Browsing articles in "Opinion Pieces"
Mar 6, 2019

Opinion Piece – Give us a Ticket to Ride – Wednesday, 6 March, 2019

A Shinkansen train pulls into Tokyo Station. Photo: iStock

Australians are great travellers. Whether going from London to Paris, Rome to Milan, Beijing to Shanghai or Tokyo to Kyoto, hundreds of thousands of Australians have experienced the convenience of high-speed rail and returned asking themselves: Why don’t we build it here?

The reason is too many governments are incapable of thinking beyond the next election.

On this page yesterday Judith Sloan rejected the idea of high-speed rail in Australia. She wrote that, with only a few exceptions such as Japan, China and “one trunk line” in France, high-speed rail projects overseas lose money and fail to attract patrons.

In truth, high-speed rail is booming. Successful services operate in 20 countries and are being built in a dozen others.

High-speed rail is successful in China, Japan, South Korea, Germany, Italy, Spain, Turkey and even Uzbekistan, where you can travel the 344km from Tashkent to Samarkand at 250km/h.

In France, travellers can ride high-speed rail from Paris to Bordeaux, Lyon and Marseilles and connect to Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, Italy and Spain. The British government is investing £56 billion ($104bn) in expanding high-speed rail to Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds and Sheffield.

London’s The Independent yesterday reported Eurostar, which operates high-speed rail from London via the Channel Tunnel to Paris and beyond, recorded a 12 per cent increase in patronage last summer.

High-speed rail works overseas. It could also work down the populated east coast of Australia.

An independent study commissioned by the former Labor government and completed in 2013 proved the viability of a line from Brisbane to Melbourne via Sydney and Canberra. Trains would travel at speeds of up to 350km/h, allowing people to move between capital cities in three hours. The study found the project stacked up economically, returning $2 in public benefit for every $1 invested.

On the basis of that research we appointed an independent panel including former Nationals leader Tim Fischer, Business Council of Australia’s Jennifer Westacott and the Australasian Railway Association chief, the late Bryan Nye, to advise on the way forward. They recommended creating a high-speed rail authority to work with states and territories on planning and to begin securing the corridor for the project.

Although this federal government has not pursued that recommendation, it formed the basis of Labor Party policy in the 2013 and 2016 elections and is also reflected in a private member’s bill I have had before parliament since 2014.

The case for this project has strengthened. With Australia’s population topping 25 million, there is bipartisan support for decentralisation to take the pressure off our capitals.

High-speed rail would revolutionise interstate travel and be a game-changer for communities along its path, including the Gold Coast, Grafton, Coffs Harbour, Port Macquarie, Newcastle, the central coast, southern highlands, Canberra, Wagga Wagga and Shepparton.

It would bring these communities closer to capital cities, allowing increased commuting and strengthening the case for regional business investment.

Australia’s strong growth will drive a renaissance in rail. More urban public transport, more freight on rail and, inevitably, an exciting role for high-speed rail in our national future.

Incidentally, it’s important to correct Sloan’s assertion yesterday that Victoria’s Regional Rail Link, which has increased rail capacity to the west of Melbourne, was the subject of a cost blowout.

The project was to have cost $4bn but came in considerably under budget, with savings transferred to Victoria’s level crossing elimination program.

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

This piece was first published by The Australian on Wednesday, 6 March, 2019

Feb 19, 2019

Opinion Piece – ‘Labor will tackle rail industry shortage skills’ – Track and Signal Magazine – Tuesday, 19 February 2019

The old saying goes that every dark cloud has a silver lining.

As we enter 2019, after five years of Coalition Government, inadequate infrastructure investment, particularly in passenger rail, is threatening Australia’s economic productivity.

There’s a significant infrastructure deficit – a dark cloud that must be addressed in the national interest.

But with this challenge comes an opportunity to address another looming problem – the significant shortage of skills in the rail sector.

The Australasian Railway Association recently commissioned research by BIS Oxford Economics that highlights the extent of the problem.

It found that training of train drivers, controllers, track workers, signalling engineers and technicians, maintenance workers, electrical technicians and tunnellers is not keeping pace with growing demand.

The challenge is further complicated by the ageing of the existing workforce and the emergence of new technologies that require new skills not previously required in rail.

The research warns that by as early as 2023 we may have a workforce gap of up to 70,000 workers.

This will not only slow down progress, but also drive up prices as projects fight against each other for scarce labour.

It’s already the case that states within the Commonwealth are aggressively attempting to poach each other’s workforces.

This situation is the end result of poor long-term planning by governments and a reduction in investment in training and skills development by both government and industry.

It’s an indictment on the current Federal Government, which is failing to meet one of industry’s key requirements – skills development.

If Labor is privileged to form a government after the forthcoming Federal election, we will create a Strategic Rail Workforce Development Forum to deal with the skills shortage.

It will be tasked with developing strategic responses to the skills issues facing the industry and building productive working relationships across the industry and with TAFE and other training providers.

The resulting skills development strategy will not only aim to boost the national training effort, but also to ensure that the training is fit for purpose.

If we get it right, there’s potential to not only meet our national needs but also develop exportable high-end skills and technology.

The forum will come in addition to Labor’s existing plan to create a National Rail Industry Plan, designed to build capacity for the construction of rolling stock required for the many rail projects that will be built in Australia in coming decades.

Sourcing rolling stock offshore is an easy option. It is often cheaper than building in Australia.

However, Governments must always remember that when you buy offshore, you are also sending jobs offshore, eroding the national skills base and working against the innovation.

Decisions about procurement need to take account of the economic damage caused by allowing erosion of critical skills.

Skills shortages are also a problem in other transport sectors.

For example, the nation faces a shortage of aviation maintenance engineers because airlines increasingly send aircraft offshore for maintenance.

It means that over time, our nation is losing another skills base – this one central to public safety.

A Labor Government will restore the critical balance between saving money and preserving skills.
This piece was first published in the February-April edition of Track and Signal Magazine. 

Feb 6, 2019

Opinion Piece – ‘There’s a problem with Australia’s expanding transport networks: finding people with the right skills to make them work’ – Business Insider – Wednesday, 6 February 2019

Workforce planning is critical for successful businesses.

Smart managers think ahead, anticipate future needs and act early on training and skills development to ensure their enterprise is well positioned to meet changing conditions.

While businesses can be very good at thinking ahead, governments often struggle to take a long-term view, allowing their attention to be diverted by short-term political challenges.

That seems to have been the trap that has captured the current Federal Government when it comes to serious skills shortages emerging in the Australian rail and aviation sectors.

We simply aren’t training enough workers to meet our transport needs.

When it comes to rail, the next few decades will see billions of dollars of new investment, including public transport projects in most capital cities, the Inland Rail freight project and, potentially, High Speed Rail down the east coast.

However, we lack sufficient train drivers, controllers, signalling engineers, maintenance workers, electrical technicians and tunnelling experts.

Industry body the Australasian Railways Association recently produced research conducted by BIS Oxford Economics indicating that by as early as 2023, the peak of the construction phase, we may have a workforce gap of up to 70,000 workers.

We must act.

Indeed, we should already be acting, given that states are already trying to poach each other’s workforces.

Left unaddressed, labour shortages increase costs for taxpayers and deprive families of the income they would receive from being in good jobs. They will also delay progress on the new railways, most of which are designed to tackle traffic congestion in our cities.

An additional challenge for rail will be procuring the thousands of new railway engines and carriages required for the new rail projects.

The bad option is to buy the rolling stock offshore.

It would be wiser to build the rolling stock in Australia, thereby turning a challenge into an opportunity and potentially breathing new life into Australian heavy manufacturing.

Once again though, none of that can happen unless Australian workers possess the requisite skills.

Skills development would be a key focus of a Federal Labor Government.

We would create a National Rail Industry Plan to harness the opportunities in manufacturing as well as a workforce development plan in consultation with industry, unions, states, training providers and other stakeholders.

None of this will be easy.

But we are determined to take a constructive approach in working with the private sector in the national interest.

We’ve already made clear we would significantly boost investment in education and training.

But for that spending to be effective, collaboration will be critical. We need to understand what skills are required and work hard to ensure they are being delivered as they are required.

The current Federal Government is taking a hands-off approach to skills development. It seems to work on the view that somehow “the market’’ will sort everything out.

But the market doesn’t plan ahead. Planning and intervention where necessary are the roles of government.

In aviation there is a glaring example of what can go wrong when governments take their eye off the ball on skills.

Australia’s aviation safety record is second to none.

But safety standards are under pressure because of a shortage of licensed aviation maintenance engineers, who service aircraft.

In recent decades, the globalisation of aviation has seen many airlines shift their maintenance facilities offshore to nations like The Philippines, Singapore and Malaysia.

Thousands of Australian jobs have been lost, although, to its credit, Qantas retains its heavy maintenance facility in Brisbane, employing 600 people.

The problem is that because aircraft are being serviced offshore, there has been a reduction in opportunities to train safety engineers in this country.

The average age of existing workforce now exceeds 50 years.

This is not acceptable. Safety engineers are an indispensable part of aviation. They don’t just conduct scheduled servicing of aircraft; they are also the people called to make checks when, for example, the pilot of a packed aircraft awaiting take-off on a tarmac sees a warning light in the cockpit.

A Federal Labor Government would establish the Strategic Aviation Workforce Development Forum to work with stakeholders to find a way to maintain safety engineering training in this country.

Business operators know what is required when it comes to preparing for their future challenges.

But they can’t do it alone. Government leadership is required.

Labor stands ready to deliver.

This piece was first published by the Business Insider website today. https://bit.ly/2Gbe9Ib

Feb 6, 2019

Opinion Piece – ‘Australians want a say in their communities’ – Fifth Estate – Wednesday, 6 February 2019

Australians have a tremendous interest in the history of their local communities.

This was confirmed to me when last year I organised neighbourhood history walks in the inner west. I asked a local history expert to act as a guide and invited locals to join in.

The response was incredible.

When we took a walking tour of Marrickville, more than  200 people turned up – along with surprised police who had noticed the crowd and wondered what was going on.

At the second walk, through Petersham, 140 people joined in.

Crowds were diverse. Parents with babies in strollers mingled with seniors. New arrivals to the area rubbed shoulders with people who had lived their whole lives locally.

The raging success of these simple experiments in community-building contains clear messages to governments as we seek to come to grips with the huge pace of change in our cities.

The key message is that Australians cherish their local communities.

And they want a say in how their communities evolve.

Australians have a strong sense of ownership over their immediate surroundings extending beyond mere parochialism.

Most Australians accept that change is inevitable, but want it managed in a way that does not trash the existing character of their neighbourhoods or destroy their historical links to the past.

Therein sits a profound challenge for governments at this critical point in our nation’s history.

With our population now exceeding 25 million people, higher population density in some parts of our cities is inevitable. That means that in the future more Australians will live in apartments, rather than in detached houses on quarter acre blocks.

The challenge for governments is to provide adequate rail, road and other infrastructure to meet the demands of increasing populations without eroding our quality of life.

Public consultation is critical.

That is why a Labor government would create City Partnerships – formal agreements between local, state and federal government over agreed objectives for the physical, social and economic development of cities.

We want the different levels of government to work together on the basis of shared aims and actions that will allow us to properly balance development and the views of communities.

Our plan involves a significant reworking of the current Federal Government’s City Deals program, which has produced co-operative arrangements for Western Sydney, Townsville, Launceston and Darwin.

The process behind City Deals is flawed when it comes to community consultation.

The problem is that the Federal Government has decided its vision for the cities involved and then sought to impose that vision on communities.

City Partnerships will be different.

Instead of imposing ideas from the top down, we’ll work with communities through their local councils on a bottom-up approach.

Economic development will sit at the heart of City Partnerships. Greater government investment in communities can spark jobs growth and productivity gains, particularly with input from the private sector.

But unlike City Deals, City Partnerships will also take heed of community views on amenity. Rather than paying councils and communities lip service, we want them to work with us to deliver growth and prosperity.

We can’t stop progress. But we can direct development in ways that provides a proper balance between change and amenity.

Above all, our aim must be to preserve and, where we can, enhance liveability.

A great example of how not to respect communities is the NSW State Government’s process for delivering its WestConnex toll road in my electorate in Sydney’s Inner West.

A new toll road was never going to be popular.

But the consultation process over Westconnex has been a disaster.

The NSW government barely talked to residents before it began digging tunnels under their homes. And even as the drills began, it was unable to say where the tunnels would emerge or how the traffic they were meant to carry would disperse.

In 2014 one of my constituents received two letters from WestConnex officials concerning the project on the same day, one saying his house would be resumed and the other saying it would not be resumed.

That’s pathetic.

What is even worse is that when Westconnex was first proposed, the object of the exercise was for the new road to take trucks from Western Sydney to the airport and cars from Western Sydney to the Sydney CBD.

The project being delivered does neither.

We can do better. The secret is to work together. 

 

This piece was first published by the Fifth Estate website today. https://bit.ly/2DU7Ru6

Jan 29, 2019

Opinion Piece – Australia needs to improve the sustainability and liveability of our cities – Starts at 60 – Tuesday, 29 January 2019

If there is one thing Australia needs to achieve in 2019, it’s a greater focus on improving the productivity, sustainability and liveability of our cities.

Cities are home to four out of five Australians. Their efficiency is critical to the health of our economy, not to mention the quality of life of Australians.

Yet for the past few years, a withdrawal of infrastructure investment by the Federal Government has made our cities more congested, less efficient and harder to get around.

Too many cities are ill-served when it comes to the efficient movement of people. But with the right policy settings, we can do much better.

Public transport, particularly rail transport, is the key to tackling traffic congestion.

Back in 2013, the independent Infrastructure Australia released research which suggested that without action, traffic congestion would cost the economy $53 billion a year by 2030 in lost productivity.

This was a clear warning that failure to invest in better urban transport would worsen congestion and reduce quality of life for people who live in cities.

The former Labor Government invested more in urban rail than all previous Governments combined since Federation in projects such as Victoria’s Regional Rail Link, Redcliffe Rail Link, Noarlunga to Seaford in Adelaide and Gold Coast Light Rail.

Going forward investment was allocated for rail projects, including the Melbourne Metro and the Cross River Rail in Brisbane as well as projects in Adelaide and Perth.

This was common sense. Each commuter train takes hundreds of cars off the roads.

Then Tony Abbott became Prime Minister and cancelled all Federal investment in public transport, transferring the funding to new toll roads, two of which he was unable to deliver.

Mr Abbott kids himself that Australians do not use public transport.

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 and a particular time to justify anything larger than a car, and cars need roads.

What nonsense.

Five years later, it is no surprise that traffic congestion has worsened, despite efforts by state governments to improve rail services without much support from Canberra.

Indeed, the Bureau of Transport, Infrastructure and Regional Economics has calculated that in 2016, traffic congestion cost the nation more than $16 billion in lost productivity. We should expect that, just as Infrastructure Australia warned in 2013, this figure is rising with each passing year.

The congestion we are now seeing is the outcome of a Coalition philosophy that places scant emphasis on building for future prosperity.

While the Coalition, like Labor, supports business growth because it creates jobs, their interest in Australians stops with employment.

They take little responsibility for quality of life issues, apparently in the belief that if government just gets out of the way, the market will fix everything.

However, the market doesn’t care whether commuters get home from work in time to play with their children. The market treats people like units of economic production, not as human beings with responsibilities and individual needs.

Labor wants Australians to have great jobs. But we also believe Government has a role in delivering services that preserve or enhance their quality of life.

We also believe that people who pay tax deserve something in return – including efficient transport systems.

Being in Government is not only about dealing with the challenges of today, but about planning ahead to avoid problems in the future.

That is why if Labor is privileged to win the next federal election, we’ll do what the Coalition has largely refused to do – we will work with state governments to address traffic congestion.

We will help build the Western Sydney Rail and the Western Metro in Sydney.

We will help build Brisbane’s Cross River Rail, the Perth METRONET and Melbourne’s Suburban Rail Loop.

We would also deliver $300 million in investment to improve Park and Ride facilities at suburban railway stations.

At train stations across suburban Australia car parks are full before 7am and commuters instead park in nearby streets and walk to stations.

It’s inconvenient for them and a nuisance to the residents of streets near train stations.

Providing more parking is a practical measure to encourage more people to leave their cars at home and catch the train to work.

This policy is targeted squarely at suburban Australia.

If you are lucky enough to live close to a central business district of one of our capital cities, chances are you can walk, cycle or catch a bus to a train station.

But the further you get away from CBDs, the greater the distance required to get to train stations. The commuter’s choice is simple – drive to the train station, or drive all the way to work.

While better Park and Ride facilities will help in the short term, we also need to work much harder at connecting suburban train stations to surrounding residential areas with better bus services, as well as more walking and cycling tracks.

Liveable cities don’t build themselves. They require investment.

Labor will deliver that investment in the national interest.

 

This piece was first published today on the website Starts at 60: https://startsat60.com/discover/news/labor-mp-anthony-albanese-opinion-piece-australian-cities

 

Jan 28, 2019

Opinion Piece – It’s Time for Action on Highway Safety – Herald Sun – Monday, 28 January 2019

Motorists know the feeling: you are driving along the highway at the speed limit when a semi-trailer appears and begins tail-gating your vehicle.

It’s a scary feeling even if the truck driver is trying to do the right thing.

This is a common scenario on Australia’s highways, particularly at this time of year when Australians head up and down our coasts for holidays.

There’s a likely explanation for the impatience of some, but by no means all, truck drivers — some employers impose unrealistic deadlines for the delivery of loads, forcing them to speed to perform their duties.

This makes trucking, already a dangerous job, more dangerous than it should be; more dangerous not just for the truck drivers, but for those who share the road.

In 2019 this is unacceptable. We can do better than maintaining a transport system with baked-in encouragement for drivers to cut corners on safety by speeding, not taking rest breaks or, even worse, taking drugs to stay awake.

It wasn’t always like this.

In 2012 the former Labor Government attempted to remove incentives for truck drivers to cut corners by creating the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal.

Its job was to set pay levels and conditions that would allow drivers to earn a fair living without having to adopt dangerous work habits.

The tribunal was designed after extensive consultation with trucking companies, the Transport Workers Union and safety experts who agreed to strip incentives for dangerous behaviour out of the system in the public interest.

But just before the 2016 federal election, former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull scrapped the tribunal after complaints from some truck owners.

Anxious to exploit ideology to support his re-election, Mr Turnbull characterised the tribunal as some sort of trade union conspiracy, rather than what it was – a road safety mechanism that had been developed in consultation with industry and, importantly, that arose out of a unanimous, bi-partisan parliamentary report “Burning the Midnight Oil’’

His rash decision, made in the heat of an election campaign, ignored the life-and-death issue of road safety. It placed minimal value on the people who share the roads with truck drivers – Australian motorists and their families.

Heavy vehicles make up three percent of vehicles on our roads. But they are involved in more than 16 per cent of fatalities. And when cars and trucks collide, the occupants of the cars are more likely to suffer death or serious injury because, obviously, their vehicles are smaller.

Mr Turnbull’s decision might have been more palatable if he had replaced the tribunal with some other mechanism to address the proven link between road safety and pay rates for truck drivers.

But nearly three years since the abolition of the RSRT, the Coalition has not come up with any alternative plan on trucking safety.

Road safety should never be conflated with political ideology to win votes. It must be beyond politics.

Federal Labor will re-examine this important issue should we form a government after this year’s election. It’s a difficult policy area, but the principle of safe rates should be supported by industry, motoring organisations and the broader community.

We could make an almost immediate improvement on road safety by refocusing the Federal bureaucracy on existing road safety programs left to languish by the Coalition.

One of our most successful road safety programs is the Black Spot program, which delivers safety upgrades to intersections or stretches of road where there have been traffic accidents involving death or serious injury.

It’s a practical, sensible program that enjoys bipartisan support.

However, the Morrison Government’s administration of the Black Spot program has been a disaster.

In its first five Budgets, the Government has announced $390 million for the program. But the most recent Budget update shows that during that period the Government has in fact delivered $290 million – $100 million less than promised.

Based on 2012 research conducted for the Department of Infrastructure, the average cost of Black Spot projects is about $157,000. This means that if the Coalition had delivered the funding it announced in its own budgets, it could have completed more than 600 safety upgrades to traffic black spots around the nation.

The same is true for the Heavy Vehicle Safety and Productivity Program, created by the former Labor Government to build more rest stops, decoupling bays and parking facilities for interstate truck drivers.

In the past five years the Government has announced $290 million for the HVSPP, but spent $157 million.

That’s not good enough.

There’s a crisis in project delivery that requires immediate attention.

Safer roads should be an objective which unites not just the Parliament, but the entire nation.
This piece was first published in The Herald Sun today.

 

Jan 23, 2019

Opinion – We’re all for boosting regional Australia, but it must start with jobs – The Australian – Wednesday, 23 January 2019

As our population tops 25 million, our nation must promote growth in our regions so they can absorb some of the pressure causing congestion and crowding in our cities.

Decentralisation of population growth is a matter of bipartisan political agreement. The Morrison government says it wants to force migrants to settle in regional areas, rather than Sydney, Melbourne or southeast Queensland.

But there is something missing in the Coalition’s approach: jobs.

The problem is that many regional areas suffer from high unemployment. Forcing migrants to settle in communities where there are no jobs solves nothing.

What is required is a genuine decentralisation program, with regional jobs at its core.

That’s where infrastructure investment comes in.

New rail and road projects not only create jobs in the short term, they also boost productivity, which is the key to unlocking long-term, sustainable jobs growth.

For the past five years the ­Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison government has cut infrastructure investment and routinely broken its promises about how much it will spend.

The government’s own budget documents show it has failed to deliver almost $5 billion in infrastructure investment that it announced in its first five budgets.

Critically, the smaller states — those with the greatest potential to absorb population growth — have been worst affected. South Australia has been short-changed by $337 million, Western Australia by $556m, Tasmania by $132m and the Northern Territory by $256m.

Even programs specifically designed to boost economic growth in the regions have been drastically underspent.

For example, the Coalition has announced $520m for the Northern Australia Roads Program since 2015 but delivered just $290m.

Unbelievably, the underfunding of regional infrastructure is about to get worse.

Budget forward estimates show overall federal infrastructure grants to states will plummet over each of the next four years from $7bn in 2017-18 to $4.5bn in 2021-22.

But the biggest cuts will affect the smaller states.

South Australia’s federal grants will fall from $800m last year to $136m by 2020-21. Across the same period, grants to the Northern Territory will fall from $222m to $80m. Grants to Western Australia will fall from $1.2bn to just $411m in 2021-22.

None of this helps if our aim is to create jobs in regional Australia. Indeed, the Morrison government’s policy settings work against regional development.

Labor would take a different approach. We understand there is no point asking people to live in areas where they can’t find work. We’ll lift infrastructure investment in the regions, boosting productivity and also improving quality of life for their existing residents.

One project that will make a difference on the east coast is a high-speed rail link between Brisbane and Melbourne via Sydney and Canberra.

Such a link will revolutionise interstate travel, allowing people to move between capitals in less than three hours.

What is less understood is the project’s potential impact on regional development. It would supercharge development of communities along its route such as the Gold Coast, Casino, Grafton, Coffs Harbour, Port Macquarie, Taree, Newcastle, the NSW central coast, the southern highlands, Canberra, Wagga Wagga, Albury-Wodonga and Shepparton.

Bringing these communities to within short travelling distance of their nearest capital cities would make them more attractive locations for investment. Business owners could establish operations in such communities, taking advantage of their lower overheads, safe in the knowledge that their staff could quickly access the cities for business and recreation.

Labor also would establish a $1bn northern Australia tourism infrastructure fund to provide fin­ancing and concessional loans for tourism projects. Tourism provides jobs for a million Australians. We can build on that.

Communications infrastructure also is critical for regional development. One of the Coalition government’s worst errors has been scaling back the former Labor government’s National Broadband Network.

Providing 21st-century broadband to businesses in rural and regional areas would be a game-changer. It would banish the tyranny of distance as an impediment to jobs growth by giving businesses access to the full potential of the global market. While much of the damage is done on the NBN, a Labor government would strive to ensure all Australians, regardless of where they live, have a chance to be full participants in the global economy.

Our intention is to work with state governments and regional communities to transform regional Australia.

Most important, that program would be backed by the infrastructure investment required to make it work.

 

This piece was first published in The Australian today  2017: https://bit.ly/2R6MEjS 

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

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Contact Anthony

(02) 9564 3588 Electorate Office

Email: [email protected]

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