Browsing articles in "Opinion Pieces"
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/ 

Aug 10, 2017

Congestion in Australian cities is grinding productivity to a halt – Opinion – Huffington Post 

If we improve our infrastructure, we improve the productivity, sustainability and liveability of urban Australia.

In 1969, then-Opposition Leader Gough Whitlam noted that Australian cities were losing their sense of community in the face of urban sprawl.

To illustrate his point, Whitlam asserted that hundreds of thousands of Australians living in big cities would not even know the name of their next-door neighbour.

Sydney and Melbourne, Whitlam said, were transforming from “communities” to “conurbations”.

They were populated by people “whom the pattern of urban growth forces to travel further and further to work; taking longer and longer to get there; sharing less and less in common with their fellow citizens; knowing and wishing to know less and less of the common problems and interests around them”.

Whitlam’s sharp analysis of life in urban Australia in the late ’60s sounds just as sharp in 2017.

Urban sprawl is a major challenge in the 21st century.

It is causing the traffic congestion that is costing the national economy $16 billion a year in lost productivity, according to analysis by Infrastructure Australia, with the cost to rise to $53 billion a year by 2031 unless we act now.

If we do act now to tackle traffic congestion, we will boost productivity and create jobs as well as the conditions for stronger economic growth.

Urban sprawl is also robbing commuters of many hours a week that they might otherwise spend engaging with their communities, their neighbours and most importantly, their families.

Indeed, it is a tragedy that many Australian parents spend more time commuting than they spend at home playing with their children.

While urban sprawl was an emerging issue in the 1960s, its modern impact has been exacerbated by changes in employment patterns.

In the 21st century, jobs growth is strongest in service industries located close to city centres. The problem is that millions of Australians who work in inner-city areas can’t afford to live near where they work because of high property prices.

They can afford housing in suburban areas, but the mismatch between the location of affordable housing and the availability of work means they must face long journeys to and from work.

Governments have the capacity to address these issues.

If we choose to, we can help millions of Australians recapture a better work-life balance.

We need more public transport, particularly to suburbs not connected to the passenger rail network. We need better roads. We need programs that promote job creation closer to where people live.

None of this is rocket science.

Back in September of 2014, I released Labor’s 10-Point Plan for Better Australian Cities, which included these ideas as part of a comprehensive plan to improve the productivity, sustainability and liveability of urban Australia.

While the Coalition under Malcolm Turnbull has embraced such concepts in rhetorical terms, nothing is actually happening to address the real challenges of urban Australia.

Mr Turnbull likes to take selfies on trains, trams and buses, but he is yet to deliver the significant new investment for trains, trams and buses that is needed.

He has refused to invest in important public transport projects like the Cross River Rail project, the Melbourne Metro and Western Sydney Rail.

The Government has cut infrastructure investment, with recent Parliamentary Budget Office analysis of in the 2017 Budget revealing that investment expressed as a proportion of GDP will halve in the next decade from 0.4 percent to 0.2 percent.

At the same time, it has created the new Infrastructure Financing Unit, tasked with attracting more private investment to make up for Mr Turnbull’s cuts.

The problem there is that this will skew the market towards toll roads over railway lines. Toll roads produce commercial returns. But public transport, while a critical public service, is less attractive to investors.

Mr Turnbull’s approach makes it less likely the Commonwealth will support construction of new railways lines into new communities which currently don’t have rail access.

Residents of such communities, already forced to commute by car, will not only be denied a public transport alternative, but will also be increasingly forced to use toll roads to pay for the privilege of driving to work.

That has serious equity implications.

The current Federal Government is headed in the wrong direction on cities and traffic congestion.

It is not only refusing to help commuters with rail options, but is actively pursuing policies that will worsen their plight.

Labor, already well advanced with planning to tackle urban sprawl and traffic congestion, will continue to develop further polices to make a real difference.

If elected, we will be ready to replace the current Government’s talk with genuine action.
This piece was first published in the Huffington Post today:
http://bit.ly/2wvEzMO
 

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

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Contact Anthony

(02) 9564 3588 Electorate Office

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

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