Browsing articles in "Opinion Pieces"
Dec 27, 2018

Opinion Piece – Swami Army has a Wealth of Talent – Herald Sun

While the battle is heating up in this excellent Test series between Australia and India, the action is even hotter for the Australian tourism industry.

The Swami Army is well and truly on the march as thousands of Indian cricket fans visit our country to catch the sporting action.

Of course, they bring with them an overwhelming love for cricket and their team, led imperiously by the brilliant Virat Kohli, but also, importantly for us, money to spend in our hotels, pubs and restaurants.

That means significant income for businesses and the creation of more jobs for Australians.

Already what has impressed so many of us this summer of cricket has been the high proportion of Indians here to enjoy the matches.

Many of the revellers are Australians of Indian decent, who, according to the 2016 census, make up about 2.8 per cent of the national population.

But thousands more will be tourists.

The 2017-18 International Tourism Snapshot showed India was by far our fastest growing market for international visitors.

While overall international tourism grew by six per cent, arrivals from India climbed by 20 per cent to 335,000.

Tourism Research Australia figures show Indian visitors stay in Australia for an average of 58 nights.

So over the rest of summer, as we watch the skills of Kohli, the awkward brilliance of Jasprit Bumrah or, hopefully, the emergence of new Australian heroes, we should also recognise the economic importance of sport-related tourism.

Of course, it will take time to assess the level of success of this year’s series.

But if last year’s Ashes Tour is any guide, Kohli, his team and their legion of supporters will provide a real boost to our economy.

According to research by independent consultancy firm IER 1.1 million people paid to attend an Ashes match last summer.

That included 30,608 international visitors.

IER found that the Ashes tour generated $114 million for the Victorian economy, $76.7 million for NSW, $60.7 million for South Australia, $36.5 million for Queensland, $16.9 million for Western Australia and $300,000 for Tasmania.

It’s no coincidence that Victoria gained the most benefit.

The state’s great and accessible stadiums, ability to attract and retain major sporting events and, above all, the sporting passion of Victorians, combine to ensure the state maximises the benefits of sporting tourism.

Indeed, after the Boxing Day Test is over and the cricket caravan moves to Sydney for the New Year Test, Melbourne will turn its sights to another big money spinner, the Australian Open Tennis.

In the 21st century, all Australian governments, along with the tourism industry, must work to exploit this growing tourism sector.

Increasing living standards, coupled with the availability of affordable airfares, mean people can afford to travel for sporting events like never before.

While that’s a benefit to our capital cities that host sporting events, the right marketing can spread the benefits.

Smart tourism operators in areas near to the locations of big sporting events market themselves to sport tourists, encouraging them to visit between tour events or after they have concluded.

And sporting tourism is not only about international tourism.

Australians are also increasingly willing to travel interstate for sporting events, particularly football matches.

Combining a sporting event with a short break gives them an opportunity to watch the game and also take in local tourism offerings.

With about a million Australians already working in tourism, our industry needs to be able to adapt to changing recreational patterns so we can extract full financial benefit.

In that context is good to see that Tourism Australia has been working with ESPN in India to link cricket broadcasts to tourism promotion.

ESPN has produced 22 videos which will be viewed by millions of people as they are broadcast during the match day coverage.

Tourism Australia has also collaborated with Indian T20 batsman Shikhar Dhawan to market Australian tourism to his 11 million social media followers.

That’s great work.

India is already Australia’s eighth largest inbound tourism market.

With a rapidly growing middle class courtesy of an ongoing economic transformation, there is much more potential.

We must tap that potential, hopefully at the same time as we reclaim the Border–Gavaskar Trophy.
This piece was first published in today’s edition of the Herald Sun. 

 

Dec 24, 2018

Opinion Piece – Finding Common Ground in the National Interest – Future Building – The Australian Infrastructure Review

A LESSON IN LEADERSHIP

Let me begin with a quote:

“Infrastructure Partnerships Australia … has been fundamentally about using information and data to better inform the national infrastructure debate, allowing the sector and wider community to better discern infrastructure fact from fiction.”

Those, of course, were the words of someone who is very familiar to most people in this room: Brendan Lyon.

In his decade at the helm of IPA, Brendan took a nascent industry body and transformed it into one Australia’s most respected and effective public policy organisations.

Under the leadership of Brendan – and now Adrian Dwyer – IPA has more than fulfilled the mission expressed in the quote I opened with, and in so doing, highlighted the virtues of stable leadership.

To be sure, Federal politics could take a leaf out of IPA’s book.

Consider this: during Brendan’s ten-year tenure as CEO, there were six Prime Ministers.

And Adrian – who has only been in the role for a short period of time – is already onto his second Prime Minister, and second Infrastructure Minister.

While the comings and goings in Canberra have not been good for the nation’s body politic, the stability at the top of IPA has been a key to its success.

That stability has enabled the organisation to recruit professional, dedicated staff, to develop a strong policy platform and an extensive body of research, and to build trusting relationships, not only within the sector, but also within the corridors of power around the country.

I say these things knowing that we don’t always agree on everything.

Nor should we.

The long-term national interest is best served when we debate our differences and challenge each other’s ideas.

Any such debate needs to take place within a framework of civility and mutual respect.

Sadly, too much of our public discourse these days lacks those two basic elements.

The predicament facing modern democracies was best summed up by former President Barack Obama who, in his last speech in office, made the following observation:

“…in the course of a healthy debate, we’ll prioritise different goals, and the different means of reaching them.  But without some common baseline of facts; without a willingness to admit new information, and concede that your opponent is making a fair point, and that science and reason matter, we’ll keep talking past each other, making common ground and compromise impossible.”

Finding that elusive “common ground” is what makes forums like this so important.

IPA has managed to bring together some of Australia’s most senior political, public sector and business leaders to engage with each other and discuss the national reforms that will fix our infrastructure.

And the need to achieve a consensus around the way forward is more urgent than ever before, particularly after five years of policy drift and complacency at the national level.

Simply put, Australia is at a critical crossroads.

As noted in a report released just this week by the House of Representative’s Standing Committee on Infrastructure, Transport and Cities entitled ‘Building Up and Moving Out’:

“Australia is undergoing rapid change.  Population growth, urbanisation, the ageing of the population and the transformation of the economy towards service and knowledge-based industries are causing profound changes in the urban and regional landscape.

“The outcome of these changes will depend on how they are managed.”

It is obvious that managing those demographic, spatial and technological changes will not be easy.

It will require national leadership with a clear, coherent vision of how we as a people can shape a better future rather than allow the forces I have just mentioned shape it for us.

There is, however, one more important ingredient to success.

Real leadership requires not only a vision and agenda for the future, but also the maturity to reach across the aisle and build bipartisanship wherever possible.

Overcoming the big infrastructure challenges facing Australia – be it in the areas of energy, telecommunications, water, and transport – will simply not be possible in a single parliamentary term or even the tenure of any one government.

Real reform takes time to deliver the desired change.

ENERGY POLICY IN DISARRAY

And if you want an example of where naked partisanship has wrecked a prevailing consensus in this country and harmed the national interest, one need look no further than energy policy.

In 2007, in what at the time was a major breakthrough, both sides of politics acknowledged that the most cost-effective way of reducing harmful emissions was to put a price on carbon.  And both major parties went to the election that year committed to implementing an emission trading scheme.

Unfortunately, that consensus only held for two years before the denialists in the Coalition, and the purists in the Greens Political Party, tore it down.

Once in government the Coalition then proceeded to dismantle the market-based mechanism that was working – emissions were falling; investment in the energy of the future was increasing.

Since then we have witnessed a debate – mostly within the Government itself – that has plumbed new depths of the absurd, and no amount of spin and denial can conceal that sad reality.

We have even witnessed the so-called party of free markets arguing for new taxpayer-funded coal-fired power stations and for governments to have the power to order private companies to divest themselves of particular assets.

We have had the Emissions Intensity Scheme, the Clean Energy Target and various versions of the National Energy Guarantee – all proposed, considered and then rejected by the Party that proposed them it the first place.

As a result, our country is now in its fifth year without a coherent energy policy.

That’s five years without the regulatory certainty investors have rightly sought in order to make the investments that would have increased the supply of affordable, reliable electricity into the national grid.

Little wonder industry and households are now suffering under higher prices.

Then, when you thought the situation could not get more depressing, the Government has in recent weeks simply given up the charade of trying to have an energy policy.

It is now official: the Coalition’s policy is not to have a policy.

They have thrown their hands up in the air, admitting that governing is all too hard – and that’s despite Labor’s repeated offer to work with them to put in place measures that would be in the long term national interest.

Understandably, the Coalition’s capitulation to inertia has been condemned by the business community.  In the words of the chief executive of the Business Council of Australia, Jennifer Westacott:

“Without locking-in this overarching framework, investment uncertainty will continue to be unresolved and the national electricity market will remain unfit-for-purpose.”
CITIES

There is now broad political agreement that the national government has a role to play in making our cities work better.

It is a consensus that was hard won.

Indeed, one of Tony Abbott’s first acts as Prime Minister was to abolish the Major Cities Unit and retreat from our cities.

He also disbanded the Urban Policy Forum, scrapped the annual State of Australian Cities report and cancelled all public transport projects not already under construction, including the Metro in Melbourne.

Thankfully, the Abbott years were only a temporary setback.

While his successors have accepted the principle of Federal involvement in building more productive, sustainable and liveable cities, their actions have lacked substance.

Take for example Malcolm Turnbull’s signature policy, City Deals.  In the view of the bipartisan parliamentary report I referred to earlier, while the program “excited much interest”, it had delivered “limited results”.

We must and can do better.

And that starts with having the right processes.

That’s why I recently announced Labor’s commitment to replace City Deals with a City Partnerships program that will foster more genuine collaboration between the three levels of government.

To achieve this we will:

  • Re-establish the Major Cities Unit within the independent Infrastructure Australia and task it with recommending and assessing the progress of City Partnerships.
  • Establish an expert panel to update strategic planning guidelines for cities as well as develop guidelines for City Partnerships, in consultation with the Minister, which include benefits to the economy.
  • Refresh the National Urban Policy, which I released as minister in the former Federal Labor government, to ensure City Partnerships align with its objectives in areas like sustainability and smart technology.

The challenges facing our cities are complex.

But if we are to unlock their potential, and the potential of those living in them, then we must take a holistic and strategic approach that is underpinned by evidence and good governance.
INFRASTRUCTURE AUSTRALIA

Another idea long championed by Labor that now enjoys bipartisan support is that of Infrastructure Australia and the need for an evidence-based approach to assessing the nation’s immediate and long term infrastructure needs.

This is another example of where the Coalition has adopted the principle but not the substance.

While it is true they retained Infrastructure Australia, it has been effectively sidelined.

The most recent example of this was their decision to strip it of its role in advising governments on how projects can best be financed.

The Coalition handed that responsibility over to their new Infrastructure Financing Unit, even though IPA, amongst others, bluntly told the Government that such a body was completely unnecessary.

More than 12 months later, and as predicted, the unit has not brought forward the delivery of a single new project.

INFRASTRUCTURE FINANCING

That brings me to the broader issue of infrastructure financing.

It is here that the Coalition has been challenging the long standing political consensus and collective wisdom, seduced by the idea that you can build things for free; that you can essentially substitute “innovative” financing arrangements, such as value capture, public private partnerships and equity investments, for grant funding.

Don’t get me wrong.  Labor readily accepts that these types of arrangements can play a role in closing the infrastructure funding gap. When we were last in office we employed innovative funding solutions to deliver a number of major projects including the Legacy Way road project in Brisbane; the NorthConnex road project and Moorebank Intermodal in Sydney; and the Gold Coast Light Rail.

If we win the coming Federal Election, we will join with the State Government to deliver South East Queensland’s number one infrastructure priority, Cross River Rail, via a public private partnership.

We understand that the private sector does have an important role to play in building public infrastructure.  But governments cannot avoid the fact that they will have to stump up taxpayers’ dollars if they want projects to happen, particularly urban public transport projects.

As Infrastructure Partnerships Australia has pointed out: Commonwealth Government funding support is needed for infrastructure – Commonwealth financing is not.

“If the budget seeks to materially increase the pace, quality and scale of national infrastructure investment we respectfully submit that Government policy needs to return to real options, which include grant funding…”

The bottom line is that grant funding is vital – and less of it will less infrastructure.

That’s precisely what the Coalition is promising to deliver if re-elected.

As confirmed in the 2018 Budget Papers, Federal infrastructure grant funding will fall over the next four years to its lowest level since the early 2000s, declining from $8 billion in 2017-18 to $4.5 billion in 2021-22.

The independent Parliamentary Budget Office has concluded that grant funding, expressed as a proportion of GDP and based on current budget allocations, will halve over the next decade from 0.4 per cent  to 0.2 per cent.

That’s a 50 per cent cut.

Alongside cutting grant funding going forward, the Government’s infrastructure program thus far has been plagued by project delays, missed deadlines and botched program rollouts.

Too often grand announcements are made then nothing happens.

Over its first four budgets, this Government has invested $4.7 billion less than it promised.

That’s a massive 20 per cent underspend.

Thanks to the Senate Estimates process, I can reveal that during the course of the last financial year 127 projects around the country were running behind schedule, largely the product of poor planning and inadequate project oversight.

Given the totality of the Coalition’s record, it is not surprising that over their time in office Australia has slipped from 18th to 28th on the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Index when it comes to the adequacy, quality and efficiency of our infrastructure.

That’s my take on where we stand today as a nation.

Given the events of recent weeks, and the resulting division, chaos and suspicion that now grips the Government benches, I am sad to say I cannot see the situation improving much, at least not in the short term.

FEDERAL LABOR’S APPROACH

To those who ask what a future Labor Government would do, I would point them to our record the last time we had the privilege of governing this great nation, as well as to the fact that if we are successful at the coming election you will have in me a minister that is experienced and a known quantity.

While prime ministers may have come and gone, there has been one fixture in the Federal Parliament over the past decade and that has been Labor’s infrastructure spokesman.

I have, in fact, held this portfolio for almost as long as Infrastructure Partnerships Australia has existed.

Alongside establishing institutions such as Infrastructure Australia and the Major Cities Unit to break the nexus between the three or four year electoral cycle and the much longer investment cycle, the former Federal Labor Government also:

  • Restored national leadership via my appointment as Australia’s first ever Federal Infrastructure Minister and the creation of a Federal Infrastructure Department.
  • Built and upgraded 7500 kilometres of road including completing the duplication of the Hume Highway, accelerating the upgrade of the Pacific Highway to dual carriageway, and improving the safety and flood immunity of hundreds of kilometres of the Bruce Highway;
  • Rebuilt a third of the interstate rail freight network – some 4000 kilometres of track; and
  • Committed more funding to urban rail infrastructure than all our predecessors since Federation combined.

Overall we more than doubled annual Federal infrastructure spending from $132 to $265 per Australian, taking Australia from 20th out of 25 OECD countries to number 1 when it came to investment in public infrastructure as a proportion of national income.

We did all that because of and in spite of the fact that our government was confronted with the most severe and far reaching global economic downturn since the Great Depression of 1929.

It’s this record that will provide the template for what we will do the next time.

In short, there will be two key elements to Labor’s infrastructure agenda for the nation.

Firstly, if we are to maximise its economic, social and environmental dividends, infrastructure policy must be right. That starts with a genuine commitment to a long term strategy based on an objective, evidence-based assessment of the nation’s infrastructure needs.

In practice that will involve returning Infrastructure Australia to the centre of the Government’s decision making process – and respecting its advice. To that end, we will provide it with the resources it needs to perform its core functions, including assessing projects, producing an infrastructure pipeline and recommending financing mechanisms.

The importance of having an effective Infrastructure Australia cannot be overstated.

While the quantity of available investment is important, so too is ensuring that taxpayers get value for money.  It is imperative that funding go to projects that will fix an identified problem; projects where the planning has been done; projects offering the highest economic, social and environmental returns.

Simply put, the more zeros on a project’s price tag does not automatically mean the project is a better solution than a cheaper alternative.

Secondly, we will reverse the projected decline in Federal investment and provide real funding to the real projects that have been identified and properly assessed by a re-empowered Infrastructure Australia.

Not only will we proceed with all the new projects announced in 2018 Budget, we will add to them to create an even more ambitious capital works program, particularly in the area of urban public transport.

A future Federal Labor Government will invest in Brisbane’s Cross River Rail project.  In Sydney we will partner with the State to build the Western Metro as well as ensure the new Western Sydney Airport is connected to the City’s passenger rail network from the day it opens.

Labor understands that as one of the most urbanised nations on the planet, Australia’s continued prosperity will largely depend on how successful we are at making our cities work better.

That demands investment in both their road and rail infrastructure.

On energy, we will end the years of policy confusion and establish a clear mechanism that will drive down emissions while providing the investment certainty that will led to lower electricity prices for businesses and households.

On communications, we will have a broadband network built on 21st Century fibre not 19thCentury copper, a network that will not only revolutionise the delivery of essential services such as health and education, but also unleash the growth potential of our regions.

That’s only for starters.

We will have much more to say about infrastructure between now and election day.

After all, Labor is the party of nation building.

CONCLUSION

Let me conclude by stating a truism: Good government is about planning and building for the future.

Indeed, in order to drive long-term economic growth, build inclusive communities and transit to a low carbon future, it is imperative that we get infrastructure policy right.

Achieving this will require collaboration between governments and with the private sector.

But above all, it will require bold thinking and long-term vision.

In short, Australia needs real leadership. Our long term national interest demands nothing less. I am confident that is precisely what the next Labor Government will deliver.
This piece first appeared in the annual publication Future Building – The Australian Infrastructure Review. It is based upon a speech to Infrastructure Partnerships Australia, delivered on September 21, 2018,.  

 

Dec 4, 2018

Opinion Piece – It’s Time for Paid Domestic Violence Leave – Tuesday, 4 December, 2018

IT’S TIME FOR PAID DOMESTIC VIOLENCE LEAVE 

Over the past decade, there has been a welcome increase in awareness of the scourge of domestic violence in this country.

It’s a good thing that so many Australians – women and men – do not hesitate to show their support for action on domestic violence, which takes the life of at least one Australian woman every week.

But, as British singer and songwriter Bill Bragg once sang, “wearing badges is not enough in days like these’’.

Our whole society must respond to the domestic violence crisis.

But Government must lead.

Legislation before the Australian Parliament provides us with a real opportunity to make a difference.

The Morrison Government has proposed an amendment to the Fair Work legislation that would give all Australian women access to up to five days a year of unpaid domestic violence leave.

While that is a welcome development, it doesn’t go far enough.

What is needed is 10 days of paid domestic violence leave – a position consistent with statements of many victims, frontline workers, businesses, unions and organisations that deal daily with domestic violence.

The key reason is that provision of paid domestic violence leave would make it easier for women to escape abusive situations.

While its opponents claim paid leave would impose an unfair burden on employers, the truth is that domestic violence already costs employers through absenteeism and staff turnover, as well as decreased performance and productivity.

While it is not possible to quantify such costs, the sheer size of the problem points to them being significant.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, about two thirds of women who experience domestic violence are members of the workforce.

That is more than 800,000 women – or around one in six female workers.

If you work in a large office, we are talking about some of the colleagues you work with every day.

Some of Australia’s most successful and profitable businesses, such as Qantas, Ikea, NAB, Westpac, Woolworths and Telstra, already pay domestic violence leave.

Paid leave already exists in more than 1000 enterprise agreements approved under the Fair Work Act between January, 2016, and June, 2017, provide for 10 or more days of paid domestic and family violence leave.

And both Queensland and Western Australia offer 10 days paid domestic violence leave to public sector employees, while South Australia offers 15 and Victoria and the ACT, 20.

In a report into the economic aspects of domestic violence leave by the Australia Institute, Dr Jim Stanford wrote that the cost of providing every worker access to 10 days’ paid domestic violence leave would 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.

However, when it comes to domestic violence, the real issue is not about money. It is about lives.

One woman in Australia is murdered each week by a violent partner.

One in four Australian women experiences violence from a partner.

Half of the victims have children in their care.

Domestic violence destroys individuals, families and communities.

This is a major, community-wide crisis that requires a community-wide response involving government, civil society and the business sector.

In his report for the Australia Institute, Dr 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.

When women’s lives are thrown into crisis by domestic violence, they need time to get away from their abusive partners, establish homes, settle their children, see to their personal security and potentially, to attend court hearings.

As a community, we need to make it easier for women to extract themselves and their children from dangerous situations.

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.

It’s 2018. There are no more excuses.

This piece was first published today on the Women’s Agenda website: https://bit.ly/2AKWdPy 

TUESDAY, 4 DECEMBER, 2018

Dec 3, 2018

Opinion Piece – Population Growth Needs More Infrastructure Investment – Monday, 3 December, 2018

A few years back there was a popular genre of computer games that allowed players to build civilisations from the ground up.

Players would build roads, water supplies and industrial precincts and, as their cities grew, they would attract workers whose taxes would allow players to continue to build their civilisations, raise armies and conquer the world.

However, if the player failed to provide adequate infrastructure, community sentiment would go sour, residents would leave, the civilisation would collapse and the player would have to start all over again.

In 2018, with population growth and traffic congestion causing increasing tension in the Australian community, we can learn something from the basic principles behind those computer games.

It’s simple really – as your population increases, you need to invest in railways, roads and other infrastructure commensurate with that growth. Otherwise, congestion degrades economic productivity and erodes living standards.

In the current population debate, many Australians wonder whether our annual immigration intake should be lowered.

Immigration is indeed a factor affecting population growth and congestion. But it’s not the only factor.

We can accommodate population growth, but only if governments support it with appropriate infrastructure investment.

That’s where the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison Government has failed.

Over the past five years total annual infrastructure investment in this country is down by about 17 per cent compared with the average levels during the period of the former Labor Government.

In the same period the national population, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, increased by about 1.5 million, or about 6.5 per cent.

At a time of strong population growth, the Coalition has skimped on nation building.

In particular, it has failed to invest in public transport, leaving millions of Australians stuck in traffic jams.

One of Tony Abbott’s first decisions after taking office in 2013 was the cancellation of all Federal investment in public transport projects that were not already under construction, including transformative projects like the Melbourne Metro and Brisbane’s Cross River Rail.

Mr Abbott has some frankly bizarre views about public transport.

Somehow, he believes no-one in Australia catches trains. In his 2009 manifesto Battlelines, Mr Abbott wrote:

Mostly there just aren’t enough people wanting to go from a particular place to a particular destination at a particular time to justify any vehicle larger than a car and cars need roads.

So Mr Abbott cut all urban rail funding and transferred the money to toll road projects, some of which he failed to get off the ground.

While his successors Malcolm Turnbull and Scott Morrison appear to be less hung up about public transport, they have failed to restore Mr Abbott’s cuts.

Some public transport investment was announced in this year’s Budget in May. But the fine print of the Budget documents shows 85 per cent of that money won’t be made available until four years from now.

That’s why the Parliamentary Budget Office, which is completely independent, noted in a recent report that on current planning, Federal infrastructure grants to the states, expressed as a proportion of GDP, will halve over the next four years.

That’s absurd.

While infrastructure provision is a quality-of-life issue, it is also about jobs and economic development.

The right rail and road projects create short-term economic activity and jobs. But over the longer term, they boost productivity and lead to job creation.

As a simple example, if a new freight rail line halves travel time from an industrial estate to a port, the efficiency gain means the estate suddenly becomes a much more attractive place to set up or expand an exporting business, thereby creating jobs.

That’s why the Coalition’s cuts to infrastructure have been so short-sighted.

They seem to regard nation building as a nuisance to be avoided until someone complains. They seem to have become so obsessed with small government that they’ve forgotten the role of government includes providing infrastructure to allow the economy to grow.

Labor sees infrastructure investment as an essential component of economic and social policy.

It’s about giving Australians the services they are paying for through their taxes, but also driving economic growth that will benefit their children and grandchildren.

A Shorten Labor government would boost infrastructure investment, starting with major public transport investments including Cross River Rail in Brisbane and the Western Metro and Western Sydney Rail in Sydney.

In Melbourne we’d get behind the planned Suburban Rail Loop, including the Airport Rail Link, and build on the Melbourne Metro.

On top of this, we would also deliver genuine investment into regional centres so they can grow and absorb some of the pressures of population growth.

As an example, high speed rail down the east coast would completely transform the economies of the regional cities along its route.

None of this is rocket science. It’s something that politics needs more of – common sense.

ENDS

This piece was first published by The Fifth Estate website.

MONDAY, 3 DECEMBER, 2018

 

Nov 27, 2018

Opinion Piece – Quit the Echo Chamber and Start a Debate – Tuesday, 27 November, 2018

Here’s a tip for improving the quality of public debate and government in Australia: put your mobile telephone or tablet aside and talk to people.

Social media has revolutionised human communication and is bringing people closer together like never before.

But its big downside is becoming increasingly evident — social media is leading to a situation where genuine debate about important issues is being replaced by a constant reinforcement of people’s existing opinions, in isolation from the views of others.

Social media sources such as Facebook and Twitter incorporate ­algorithms that encourage users to engage with the content of people who share their world view.

If users are exposed to someone whose views they do not share, they can choose to exclude that person from their feed.

As a result, many people are not just dismissing alternative views, but actively choosing not to hear those views. Australians are denying themselves access to facts or arguments that may allow them to reconsider or assess the basis or value of their own views.

This should be an issue of great concern for progressive activists.

If our aim is to persuade others to a particular view, our starting point must be an understanding of, and respect for, their existing views.

We need to talk with people who disagree with us. We must engage, debate and advance. We need to argue our case in every forum and at every opportunity. If you have faith in your ideals and policies, there is nothing to fear from debating them, particularly with those who disagree.

What’s more, if one of the distinguishing characteristics of being on the Left of the political spectrum is a faith in humanity, we have an obligation to engage as broadly as possible.

Recent events here and overseas illustrate the way in which people are becoming less aware of alternative views than they may have been before social media.

A year ago, Australians voted in favour of marriage equality, based on a strong campaign of ­activism across the community.

Progressive campaigners were understandably delighted with the result but many were amazed that in some Labor seats, solid votes against marriage equality were returned, in the same way many progressives in the US still can’t understand how Donald Trump won the 2016 election.

The fact is that many Americans, like many Australians, believe that economic growth and prosperity are not reflected in their quality of life. As a political opportunist, Trump capitalised on this sense of alienation, creating an alliance between the hard Right and dis­affected working people who, perversely, the hard Right doesn’t want to help.

Political progressives must reach out to such people, otherwise we risk amplifying the sense of alienation that develops when people feel their views are ignored or are not factored into decision-making and debate.

Internationally, this polarisation in global politics has seen the demise of many of the historically successful progressive political parties such as France’s Socialist Party, PASOK in Greece, the Partito Democratico in Italy, the Social Democrats in Germany and many other affiliates of the Socialist International.

In many countries, parties of the radical Right have emerged with disillusioned working-class people as their social base.

To win these people back, progressives cannot afford to retreat into a comfort zone where we constantly reinforce each other’s views while shielding ourselves from other perspectives.

We must engage with working people to ensure change benefits them as change occurs, just as we must engage with business to promote employment and fairness.

Recent Australian political history offers a road map for re-engagement.

After leading Labor to victory in 1983, Bob Hawke focused on consensus building. Through the Accord, Hawke had business and trade union leaders sit at the same table and recognise their shared interests.

Hawke created, in word and deed, the sense that we could best serve our national interest by accepting each other’s different perspectives and finding ways forward through compromise.

Ruthless partisanship is a failed model. It produces plenty of heat but no light. It saps your energy but gets you nowhere.

As my political mentor, former Labor minister Tom Uren, was fond of saying: “If you want to promote change, you’ve got to take the people with you.”

This piece was first published in today’s edition of The Australian 

 

Nov 23, 2018

Opinion Piece – Vision is the Key to Our Prosperity – Track and Signal Magazine – Friday, 23 November 2018

With a federal election due within months, it’s a good time to consider how a Labor Government would differ from the Coalition in the critical area of infrastructure investment.

It comes down to one word – vision.

While good infrastructure policy responds to capacity constraints, great infrastructure policy – the kind we should aspire to in this country – is forward looking.

It creates future economic growth by boosting national capacity, particularly in ways that encourage industrial and business growth and, therefore, job creation.

Take the Snowy Mountains Scheme. This visionary piece of nation building has created and sustained hundreds of thousands of jobs in this country. It was successful because its creators looked forward rather than backwards.

Unfortunately, the current Coalition Government’s approach to infrastructure investment has been wholly reactive.

It has cut investment across the board, dropped the ball on public transport and congestion in cities and dragged its feet on promised investment in freight rail projects including the Inland Rail Link between Brisbane and Melbourne.

It appears to regard infrastructure investment as some kind of expensive inconvenience that should only be undertaken when serious capacity constraints erode profits and generate intolerable political pressure.

Labor would take a different approach – using infrastructure investment to drive growth and prosperity, not just to fix problems after they emerge.

In the words of that great Irish thinker, George Bernard Shaw: “The possibilities are numerous once we decide to act and not react’’.

Our first challenge would be addressing under-investment under the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison Government.

Early in September analysis by the independent Parliamentary Budget Office found that on the current trajectory, Federal infrastructure grants to the states, expressed as a percentage of GDP growth, will fall by half from 0.4 per cent to 0.2 per cent over the next four years.

In the lead-up to this year’s Federal Budget, the Government attempted to address public concern about traffic congestion by announcing a range of public transport projects around the nation, including the proposed rail line to Tullamarine Airport.

However, 85 per cent of its proposed investment won’t appear for at least four years.

Labor would invest as soon as possible, not years into the future.

Our second big challenge would be to shift the policy focus from a game of catch-up to the use of infrastructure investment as a facilitator of future growth.

This will require better planning, increased investment, as well as genuine co-operation with other levels of government and the private sector.

In 2007, one of the first decisions made by the incoming Coalition Government was the cancellation of all Federal investment in public transport not already under construction.

This decision came just months after the independent Infrastructure Australia produced research showing that unless Governments acted, traffic congestion would cost the nation $53 billion a year in lost productivity by 2031.

Five years later, Infrastructure Australia’s warning is manifesting itself in serious traffic congestion in all Australian cities that is preventing economic growth, undermining the Australian quality of life and creating increasing anger among Australians.

Labor would tackle this challenge in two ways – by investing in public transport and also investing in regional Australia.

We’ve already committed to invest in transformative public transport projects including Brisbane’s Cross River Rail, the proposed Western Metro, the Western Sydney Rail, the Perth METRONET, the Sunshine Coast’s Beerburrum-to-Landsborough line duplication, and, in Melbourne, the Frankston to Baxter Upgrade.

We’ll make further announcements in coming months.

But if we really want to reduce crowding in capital cities, this nation needs a genuine decentralisation program that will encourage more people to live and work in regional Australia.

For that to happen, regional centres need more job opportunities and better transport links to capital cities.

On jobs, we’d collaborate with state governments, councils and the private sector to identify and invest in projects that will stimulate growth.

Our City Partnerships program, which will replace the existing City Deals framework, will work from the bottom up, on the basis that local communities are always better placed to understand local priorities than bureaucrats in Canberra.

We’d also focus on better rail and road links between capital cities and satellite regional centres so residents and businesses could easily access capital cities.

As an example, we would get moving with the High Speed Rail link between Brisbane and Melbourne via Sydney and Canberra.

It would not only revolutionise interstate travel, but 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, Southern Highlands, Wagga Wagga, Albury-Wodonga and Shepparton.

All of these centres would be better placed to attract business investment and new residents if they were within a short train ride of a capital city.

The bottom line here is that if Governments aspire to a better Australia, it won’t create itself.

It will require investment, planning and above all, vision.

This is an edited transcript Mr Albanese’s address to the Irish-Australian chamber of commerce luncheon in Melbourne on 21 September, 2018.

This piece was first published in the November  2018 – January 2019 edition of Track and Signal magazine: https://bit.ly/2BqLtHJ 

 

Nov 1, 2018

Opinion Piece – Rail can relieve the burden for Western Sydney – Thursday, 1 November, 2018

Australia’s cities are in a state of transition.

There was a time in Australia when you could live close to an Australian capital city CBD in a house on a quarter acre.

But in 2018, strong population growth is taking us into a new era featuring higher population densities and a mix of detached housing, apartments and town houses.

While that transition is manageable, the impediment we face is that in many respects our transport infrastructure is designed for the old Australia, not the nation we inhabit in the 21st century.

That is why traffic congestion is undermining economic growth and eroding our quality of life.

For millions of Australians traffic congestion is a ball and chain that is ruining their lives and forcing them to take long daily commutes, often on expensive toll roads.

Many have no access to public transport as an alternative.

It is a tragedy that many Australian commuters spend more time travelling to and from work in their cars than they spend at home playing with their children.

It is time for governments to work together to confront this serious problem in the national interest.

In the past, too many leaders have chosen to turn away.

For example, when Tony Abbott took office in 2013, he cancelled billions of dollars’ worth of public transport investment that had been put in the Federal Budget by the previous Labor Government.

That included removing funding for the Parramatta to Epping Rail Line that would have been opening soon. That project would have opened up access for Western Sydney to the high-value jobs around Macquarie Park and taken pressure off the Western Line.

Mr Abbott’s reason, as he outlined in his 2009 book Battlelines, was that he believes Australians don’t want to use public transport and enjoy the freedom that comes with being what Mr Abbott called “kings in their cars’’.

This ideological position has distorted infrastructure priorities in Sydney away from public transport, towards toll roads.

And that has meant a rush in planning so that the Westconnex project no longer resembles the priority identified by Infrastructure NSW to improve freight movements around the Port. Indeed it has become a road to more roads under the NSW Liberal Government.

Westconnex has been poorly planned, is massively over-budget and has been imposed upon communities with inadequate consultation.

But putting that aside, the problem for Sydney is that there has not been sufficient investment in rail.

That’s where the Western Metro can help.

The proposal is for a 25km underground rail line with new stations, linking the Sydney CBD to Parramatta via the Bays Precinct and Sydney Olympic Park.

This would be a game changer for Parramatta and the jobs hubs around Olympic Park and the Bays Precinct.

It would not only make it easier for commuters to get to and from work, but would also strengthen links between the Sydney CBD and the Parramatta CBD.

This project can be a genuine catalyst for the creation of more jobs closer to where people live, which is a critical requirement to deal with the demographic pressures we are facing.

It is a good thing that both the NSW Government and the Labor Opposition led by Luke Foley have committed to the project.

As for Federal Labor, our intentions are clear. Labor Leader Bill Shorten has committed $3 billion to the Western Metro plus a further $3 billion for the Western Sydney Rail Line, a north-south link through Western Sydney which will connect the new Western Sydney Airport to the Sydney passenger network.

The Federal Government has yet to match Federal Labor’s commitment.

It should do so now.

Australians are sick of the politics of division. They want practical action on issues that actually matter, such as Australians being able to get to and from work in a reasonable time.

This is an edited transcript of Anthony Albanese’s to yesterday’s (OCT 31) speech to the Western Metro Forum in Sydney.

Oct 19, 2018

High Speed Rail Shouldn’t Run on Party Lines – Opinion – The Herald Sun – Friday, 19 October, 2018

If there is one thing we know about Australian voters in 2018, it is that they are tired of needless political division.

After five prime ministerships in five years and inadequate progress on national interest issues like climate change and indigenous reconciliation, Australians want less politics and more action.

That’s why we should be seeking out areas for cross-party collaboration in the national interest.

One area ripe for bipartisanship is the construction of a High Speed Rail Link from Brisbane to Melbourne via Sydney and Canberra.

This project would not only revolutionise interstate travel and boost tourism, but also turbo-charge regional economic development and decentralisation.

While the former Labor Government completed a positive feasibility study on the project in 2013, the Coalition Government has failed to advance it, defying an international trend toward greater investment in fast rail.

However, the Government’s position appears to have changed.

We know this because last month, the Herald Sun was leaked a list of more than $7 billion worth of infrastructure projects, including High Speed Rail, to which the Coalition secretly allocated some funding in this year’s Budget.

But rather than release the funding now, the Government has decided to squirrel away these projects for announcement during the next federal election campaign.

That makes no sense.

Instead of delaying action for political reasons, we should just get on with it.

With this in mind, on Monday (September 15) I re-introduced a Private Member’s Bill to Parliament that would create a High Speed Rail Authority.

The authority would conduct advanced planning for the project, finalise the business case and begin to explore options for private sector investment.

It would also work with the governments of Victoria, New South Wales, Queensland and the Australian Capital Territory to commence the important process of preserving the corridor for High Speed Rail before it is built out by urban sprawl.

That’s critical. Even if actual construction of High Speed Rail does not commence in the near term, we can save money now if we prevent ongoing development along the corridor.

We should also be exploring the intense interest from international companies which have experience in building High Speed Rail projects and say technical advancement is reducing the cost of such projects.

These steps can commence now.

There is no reason for delay. As we know from the leak to the Herald Sun, the funding is already available.

The 2013 feasibility study found High Speed Rail was viable and would return more than $2 in economic benefit for every dollar invested.

As Infrastructure Minister at the time, I asked an independent panel to examine the feasibility study and propose the best way forward.

That panel included former National Party leader and Deputy Prime Minister Tim Fisher, the Business Council of Australia’s Jennifer Westacott and the late Bryan Nye, of the Australasian Railway Association.

They recommended exactly what I am proposing in my Private Member’s Bill – the creation of a High Speed Rail Authority to advance planning and corridor protection.

Since 2013, the case for High Speed Rail has strengthened.

Strong population growth is causing severe traffic congestion in our capital cities, particularly in Melbourne, the nation’s fastest growing city.

Part of the response must be to increase investment in urban rail, as well as better roads.

However, another part of the solution is promoting greater growth in regional Australia so it can absorb a greater proportion of increases in our population.

That’s where High Speed Rail can be a game changer.

It would open up significant development opportunities for the regional communities along its path – cities like the Gold Coast, Casino, Grafton, Coffs Harbour, Port Macquarie, Taree, Newcastle, the Central Coast, the Southern Highlands, Canberra, Wagga Wagga, Albury-Wodonga and Shepparton.

If, for example, people could travel the 190km journey between Melbourne and Shepparton at 300km an hour, businesses would have greater incentive to establish operations in the regional city, taking advantage of its lower overheads.

This would create new jobs – the essential ingredient to any policy for regional development and decentralisation.

High Speed Rail will require significant public and private investment.

It will also take years to develop, with the job taking a number of electoral cycles.

That’s why it requires bi-partisan support.

But above all, High Speed rail requires vision. We need to think beyond the three-year electoral cycle, envision a better future and take then take the necessary steps to make that vision real.

My Private Member’s Bill provides the platform for bipartisanship on High Speed Rail.

The Morrison Government would be serving the public interest if it jumped on board, supported the Bill, established the authority and advanced the project.

 

This piece was first published in The Herald Sun today: https://bit.ly/2q2t2Cp 

Oct 17, 2018

Government must confront public transport parking crisis – Opinion – The Big Smoke – Wednesday, 17 October 2018

The inability to find a park close to their station is something all commuters unfortunately face. Good government means solving this problem.

There’s nothing new about the idea that greater investment in urban rail will help ease the traffic congestion that is plaguing Australia’s capital cities.

But it is important to remember that even when governments deliver new rail projects, the job isn’t necessarily over.

In parts of Australia in 2018, a lack of car parking at train stations is emerging as an unwanted impediment to efforts to tackle traffic congestion, which costs the nation about $16 billion a year in lost productivity.

Across our big cities, workers who commence their daily commute by driving from home to their nearest train station are struggling to find car parking.

Desperate to catch their trains, the commuters park on nearby streets, causing localised traffic congestion and often inconveniencing local residents.

Take for instance, the community of Mango Hill, in the northern suburbs of Brisbane.

It’s not very long ago that Mango Hill was little more than a pine forest, a few farms and a couple of roadside fruit stalls.

But over the past two decades, intense population growth has transformed the area into a vibrant residential community which Federal and State Labor governments connected to the Brisbane passenger rail network via the new Redcliffe Peninsula Line.

However, less than two years after this new train station opened, demand for its 221-space car park is outstripping supply.

In the same way, when the NSW Government opened the Leppington train station in the city’s south-west in 2015, it took less than a year for the station’s 850 car parking spaces to be full by 9am each weekday.

Unless governments act on parking, we risk creating a situation where commuters give up on public transport because it is too much trouble. That’s the last thing we want.

Federal Labor has part of the solution.

In Government we would create a $300 million Park and Ride Fund to work with state and local governments to expand community car parking at public transport hubs.

Already, we’ve announced eight park and ride projects, including at Mango Hill and nearby Narangba in Queensland; Gosford, Woy Woy and Tuggerah on the NSW Central Coast; Riverwood and Schofields in Sydney; and Frankston in Victoria.

The rationale is simple – if we want commuters to use trains, train stations must be accessible.

It’s not enough just to build rail networks. We must also ensure they are easy to use.

In an ideal world, commuters would live within walking distance of train stations and have no need to park and ride.

Indeed, that is the situation in many long-established urban areas of Australia.

But outer suburban areas are often served by a single train line that draws in commuters from far and wide.

When it’s too far to walk to the station, parking becomes critical.

That’s where government needs to step in with practical measures such as our Park and Ride Fund.

Traditionally Federal governments have left car parking to state and local governments.

But after five years of underinvestment in infrastructure by the current Federal Government, traffic congestion looms as a genuine threat to national economic growth and is eroding living standards.

All levels of governments must work together to address the problem.

Responses should include increased investment in rail and roads, job creation closer to where people live, increased population density along established public transport corridors and greater efforts on regional development and decentralisation to take some of the pressure of growth off capital cities.

The emergence of the parking problem points to a broader challenge relating to population growth and development in urban Australia in coming decades.

As our cities continue to grow, much of that growth will happen in outer suburban areas.

The National Growth Areas Alliance, made up of local councils representing such areas, states that their population of about five million is expected to climb to 7.5 million between now and 2031.

That’s twice the national growth rate.

To truly deal with traffic congestion, we must ensure we provide the infrastructure investment needed to support this growth.


 
This piece was first published today by The Big Smoke: https://bit.ly/2P1Xs6c 

Sep 17, 2018

Why Investing in Infrastructure is a Good Way to Fire Up the Australian Economy – Opinion Piece – Business Insider – Tuesday, 18 September 2018

If there is a one thing Australia’s major political parties agree on, it is the need for governments to focus on economic growth and job creation to provide opportunities for Australians.

However, while growth is our shared aim, it is unfortunate that in the current political climate we are struggling to agree on how to create that growth.

If you listen to the rhetoric of the Federal Government, you might think the only way to drive growth is to cut taxes for huge corporations and high-income earners.

For years now, the Government has pursued tax cuts for big companies and criticised Labor because we place a higher priority on investing in health and education.

The problem with the Government’s approach is that it has placed all of its eggs in one basket – tax cuts – while ignoring other drivers of growth.

Take infrastructure investment.

Good rail and road projects boost productivity, which also leads to economic growth and job creation.

If, for example, we were to improve access to ports by expanding rail capacity, businesses would save time and money by getting their products to their customers more swiftly.

They could then invest the resulting savings back into growing their businesses and creating more jobs.

But back in 2013, Prime Minister Tony Abbott dumped the former Labor Government’s sensible plan to duplicate rail access into Sydney’s Port Botany, which, if it had proceeded, would have been nearing completion by now.

Then there is the issue of traffic congestion.

According to the Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics, traffic congestion costs the economy more than $16 billion year in lost productivity.

The problem is getting worse each year and is now undermining the Australian quality of life and creating tension in our communities.

But the Coalition has failed to respond.

In 2013, Mr Abbott cancelled billions of dollars of planned Federal investment in public transport projects like the Melbourne Metro and Brisbane’s Cross River project.

Mr Abbott’s successor Malcolm Turnbull talked a lot about public transport, but failed to reverse Mr Abbott’s funding cuts.

Indeed, Mr Turnbull simply refused to invest in Cross River Rail, even though it will provide a significant boost to the capacity of the rail network right across South-East Queensland

The new Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, should press the reset button on growth.

Mr Morrison should abandon the Coalition’s previous one-dimensional approach and look at other growth strategies, including investing in productivity-enhancing infrastructure projects.

Judging by his record in drafting the 2018 Budget as Treasurer, the signs are not good.

In the lead-up to the Budget’s delivery, the Government announced support for several public transport projects, including Western Sydney Rail, the Melbourne Airport Rail and the Perth METRONET.

It leaked the details to the media, which duly attracted front page newspaper coverage.

But when the Budget Papers finally hit the desk, we found that 85% of money committed to infrastructure in the 2018 Budget won’t be invested until after the four-year Forward Estimates period.

Mr Morrison has pushed investment off into the Never Never.

This is bad for our economy. We need investment now, not years from now.

The independent Parliamentary Budget Office has already calculated that over the next decade, Federal infrastructure grants to the states will fall from 0.4% of GDP to 0.2%.

Yet Mr Morrison has chosen to delay meaningful investment.

It is time for a rethink. Mr Morrison should get on with it.

 

This piece was first published in Business Insider today: https://bit.ly/2MCrKad 

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