Browsing articles in "Opinion Pieces"
Jul 12, 2018

Opinion Piece – Cities need true partnership, not simple “deals” – Daily Telegraph – Thursday, 12 July 2018

One of the great challenges of life in 21st century Australia is the way in which strong population growth is transforming our cities.

Urban sprawl, traffic congestion and the shift toward greater population density are all challenges that will not be overcome without genuine collaboration between all levels of government.

Otherwise, uncontrolled growth will damage our economy and our quality of life.

Labor has engaged on urban policy since the 1970s. We seek to work with local communities, particularly through their local councils, to develop responses to the challenges of growth.

By contrast, the Coalition is a newcomer to the urban policy space. In 2013, it dismantled the former Labor Government’s urban policy framework, including our Major Cities Unit.

This changed in 2015 when Malcolm Turnbull established his City Deals Program as a vehicle for greater inter-governmental collaboration. Under City Deals, federal, state and local governments agree to a shared vision for the future and ways to achieve make their vision real.

However, more than 18 months after the first deal was signed in Townsville, it is clear City Deals have fallen well short of their stated objectives.

The program is a poor imitation of the United Kingdom model it seeks to replicate. Rather than providing a framework for collaboration, it seems to be based on a top-down approach in which Canberra determines priorities and requires other levels of government to march to its tune.

A Labor Government will overhaul and replace City Deals.

Our City Partnerships model will foster more genuine collaboration, transforming the existing top-down system into one in which councils are seen not as casual stakeholders, but genuine partners in urban policy.

A key problem with Mr Turnbull’s City Deals is that there are no clear guidelines about how they work. City Deals have either been in marginal electorates framed around single election commitments or are simply missing depth and detail.

This is the case for the Western Sydney City Deal, which excluded Blacktown Council for no good reason. And the deal’s centrepiece – a north-south rail link through Western Sydney – is still unfunded.

The Coalition’s model also limits engagement with the private sector.

But most worryingly, there is no review process for Mr Turnbull’s City Deals – no independent mechanism to determine whether they are working.

Labor will address this deficiency by re-establishing the Major Cities Unit within the independent Infrastructure Australia and requiring it to use transparent measures to assess the progress of City Partnerships.

The Major Cities Unit will also refresh the National Urban Policy that Labor released when in government to ensure City Partnerships align with its objectives, for example, in areas like sustainability and smart technology.

Labor accepts that City Partnerships must be tailored and flexible.

But we expect them to set out a strategic vision that aligns with the National Urban Policy and delivers on pre-determined performance indicators.

The importance of a bottom-up approach was rammed home for me last month, when I met many mayors from around the nation who were in Canberra for the Australian Local Government Association annual congress.

Mayor after mayor told me of their desire to co-operate with other levels of government, other councils in their regions as well as the private sector to achieve positive change in their communities.

Yet the Government seems to have little interest in using its City Deals regime as a vehicle for this collaboration.

For example, in the Hunter Valley – Lake Macquarie, Maitland, Newcastle, Port Stephens and Cessnock councils are seeking $13 million from the Commonwealth to deliver the next stage of the Glendale Interchange.

The project will create 6000 jobs and unlock $700 million of private sector investment, including an expansion of Stockland Glendale.

This sounds like a perfect opportunity for collaboration with the Commonwealth.

In the same way, the Council of Mayors for South-East Queensland, which encompasses ten local government areas, has been working together for years on issues of common interest.

The Federal Government is not involved. But it should be.

 

This piece was first published in The Daily Telegraph today: https://bit.ly/2JfKyKB

Jun 29, 2018

Opinion Piece – ‘Traffic Congestion: The Problem We Can’t Ignore – Business Excellence, the Journal of the Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry – Friday, 29 June 2018

If someone told you Australia could boost its economy by $16.5 billion a year, you’d probably assume they had somehow stumbled upon a very big money tree.

But according to the Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics, $16.5 billion a year is the annual value of lost economic activity caused by traffic congestion in Australian cities.

With the population steadily increasing, our major cities, home to four out of five Australians, are becoming seriously congested.

Commuting times are getting longer. Too many Australians who live in outer suburban areas spend more time in their car travelling to and from work than they spend with their children.

Although Australia has a wide range of challenges in the transport sphere, moving people around our cities is the most immediate.

It cannot be ignored, because it affects so many people’s daily lives and because it as acting as a hand brake on productivity and economic growth.

The problem requires significant and sustained investment in better roads and public transport, whether it is heavy rail, light rail, or busways.

And on that note, the 2018 Federal Budget failed to deliver.

It did not include a single dollar of new investment in infrastructure.

Any funding allocated to new projects was already in the Budget and 85 per cent of that funding won’t be spent before the next election or the election after that.

Victoria in particular continues to be shortchanged.

This financial year, the state is receiving 8 per cent of Federal infrastructure grants, despite being home to a quarter of the population. While Victoria’s share will increase marginally over coming years, the Forward Estimates have it peaking at 18 per cent in 2021-22 – still well short of a fair share.

The Budget did include a promise of $5 billion to construct a rail line to the Melbourne Airport by way of an off-budget equity injection.

Under Budget rules, off-budget projects must be able to make a return to the Budget.

Given that public transport does not generate enough revenue to cover its operating expenses, let alone its capital cost, this approach won’t work for this project.

As the Grattan Institute’s Marion Terrill has noted: “If infrastructure projects are never going to make a commercial return, the Government should stop pretending they will. And if they are worth building at all, the Government should fund them transparently on Budget.’’

Such trickiness does not augur well for the timely delivery of projects that will reduce congestion.

Victoria and the nation can’t afford to wait.

Each year, the economic cost of inaction on infrastructure increases. It is expected to hit $53 billion a year by 2031 unless we act now.

The Federal Government should be partnering with states now to build projects like the Melbourne Metro, Western Sydney Rail, Brisbane’s Cross River Rail and light rail in Adelaide.

Congestion can also be addressed via greater concentration on better planning.

Part of the reason traffic congestion is worsening is that in recent years, jobs growth has shifted from the suburbs to the inner cities.

With inner-city housing prices outside the reach of average income earners, there is a mismatch between where people work – increasingly around central business districts – and where they can afford to live.

While better public transport is critical, governments can also act by seeking to promote job growth in suburban areas.

In part this can be achieved by investing in research precincts around hospitals and universities, just as the new Western Sydney Airport at Badgerys Creek has potential to create tens of thousands of jobs closer to residential areas.

Governments must also consider the possibility of increased housing density, particularly on established public transport corridors.

This presents a real challenge. We must collaborate to ensure that increased population densities do not come at the expense of quality of life.

Governments are happy to accept the higher revenues that come with an increasing population, but they have a duty to invest some of that income to ensure that railways and roads are adequate to meet community needs.

Failure to do so will not only erode the Australian quality of life, but reduce long-term economic growth and job creation.

 

This piece was first published today in Business Excellence, the journal of the Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry: https://bit.ly/2IBunr0 

 

Jun 11, 2018

Opinion Piece – Ignore Driverless Cars and We’re Rejecting the Future – Herald Sun – Monday, 11 June 2018

By Anthony Albanese and Ed Husic

The ever-accelerating pace of change in the 21st century demands that regulators be quick on their feet. Science and technology move so quickly that the moment we’ve settled the regulations governing the latest emerging sector, circumstances change, requiring that we revisit the regulatory framework.

For example, the internet has developed so quickly over the past two decades that governments have failed to keep pace with emerging problems regarding privacy, bullying and cybercrime.

We should learn from this when it comes to the approach of what will be one of our biggest changes in decades: the emergence of automated vehicles.

Driverless cars are not science fiction. They are coming.

Hundreds of trial vehicles are already on the road around the world, particularly in the United States and Europe, but also in Australia.

With change already beckoning, governments must think hard now about what changes, if any, need to be considered with regard to regulations in areas like liability, insurance and, most importantly, public safety. In Australia, we are not doing enough to face such challenges.

For instance, recent Senate Estimates hearings were told that Australia’s National Transport Commission is undertaking work that could make Australian non-compliant with the Geneva Convention on Road Traffic.

The NTC is responsible for advising state and federal ministers on issues to do with road rules and driver licensing. It creates model laws, which states and territories base legislation.

While the NTC is working on model laws concerning automated vehicles, it is not attending United Nations talks aimed at thrashing out an internationally consistent approach under the Geneva Convention on Road Traffic. That is a mistake. We must take a global approach and not isolate ourselves.

An important practical advantage of being a signatory to the Geneva Convention is that it allows Australians who travel to have their driver’s licences recognised in other nations.

However, if Australia reaches a position where our road rules are not consistent with the Geneva Convention, Australian licences might not be recognised overseas, which would inconvenience travellers.

Australia must be fully engaged with the international community on such matters. And since the experts are predicting autonomous vehicles could be available for use by 2020, there’s no time to waste.

We must prepare for what will be a transformation in transport. And in a globalised world, we must prioritise collaboration with other nations, not just for the sake of consistency, but also to pick up good ideas we might not have thought about.

It’s not just about driver’s licences. For example, while autonomous vehicles offer advantages of increased safety and reduced emissions, they will also displace people.

Hundreds of thousands of Australians drive cars and trucks for a living. The government should be working hard right now to consider how it can help people who lose their jobs to automation with retraining.

Yet the Turnbull Government is asleep at the wheel. It is cutting investment in training, reducing apprenticeships and gives little indication that it is thinking any further than the next election. It seems to operate according to the demands of the 1950s, when change occurred at a glacial pace and governments had ample time to anticipate its effects and plan necessary responses.

In the 21st century change happens fast. Governments must anticipate that change and get ahead of the curve.

Indeed, one of the biggest challenges for all governments in this country is to get better at managing change generally, not just in terms of regulation, but also in managing its effects on people.

Governments must accept that they have a responsibility to take a proactive approach in managing its effects, in the public interest.

 

Anthony Albanese is the Shadow Minister for Transport. Ed Husic is the Shadow Minister for the Digital Economy.

This piece was first published in today’s edition of The Herald Sun, 11 June 2018.

May 31, 2018

Opinion Piece – Infrastructure Funny Money won’t get Projects Built – Thursday, 31 May, 2018

by Anthony Albanese

When it comes to infrastructure, budget 2018 was a triumph of spin over substance.

In the lead-up to the budget’s delivery, the Turnbull government pretended it was about to deliver “an infrastructure budget“, telling journalists it would fund projects like Western Sydney Rail and Melbourne Airport Rail.

While the “leaks” attracted front-page newspaper coverage in Sydney and Melbourne, the actual budget included no money for construction of either project.

In fact, the budget did not include a dollar of new infrastructure funding anywhere, simply allocating money already in the budget to new projects.

But most of this spending won’t happen for years. Only 1 per cent of this year’s allocations will be spent in 2018-19. Three quarters won’t be invested until beyond the forward estimates.

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This means that Australians will have to re-elect the Coalition not once, but twice, before the bulk of the money will appear.

Put simply, the government has sought public praise by pretending it is committed to building new railways and roads, but has pushed their delivery off into the never-never.

In the meantime, actual federal infrastructure grants to states and territories are falling off a cliff.

In 2017-18 the government promised to distribute $8 billion in infrastructure grants to the states.

But the budget documents show grants will fall year on year to $4.5 billion by 2021-22.

Across the four- year forward estimates, this year’s budget is more than $2 billion less than last year’s projections.

It’s even worse than a year ago, when the independent Parliamentary Budget Office calculated that over the next decade, federal infrastructure investment as a proportion of GDP will halve from 0.4 per cent to 0.2 per cent.

Australia needs an increase in infrastructure investment now, not four to eight years from now.

Investing in the right projects now will boost economic activity and create jobs in the short-term, while lifting productivity and economic growth in the medium to long term.

As cover for its cuts, the government is continuing to promote its attempts to attract more private investment to deliver public infrastructure as a viable alternative.

Must provide a return

While private investment is welcome, the government’s endeavours in this area have yielded little.

Its push began three years ago with the creation of the Northern Australia Infrastructure Financing Facility. It has failed to deliver a major new infrastructure project.

Then there was last year’s new idea – the Infrastructure Financing Unit, which was designed to use “innovative financing” mechanisms like value capture to secure private investment.

After a year of operation, the IFU has not produced a project.

Undeterred, the government used this budget to resort to complete fantasy by claiming it will provide $5 billion in off-budget funding via an equity investment for the aforementioned Melbourne Airport Rail Link.

Off-budget funding can work for some projects. Indeed, the former Labor government used an equity funding model to deliver the Moorebank Intermodal Terminal.

But the golden rule for projects to be taken off-budget is that they must be able to provide a return to the budget. That return must cover not only operating expenses, but also a commercial return on the capital investment.

There is no doubt that the right public transport projects can boost productivity and generate economic growth. However, they do not produce revenue streams sufficient to cover the cost of their operation, let alone the cost of construction.

There’s an old saying to the effect that if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

The idea that infrastructure like the Melbourne Airport Link will somehow build itself without any taxpayer funding is too good to be true.

This is sham funding. It is a funny-money political narrative, not a genuine plan to deliver productivity-enhancing, congestion-relieving infrastructure.

This is why independent experts have questioned the government’s approach.

For example, the Grattan Institute’s Marion Terrill has warned: “If infrastructure projects are never going to make a commercial return, the government should stop pretending they will. And if they are worth building at all, the government should fund them transparently on-budget.”

Adrian Dwyer, the head of peak industry group Infrastructure Partnerships Australia, has a similar view: “There are only two ways to pay for infrastructure – tickets and taxes. We can’t finance our way out of a funding problem.”

During its five years in office, the Coalition has cut infrastructure investment across the nation, particularly for public transport.

In budget 2018, it sought to shift its rhetoric to pretend it was ready to reverse its cuts. But once you get beyond the spin, nothing has changed.

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

 

May 29, 2018

Opinion Piece – For Women to Make History we must think about the Future – Ten Daily – Tuesday, 29 May 2018

Women made history at this year’s Commonwealth Games.

For the first time, an equal number of medals were awarded to men and women.

In addition, 2018 marked the first women’s rugby competition, despite the fact that men’s rugby has been included in the Games for 20 years.

These two historic moments, obviously overdue, highlight the recent explosion of female participation in sports that were traditionally the bastion of boys and men.

The development of women’s professional leagues in sports like soccer, AFL, cricket, rugby league and rugby union, is giving women the option of sport as a career. And that development is driving greater interest in sport from girls and boys.

That’s a great thing.

It’s good for equality, but also means more young Australians are accessing the health benefits that come from physical activity.

However, there is one impediment that could stop this growth in its tracks: actual physical space.

In an ABC interview earlier this year, the new head of the AFL’s Women’s competition, Nicole Livingstone, said that a lack of availability of sports fields in major cities was having an impact on female participation in sport.

At the same time, population growth, particularly in our cities, means this demand for sporting fields is certain to increase across the board in coming years.

Australia needs to confront this shortage and develop solutions.

Fortunately, in some places local councils are putting in the work now to understand the problem by working out the scale of the open-space shortfall.

A recent report by a group of councils in northern Sydney found that at least 120 sporting fields will be needed across Sydney’s northern suburbs over the next two decades.

The City of Sydney has estimated that by 2031 it will need 20 extra sports fields, 18 outdoor multi-purpose courts and 19 indoor multi-purpose courts.

However, at this point in our nation’s history, increasing our open space will be tough. Our need for more space for sport coincides with the need for more housing to accommodate our increasing population.

We need a fresh approach.

This should start with a serious national conversation about how we can create more open space in our communities and, more importantly, how we can make much better use of existing space.

That conversation should be wide-ranging and involve genuine collaboration between all relevant players, including the private sector and, critically, parents.

Whenever we build new housing estates we should ensure they include adequate sporting fields and open space, not just for now, but for the future, as populations increase.

But the real challenge lies in increasing space for sport in existing urban areas.

Across Australia’s cities there has been a strong increase in construction of apartments, which is increasing population density in some areas.

Our challenge is to accommodate this greater population density while also creating more open space.

One solution here is incorporating indoor sporting facilities in urban renewal plans.

We should also work harder to better utilise existing sporting grounds and improve their facilities.

Many existing sports facilities have only male change rooms. Significant investment is required to ensure that female facilities are provided so as to encourage female participation.

Another way to make better use of existing space is to think harder about the way we design and use parks.
We also need to design parks in ways that also allow for maximum human use.

A great example of open space used well is at the Darrell Jackson Gardens in Summer Hill, in my electorate.

There, large trees around the edges of the park provide welcome shade. The two playgrounds offer a space for children to play.

Tennis courts are on one side and a round oval enables sport to be played, most commonly cricket.

I don’t have all of the solutions to increasing space for sporting events.

But the point is that nobody has all the answers.

We will only find them if we collaborate broadly and think outside the square.

Australia is renowned as a great sporting nation. We need to keep it that way.

This piece was first published in Ten Daily today: [https://bit.ly/2sg2org] 

May 21, 2018

Opinion Piece – Rail must be at the Centre of Freight and Supply Chain Strategy – Monday, 21 May, 2018

The freight and logistics sector is the lifeblood of the Australian economy.

It is critical that the Federal Government support the sector with appropriate infrastructure investment, while also providing policy leadership and working with industry and other levels of governments to facilitate the efficient movement of goods around the nation.

In that context, it is good that the Federal Coalition Government is working on a National Freight and Supply Chain Strategy, to be finalised later this year.

However, it must be noted that the former Federal Labor Government produced such a strategy  – the National Land Freight Strategy – in 2012.

Developed by Infrastructure Australia with input from the National Transport Commission, industry and the states and territories, it was a blueprint for a streamlined, integrated and multimodal transport system. It also complemented the National Ports Strategy which we had published that same year.

In 2013, the incoming Coalition ignored the strategy, before deciding three years later to start afresh.

Putting aside the waste of five important years, it is right thing for the Commonwealth to finally seek to provide leadership in this important area of economic policy.

Getting freight distribution systems right boosts productivity and that drives economic growth and, most importantly, job creation.

Australia’s existing freight and logistic network is struggling to cope with the demands already being placed on it, let alone the added demand that’s expected in the years ahead.

Australia’s population is expected to grow by 400,000 people a year.

That’s a lot of extra consumers who will expect the shelves of their favourite shops and local supermarkets to be filled with the products and brands that they enjoy.

Then of course there will be the growing demand from industry to supply the raw material and capital equipment required to make those consumer goods in the first place and for exporters to get their products to market as quickly as possible.

As the work load increases, we must look rail to lift its share of the freight task compared to other modes of transport.

That is not to diminish the indispensable role of road transport. Road, air and seat transport will all play their part.

But when it comes to moving large volumes of freight over long distances, rail
has significant advantages that we must exploit in coming decades.

Rail does the job at a lower cost and more safely.

It is also the most energy-efficient mode of land transport, meaning less pollution and a smaller carbon footprint.

In fact, rail produces three times less harmful carbon emissions than road.

Having more freight carried by rail also translates into lower highway maintenance costs, less congested urban arteries and fewer road accidents.  Just one 1800 metre can replace as many as 100 trucks.

When you add up these competitive advantages, it is clear that a growing role for rail must sit at the centre of the new freight strategy.

That makes it critical that we get the planning right for projects like the Inland Rail Link between Brisbane and Melbourne.

We must also continue to invest in clearing bottlenecks that hold back productivity.

The former Labor Federal Government focused heavily on rail, delivering the biggest investment in Australia’s freight rail infrastructure in more than a century.

We rebuilt a third of the interstate Network – or some 3,800 kilometres of track.  This work included re-railing, installing new passing loops and extending existing ones, and replacing the ageing timber sleepers with 3.4 million Australian-made concrete sleepers which don’t buckle on hot days.

But we also invested in eliminating bottlenecks.

In Sydney, for example, we built a new 36 kilometre dedicated line between Macarthur and Chullora, thereby separating freight from passenger trains.

Previously, freight trains endured frustrating delays getting into and out of
Sydney due to limited tracks and the priority given to passenger trains, particularly during peak periods.

This $1 billion piece of infrastructure tripled the capacity of this vital rail corridor.

We made further investments in Sydney, such as the Moorebank Intermodal, and in other cities around the nation.

I’m proud of that record. But more needs to be done.

We need to invest in new lines, continue to eliminate bottlenecks and be prepared to use technology to improve the efficiency of existing lines.

The modernisation of the nation’s rail freight infrastructure is a project that serves the national interest. It must continue.

This is an edited transcript of Mr Albanese’s speech to the Australian Logistics Council’s Forum 2018, delivered in Sydney on March 7, 2018.

This appeared in the May-July 2018 edition of Track and Signal Magazine.

 

MONDAY, MAY 21, 2018

May 16, 2018

Opinion Piece – Our Rapidly Changing Cities Are Threatening The Aussie Way Of Life – Ten Daily – Wednesday, 16 May 2018

In a nation famed for its easy lifestyle, we must find ways to manage growth in our cities so it does not destroy our Australian quality of life.

Late last year statisticians reported a fascinating demographic shift that highlighted a fundamental change in the lifestyle of Australians in the 21st century.

Official figures on housing approvals for November 2017 showed there were more apartments and townhouses approved by councils across Australia than stand-alone houses with yards.

The figures highlight how population growth is leading to increased population density in our cities as more Australians embrace apartment living in preference to the traditional house on a block of land in the suburbs.

As the population increases, there has been a consequential increase in population density, particularly along existing public transport corridors.

This growth presents a great challenge for all levels of government.

In a nation famed for its easy lifestyle, we must find ways to manage growth in our cities so it does not destroy our Australian quality of life. Indeed, if we confront today’s big demographic shifts in a spirit of goodwill and collaboration, we might just be able to harness change in ways that improve our quality of life.

The starting point is the promotion of communities.

When you live in a house with a yard in the suburbs, you tend to see your neighbours frequently, either on the street, over the back fence or at the local shops.

This contact nurtures community links.

In a future where more people live in apartments, we must think of ways to ensure that apartment buildings are designed in ways that also promote human contact.

Urban planning regulations should encourage the development of lively precincts around high-intensity residential areas including entertainment areas, parks, playgrounds and other areas where people can congregate safely for community activities.

We should also encourage mixed-use developments with units on upper floors and shops and other public spaces at ground level.

Indeed, governments could seek to partner with the private sector to incorporate public facilities like libraries or government service centres into residential developments.

Putting this another way, governments need to move beyond seeing themselves as impassive regulators that tick boxes on building standards and start seeing themselves as partners in building better communities.

Governments need to work with the private sector to look beyond the design of individual buildings to also consider the spaces between buildings and he way in which buildings fit into their neighbourhoods.

We have a choice here.

We can create soulless and sterile streetscapes where people seldom stop to talk to each other. Or we can be creative and create vibrant public areas that facilitate human contact and enrich communities.

Good planning can deliver these outcomes.

For example, in the Inner West of Sydney, slight height increases were allowed in new apartments on New Canterbury road, Dulwich Hill, in return for ground floor space to accommodate the Emanuel Tsardoulias Council Library.

The other key to better cities in the 21st century is increased Commonwealth investment in public transport.

The Government’s Bureau of Transport and Regional Economics has calculated that traffic congestion cost the Australian economy $16.5 billion in lost economic activity in 2015.

Increasing population density in cities will worsen this problem.

We can no longer afford to ignore the need for major enhancements to our urban rail systems.

State Governments are doing their bit, funding projects such as the Melbourne Metro, Brisbane’s Cross River Rail project and the Perth METRONET.

But the Coalition Federal Government has been indifferent to public transport. In 2013 the Abbott Government cancelled all public transport investment not under construction.

Malcolm Turnbull overturned the ban on public transport investment. And while the 2018-19 Budget did include some public transport commitments, the money will not start to flow in many cases until years from now.

That’s not good enough.

The shift to greater urban population density is already on.

Governments must keep up with changing needs. There is no time to waste.

This piece was first published by Ten Daily on Wednesday, 16 May 2018: http://bit.ly/2rMbICj

May 8, 2018

Opinion Piece – The one thing to look out for in this Budget – The Daily Telegraph – Tuesday, 8 May 2018

American shyster Charles Ponzi famously used fraudulent accounting and slick narrative to sustain a mirage of activity and report positive financial returns to investors, who later lost all their money.

The 2018 Federal Budget is talking a big infrastructure game, but indications are it will have more to do with Charles Ponzi than delivering real infrastructure projects or economic productivity.

Since taking office, the Federal Coalition Government has gone to great lengths to create a mirage of infrastructure investment without actually providing direct funding.

Instead it has used mechanisms like equity funding and talk of “innovative’’ financing to create the false narrative that we can meet our infrastructure needs without having a short-term fiscal impact.

But let me explain a few realities about infrastructure.

Infrastructure cannot pay for itself.

Either governments pay by allocating taxpayer’s money in their budgets; or else users pay via electricity bills or motorway tolls, for example.

Capital city rail systems need taxpayer funds from the Budget.

This is because the payment of fares by commuters usually covers less than half of the operating costs and recovers none of the construction cost.

In the same way, most city, regional and local roads are not tolled, so they can only be funded from government budgets.

Thankfully, in Australia we do not charge patients or school kids for admission to public hospitals and schools. That means the money to pay for new and expanded public hospitals and schools can only come as a grant, from government budgets.

While some of these projects might be delivered through a public-private partnership with private investors, they are repaid for their investment by payments from a government budget.

Infrastructure is built only when state or Federal governments either write a cheque themselves, or allow someone else to directly recover the cost and profit from users.

In short, infrastructure is not free. Because the right projects boost productivity and economic growth, they produce a long-term return to the government, but one that is not hypothecated or direct.

Good projects are also good for sustainability and liveability.

So what do Charles Ponzi and the Turnbull Government’s infrastructure agenda have to do with each other? Each relies on accounting tricks and narrative to mask reality.

Last year, the Turnbull Government took the razor to infrastructure investment.

According to the peak industry body Infrastructure Partnerships Australia, the 2017 Budget slashed “real budgeted capital funding to its lowest level in more than a decade.”

But rather than be honest about it, the Turnbull Government expanded its clever accounting and slick narrative, glossing over its infrastructure cuts with an illusion of activity.

This approach was exemplified by the off-budget accounting for Inland Rail as an equity injection, in spite of clear and unequivocal advice the project is certain to not pay for itself.

This was capped off by the creation of a new ‘Infrastructure Financing Unit’, reporting directly to the Prime Minister, that would “work with Commonwealth Agencies, the private sector, states and territories on funding and financing opportunities such as public private partnerships, concessional loans, equity injections and value capture.”

A year on the IFU has started no new projects and there are none on the radar.

It no longer reports directly to the Prime Minister or even to a cabinet minister.

Instead it functions as a kind of internal management consultant.

The earlier Northern Australian Infrastructure Facility also shows the illusory value of ‘innovative’ government finance.

At the time of its creation, the Government claimed the NAIF would provide $5 billion of taxpayer’s loans to infrastructure projects critical “to fast tracking growth and unlocking the north’s economic potential.”

Sensibly, NAIF included protections to stop taxpayers being a ‘lender of last resort’ to marginal projects that would fail.

NAIF was a triumph of illusion over reality. It has funded bureaucrats and board meetings in southern capital cities but not new projects.

It is seen as the No Actual Infrastructure Fund.

You can only play tricks once or twice before people catch on; as the saying goes ‘Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me’.

A few weeks ago, the Prime Minister announced a supposed $5 billion for a Melbourne Airport Rail Link.

Close scrutiny should be applied to whether this announcement has a corresponding $5 billion in the accounts on Tuesday night.

Instead, it will likely be referred to as an offer of ‘equity’, ‘investment’, ‘partnership’, or some other fancy term.

The same goes for the much-needed Western Sydney Rail, connecting the new airport along the north-south corridor at the centre of the Western Sydney City Deal.

It is unclear whether this project will attract a real funding commitment.

If infrastructure needed nothing more than a cheap taxpayer loan, it would be easy and Australia wouldn’t have struggled with infrastructure for a more than a century.

To pretend otherwise is either dishonest, or delusional.

Metro rail in our cities, safer roads and modern hospitals and schools only happen when the Federal Government is willing to put real money, not infrastructure Ponzi schemes, on the table.

This piece was first published online in The Daily Telegraph  on Tuesday, 8 May, 2018: [https://bit.ly/2rrIFUA] 

May 8, 2018

Opinion Piece – Anthony Albanese: The one thing to look out for in this Budget – Tuesday, 8 May 2018

AMERICAN shyster Charles Ponzi famously used fraudulent accounting and slick narrative to sustain a mirage of activity and report positive financial returns to investors, who later lost all their money.

The 2018 Federal Budget is talking a big infrastructure game, but indications are it will have more to do with Charles Ponzi than delivering real infrastructure projects or economic productivity.

American shyster Charles Ponzi

Since taking office, the Federal Coalition Government has gone to great lengths to create a mirage of infrastructure investment without actually providing direct funding.

Instead it has used mechanisms like equity funding and talk of “innovative’’ financing to create the false narrative that we can meet our infrastructure needs without having a short-term fiscal impact.

But let me explain a few realities about infrastructure.

Infrastructure cannot pay for itself.

Either governments pay by allocating taxpayer’s money in their budgets; or else users pay via electricity bills or motorway tolls, for example.

Capital city rail systems need taxpayer funds from the Budget.

Capital city rail systems need taxpayer funds. Picture: Brendan Esposito

This is because the payment of fares by commuters usually covers less than half of the operating costs and recovers none of the construction cost.

In the same way, most city, regional and local roads are not tolled, so they can only be funded from government budgets.

Thankfully, in Australia we do not charge patients or school kids for admission to public hospitals and schools. That means the money to pay for new and expanded public hospitals and schools can only come as a grant, from government budgets.

While some of these projects might be delivered through a public-private partnership with private investors, they are repaid for their investment by payments from a government budget.

Infrastructure is built only when state or Federal governments either write a cheque themselves, or allow someone else to directly recover the cost and profit from users.

In short, infrastructure is not free. Because the right projects boost productivity and economic growth, they produce a long-term return to the government, but one that is not hypothecated or direct.

Malcolm Turnbull has been promoting the infrastructure spend in this Budget. Picture: Peter Rae

Good projects are also good for sustainability and liveability.

So what do Charles Ponzi and the Turnbull Government’s infrastructure agenda have to do with each other? Each relies on accounting tricks and narrative to mask reality.

Last year, the Turnbull Government took the razor to infrastructure investment.

According to the peak industry body Infrastructure Partnerships Australia, the 2017 Budget slashed “real budgeted capital funding to its lowest level in more than a decade.”

But rather than be honest about it, the Turnbull Government expanded its clever accounting and slick narrative, glossing over its infrastructure cuts with an illusion of activity.

Treasurer Scott Morrison will hand down the Budget tonight. Picture Kym Smith

This approach was exemplified by the off-budget accounting for Inland Rail as an equity injection, in spite of clear and unequivocal advice the project is certain to not pay for itself.

This was capped off by the creation of a new ‘Infrastructure Financing Unit’, reporting directly to the Prime Minister, that would “work with Commonwealth Agencies, the private sector, states and territories on funding and financing opportunities such as public private partnerships, concessional loans, equity injections and value capture.”

A year on the IFU has started no new projects and there are none on the radar.

It no longer reports directly to the Prime Minister or even to a cabinet minister.

Instead it functions as a kind of internal management consultant.

Shadow Minister for Infrastructure Anthony Albanese. Picture: Daniel Munoz

The earlier Northern Australian Infrastructure Facility also shows the illusory value of

‘innovative’ government finance.

At the time of its creation, the Government claimed the NAIF would provide $5 billion of taxpayer’s loans to infrastructure projects critical “to fast tracking growth and unlocking the north’s economic potential.”

Sensibly, NAIF included protections to stop taxpayers being a ‘lender of last resort’

to marginal projects that would fail.

NAIF was a triumph of illusion over reality. It has funded bureaucrats and board

meetings in southern capital cities but not new projects.

It is seen as the No Actual Infrastructure Fund.

You can only play tricks once or twice before people catch on; as the saying goes ‘Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me’.

A few weeks ago, the Prime Minister announced a supposed $5 billion for a Melbourne Airport Rail Link.

Close scrutiny should be applied to whether this announcement has a corresponding $5 billion in the accounts on Tuesday night.

Will we see funding for the Western Sydney Rail? Picture: Dean Lewins

Instead, it will likely be referred to as an offer of ‘equity’, ‘investment’, ‘partnership’, or some other fancy term.

The same goes for the much-needed Western Sydney Rail, connecting the new airport along the north-south corridor at the centre of the Western Sydney City Deal.

It is unclear whether this project will attract a real funding commitment.

If infrastructure needed nothing more than a cheap taxpayer loan, it would be easy and Australia wouldn’t have struggled with infrastructure for a more than a century.

To pretend otherwise is either dishonest, or delusional.Metro rail in our cities, safer roads and modern hospitals and schools only happen when the Federal Government is willing to put real money, not infrastructure Ponzi schemes, on the table.

Anthony Albanese is the Shadow Infrastructure Minister

This piece was originally published in the Daily Telegraph on Tuesday, 8 May 2018

May 7, 2018

Opinion Piece – Let’s Make Our Rail Challenge an Opportunity – Monday, 7 May 2018

Great challenges often bring great opportunities.

In the next few decades, Australia faces the difficult challenge of upgrading public transport services in our cities to tackle traffic congestion.

Bringing our nation’s passenger rail services into the 21st century is an essential investment in future economic growth, in addition to being vital for improving liveability in our cities.

We have no choice. According to the Bureau of Transport, Infrastructure and Regional Economics, traffic congestion is already costing the economy about $16 billion a year in lost productivity.

The good news is meeting our public transport needs comes with an opportunity to revitalise our manufacturing sector by building the necessary rolling stock – trains and trams – here in Australia, rather than sourcing them offshore.

In coming years, states will roll out projects including the Melbourne metro, Brisbane’s Cross River Rail, the Perth METRONET, the Western Sydney Rail and the Melbourne Airport Rail. Then there is the Inland Rail freight link from Brisbane to Melbourne, and, potentially, the High Speed Rail Link from Brisbane to Melbourne via Canberra and Sydney.

These services will require at least 1100 new trains and trams in the next three decades.

According to the most-recent census, between 2011 and 2016, the number of jobs in Australian manufacturing fell by 24 per cent to about 680,000.

The expansion of rail provides a chance to reverse this trend and create thousands of new, well-paid jobs, including apprenticeships for young people.

That’s why the next Labor Government will create a National Rail Industry Plan – a blueprint for co-operation between governments, businesses and unions in the national interest.

The Plan will support Australian manufacturers to access rail industry work while optimising training opportunities for young people and building up local industry’s capacity via research and development.

But the starting point should be an acceptance that when it comes to buying trains and trams, cheapest is not necessarily best.

While overseas manufacturers might offer lower prices, building rolling stock here has broader community benefits, like jobs, that must be built into any cost comparison.

Consider some recent examples.

In 2014 the Coalition Newman conservative State Government in Queensland arranged to pay a German company with manufacturing facilities in India $4.4 billion for new carriages associated with an expansion of suburban passenger services in Brisbane.

There were few local jobs beyond maintenance roles.

But the Victorian Labor State Government is investing $2.3 billion to build 65 seven-car trains in Victoria as part of its program to improve its passenger rail service.

It is being delivered by the Andrews Government in partnership with private consortium Evolution Rail, creating 1100 jobs in Victoria.

That includes 100 apprenticeships – 100 young people earning a wage while learning skills that will last them a lifetime.

This is the sort of investment Labor would aim to promote under a rail industry plan.

It will include investment in research and development, including universities and research agencies so that, as we build trains here, we are developing our capacity to reduce costs and improve quality.

It would set guidelines for collaboration between government, industry and the training providers to ensure apprentices are taught the skills needed for the industry to prosper.

Critically, it would promote co-operation between states.

Under current arrangements states are doing their own thing on procurement, with 36 different train models in our public transport fleet, many being purchased overseas.

We should standardise the rolling stock platform used in this country instead of designing a new model each time a government decides to acquire new trains or trams.

Key features of Labor’s plan include:

  • Tying Federal investment in rail projects to objectives including work being undertaken in Australia.
  • Establishing the Office of National Industry Co-ordination top undertake a national audit of the adequacy, capacity and condition of passenger trains nationally.
  • Reinstating the Rail Supplier Advocate, abolished by the Coalition in 2013, to help small and medium-sized enterprises identify export opportunities and link with Government purchasing bodies.
  • Establishing a Rail Industry Council to prevent loss of more jobs and address the need for more local research and development.

A key element of the plan is to seek to create certainty for manufacturers by ironing out the peaks and troughs in market demand through better co-ordination on procurement between state governments.

If every state government orders a new fleet of trains at the same time, local industry cannot deliver. Better coordination of tenders would allow for a steady stream of work that could sustain and indeed grow the local industry.

Our National Rail Industry Plan will also target job creation in regional Australia.

In the 21st century, there are two sure-fire ways to generate economic growth – investing in infrastructure to lift capacity and boost productivity, and investing in people through education and training.

A National Rail Industry Plan can address both.

This piece was first published in the Herald Sun on Monday, 7 May 2018

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Contact Anthony

(02) 9564 3588 Electorate Office

Email: [email protected]

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