Browsing articles in "Opinion Pieces"
Nov 13, 2017

Marriage equality: justice to win again in march of progress – Opinion – The Australian

It was Martin Luther King who once said: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it always bends toward justice”.

The arc of history will once again bend toward justice on Wednesday when it is confirmed that Australians have returned a Yes vote in favour of marriage equality.

My confidence about the result is not only based on polling. It’s based on history.

Progress on human rights is always moving forward. Of course, it doesn’t advance in a straight line.

People have to make it happen.

Conservative forces will always oppose progress, and reactionaries will campaign to turn back the clock.

But progressives will always keep advancing reform against those who would maintain the comfortable status quo.

And history tells us that the progressives usually win.

The suffragettes, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Eddie Mabo and Gough Whitlam — they all faced pushback.

But time and again, the weight of justice has won out and people have come to accept and even champion ideas they once regarded as uncomfortable, or even heretical.

Australians once supported the White Australia Policy. Now most of us celebrate multiculturalism.

We once refused to count indigenous people in the census or recognise indigenous land rights. Now land rights are real and our nation is moving toward recognising our first peoples in the Constitution.

In the 20th century, Australians who wanted a divorce had to hire private investigators to obtain photographic evidence of their spouses’ infidelity before the courts would dissolve their tragically unhappy marriages. Today no-fault divorce is taken for granted.

In my lifetime, working people could not afford to see a doctor if they fell ill because there was no Medicare or bulk-billing.

Progress has wiped out such injustices.

When change is about extending human rights, as is the case with marriage equality, it builds a momentum of its own.

The mistake that many conservatives make is to believe the world as it is today is the final, fully formed version of society — the culmination of centuries of human progress. Wary of anything that challenges the ­established order, they behave as though human progress stopped with the Enlightenment. It didn’t. Humanity keeps moving forward. People demand greater rights. And, over time, those who seek to deny them those rights run out of reasons to say no.

Two of the loudest voices in the marriage equality debate have experience of being overtaken by progress.

In early 1970s, John Howard was part of the Fraser government that abolished the Medibank universal health care system put in place by Labor prime minister Gough Whitlam.

By the time Howard became prime minister in 1996, he claimed he was a supporter of universal health care, which had been reinstated by the Hawke Labor government through Medicare.

Likewise, in the 1990s, when the Keating Labor government proposed compulsory superannuation to allow working people to retire in dignity, Tony Abbott ridiculed the idea as a con job.

Thirteen years later, as prime minister, compulsory superannuation had such broad acceptance that Abbott would have been unable to muster more than a few votes for its abolition.

Abbott was swamped by progress, just as history will sideline him over his continuing rejection of genuine action on climate change, which reached absurd levels with his claim in London recently that it is a force for good.

Over recent years the parliament has passed laws removing discrimination on the basis of sexuality for health care, superannuation, immigration, social security and more. All of these measures came as a result of progressive activism which met initial resistance.

Even earlier, the brave leaders of the gay and lesbian community such as Lex Watson, Craig Johnston, Julie McCrossin, Paul O’Grady and the Mardi Gras 78ers were vilified for their commitment to even more basic rights.

I respect the views of those who don’t agree with me on marriage equality, particularly where their opposition is based upon sincerely held spiritual views. But marriage equality is a basic human right.

Even in the unlikely event that the postal ballot returns a No vote, marriage equality will still happen.

It is inevitable.

I’m yet to meet anyone who has said, “I used to support marriage equality, but I’ve changed my mind and now I don’t.” The ­opposite, however, is commonplace.

After it becomes law, people will look back at the controversy of recent months and wonder why we didn’t act sooner.

On that great day, spare a thought for those courageous gay and lesbian activists who fought for law reform in past decades at great risk to themselves.

They led the way for this generation to argue for full equality.

And in doing so, they made Australia a better and more inclusive place for every Australian.

 

This piece was first published in The Australian on Monday, 13 November, 2017: http://bit.ly/2ABRqz7

Oct 18, 2017

Sydney’s population can continue to grow and thrive – Opinion – The Daily Telegraph

One issue guaranteed to spark animated discussion at a barbecue or pub in Sydney is whether our city can accommodate more people and, if it can, exactly where they will live.

Depending on who you talk to, Sydney is too spread out, or too dense, with increasing numbers in apartments without the backyards familiar to children of the 20th century.

The truth is that by international standards, Sydney has a relatively low population density.

International think-tank the City Mayors Foundation rates Sydney’s population density 113th among major global cities, with about 2100 people per square kilometre.

London has 5100 people per square kilometre and Tokyo/Yokohama 4750.

But whatever the international comparisons, there’s no doubt Sydney, which was initially designed around low-density housing, is ­experiencing growing pains.

Now is the time for governments of all levels to think more seriously about how we can manage those growth pressures over coming ­decades in ways that will allow us to maintain and improve our quality of life.

As an optimist, I say that is possible — if we get it right.

Getting it right means putting ­livability at the centre of policy ­development.

It also means accepting that ­successful cities are inclusive cities.

The process itself must engage with people and communities, rather than impose change on them.

We must ensure that jobs growth occurs closer to where people live.

As it stands, too many people who work in the burgeoning services ­sector in and around the Sydney CBD can’t afford inner-Sydney property prices.

They have to commute long distances to work from their homes in the suburbs.

Indeed, it is a tragedy that many Sydney parents spend more time on the road travelling to and from work than they spend playing with their children.

Shadow Minister for Transport & Infrastructure Anthony Albanese.

To address this, governments at all levels, along with the business sector, must work together to promote job growth closer to where people live, particularly in Western Sydney.

There is no doubt the Western Sydney Airport provides an opportunity as an employment catalyst.

But if its benefits are to be maximised, we must get the planning right.

That includes ensuring rail access from day one, including on the north-south corridor so that people from Rouse Hill, St Marys and Campbelltown have access to the high-value jobs that will be generated.

To this point in Sydney’s history, our transport corridors have been ­developed from the CBD outwards, like spokes on a wheel.

The next stage of Sydney’s infrastructure development will require better links within the Western Sydney region to enhance its ability to ­deliver economic growth as a ­discreet entity.

As residents of Australia’s biggest and most dynamic city, Sydneysiders have every reason to feel positive about our economic prospects.

But our other great challenge in coming decades will be to manage growth and increased density without surrendering the human values that have served us so well in the past two centuries.

While markets drive ongoing economic development, the fact is that unregulated markets have no conscience.

Allowing a free-for-all will produce bad outcomes.

Communities will accept increases in density if developments are of good quality.

Mistakes continue to be made with the spread of new suburbs with insufficient consideration of ­transport access and social infrastructure such as schools, health facilities and recreational areas.

Developments which increase density without any consideration about where kids will play or go to school are a prelude to future social problems.

The issue of housing affordability just has to be addressed.

It is time to accept that absurdly high property prices have given property investors an economic advantage over first-home buyers.

That’s not in the public interest.

We must give young people the fair go they deserve by addressing housing affordability through modest changes to negative gearing and capital gains tax arrangements.

Governments should also put an end to their obsession with selling off public housing in inner-city areas like Millers Point to pad their own coffers, thereby pushing residents away from their community links.

One of Sydney’s greatest assets is its diversity. Great cities are not isolated enclaves of advantage and disadvantage. They are diverse, vibrant and above all inclusive.

The Sydney of the future shouldn’t be one in which you can automatically tell a person’s wealth from their postcode.

 

This piece was first published in The Daily Telegraph on Wednesday, October 18, 2017: http://bit.ly/2x3MPUa

Oct 17, 2017

Better cities need greater vision – Opinion – Planning News

It was Gough Whitlam and Tom Uren who first argued for the need for Commonwealth engagement in the proper planning of Australian cities.

Launching his successful 1972 election campaign, Whitlam highlighted the absurdity of the view that urban policy could be fenced off as the province of local and state governments.

Whitlam said: “A national government which has nothing to say about cities has nothing relevant or enduring to say about the nation or the nation’s future’’.

Whitlam was right then, but his comments are even more relevant now.

Our cities are growing quickly but their economic productivity is being held back by traffic congestion which, according to the Bureau of Transport, Infrastructure and Regional Economics, cost Australia $16.5 billion in lost productivity in 2015.

Urban Australia is also suffering from the fact that high housing prices make it very difficult for average income earners to live close their workplaces.

This is because jobs growth is strongest in and around the central business districts of our capital cities.

As a result, many Australians spend long periods commuting to and from work from drive-in, drive-out suburbs, robbing them of time in their local communities and with their families.

Indeed, it is a tragedy that many Australian parents spend more time travelling to and from work than they spend playing with their children.

Australia needs a plan to improve urban planning to confront this and a range of other challenges.

It’s not just about the economy, as important as the economy is.

It’s also about our quality of life and the extent to which we ensure that at least some of the proceeds of national economic growth are ploughed back into community infrastructure and initiatives that enhance that quality of life.

An ad-hoc approach won’t work.

We need a plan that not only boosts productivity, but also recognizes that cities are home to 80 per cent of the national population.

The former Labor Federal Government was a serious player in urban policy.

We created the Major Cities Unit within the Department of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development and worked with state and local government to create integrated transport plans for our state capitals under a process chaired by Brian Howe.

We also created Infrastructure Australia to assess proposals for major projects and allow the Government to invest in infrastructure on the basis of evidence, not political considerations.

Our aim was to improve quality of life through infrastructure provision as part of our ambition to realise the concept of the 30-Minute City concept  – the idea promoted by some planners that most of people’s day to day work, educational, shopping or recreational activities should be located within 30 minutes’ walking, cycling or public commuting from their homes.

The dream of a 30-Minute City is a tall order in the 21st century in cities with populations that run into the millions.

But the following 10 ideas provide the blueprint for the actions of the next Labor Federal Government.

  1. Investing in properly integrated transport systems involving public transport and roads. State governments are taking up the fight against traffic congestion by investing in major projects like the Melbourne Metro and Brisbane’s Cross River Rail. However these mega-projects need Commonwealth financial support along with public transport projects in other capital cities.
  2. Investing in active transport solutions which connect up with public transport, education and employment hubs. This will involve, for example, expanding Infrastructure Australia’s assessment of road and rail proposals to include consideration of whether it would make sense to construct bikeways or walking paths as part of these projects.
  3. Addressing housing affordability through urban planning, land supply, the use of incentives and modest changes to the tax treatment of negative gearing and Capital Gains Tax.
  4. Aligning greater housing density with existing public transport corridors. This will require closer collaboration with state and local governments as well as the development community to ensure the delivery of quality developments that also improve liveability.
  5. Promoting jobs growth in outer suburbs. This would take place through direct investment in projects such as the Western Sydney Airport and intermodal facilities, or by giving consideration to incentives for re-location of business.
  6. Promoting jobs growth in middle rings around cities by investing in research precincts around universities and hospitals.
  7. Supporting connectivity and productivity through fibre-to-the-premise National Broadband Network. It is clear that the rollout of the fibre-to-the-node technology is failing to meet public expectations or requirements, even as the new network is under construction. We need to accept this as a fact and embrace the 21st century fibre-based technology contemplated by the previous Labor Government when it commenced this important project.
  8. Supporting renewable energy including buildings and precincts that produce their own power in new developments. This is particularly important given that cities consume 75 per cent of the world’s energy use and produce more than 76 per cent of all carbon.
  9. Enhancing sustainability and resilience of household and industrial water supply and rehabilitating our urban waterways which for too long were used for industrial waste. Improving water quality in urban waterways is not only good for the environment, but will also offer enhanced recreation opportunities for city residents.
  10.  Co-operation between Governments to promote the development of second or third CBDs to decentralize jobs growth. In Melbourne, for example, centres such as Box Hill offer great potential for urban renewal. Improved public transport and roads to such areas would spark business investment and lead to jobs growth, creating the potential for more people to work much closer to where they live.

When it comes to our cities, legislators need vision.

It’s not enough simply to respond to the pressures of development and population growth as they arise.

A wiser approach is to imagine better cities in consultation with experts, build community support for your vision and then take the concrete steps that are necessary to make that vision real.

Our cities will grow in coming decades. It’s up to us to work collaboratively to guide development in the public interest.

In 1972, Gough Whitlam’s decision to involve the Commonwealth in the affairs of Australian cities was seen as bold and unprecedented.

Whitlam delivered genuine change, particularly when it came to preservation of heritage.

But if you ask older Australians, many will tell you that the biggest outcome for Australian cities was that fact that Commonwealth investment allowed councils across our cities to fully sewer their communities.

This made a material difference to the daily quality of life of millions of Australians.

In the 21st century, our goals will be very different.

But if we get it right, the effects of our work can be just as profound.

This piece was first published in October 2017 edition of Planning News – the journal of the Victorian Division of the Planning Institute of Australia. 

Oct 9, 2017

Corridor Preservation Critical for Future Rail – Opinion – Track and Signal Magazine

In the world of infrastructure, planning is critical.

While Governments of today must deliver the projects needed in the near term, if they are any good, they also think ahead to the projects that will be needed in the longer term.

When it comes to railways, this makes corridor protection very important.

This is a point made recently in a report by Infrastructure Australia, which called for the establishment of a national framework for corridor protection for major rail projects.

The report noted that protection and early acquisition of the seven corridors identified as national priorities on Infrastructure Australia’s national priority list could save Australian taxpayers as much as $11 billion in land purchase and construction costs.

The argument is simple – if we know we are likely to build a particular project in the future, we should take steps to secure or protect the corridor now.

If we don’t preserve corridors, we will have to pay more in the future after they are consumed by urban sprawl or other land uses.

Infrastructure Australia recommended action now to secure corridors for projects including the Outer Sydney Orbital, Outer Melbourne Ring, Western Sydney Airport Rail Line, Western Sydney Freight Line, Hunter Valley Freight Line, and the Port of Brisbane Freight Line.

But the organisation said its highest priority was preservation of the corridor for the proposed High Speed Rail Line between Brisbane and Melbourne via Sydney and Canberra.

High Speed Rail is a transformative project that 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.

High Speed rail is complex but viable. The High Speed Rail feasibility study conducted for the former Labor Government concluded it would return $2.50 for every dollar invested.

On that ground alone, the Australian Government should be acting now to preserve the corridor.

That would represent a common sense approach.

Indeed, that is exactly what the former Labor Government attempted to do in 2013, when we appointed an expert panel to assess the feasibility study and propose the next step forward.

The panel, which included former Deputy Prime Minister Tim Fischer, Business Council of Australia chief executive Jennifer Westacott and the late Bryan Nye, of the Australasian Railways Association, recommended creation of a High Speed Rail Authority to preserve the corridor and advance the project.

In the 2013 Budget we allocated $54 million to create that authority, which would have included representatives from the Queensland, New South Wales, ACT and Victorian governments, private sector representatives, as well as a representative from local government and from the Australasian Railways Association.

Unfortunately, the incoming Abbott Government scrapped the idea.

It has not protected the corridor or sought to co-ordinate planning between the various government jurisdictions involved

But at the same time, High Speed Rail technology is being rolled out across Asia, Europe and North America and Australia has seen a literal parade of visitors from international rail companies offering their expertise.

Under the wost-case scenario in Infrastructure Australia’s report, unrestricted development in the corridor today could mean that when High Speed Rail 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 tunneling, where the cost to government and therefore taxpayers can be up to ten times higher than it would have been’’.

The Australian Government should take this advice seriously.

The current dead-bat approach risks making the project unviable down the track.

Every Government has an absolute right to fund or not fund projects according to its own priorities.

But every government also has a responsibility to take expert advice about future needs.

That involves exercising vision – imagining a better long-term future and taking steps to make that vision real.
This piece was first published in the October, 2017, edition of Track and Signal Magazine.

Sep 25, 2017

Coalition masters art of budget underspend – Opinion – The Australian

It’s one of the oldest tricks in the political playbook. And the Turnbull Government is turning it into an art form.

It’s known in budget parlance as the underspend — the practice of governments announcing big-spending commitments on Budget night, when Australians are focused on politics, but then failing to deliver the promised investment and hoping no-one will notice.

Underspend is the polite term. What we are really talking about here is cuts.

Nowhere is this practice more widespread in the Coalition Government than in infrastructure.

In its first three years in office, the Coalition Government underspent its announced infrastructure budget allocations by $3.7 billion.

These cuts affect a wide range of infrastructure programs.

Take, for example, the successful Black Spot road safety program, under which the Commonwealth makes grants to fund safety upgrades in the nation’s worst traffic accident hot spots.

In its first three Budgets, the Government committed to invest $220 million on this important program.

Each Budget night the Abbott-Turnbull Government presented new allocations to the Black Spot program as evidence of its commitment to road safety and nation building, especially in rural and regional Australia.

However, Budget documents showing how much was actually spent, rather than what was promised, reveal that the Government in fact cut its investment by more than half, investing $105 million, not $220 million.

If investment had been delivered as promised, the Government could have improved safety on hundreds of traffic accident hot spots around the nation, based on 2012 research by the Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics showing the average project cost was $157,000.

This investment would have made motorists safer. Indeed, the BITRE analysis showed that after Black Spots were upgraded under the program, the incidence of accidents causing deaths or injuries fell by 30 per cent.

The Government has also cut its investment in the Heavy Vehicle Safety and Productivity Program (HVSPP), created by the former Labor Federal Government to build or improve roadside facilities like rest stops and parking bays for truck drivers on major highways.

Australians who drive interstate will have noticed the increase in roadside facilities delivered under this program in recent years.

In opposition the current Government backed the HVSPP and, in its first three budgets, vowed it would invest $171 million.

In fact, it spent $64.6 million — a cut of $106.9 million, or almost two out of every three dollars.

The Coalition went to the 2013 election promising to create the Bridges Renewal Program, under which it would work with local communities in rural and regional areas to improve the safety and carrying capacity of bridges.

It’s a good program. It improves road safety and also boosts productivity by making it easier to move products from farms to market.

The Government promised it would invest $180 million on the bridges program in three years. But it has spent $100 million — an $80 million cut.

Cuts are everywhere.

The biggest infrastructure program of them all — major road projects — has been cut by an incredible $1.3 billion.

Likewise, in 2016-17, the Government promised to invest $100 million in the Northern Australia Roads Program.

Actual spending was just $12 million.

As a former Minister for Infrastructure, I know from experience that sometimes there are good reasons for money allocated in a particular Budget year not being rolled out in that particular year.

For example, sometimes weather delays or difficulty finalising contracts with construction firms can cause spending allocated one year to be carried forward to the next year.

However, three consecutive years of failing to deliver promised investment indicates this Government is either completely incompetent or is serially misleading Australians.

I suspect it’s a bit of both.

Australians have a right to expect that when a Government commits funding to projects on Budget night, it will actually follow through and deliver those projects.

But that is not happening in infrastructure.

It is also important to note that whenever the Government talks about the total value of its infrastructure program, the figures used are not actual investment, but the investment promised on Budget night.

Next time you hear the Prime Minister or any of his infrastructure ministers give a figure on their overall infrastructure budget, treat it with a grain of salt.

Indeed, based on the examples I have found, halving the figure nominated would take you much closer to the truth.

The annual frenzy that surrounds the presentation of the Federal Budget each May understandably focuses on big-ticket items that make for great headlines.

But based on the record of the current Coalition Government, comparing the previous year’s Budget night promises with actual spending levels would provide a far better indication of its progress.

Anthony Albanese is opposition spokesman for infrastructure, transport and regional development.

 

Sep 18, 2017

We can all be winners when the Poms arrive – Opinion – Herald Sun

As the days get warmer and longer, you can almost smell the approaching contest.

The Poms are coming. And while Australia’s immediate concern will be whether our cricketers can win back the Ashes, the added bonus of staging the biggest event on the international cricket calendar is the extraordinary opportunity it will provide for our tourism industry.

According to the Barmy Army — the Poms’ fanatical travelling supporters’ group — as many as 30,000 English fans will visit Australia this summer.

Early this year, co-founder Dave Peacock said many travellers would spend as much as $25,000 each on their 51-day tours.

It is in our national interest to aim for a double victory by encouraging the Poms to leave as many of their hard-earned pounds behind as possible. Sports tourism is big business. It’s about jobs.

The last time Australia hosted the Ashes, in 2013-14, we recorded a clean sweep, thanks in no small part to player of the series Mitchell Johnson. But the victory was sweetened by the 14 per cent increase in the number of British tourists who visited that summer.

So as the 2017-18 summer approaches, our tourism industry needs to be gearing up to maximise the financial returns.

The Ashes gives locals a chance to see our team take on the Old Enemy, while international visitors get a taste of what Australia has to offer as they travel the country.

The challenge for our tourism operators is to make the most of the opportunity. Their task is to snare the travellers between fixtures to enjoy our broader tourism offerings. Authorities in Townsville are already planning to make the most of the tourism spinoffs from the warm-up match from November 15 to 18 between England and an Australian XI.

The aim is to entice the visitors to stick around and spend more money in the local economy and also encourage more of their family and friends to visit Australia.

Townsville Enterprise Tourism and Events director Bridget Woods said the city’s success in being named to host this match was nothing short of momentous. “The Barmy Army and other cricket fans will not only help ensure the city is booked out for the event, but they will be sending photos of themselves in our city via social media to the world,” she said.

In the same way here in Melbourne, Crown will hold a Christmas dinner on the eve of the Boxing Day Test — a match which will, as usual, be the best-attended match of the tour in our greatest sporting ground.

The Ashes also provide an opportunity to encourage dispersal of tourists outside the big cities so that our smaller communities can benefit from the influx of visitors.

For instance, Victoria’s stunning Mornington Peninsula is only an hour’s drive from Melbourne. Historic Ballarat is 90 minutes away. Both of those should be on the checklist for any international visitor in Melbourne for the Ashes.

The push to extract maximum benefit from the Ashes should not be seen as a one-off. The aim should be to use the Ashes, or other sporting events that attract visitors like the Australian Open tennis, to ensure the visitors enjoy themselves so much that they make return visits.

As the Australian economy continues to move out of the construction phase of the mining boom, we need to boost job creation in other industries.

That is where tourism comes in. Already identified by Deloitte Access Economics as one of five super growth sectors, tourism generates $97 billion in economic activity a year and supports at least one million jobs.

WE are already doing well. But we can do better. In regional Australia, in particular, tourism offers extraordinary potential for jobs growth.

There’s no shortage of imagination and innovation in Australian tourism, but it is important that governments at all levels understand its potential for growth and get behind the sector.

All Australians can help. We should welcome the Barmy Army with open arms, while cheering against their team. The historical links between the Britain and Australia will make that easy enough, as will the fact that the Barmy Army, while notoriously one-eyed, supports its team with a good-natured spirit that will guarantee a good time for all.

There’s no doubt the cheeky Poms will try to wind us up by, for example, singing You All Live in a Convict Colony (to the tune of Beatles’ Yellow Submarine).

They will also mercilessly ridicule Steve Smith, Dave Warner and the other Aussies until the last ball is bowled. But each night, they will spend their money in our hotels, restaurants and bars and support many thousands of Australian jobs.

Australia’s mission this summer is simple: show the Poms a good time, encourage them to return, take all their money and, above all, reclaim the Ashes.

 

ANTHONY ALBANESE IS THE SHADOW MINISTER FOR TOURISM

Sep 8, 2017

The Market has Spoken: Why the Smart Money is now on Renewables – Opinion – Business Insider

One of the good things about the free market is that it is indifferent to political scaremongering.

Entrepreneurs operate by a simple rule – if you see a business opportunity that is viable, invest.

When it comes to the energy sector, the investment community has clearly decided that renewable energy is not only viable, but is the way of the future.

This year alone, renewable energy projects worth more than $7 billion will either commence construction or be completed in this country, according to figures from the Clean Energy Council.

The CEC also reports that as at June 2016, renewable energy provided 11,150 jobs, with another 4000 being created in more than 40 new projects now under construction.

This growth would have been much higher if not for job losses caused by the policies of the Federal Coalition Government. If jobs growth in renewables had kept up with global growth rates since 2013, renewables in this country would have created 24,400 jobs – a gap of 13,250 potential jobs.

Despite this there is now genuine optimism in the renewable sector.

It represents a sharp contrast to the ongoing attempts by conservative politicians to talk down renewables as part of their determination to resist genuine action on climate change.

Indeed, while the Turnbull Government continues to dither over a Clean Energy Target to appease the dinosaurs of the Hard Right, the free market players that it claims to represent are voting with their wallets.

I had an opportunity to see this first hand recently when I spent a day with Independent MP Bob Katter in his north-west Queensland electorate of Kennedy looking at the region’s infrastructure needs.

Mr Katter showed me two impressive projects that prove that investors have moved well beyond the pessimism of the naysayers.

The Kidston Solar Project, about 280 kilometres north-west of Townsville, sits on the site of the abandoned Kidston Gold Mine, which ceased production around the turn of the century.

Developer Genex came up with the ingenious idea of redeveloping the site as a solar and pumped hydro facility, taking advantage of the existing mine infrastructure.

The company is installing 537,000 photovoltaic cells mounted on a tracking system that will follow the sun across the sky.

Once fully commissioned early next year, this facility will generate enough electricity to power more than 26,000 homes, with its second stage set to add more capacity, making it the largest solar farm in Australia.

As part of Stage II, the company will utilise the old mine’s tailings dam to create a 250 MW pumped storage hydro project.
Some of the power produced by the sun by day will be used to pump water up to the dam and at night the water will be used to drive turbines.

This integration of solar and pumped storage will provide stability to the grid and a pathway to the 24/7 supply of renewables.

I also visited what will soon become the site of the Kennedy Energy Park.

Located outside of Hughenden, the project will combine solar, wind and battery storage to create renewable energy on a scale comparable to Queensland’s large coal-fired plants like Tarong and Stanwell.

That’s enough electricity to power up to 1 million homes.

Both projects have been strongly backed by Queensland’s Palaszczuk Labor Government.

But they might have withered on the vine without the mitigation of risk through the support of the Clean Energy Corporation (CFC) and the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA), which were set up by the former Federal Labor Government as part of our efforts to tackle climate change by promoting renewables.

Regrettably, the current Federal Coalition Government has repeatedly tried to abolish both of these institutions. It is also continuing to resist expert advice, including from the Chief Scientist Alan Finkel, to create a Clean Energy Target to further support the transition to a low-emissions future.

Of course, sections of the Coalition have been divided about climate change for years.

This is mainly due to its approach in Opposition under former leader Tony Abbott, who turned the Coalition into the Noalition, which opposed anything associated with the former Labor Government.

But in 2017, as the smart money moves toward renewables, the continued antipathy toward the renewable sector makes no sense.

Still bound by the negativity that came to characterise the Abbott era, the political movements that claim to represent the free market and regional Australia won’t even shift their position based on what is actually happening on the ground in regional Australia.

Even as conservatives reject the science of climate change, the entrepreneurial spirit that is taking flight in North Queensland and many other parts of regional Australia is literally leaving them behind.

The message in all of this is that leadership requires vision and a touch of optimism.

Good leaders respond to the problems of today by imagining a better future and taking steps to make that future real.

Leaders who place political strategy ahead of the national interest end up being left behind while the rest of the world embraces the future.

This piece was first published in Business Insider  on Friday, 8 September 2017: http://bit.ly/2wMM3y2

 

Sep 7, 2017

Prepare for automation – Opinion – The Daily Telegraph

When you consider the way the world has changed in the past 50 years, it is mind-boggling to imagine what it will look like 50 years from now.

Don’t think about that for too long. The accelerating pace of change will make your head spin.

But consider this: change has no conscience. While change can liberate us from certain kinds of labour, it is indifferent to its impacts on our jobs.

It’s a bit like the market; it can serve a purpose but, left unregulated, can produce unequal outcomes.

A good example of the challenge of balancing progress against jobs and human welfare is the looming emergence of driverless cars, which will become a reality in coming decades. Driverless cars will improve road safety, reduce carbon emissions and make it much easier to move around. But despite those positives, their introduction will have an impact on employment.

The same can be said for the rise of the self-operated checkout at your local supermarket.

While handling your own groceries is a great convenience for many people, it means fewer jobs for check-out operators, a role traditionally taken by low-skilled workers or students.

A recently released report from consultancy AlphaBeta found that more than three million Australian workers are engaged in work that could be automated in the future.

Similar research conducted by the Committee for Economic Development of Australia says up to five million jobs could be affected by automation by 2030.

While these are huge numbers, Australians should not fear change. If properly harnessed, change offers exciting new opportunities.

For example, we should be increasing our investment in research to ensure our scientists and engineers are working at the cutting edge of change in areas including advanced manufacturing.

But beyond the opportunities, there is a clear role for government intervention to ensure that as a community, we grasp the benefits of change while mitigating its disruptive effects.

The last thing Australia needs is a situation where people made redundant in one industry have no skills that they can transfer to another occupation. That is why it is so important that we deliver needs-based funding for schools and universities and reverse recent reductions in apprenticeship numbers to ensure our young people learn the skills they need to prepare for life.

We should, for example, ensure that a minimum of one in every 10 people employed on Commonwealth-funded infrastructure projects is an apprentice.

But in the 21st century, addressing the training needs of our young people, as important as that is, will not be enough.

Our education systems must evolve so they also cater to the retraining needs of older Australians displaced by change. The greatest challenge in this area is to develop a proactive approach that anticipates change before its worst effects are visited on individuals.

Up until this point in history, governments have usually acted on workforce reskilling only after a business has closed and its employees are out of work.

A wiser approach would be to ask ourselves which industries and jobs will be under threat in the future and begin to act early on retraining workers before they lose their jobs.

That could mean, for example, supporting employees in targeted industries to spend half a day a week retraining so they have alternative career options.

Such forward thinking will require significant government commitment as well as massive cultural change.

People born in the 21st century are accustomed to change because it has been a constant throughout their short lives.

But many older people grew up at a time when people assumed they would do the same job for their entire working careers.

Governments must get involved to help these people adjust to the fact that, despite their expectations, lifelong employment in one job is becoming the exception, not the rule.

Tackling such issues offers a great opportunity for genuine collaboration between governments, employers and trade unions in an area that is undeniably in their common interest.

We must work together to make change our servant, not our master.

This piece was first published in The Daily Telegraph today, Thursday, 7 September, 2017

Sep 5, 2017

Voters are hungry for alternatives – Opinion – The Australian

A royal commission into whether Islam is a religion, public funding for new coal-fired power stations and massive punitive cuts to funding for the ABC — there certainly are some interesting ideas emerging from minor political parties in this country.

Many of these ideas fall into the crackpot category.

But what is more interesting than their substance is what they say about the state of politics in what has become known as the age of disruption.

Across the world, political outsiders from the left, right and centre are advocating a shake-it-up approach to politics and are winning public support as voters abandon orthodoxy in favour of candidates offering something — anything — different.

Donald Trump won power from the political right, telling millions of Americans their political system was broken. In Britain, the Labour Party’s Jeremy Corbyn almost won this year’s election running a similar argument from the left. And in France, Emmanuel Macron became President leading a party that did not exist a year ago.

Australia also has its self-styled outsiders who seek to capitalise on public disenchantment with the mainstream political parties.

But while debate about this phenomenon has focused on how major political parties can respond, the more sensible first step is to isolate the cause of voter discontent.

The fact is that many voters who feel disengaged from the political process have good reasons to feel that way.

Economic disempowerment caused by globalisation sits at the heart of the problem.

While globalisation has delivered substantial benefits in recent decades, it is an undeniable fact that some people have gained more benefits than others.

When politicians tell people who have lost their livelihoods to the changes wrought by globalisation that economic change is a great thing, it’s no wonder they turn off.

More recently, the global financial crisis has reinforced this feeling of alienation.

Across the world, millions of innocent, hardworking people lost their jobs and/or their homes because of corporate greed and inadequate government regulation of the banking sector in the US and Europe.

These people suffered through no fault of their own.

But they have had to watch as those who were responsible — bankers and careless regulators in Britain and the US — escaped comparatively unscathed. The GFC was the starkest demonstration in my lifetime of the inequality of power distribution in our globalised world.

To its victims, it provided genuine lived experience to back up their suspicions that the establishment is indifferent to their suffering.

That is why the political mainstream will never adequately confront the age of disruption by attacking the outsiders who seek to offer alternatives, no matter how strange those solutions might seem.

The Donald Trumps of our world might not offer workable solutions, but they resonate because they identify genuine problems that the establishment has, to its discredit, downplayed.

The starting point for a revival of the political mainstream is an acceptance that, for many voters, the existing order has not delivered for them.

If we worry that the age of disruption might trigger a downward spiral of disrespect for our institutions, we have a responsibility to engage positively to avert such a scenario.

We must secure outcomes in the national interest.

This requires a greater focus on real, practical solutions to the problems that concern people in their daily lives — health, education, infrastructure, job security and the cost of living.

We must have more discussion about the changing nature of work and the impact that technology will have on our future workforce.

Our focus must be on outcomes, not ideological contests or culture wars, which seem to have obsessed the federal government.

Two simple examples from current Australian political debate illustrate the wrong way to treat Australians who worry about their place in an uncertain world.

Labor has been arguing strongly for reforms to improve equality in this nation, such as ensuring corporations and wealthy people pay their fair share of tax. We’ve also argued for reforms to negative gearing and capital gains tax to address housing affordability.

In both cases, the government has dismissed our concerns.

In doing to, the government insults the intelligence of Australians who see inequality parading in front of them every day of the week.

In the same way, pretending that there is no housing affordability crisis in this country is to fly in the face of the lived experience of tens of thousands of young people in communities who can’t get a foothold in the property market.

Where Australians are troubled by real problems affecting their daily lives, the very worst thing a government can do is tell them their problems are somehow not real. Sometimes in political life it’s a good idea to stop talking and start listening.

Anthony Albanese is the opposition spokesman for infrastructure, transport, cities and tourism.

Aug 18, 2017

Why ignoring paid domestic violence leave comes at a serious cost for victims – Opinion – Mamamia

The statistics on violence against women in Australia are shocking.

On average, at least one woman a week is killed by a partner or former partner in Australia.

One in four Australian women has experienced physical or sexual violence by an intimate partner.

Women are five times more likely than men to require medical attention or hospitalisation as a result of intimate partner violence and five times more likely to report fearing for their lives.

Half of victims have children in their care. And there is evidence that women with disabilities experience high levels of violence and that Indigenous women experience higher rates of more severe forms of violence than the rest of the population.

Domestic violence is the leading cause of death, disability and illness among women aged 15-44 years – higher than motor vehicle accidents, blood pressure or smoking.

It destroys individuals, families and communities.

It also costs the Australian economy around 1 percent of GDP annually in lost productivity and other costs.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics estimates that around two thirds of women who experience domestic violence are in the workforce. That means that more than 800,000 women– or around one in six women workers – are experiencing some form of violence in their home.

Given these numbers, it is clear that a large number of workplaces employ women who are experiencing domestic violence.

Apart from the personal impact of violence, there are costs to employers when a worker is living with violence.

These include increased absenteeism and staff turnover, decreased performance and productivity, conflict among workers and safety issues for everyone if the perpetrator of violence goes to the workplace – which we know occurs at alarming rates.

In a report into the economic aspects of domestic violence leave by the Australia Institute, Dr Jim Stanford confirmed what domestic violence counsellors have been saying for decades – that economic insecurity is one of the most significant obstacles confronting women in their decision to leave a violent relationship.

Introducing paid domestic violence leave into the National Employment Standards offers an important opportunity to reach people living with violence and to provide them with support.

And it makes a clear and authoritative statement that domestic violence is not acceptable in any workplace or in our society.

The current Federal Government does not support paid domestic violence leave.

Senator Mathias Cormann, says that domestic violence leave is just “another cost on our economy that will have an impact on our international competitiveness.” The Minister for Women, Michaelia Cash says that paid domestic violence leave is a “perverse disincentive’’, leading to women not getting jobs.

And this Government is actively removing access to this vital, life-saving workplace right from the agreements covering its own employees.

These ill-informed claims and actions by the government are dangerous and negligent.

It’s time they stepped back and had a rethink on an issue that should be well above politics.

Stanford’s report calculates the cost of providing every worker access to 10 days paid domestic violence leave to be less than one hundredth of a percent of last year’s increase in average weekly wages. That is a cost to employers of just five cents per worker per day.

The idea that this would even be noticed internationally, let alone undermine our “competitiveness,” is extraordinary.

Some of Australia’s most successful and profitable businesses have introduced paid domestic violence leave. These include Qantas, Ikea, NAB, Westpac, Woolworths and Telstra.

The costs, even to small employers, would be offset by benefits, including reduced turnover and improved productivity.

Make no mistake – not paying domestic violence leave is not free.

The cost to those experiencing family violence, predominantly women and their children, is so much more, and surely one that the Australian Government must act to rectify.

Like every other major social and economic reform there will always be those who claim that it is impossible or will damage business.

The reality is the cost of inaction is too high.

Paid domestic violence leave will make it easier for women to leave violence. It will make it easier to keep children safe. It will make our workforce healthier and safer and it will save lives.

In its findings, the recent Victorian Royal Commission into the family violence found that the problem shames us all. It affects individuals, the community and ultimately, our nation.

It’s 2017. There are no more excuses.

This piece was first published in Mamamia on Friday, 18 Auguist 2017: http://www.mamamia.com.au/paid-domestic-violence-leave-australia/ 

Pages:1234567...19»

Contact Anthony

(02) 9564 3588 Electorate Office

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

Important items

Enrol to vote Parliament of Australia Australian Labor Party Clean Energy Future