime industry, Australia’s
own merchant fleet, as well as the skilled workforce it trains and employs, is fast disappearing.  Our task must be to prevent the demise of this proud industry.  It is about more than jobs and skills.  There are also sound national security and environmental reasons for doing so.

National Security

Firstly, there are clear synergies between our naval and merchant fleets.

Indeed, defence experts have long recognised the importance of maintaining a domestic maritime workforce.  It ensures that Australia has a pool of highly skilled labour that can be quickly mobilised during times of war or other national emergencies.

Furthermore, Australian seafarers undergo stringent background checks to ensure they pose no security threats.  Overseas seafarers whose backgrounds are a mystery to us do not undergo such close scrutiny.

The Environment

Secondly, Australian seafarers are familiar with our coastlines and have a vested interest in the protection of our world renowned environmental assets such as the Great Barrier Reef. The fact is all the major maritime accidents to have occurred in our waters in recent decades have involved foreign-flagged vessels crewed by foreign seafarers.

Labor’s Shipping Reforms

It was for these economic, national security and environmental reasons that the former Federal Labor Government was so determined to rebuild Australia’s shipping industry following years of neglect.  Our goal was simple: more Australian seafarers crewing more Australian flagged ships carrying more Australian goods around the Australian coastline.

After extensive consultations with all sections of the industry, we put in place far-reaching reforms designed to reduce the costs faced by Australian shippers and level the playing field with their international competitors.

For Australian shipping companies the package included a zero tax rate, more generous accelerated depreciation arrangements, rollover relief for selected capital assets, new tax incentives to employ Australian seafarers and an exemption from the Royalty Withholding Tax for ‘bareboat’ leased vessels.

To further strengthen the local industry, an International Shipping Register was created, allowing operators of Australian flagged vessels to employ mixed Australian and foreign crews on internationally agreed rates and conditions.

These measures were based on the extensive reform programs that had already been implemented by other maritime nations including the United Kingdom, Japan, China and Denmark.  For example, when the UK Government introduced a tonnage tax in 2000 its fleet almost doubled in size in just the next seven years.  So while others were employing policies to keep their industry afloat, ours was sinking
into oblivion.

Importantly, Labor’s changes did not preclude the use of foreign vessels.  They simply required firms needing to move freight between Australian ports to first seek out an Australian operator.  When none were available, foreign vessels could be used so long as they paid Australian-level wages on domestic sectors.

Our efforts to revitalise this country’s shipping industry didn’t stop there.

We also enacted the first major rewrite of the nation’s maritime laws in almost a century, made sure oil companies pay for any and all damage their ships may cause, and developed Australia’s first National Ports Strategy.  And we replaced a myriad of confusing, often conflicting state and territory based laws and regulations with just one national regulator administering one set of modern, nationwide laws.

However, for Labor’s suite of reforms to work, they needed time.

Unfortunately, even before they took effect the Coalition sought to undermine
them.  Their attacks were calculated to create uncertainty and doubt in the minds of those considering investing in the Australian industry as to the durability of the regulatory changes and the new tax incentives.

Coalition’s Shipping Legislation

Not satisfied with white-anting Labor’s reforms in opposition, once elected the Coalition moved quickly to scrap them altogether and dismantle what remained of the industry.

All of us want to reduce the cost of doing business in Australia – but not at any cost.

Particularly if that cost is the destruction of a strategically-significant industry and the loss of a highly-skilled workforce – and that’s precisely what the Coalition’s 2015 legislation would have done.

The legislation put ideology ahead of the national interest.

Contrary to the Coalition’s repeated claims that their proposed changes were designed to eliminate “red tape” and “strengthen” shipping in this country, they were in fact all about eliminating Australian jobs – and ultimately the entire
domestic industry.

And this motive was laid bare by the regulatory impact statement (RIS) that accompanied the legislation.  It confirmed that almost all of the savings expected to be produced by the legislation – 88 per cent – was to come from shipping operators sacking their Australian crews and replacing them with cheaper foreign crews.

No other major advanced nation has attempted to engage in such unilateral economic disarmament – and against that backdrop, the Senate was right to reject the Coalition’s legislation at the end of 2015.  In doing so, it was acting in the national interest.

Nearly 18 months later the Coalition is back at it, albeit this time with far less draconian and destructive proposals.  However, one thing remains unchanged: the measures outlined in the Discussion Paper released by Transport Minister Darren Chester back in March will do absolutely nothing to reverse the decline in the Australian shipping industry.

The bottom line is: there is a very real difference between the two sides of
politics when it comes to shipping.  Labor strongly believes Australia needs a viable, competitive and growing domestic industry; the Coalition doesn’t.

Nonetheless, in an effort to guarantee the survival of this vital industry I will continue to strive to find whatever common policy ground that may exist between Labor and the Coalition on this issue.

The Australian long term national interest demands nothing less.

 

This piece was first published on 22 June 2017 in Lloyd’s List Australia’s SPECIAL REPORT: Coastal Shipping.

 

 

 

Jul 20, 2017

Short-term thinking will derail Australia’s long-term plan for high speed rail – Opinion – The Huffington Post

There’s an old saying that if you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.

That’s an important warning for governments responsible for considering the long-term planning needs of our nation, particularly new railways lines.

Indeed, this concept of thinking ahead could not be more pertinent when it comes to the construction of a High Speed Rail line between Brisbane and Melbourne via Sydney and Canberra.

High Speed Rail would revolutionise interstate travel, allowing people to travel between capital cities in under three hours.

It would also turbo charge the economic development of the regional centres along its route, including the Gold Coast, Casino, Grafton, Coffs Harbour, Port Macquarie, Taree, Newcastle, the Central Coast, the Southern Highlands, Wagga Wagga, Albury-Wodonga and Shepparton.

It’s a big project, but one that has been shown to be viable, returning, for example, $2.50 of economic benefit for every dollar invested on the Sydney to Melbourne section.

However, each and every day, inaction by the Federal Government is threatening the future viability of this transformative, nation-building project.

By failing to plan, we are not only planning to fail, but also letting down our own children and grandchildren, who will have to pick up the tab later because of our inaction.

Earlier this month, the Government’s independent infrastructure adviser, Infrastructure Australia (IA), warned that the proposed High Speed Rail route is in danger of being consumed by urban sprawl.

IA warned that if we don’t start to protect the corridor now, its acquisition will be more expensive and far more difficult down the track.

In the worst case scenario, unrestricted development on the line today could mean that when the project is built, more tunnelling will be required at a cost of $100 million per kilometre in today’s dollar terms.

IA noted: “If we protect infrastructure corridors we will reduce project costs and especially minimise the need for underground tunnelling, where the cost to government and therefore taxpayers can be up to ten times higher than it would have been”.

The report said that if governments acted to protect the corridors for the seven major rail projects on its current Infrastructure Priority List, including the Outer Sydney Orbital, the Hunter Valley Freight Line and the Outer Melbourne Ring, they would save taxpayers as much as $11 billion.

The report called for a corridor acquisition framework for major projects.

This common sense report is timely.

In 2017, the Federal Government has dropped the ball when it comes to vision.

Unable to look any further than the next election, today’s leaders are ignoring planning issues critical to our nation’s economic prosperity now and in the future.

By failing to plan, we are not only planning to fail, but also letting down our own children and grandchildren, who will have to pick up the tab later because of our inaction.

So it is with High Speed Rail.

As Infrastructure Minister in the former Labor Government, I commissioned the feasibility study that determined High Speed Rail was viable in this country.

In response to that study, I appointed an independent expert committee including former Deputy Prime Minister Tim Fischer, Business Council of Australia chief executive Jennifer Westacott and the late Bryan Nye, of the Australasian Railways Association to recommend an implementation plan.

Their recommendation was identical to that of the recent Infrastructure Australia report — secure the corridor now.

The committee recommended the creation of a High Speed Rail Authority that would work on corridor acquisition and co-ordinate planning between the Queensland, New South Wales, Australian Capital Territory and Victorian governments as well as local government.

This was a common sense and non-political approach to identify a long-term goal in the national interest, and begin an orderly process of planning to make it a reality.

In the 2013 election campaign, Labor proposed to create a High Speed Rail Authority, with an initial budget of $52 million to begin acquiring the land.

Then Tony Abbott became Prime Minister. The most adversarial politician of our generation, Mr Abbott dumped Labor’s plans, withdrew the funding and walked away from the project, leaving the various state jurisdictions involved without federal leadership.

Four years later nothing has happened.

No land has been acquired.

There is no venue for co-operation between the various jurisdictions along the route.

My Private Member’s Bill to create a High Speed Rail Authority has been blocked from a vote in the House of Representatives.

Meanwhile, property owners and developers have been going about their legitimate business of developing the land on the fringes of Brisbane, Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne — daily increasing the cost to future taxpayers when a future government decides to deliver High Speed Rail.

This short-termism is a failure of leadership, an affront to common sense and a needless drain on the future public purse.

The Federal Government needs to address the national interest and start protecting land that will be needed in coming years to meet the nation’s infrastructure needs.
This piece was first published in The Huffington Post on Thursday, 20 July, 2017: http://bit.ly/2gLOry0 

 

Jul 20, 2017

Positive politics give us a reason to be cheerful – Opinion – Daily Telegraph

We certainly live in a ­period where politics as usual has been turned on its head. Time and again we have seen ­orthodoxy abandoned in favour of ­candidates and platforms of the right, left and centre.

But what these movements have in common is they have tapped into an increasing dissatisfaction with the outcomes of economic globalisation.

This is despite the substantial benefits we’ve seen accrue from globalisation, which has lifted hundreds of millions out of poverty. But the simple fact is that some have benefited from globalisation more than others. Unpredictable election outcomes and expressions of dissatisfaction with the prevailing order exemplified by Brexit have been described as politics in the age of disruption. This has led many ­active participants and commentators to be negative about the future. I think this assessment is wrong and self-­defeating. In our pursuit of change it can feel like every time we take one step forward, it’s followed by two steps back. In Australia, it is fair to say that recent years have seen an increase in negative politics on a superficial level.

We’ve had changes of prime minister, with two replaced in the first term after their election. The question is: will this instability become a permanent feature of the political landscape?

There is no doubt that the pace of the media is having an impact.

Complex issues cannot be addressed in 140 characters.

The immediacy of online news websites means that no one wants to miss a big event so detailed discussion of ideas is reduced to political power plays. It makes a mature discussion of challenges more difficult.

This can advantage the Opposition, but a plan to get into government does not equate to a plan to govern, as we saw with Tony Abbott.

The Australian people are desperate for an end to disruption. Both major parties clearly have a vested interest in renewing faith in mainstream politics. We need to ensure that as our nation’s wealth grows, the benefits are shared more equally. Those of us who are concerned that the age of disruption could lead to a downward spiral of respect for our institutions and capacity to deliver real solutions to challenges have a ­responsibility to engage positively to avert such a scenario. We must secure outcomes in the national interest. That includes real needs-based funding for education, investment in infrastructure and the digital economy, regional economic development and strong and decisive action on climate change.

We must continue to be the land of opportunity. If we deal with these challenges we can create a more positive political culture and indeed give people “reasons to be cheerful”.

This is an excerpt from the Earle Page Political Lecture delivered by Hon. Anthony Albanese MP at the University of New England this week.

 

This piece was first published in The Daily Telegraph  on Thursday, 20 July, 2017: http://bit.ly/2u9phN0

Jun 29, 2017

Project funding needed, not just fancy finance – Opinion – The Australian Financial Review

An old Chinese Proverb says that talk doesn’t cook rice.

In the same way, talk doesn’t build railway lines. Nor does it build roads, ports or other pieces of critical infrastructure.

Despite much talk about infrastructure in the lead-up to last month’s Federal Budget, the Government reduced investment by $1.6 billion this financial year alone.

Investment will fall off a cliff over the next four years, from the $9.2 billion originally promised this year to $4.2 billion in 2020-21.

In the end the infrastructure Budget was a bit like the last time Halley’s Comet visited our part of the solar system – all hype, but ultimately disappointing.

Peak infrastructure sector representative group Infrastructure Partnerships Australia issued a devastating critique of the Budget.

Responding to the Government’s absurd claim that it has increased infrastructure investment, the IPA said: “The Budget confirms the cut to real budgeted capital funding to its lowest level in more than a decade using a mix of underspend, re-profiling and narrative to cover this substantial drop in real capital expenditure.’’

This is a bad outcome for the economy at a time when we need to address our infrastructure deficit to underpin economic growth.

But even more concerning is the way in which the Government imagines that the private sector will make up for its cuts and inaction if acts as a broker to achieve “innovative’’ financing arrangements for major projects.

That is the reasoning behind the creation for the new Infrastructure Financing Unit (IFU).

Labor strongly supports engagement with the private sector on infrastructure projects.

But anyone who pretends that clever financing arrangements or old concepts like value capture will meet Australia’s infrastructure needs without significant Commonwealth investment is kidding themselves.

This approach will ensure that the infrastructure deficit becomes worse.

The IFU will sideline Infrastructure Australia, which already possesses the capacity and the legislative mandate to involve itself in financing. Part 2, Section 5, of the Infrastructure Australia Act 2008 explicitly states that Infrastructure Australia has the function of providing advice on “mechanisms for financing investment in infrastructure.’’

In its pre-budget submission, Infrastructure Partnerships Australia implored the Government not to create the agency.

“We cannot identify any currently proposed infrastructure projects which are commercially viable and not already attracting finance, the submission said.

“Therefore we cannot see how the IFU will increase the pace of project delivery.

“Commonwealth Government funding support is needed for infrastructure. Commonwealth financing is not.’’

The IPA represents big infrastructure investors. They ought to know what will give them the comfort to invest in public infrastructure projects.

Creation of the IFU also arrogantly assumes states governments have no financing expertise.

In fact, infrastructure is part of their core business.

The former Federal Labor Government worked with the Victorian and Queensland governments to seal innovative agreements to deliver the Melbourne Metro and Brisbane’s Cross River Rail project.

Value capture and availability payments were integral to these arrangements.

They were hammered out with the involvement of Infrastructure Australia but were unfortunately scrapped when the Coalition took office.

Similar co-operation produced Northconnex in Sydney, the Moorebank Intermodal Terminal, Legacy Way in Brisbane and the Gold Coast Light Rail project.

The IFU is a solution looking for a problem that does not exist.

A Shorten Labor Government will abolish the agency and reallocate its funding to Infrastructure Australia to enhance its ability to deliver its responsibilities of project assessment, preparation of a pipeline of projects and provision of financing advice.

The funding will also be used to re-establish the Major Cities Unit within Infrastructure Australia to drive Commonwealth policies to boost the productivity, sustainability and liveability of the nation’s cities.

The infrastructure sector does not need a new bureaucracy.

It needs a Federal Government prepared to invest in nation-building and work with states and the private sector in genuine partnership.

This piece was first published in The Australian Financial Review today http://bit.ly/2sT7gn3

Jun 23, 2017

Traffic congestion is a hand brake on economic growth – Opinion – The Brisbane Times

Imagine if each and every year, the Australian government discovered a hollow log containing $16.5 billion.

We could use that windfall to boost services or reduce government debt. Or we could return the money to the pockets of families and small businesses via tax cuts.

Actual hollow logs are rare in Canberra.

But it is sobering to think that traffic congestion is costing the national economy $16.5 billion in lost productivity each year, according to the government’s own bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics.

That figure is expected to reach $53 billion a year by 2031 if nothing is done.

It makes economic sense to act to reduce these losses.

That would involve investing in better urban rail as well as roads, making it cheaper and easier for people and goods to move around our cities.

Such action would lower costs to business, boost profitability and allow businesses to create more jobs.

This is not rocket science. It’s common sense.

But the Coalition government is reducing investment in roads and refusing to make new investments in public transport infrastrucuture. This inaction is allowing traffic congestion to worsen and detracting from other elements of government policy aimed at lifting growth.

Peak industry group Infrastructure Partnerships Australia recently warned that last month’s budget would drive federal infrastructure investment to its lowest level in more than a decade.

That’s not surprising.

In 2013 the incoming Coalition government cancelled all Commonwealth investment in public transport, scuttling funding deals reached by the former Labor government to deliver projects such as Brisbane’s Cross River Rail and the Melbourne Metro.

It reallocated the funding to dud toll road projects including Melbourne’s East-West Link and the Perth Freight Link.

But both of these projects had not been the subject of proper planning and collapsed when it became clear they did not stack up in terms of design or value for public money.

When Malcolm Turnbull took over the prime ministership in 2015 he reversed predecessor Tony Abbott’s public transport ban, at least in rhetorical terms.

But while the Prime Minister enjoys taking selfies aboard trains, trams and buses, he has failed to provide new investment for trains, trams or buses.

The budget included a plan for a National Rail Fund which the government says could be used to contribute to rail projects including Cross River Rail and the Melbourne Metro, as well as newer proposals such as the AdeLINK light rail project and the Western Sydney Rail link to the new Western Sydney Airport.

But this fund is a sham.

It won’t yield a dollar this year, next year or the year after.

Meanwhile, the excuses continue.

Back in 2012, the independent Infrastructure Australia declared Cross River Rail was “ready to proceed” and placed it at the top of its National Infrastructure Priority List. Five years later, Mr Turnbull is refusing to contribute to the project, claiming that it has not been assessed by Infrastructure Australia.

Mr Turnbull is also trying to sideline Infrastructure Australia by creating a new Infrastructure Financing Unit within the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet.

The IFU is supposed to work with the private sector on “innovative” arrangements to finance infrastructure projects.

But the IFU is a solution looking for a problem.

Infrastructure Partnerships Australia, which includes investors in its membership, says there is no need for this body.

“Commonwealth government funding support is needed for infrastructure,” IPA said in its pre-budget submission.

“Commonwealth financing is not.”

Traffic congestion acts as a handbrake on economic growth and is a misery to commuters.

It won’t fix itself. It requires Commonwealth leadership and investment to help states, local government and the private sector to deliver.
This piece was first published in The Brisbane Times on Friday, 23 June, 2017: http://bit.ly/2t0QIdL

Jun 23, 2017

Western Sydney Airport will be an aerotropolis of jobs, opportunity – Opinion – The Australian

Since its birth a century ago, air travel has revolutionised the way we live our lives and do business.

It has helped to create a world that’s more interconnected than ever before. It has brought us closer to family and friends. It has broadened our horizons and given us the opportunity to explore our nation and the world beyond. And it has facilitated trade and commerce on an unprecedented scale.

Today, aviation is a $3 trillion a year global industry employing 29 million people.

And at its heart are airports.

But this infrastructure is more than just places where you catch planes, hold in-transit meetings with business associates, or do a bit of duty-free shopping.

Indeed, to fully appreciate the potential of airports you need to look beyond their runways and terminals.

Increasingly, they are being acknowledged as powerful drivers of regional economic development.

Just as in the past economic and employment activities sprang up around sea ports, railway hubs and highways, they are now springing up around airports, drawn by the fast, efficient connections they offer to markets domestically and internationally.

As world-renowned academic from the University of North Carolina, John Kasarda, has written: “Airports continue to transform from primarily air transport infrastructure to multimodal, multifunctional enterprises generating considerable commercial development within and well beyond their boundaries.”

Kasarda has described this worldwide phenomenon as the rise of what he has termed the “aerotropolis”.

Airports are sought-after neighbours by a growing number of organisations and industries. They include manufacturers, aerospace companies, health and education providers, logistics and transport firms, retailers, as well as the operators of hotels, conference facilities, exhibition centres and entertainment complexes.

They also include corporations engaged in international commerce that simply want to base their globetrotting executives and professionals within a short commute of the flights they regularly need to catch in order to meet clients, suppliers and business partners.

For example, the trailblazing Amsterdam Aertropolis is home to more than 1000 firms, including the global headquarters of ABN Amro, and financial giant ING.

Meanwhile, 2000 companies and four Fortune 500 HQs are ­located in the Las Colinas precinct near the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport in Texas.

Furthermore, consider this: right now there are 450,000 jobs within an 8km radius of O’Hare International Airport, which is located some distance from Chicago’s CBD. And research by Kasarda and his colleague Stephen Appold found that those jobs are relatively well paid.

In short, airports are proven investment and job magnets.

Our ambition for the Western Sydney Airport must be nothing less than this.

Given Sydney’s Kingsford Smith Airport — the country’s busiest, most important hub — is near capacity, building Badgerys Creek is in the national interest. But it also has the potential to transform western Sydney’s economy and address its biggest challenge: a lack of local jobs.

At present there are only 0.75 jobs for every local worker. As a result, hundreds of thousands of western Sydney residents must travel daily to other parts of the city for work, with many having to commute for up to two hours each way on increasingly congested roads.

But the airport’s potential to attract new high-value industries and tens of thousands of new jobs to western Sydney will only be realised if we get the planning right.

A successful aerotropolis doesn’t just happen. And that planning must be accompanied with a guarantee that the airport will be connected to Sydney’s passenger rail network from the day it opens.

Again, modern, reliable public transport is critical to the development of the aerotropolis model.

What’s more, laying the rail line at the same time the airport is being built would maximise opportunities to access value capture to help pay for the construction of both.

Further, this construction activity is an opportunity to skill new apprentices recruited from the western Sydney community.

Lastly, if you want a glimpse of what the future of western Sydney could look like if the planning is right, you need look no further than what is springing up just north of the airport site.

Sydney Science Park is an ambitious $5bn project that promises to turn 280 hectares of paddocks into an epicentre of research, innovation and education. All up, it will bring more than 12,000 “knowledge” jobs to the region.

It will also have the highest number of green-star-rated buildings in the country, host Australia’s first kindergarten to year 12 science, technology, engineering and mathematics school, and house more than 10,000 residents.

In the words of the park’s western Sydney-based proponent Celestino: “This is not a science park as much as it is a new science city.”

In 1949, then prime minister Ben Chifley observed that: “Civil aviation has revolutionised life in the outback. Every community is within a day’s flying of a capital city and medical help is never more than a few hours away. Distant places are no more.”

More than 60 years later, aviation is not only connecting Australians to each other and with the rest of the world, it is also revolutionising the development of our cities and regions.

If we get it right, the Western Sydney Airport will be much more than a runway and a terminal.

It will be a fully fledged aerotropolis, and western Sydney will be at the forefront of the industries and jobs of the future.

This piece was first published in The Australian on Friday, 23 June, 2017: http://bit.ly/2sVQLab

Jun 21, 2017

New industries are being stymied by old infrastructure – Opinion – Huffington Post

We have to shape the future, rather than kidding ourselves it will just somehow sort itself out.

Genuine leadership requires vision, but in Australia in 2017 an absence of vision is selling our future short when it comes to provision of railways, roads, broadband and other infrastructure.

Infrastructure investment is in decline, down by $1.6 billion in this financial year alone and about to fall off a cliff over the coming four years from $7.6 billion this year to $4.2 billion by 2020-21.

Our cities are congested. Our regional communities cry out for investment and better communications technology. Yet, in the analysis of private sector peak industry group Infrastructure Partnerships Australia, nation building investment under the Turnbull Government is at a 10-year low.

The Government’s failure to exercise vision is illustrated by its attitude to two major nation building projects — High Speed Rail and the National Broadband Network.

A High Speed Rail link from Brisbane to Melbourne via Sydney and Canberra has been talked about for years as a way to allow people to travel between capital cities in as little as three hours.

It would turbo-charge economic development of communities along its route like the Gold Coast, Casino, Grafton, Coffs Harbour, Port Macquarie, Taree, Newcastle, the Central Coast, Southern Highlands, Wagga Wagga, Albury-Wodonga and Shepparton.

A study initiated by the former Labor Government found High Speed Rail was viable and would produce more than $2 in economic benefit for every dollar invested.

Acting on the recommendations of an independent panel, we proposed establishing a High Speed Rail Authority to work with relevant state and territory governments on planning for the project and preserving the corridor before it is built out by urban sprawl. However, after taking office in 2013, the coalition rejected this sensible way forward.

Since then, nothing has happened. No land has been acquired and informal talks between the Federal Government and the relevant states have gone nowhere.

Even if construction of High Speed Rail is some time off, we need to get cracking on planning. Otherwise it will never happen.

We have to shape the future, rather than kidding ourselves it will just somehow sort itself out.

The coalition’s lack of vision is even more marked with regard to its delivery of the National Broadband Network.

The former Labor Government commenced this project on the basis that it would connect to homes, businesses, schools and hospitals to the network by optical fibre — the technology of the 21st century. But the current Government is connecting the network to street corner boxes, not premises, and recently purchased 15 million metres of copper wire to complete the job.

So what was envisioned as 21st century broadband will end up as last century Fraudband that will be obsolete even before it is completed.

Fibre-based broadband is an essential piece of economic infrastructure. That’s why it is being rolled out in nation across the world and is taken for granted in nations like South Korea, Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore, and Taiwan.

In Australia, it offers extraordinary opportunities for businesses in rural and regional Australia to engage with the global economy, finally taming the tyranny of distance as an obstacle to growth.

Earlier this year it was revealed that when Brisbane computer game designer Morgan Jaffit wanted to send one of his products to a design specialist in Melbourne, he found it was faster to send it by snail mail than online.

Our nation must do better in a world of ever-accelerating change.

Information technology pioneer Bill Gates has more than a few runs on the board when it comes to looking over the horizon and imagining future possibilities.

In his 1995 book ‘The Road Ahead’, Gates wrote: “We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten. Don’t let yourself be lulled into inaction”.

That’s an important point. The Federal Government needs to get the message.
This piece was first published in the Huffington Post on Wednesday, 21 June,  2017: http://bit.ly/2sUr7Dj[

Jun 15, 2017

Black spots on road to fixing infrastructure – Opinion – The Australian

You can always tell when a government is losing the battle of ideas — it abandons its own policies and imitates those of its political opponents. It’s a dead giveaway. So it is with infrastructure policy in Australia.

In the recent budget the Turnbull government went to extraordinary lengths to recast its position on infrastructure after years of cuts and inaction.

Almost overnight, it appeared to have embraced long-held Labor positions such as the need to borrow to invest in productivity-enhancing infrastructure as well as the desirability of commonwealth investment in public transport and the potential of high-speed rail.

But the Coalition’s big infrastructure shift is entirely rhetorical. It is not backed by actual investment. Indeed, the budget cut national infrastructure investment by $1.6 billion this year alone. And spending will fall off a cliff over the next four years from $7.6bn this year to $4.2bn by 2020-21.

The budget included cuts to the Bruce and Pacific highways, the Black Spot Program, the Bridges Renewal Program and the delivery of new and improved roadside rest facilities for interstate truck drivers.

In his budget speech, Scott Morrison made much of the creation of a $10bn National Rail Fund, which he said could be used for public transport projects such as the Melbourne Metro, Brisbane’s Cross River Rail project, Western Sydney Rail and AdeLINK light rail. This, too, seemed to represent a major shift.

After taking office in 2013, the Coalition cancelled all public transport projects not under construction at the time. Since then, it has failed to deliver new investment anywhere in the country.

But the government’s National Rail Fund is a con.

It won’t yield a dollar for public transport until well after the next federal election.

There is no funding this year, next year or the year after that. Finally, in 2019-20, $200 million will be made available.

The need for public transport is urgent. Traffic congestion is a handbrake on economic growth and a misery for commuters.

The fund is not a serious investment vehicle. It’s a political fix designed to create the appearance of action by a government that has come to realise Australians are sick of its excuses.

What is needed is actual investment — now.

The government’s major announcement was its recommitment to deliver the Inland Rail freight link from Brisbane to Melbourne with an equity injection into the Australian Rail Track Corp, the government-owned entity that runs the national freight network.

Labor supports this project.

In government we invested $600m upgrading parts of the existing rail network that will form part of Inland Rail and provided $300m to take the project forward in the 2013 budget.

In the 2013 election campaign, the Coalition vowed construction would begin in 2016.

Not only has construction not begun but, after four years in office, the Coalition also has not put in the work to address the fact the proposed line won’t meet its stated purpose of taking freight to the Port of Brisbane. It stops 38km short of the port at Acacia Ridge.

The government’s capital injection into the ARTC to deliver the project has been made on the assumption that Inland Rail will provide a financial return to taxpayers over time.

But a business case produced in 2015 by former deputy prime minister John Anderson warned that the revenue generated by the rail line in its first 50 years would not cover the cost of its construction.

Anderson wrote: “Hence, a substantial public funding contribution is required to deliver Inland Rail.”

The budget included no such funding. The government simply ignored Anderson’s advice about how to deliver the project.

Once again, we have a political fix, not a serious funding plan.

The infrastructure sector is underwhelmed by the budget.

Infrastructure Partnerships Australia — the nation’s peak infrastructure industry group — was not seduced by the government’s spin. Spotting the con a mile away, IPA said that the budget ripped $7.4bn from the federal infrastructure budget over the next four years.

“The budget confirms the cut to ‘real’ budgeted capital funding to its lowest level in more than a decade — using a mix of underspend, re-profiling and narrative to cover this substantial drop in real capital expenditure,’’ it says.

This piece was first published in The Australian on Thursday, 15 June, 2017: http://bit.ly/2sBVWfT 

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.

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Contact Anthony

(02) 9564 3588 Electorate Office

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

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