Browsing articles in "Opinion Pieces"
Dec 7, 2010

Labor’s Nation Building Agenda Enters its Second Term – Opinion – Australian National Construction Review

Just a few months ago Australians voted in what turned out be an historic general election, one from which no political party emerged with an absolute majority in the House of Representatives.

It was also an election in which debates about the nation’s infrastructure needs featured prominently and voters were given a clear choice: continued record investment in the nation’s social and economic infrastructure with Labor or cuts and the shelving of projects with the conservatives.

As it turned out, the majority of Australians and almost all the independents chose the former.

The Gillard Labor Government is more determined than ever to put right the neglect and policy drift we inherited, building on the strong foundations and long term reforms put in place during our first term.

Indeed, since coming to office we’ve overhauled the way our nation plans, finances and builds the infrastructure it needs, most notably by establishing Infrastructure Australia to rigorously evaluate and objectively prioritise major new project proposals.

Together with these sweeping institutional and regulatory reforms, we’ve also lifted public infrastructure spending by almost a third.

In addition to initiating the largest school modernisation program and beginning the roll out of high speed broadband to the nation’s homes and workplaces, we’ve more than doubled the roads budget, increased rail spending tenfold and made the first significant Federal investment in urban passenger rail.

All up, we’re spending $37 billion over six years to modernise and expand the nation’s transport infrastructure.

Over time this investment program will make our economy more productive, our regions more prosperous and our cities more sustainable, while in the short term creating new commercial opportunities for local builders, engineers, architects, construction companies and suppliers.

As well as responding to Australia’s immediate infrastructure needs, we’re also planning for the nation’s future.

In coming months, Infrastructure Australia will release the first ever national port strategy and national freight strategy – two long term blueprints which together with the National Priority List will guide future investment in our vital transport infrastructure.

While our progress has been substantial, we’ve always said it would take more than one parliamentary term to put right a decade of neglect and require both sustained levels of investment as well as proper long term planning.

The Gillard Labor Government will continue to do both and move our nation forward.

Dec 1, 2010

New paradigm politics proves itself despite the odds – Opinion – The Australian

When the Gillard Government came to office after seventeen agonising days of negotiation, the clamour of the doubters could be heard across the nation. Minority government hadn’t been seen here for 60 years. It’ll never work. It’ll be lucky to last til Christmas.

Alan Mitchell in the Financial Review said ‘this will be a weak and hopefully short lived government’. Piers Akerman in the Sunday Telegraph led his column with ‘Andrew Wilkie has as much chance of finding stability in a Gillard Government as he does of breathing life into the extinct Tasmanian tiger.’

The Opposition went even harder, with Tony Abbott claiming that Labor ‘… lost its majority, it also lost its legitimacy, while his Shadow Treasurer Joe Hockey asserted that Prime Minister Julia Gillard was leading “… an illegitimate government.”

In short, the Opposition said the Australian voters got it wrong.

So as Leader of the House, it was with some trepidation that I took a deep breath and started the process of managing Government business when the new parliamentary term began eight weeks ago.

In a majority Government, the role of Leader of the House is relatively straightforward. We’re responsible for things like the order of business and which bills are debated. But we always know the result of any vote in advance because since 1943 governments have always had the numbers.

But this time it was different. We’d won office with the barest of possible margins and to manage this ‘New Paradigm’ required determination, goodwill and old-fashioned hard work.

So let’s look at the record of these first weeks of the 43rd Parliament as the partnership between Labor and the cross-benchers unfolded.

The first thing to say is that it’s working. Take the House of Representatives where the Government has won every vote on legislation. We have not lost a single Bill and there were 54 of them. Nor have we lost a single amendment.

Many of these Bills were of serious national interest such as changes to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme bringing with it $1.9 billion in savings, restoring access to services for university students, establishing the national health and hospital reform and beginning the process of introducing a national broadband network.

In the Senate, the record was the same. Of the 40 Bills considered by the upper house during the course of the new Government, each one was passed. Again, a perfect score.

At the same time we’ve allowed for greater participation for every member of the House of Representatives with more than 90 hours of debate on private members’ business. And the house sits for longer – 56 hours, compared to 46 hours in the last Parliament.

There are also improvements to Question Time. Questions are now limited to 45 seconds and answers to four minutes with a proportionate share of questions allocated to non-aligned members.

Some unusual things have taken place this parliament. For the first time in a decade, a Private Member’s Bill passed the House. It was proposed by Andrew Wilkie, the new Member for Denison in Tasmania, and sought greater protection for journalists.

For the first time in 18 years, the Speaker of the House was called upon to make a casting vote, only the 22nd time since 1901 when a casting vote has been exercised.

This session also saw one of the longest debates in parliamentary history on Australia’s commitment to Afghanistan. This mature and thoughtful debate lasted for just over 24 hours with a total of 106 speakers over the course of ten parliamentary sessions.

In short, it has been one of the most constructive parliamentary sessions since Federation.

And what was the Opposition’s role in all this? After all, Tony Abbott had promised a ‘kinder, gentler polity’ and said he understood the Independents’ wish for ‘a new style of politics’. But none of that was in sight.

Instead we saw the Opposition adopt the same blunt and brutal tactic to every piece of parliamentary business – Stop it. Wreck it. Destroy it. It’s a mantra that has run through the entire shadow cabinet. Tony Abbott’s kinder gentler government has proved a hollow promise indeed.

Despite the Opposition’s negative tactics, the Gillard Government has managed to prove the doubters wrong. We are getting on with the job of governing by implementing our agenda for reform, working respectfully and constructively with the cross-benchers.

While the Opposition blocks reform at every step, it simply toughens our resolve to govern in the national interest and deliver the more civil and effective parliament the Australian people demanded at the last election.

[ENDS]

Nov 29, 2010

Building a road network for an increasingly globalised and mobile world – Opinion – Roads Australia magazine

Building a road network for an increasingly globalised and mobile world

The Hon Anthony Albanese MP

With a relatively small population spread across a vast continent and much of our natural wealth located in remote areas, Australia has always been heavily reliant on its transport infrastructure for its continuing economic development.

Despite this reality our predecessors too often deferred the tough decisions and paid too little attention to the state of the nation’s infrastructure. The consequences of this inaction and underinvestment are with us today: slower economic growth, lower productivity and the loss of tens of billions of dollars in export earnings.

At a human level traffic congestion is set to cost Australian businesses and families more than $20 billion a year by the end of this decade.

In late 2007 Federal Labor came to office pledging a different approach. We understood that Australia’s economic success in the 21st century would require a road network equal to the challenges of an increasingly globalised and mobile world.

As we begin our second term we are more determined than ever to put right the neglect we inherited. Labor believes the national government must play a leadership role in building the infrastructure which will support a more productive economy, more prosperous regions and more sustainable cities.

Indeed such a nation building task has given purpose to all Labor governments, past and present.

That’s why we’re making the most significant investment in the nation’s road infrastructure since the creation of the national highway network by the Whitlam Labor Government more than a quarter of a century ago.

All up, the Gillard Labor Government is investing an unprecedented $27.7 billion over six years (2008-09 to 2013-14) to maintain the nation’s highways and major arterials as well as lift capacity along the network’s busiest, most congested sections.

In fact, in less than three years we’ve more than doubled the roads budget.

This much larger budget is delivering:

  • More than 120 major construction projects, with 24 already completed and work underway on a further 63;
  • An additional $450 million for routine maintenance, bringing our total spending to $2.3 billion over six years;
  • Extra money ($250 million) to assist councils maintain their local roads, taking our total support under the Roads to Recovery Program to $1.75 billion over five years;
  • Thousands of smaller scale projects to fix dangerous black spots on both local roads and major highways following a doubling in the black spot budget to $500 million over six years;
  • Boom gates and other safety measures at some 300 high risk level crossings ($150 million over two years); and
  • Additional rest stops and the other roadside facilities used by truck drivers.

Importantly, the benefits of this capital works program are being shared across the entire national network including those sections in and around our major cities which up until now have been largely ignored.

In addition to a renewed Federal focus on urban areas we have also provided record investment in regional highways and country roads of $21.2 billion.

Finally, under Labor higher road spending is being complemented by an unprecedented investment in the nation’s rail infrastructure with the aim of building a single, truly integrated transport system which over time will take the pressure off the nation’s highways.

As well as responding to Australia’s immediate infrastructure needs, we’re also planning for the nation’s future in an effort to identify and address bottlenecks and capacity constraints before they become a drag on the economy.

Infrastructure Australia is currently finalising the first ever national port strategy and national freight strategy – two long term blueprints which together with the National Priority List will guide future investment in our vital transport infrastructure.

On any objective assessment, substantial progress has been made in our first three years in office. However, we’ve always said it would take more than one parliamentary term to put right a decade of neglect, requiring both sustained levels of investment as well as proper long term planning.

The Gillard Labor Government will continue to do both.

While the challenges confronting us may differ from those faced by our Labor predecessors, the Party’s “nation building” mission remains constant – to build the infrastructure which will spur the next wave of economic development and shares its benefits across the entire community.

[ENDS]

Jun 22, 2010

Building Rail’s next “Golden Age” – Opinion – Track and Signal

Unquestionably, the Rudd Labor Government has been a strong supporter of rail.

We have not only honoured every commitment we gave in Opposition, we’ve gone so much further during our first two and half years on the Treasury benches: reversing decades of underinvestment and correcting the long standing funding imbalance that favoured road.

Under the leadership of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, this Labor Government has matched its nation building rhetoric with an unprecedented $9 billion, six year capital works program. When compared to the former government’s record, that represents more than a tenfold increase in funding.

This is more than just an investment in new sleepers, track, passing loops, boom gates and signalling technology; it’s an investment in a more productive and prosperous Australia.

The interstate freight rail network:

From the outset, the modernisation of the interstate rail network has been central to our broader efforts to lift national productivity, curb harmful carbon emissions and take the pressure off the nation’s highways.

Accordingly, we’ve substantially increased public investment in this vital piece of infrastructure to $3.4 billion over six years – money the Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) is using to build 235 kilometres of new track and upgrade a further 3,771 kilometres of existing track.

Detailed planning and design work is also well advanced on an $840 million project which will speed up the movement of freight trains through Sydney, currently the biggest bottleneck on the main line between Melbourne and Brisbane.

To overcome the delays caused by the priority given to commuter trains and limited track capacity, we will build a dedicated freight line from North Strathfield to Gosford. Construction is expected to start later this year, and once completed, the new line will have the capacity to carry up to 88 freight trains a day – a significant improvement on the current situation.

Further south the ARTC will build a similar dedicated freight line between Macarthur and Chullora, improving transit times and providing 24-hour access to Port Botany. This project has had challenges resulting in a delay but is expected to be completed by 2011.

As well as investing in the existing network, this Government has fulfilled an aspiration as old as the Australian nation itself. At the begin of this year, I had the honour of presiding over the official handover to the ARTC of the line between the Queensland border and the Brisbane suburb of Acacia Ridge, creating for first time a truly national rail network connecting Brisbane to Perth.

But modern, reliable infrastructure will not be enough to fully restore rail’s competitiveness; it also needs to be better integrated with other modes of transport, namely the nation’s ports and roads.

That’s why we’ve committed $70 million to advance planning on the staged development of an intermodal facility in Sydney’s south west. Once operational, this new facility will create hundreds of jobs and transform the movement of freight into and out of Port Botany, taking over one million trucks a year off the M5.

Beyond rebuilding the network we inherited and completing the unfinished business of nationhood, we’re also planning for the nation’s future.

A good example of this was our decision to commission the ARTC to determine the economic benefits and commercial viability of a new multi-billion standard gauge railway between Melbourne and Brisbane via the Central West of NSW. This exhaustive study is due to be finalised within coming months.

More broadly,Infrastructure Australia is developing the nation’s first ever national port strategy and national freight strategy – long term blueprints which will guide future public and private investment in our nation’s transport infrastructure, including rail. Both are expected to be released this year.

Urban passenger rail:

Critically, our rail investment program recognises you can’t have a plan for moving freight without a plan for moving people. That’s why in last year’s Budget we took the historic decision to become the first ever national government to finance urban passenger rail projects.

In partnership with the governments of Western Australia, South Australia, Victoria and Queensland, we’re investing close to $4.5 billion to modernise and extend the rail infrastructure which provides the residents of Melbourne, Adelaide, Perth and the Gold Coast with a cleaner and faster way of getting around.

This includes Regional Rail Link in Victoria, the country’s biggest public transport infrastructure project.

Better regulation:

As well as rolling out the largest ever rail investment program, the Rudd Labor Government is also implementing historic reforms to the way our nation regulates the owners, operators and users of this infrastructure.

After more than a century of failed attempts and false starts, Australia is now closer than ever before to having a national rail safety regulator and one set of nation-wide laws – as opposed to the existing multiple state-based regimes.

This new body will be based in Adelaide, and up and running by 2013.

Conclusion

With a relatively small population spread across a vast continent and much of its natural wealth located in remote areas, Australia has always been heavily reliant on its transport infrastructure for its continuing economic development.

Here lays the logic behind the unprecedented investment we’re making and the sweeping reforms we’re pursing, namely that a modern transport system that better connects all our regions and cities could be the difference between Australia’s future success or failure.

That’s why we’ve used our first term to restore rail to its rightful place at the heart of the nation’s transport system. And unlike the circumstances enjoyed by our predecessors, we’ve done so without the luxury of record tax revenues flowing into the Treasury.

To the contrary, we’ve had to confront the worst global recession since 1929.

Here again our rail investment program, augmented with additional funding from our Economic Stimulus Plan, played a critical role. As well as laying the modern, well-planned rail infrastructure vital to Australia’s future, it created jobs and economic activity at the very time both were needed.

But despite the progress we’ve made, there’s still much to do. For starters, we’re only half through the delivery of our $9 billion capital works program and our sweeping regulatory reforms are yet to be bedded down.

What’s more, the successful implementation of our tax reforms will not only give all Australians a fairer share of the wealth flowing from the resources they collectively own, it will inject billions of dollars of new investment into the nation’s port, road and rail infrastructure.

Having said all that, here’s the bottom line: call me old fashioned, but I think political parties should be judged on what they deliver – and on any objective assessment, this Labor Government has been the best friend rail has had in a very long time.

But Labor’s appreciation for the role rail can play in unlocking our nation’s economic potential is nothing new.

Not only was one of our most revered leaders – Ben Chifley – a former train driver, the transcontinental railway is a legacy of the nation building vision of Australia’s first majority Labor government and its leader, Andrew Fisher, who at the time declared rail “an urgent necessity for reasons of economy, transport and effective defence.”

A century after the Fisher Government, rail is enjoying a renaissance globally and the Rudd Labor Government is making sure Australia is part of that action. Our economy, productivity and the environment all stand to benefit.

May 18, 2010

Even Tony Abbott doesn’t believe Tony Abbott – Opinion – The Punch

Even Tony Abbott doesn’t believe Tony Abbott

Opinion – The Punch

The Hon Anthony Albanese MP

Last night under pressure Tony Abbott cracked and told all Australians that they should not believe any statements that he makes.

Tony Abbott said “The statements that need to be taken absolutely as gospel truth are those carefully prepared, scripted remarks”. This extraordinary concession from ‘Phoney Tony’ was followed by ten minutes of evasion and confusion.

We know that Phoney Tony has been receiving acting lessons but quite clearly he’s acting coach forgot to tell him how important it was to stay ‘in character’.

We know that Tony Abbott has extreme views on Work Choices, on social policy, on the public sector, and climate change scepticism but he has been trying to keep that in check. We now know from his own mouth that whenever he speaks it will be unclear whether it is ‘gospel truth Tony’ or ‘heat of the moment Tony’.

Tony Abbott has blown his own credibility out of the water and any Australian who was in any doubt over whether he was trustworthy now must take Tony at his word that he is not. Perhaps Tony Abbott will now drop the act for good and expose his extreme out of touch views for all to see.

I suspect though, Tony Abbott will continue to say anything and do anything in his search for power regardless of whether he believes his statements to be true or not.

Phoney Tony is simply unbelievable – just ask him.

Feb 2, 2010

Parliament is back: let the bells ring – Opinion – The Punch

Today marks the return of Parliament in Canberra, in an election year. For some this will be of no interest, for others it is a captivating period in which the intrigue, dynamics and more subtle nuances are followed each sitting day.

I am firmly of the view that as Australians, we should be very proud of the vigorous nature of our democratic processes.

After all, millions of people throughout the world are prepared to risk their lives in pursuit of democratic principles being introduced to their nation.

Parliament is an opportunity for Governments to promote their ideas and implement their practical plans for the nation. For Oppositions, Parliament provides a forum to hold the Government to account and present alternative policies.

Australia’s democratic process stands up to comparison with any Parliament in the world.

Visiting Leaders, Ministers and Parliamentarians are invariably astonished that the entire Ministry, including the Prime Minster, attends question time every day and take questions which are genuinely without notice.

In the United Kingdom, the Prime Minister only attends Question Time once a week, for half an hour, and questions are placed on the notice paper three days in advance.

In the New Zealand Parliament, questions also appear on the notice paper and supplementary questions must relate directly to these. In the United States of America, there is simply nothing to compare with our House of Representatives Question Time.

In 2009 there were 1187 questions without notice asked during Question Time in the House of Representatives. In addition there were 616 questions on Notice and 9,313 Questions placed on notice through the Senate Estimates process.

For this 42nd Parliament there have been 21 occasions where there were more than 20 questions asked during Question Time in the House. This contrasts with the 41st Parliament, with John Howard as Prime Minister and Tony Abbott as the then Leader of the House, when there were never more than 20 questions asked.

During our first two years, the Rudd Labor Government has delivered 103 Ministerial Statements to the House, compared with 105 statements delivered by the Howard Government over more than 12 years in office.

Labor’s record includes 9 Prime Ministerial Statements on issues such as: Climate Change; Responding to the Global Financial and Economic Crisis; Closing the Gap on Indigenous disadvantage; the economy; relations with India; the actions of North Korea and weapons testing; Iraq; Terrorist attacks in Mumbai; and, World Environment Day.

The Opposition receives an equal amount of time to respond to these statements.

In 2009 the House of Representatives passed 205 pieces of legislation, the most for a decade. The majority of these were carried with unanimous support in both the House of Representatives and the Senate.

There are 54 Bills which have been passed by the House of Representatives, but not yet dealt with by the Senate.

During this session, legislation debated will include the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, the establishment of a National Broadband Network, creating a framework for National Consumer Law and a National Occupation Health and Safety regime, as well as reforming election funding.

From time to time oppositions will express frustration at the Parliamentary procedures which are in place. It is particularly the case that when Oppositions have nothing to say about issues of substance they will make substantial statements about nothing much, including about process.

This point is proven when in 2009, the current Opposition, even voted against the approval of the Parliamentary Sitting Calendar for 2010.

No amendments proposed, just opposition for oppositions sake. Given that Tony Abbott has pledged this oppositionist approach will characterise his Leadership, I guess we can expect more of this unproductive approach.

For those who doubt the significance of events in the House of Representatives Chamber, they only need to think back to the week beginning 21 June 2009. Malcolm Turnbull’s demise as Opposition leader can be traced to the week in Parliament when his lack of judgement was on full display through his irrational pursuit of the fake email affair.

During that week, Australians paid attention to the events in the Parliament with far greater scrutiny than usual. From that point on, Malcolm Turnbull’s days were numbered.

The challenge for the new Leader of the Opposition, Tony Abbott, is to counter the alienation that many Australians already have from his extreme right-wing views and his aggressive style.

Jan 28, 2010

Reckless drivers can’t blame government for carnage – Opinion – The Punch

Reckless drivers can’t blame government for carnage – Opinion – The Punch

Next Wednesday the National Road Safety Council will have its inaugural meeting in Parliament House.

This initiative from Australia’s Transport Ministers is an attempt to get expert advice from around the nation to make practical suggestions aimed at reducing our road toll.

The meeting will have a sombre tone.

Sadly, the heart wrenching grief caused by road deaths visited more families last year than the year before.

The road toll in 2009 was up by almost 5 per cent to 1,509 deaths, albeit still the second lowest figure in almost 60 years and less than half the average recorded during the peak of the 1970’s (3,798).

Every loss of life on our roads is a tragedy, and my thoughts and condolences go out to the families that have lost loved ones.

While tougher laws, improved driver training, better road design, extensive education campaigns and new vehicle technologies have done much to reduce road deaths over the last three decades, motorists themselves appear to be a major obstacle to a further significant reduction in the road toll.

The latest annual survey of community attitudes, which was released only a fortnight ago, found that while most are well informed about road safety matters and support the efforts of police to catch those that break the law, the personal conduct of many leaves a lot to be desired.

While no one is perfect, far too many of us are still regularly engaging in risky behaviour such as speeding, driving under the influence, driving distracted and driving while tired.

The survey of 1,615 Australians, conducted by the Social Research Centre, found:

  •  One in four respondents (25 per cent) consider it acceptable to speed ‘if you are driving safely’;
  •  16 per cent of respondents had fallen asleep at the wheel, with a disturbingly large proportion of these (43 per cent) having done so more than once;
  •  6 per cent of respondents – and 11 per cent of those younger than 25 – ‘always, nearly always or mostly’ drive at least 10 km/h over the speed limit;
  •  4 per cent of respondents – or 1 in 25 – thought it was likely they had driven while over the blood alcohol limit at least once within the past 12 months.

Sadly, just hours after the release of the survey, the devastating news of the death of 5 young Australians in a car crash in Mill Park in Victoria was relayed around the nation. Police have found the vehicle was travelling over 140 kilometres per hour and the driver registered a 0.19 blood alcohol reading.

The impact of this crash on those families directly affected is hard to comprehend.

Whilst the dangers of speeding and driving under the influence of alcohol have been the subject of campaigns for a long time, new technologies are creating new challenges.

Three in five drivers say they use their mobile phone while driving, up from 47% just four years ago.

This worrying trend has occurred despite almost universal support for current laws banning the use of hand held mobiles and a high level of awareness that making and receiving calls or texting increases a motorist’s chances of being involved in a crash.

According to British research mobile phone use affects a driver’s ability to react to dangerous situations, making them four times more likely to have a crash.

As we become a more mobile and wireless society, we can’t afford to ignore the impact new technology can have on road safety. Every time you take your eyes off the road – even for a few seconds – to type or read a text message you are putting yourself and the lives of others in danger.

For our part, the Rudd Government has moved quickly since being elected a little over two years ago, to put in place a number of important new road safety initiatives.

This has included more than doubling the roads budget, with extra money to fix dangerous black spots on local roads, install boom gates at high risk level crossings, and build additional rest stops for truck drivers. On top of that we’ve quadrupled investment in rail in an effort to get more people and freight off our roads and onto rail.

We have also introduced new regulations requiring Electronic Stability Control (ESC) to be fitted to all new models of passenger vehicles from November 2011. This is the most significant technological change since seat belts with the potential to reduce a motorist’s chances of being involved in a fatal accident by 25 per cent.

Along with the Australian Automobile Association we have introduced Keys2Drive – a new, innovative road safety program which will provide more than 200,000 free driving lessons to learner drivers and their parents.

Together these initiatives will help construct better roads, train smarter drivers and build safer vehicles.

But ultimately Governments can only do so much.

All of us need to take greater responsibility for our own personal conduct when behind the wheel.

Aug 18, 2009

You’re in strife when Wilson Tuckey is setting the pace – Opinion – The Punch

The Rudd Labor Government was elected with a mandate to take action on climate change. The Howard Government had been frozen in time while the world warmed around it for twelve long years. This was symbolic of the Howard Government’s failure to embrace a future agenda.

Our first action in Government was to ratify the Kyoto Protocol and gain a seat at the international negotiating table. We followed that up with a whole-of-government response which has included investment in public transport, increased support for renewables and the home insulation initiative.

At the centre of our response is the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme. This has been through an extensive process of development which has included a green paper, a white paper, an exposure draft and legislation that passed the House of Representatives months ago. This week we saw the future of the Liberal Party – and his name is Wilson Tuckey.

The decision by the Opposition to oppose this legislation in the Senate on Thursday represents a complete failure of leadership by Malcolm Turnbull and is the product of a dysfunctional Opposition.

In the Senate they failed to advance a single amendment to the legislation. Zero amendments driven by zero unity.

Regardless of Malcolm Turnbull’s acknowledgement of the threat of climate change, he is incapable of action because the dynamic that is leading the Opposition is that of their internal divisions.

I have seen more discipline in a riot than from those opposite when it comes to climate change. The dinosaurs such as Wilson Tuckey have been successful in ensuring that the Opposition cannot act.

We have the Triceratops of potential leaders sitting behind the Leader of the Opposition. ‘Robbasaurus Rex’ the climate sceptic, ‘Hockey-adon’ taking any opportunity to talk the economy down, and ‘Abbott-raptor,’ named for his renowned people skills who has stated that ‘the point I made about an emissions trading scheme is that I don’t like it one little bit’ – and that was when he was advocating that they should vote for it the second time around.

This week has seen the Opposition launch a discussion paper which they themselves weren’t capable of saying they supported.

If this issue wasn’t so critical for the nations’ future, their chaos wouldn’t be quite as serious. We know that the longer we delay the transition to a carbon constrained economy, the greater will be the cost.

These dinosaurs in the Coalition have become a handbrake on our future. Their failure to act has nothing to do with the science, nothing to do with economic analysis and everything to do with their internal disunity. Their decision this week to oppose action on climate change will be revisited in three months’ time and will not resolve their differences.

The Turnbull camp are at war with the Costello camp, the Hockey camp are in hand-to-hand combat with the Abbott camp, the Robb camp aren’t sure if they are still in the Turnbull camp, and the Bishop camp has been reduced to a single tent without a pole in a very, very far corner.

The Liberal caucus meeting to be held on Tuesday the 24th of November should be a beauty.

Jun 29, 2009

We have the chance right now to build a better nation – Opinion – The Punch

Whilst Australia’s economy is facing enormous challenges arising from the impact of the global recession, there is another story emerging.

It’s a story of consumer spending holding up, of the housing market remaining strong, and of companies sharing around the burden by shortening hours to keep employees in jobs.

We are not out of the woods yet, but in the short-term the savage downturn that’s hit many other countries so hard, has been averted here in Australia. I believe this has happened because the Government has displayed two important strengths in a time of crisis: political courage and long-term vision.

Public policy is made democratically in the public arena where big ideas are fought over and orthodoxies established. The process involves websites such as The Punch, academics, think tanks, vested interests and policy makers in sometimes highly charged public debates.

The past couple of decades saw the establishment of a new orthodoxy that essentially said that running a budget surplus was the be-all and end-all of responsible economic management – regardless of whether that surplus was hiding chronic underinvestment in the workforce, skills, and modern infrastructure that underpins our future prosperity. And because surpluses were all that mattered, productive long term investment got the chk, chk boom treatment.

Infrastructure spending was seen as simply a cost rather than as an investment.

Staying within the confines of these orthodoxies might offer intellectual comfort and an easy alternative to hard thought, but it can also offer a convenient excuse for failure. Like the economists who made the stock market collapse of 1929 turn into the Great Depression of the 1930s, orthodoxies allow policy makers to say that they were only following accepted wisdom and evade responsibility for their actions.

In the face of the financial crisis of 2008, it would have been easy to have taken refuge in this orthodoxy. But it would have meant retrenching and retreating, backing away, avoiding bold moves, and obsessing about debt – all at precisely the wrong moment in history.

Instead of following the advice of our critics, the Government acted boldly. Just 9 months on from the Lehman Brothers collapse, the Prime Minister’s leadership of a gutsy expansionary and reform strategy now looks like common sense. This wasn’t a foregone conclusion by any means last September.

I believe history’s verdict will be that in the face of a huge challenge, the Government showed not just intellectual leadership but high-order political courage and skill.

The initial measures are well known to readers of The Punch. A $10.4 billion Economic Security Strategy in October last year; a $4.7 billion Nation Building package in December; and a $42 billion Nation Building and Jobs plan in February.

These measures had an emphasis on increasing economic activity by boosting consumer demand and getting vital job-creating nation building under way in crucial facilities like rail, road, ports, schools, TAFEs, universities, and broadband. And they were backed up by strong measures to keep our financial sector strong and stable.

I know some of the associated consumer stimulus measures provoked some unease. People prefer to see public funds invested in projects of long-term benefit to the nation, not as cash advances to boost consumer demand.

True, stimulating consumer demand is not an end in itself. But, those interim measures represented a lifeline to support jobs and growth at a time when we were facing a collapse in consumer spending, and before the larger scale nation-building projects could get underway.

It’s early days, but I believe we have been vindicated by Australia’s relatively strong economic performance to date in the form of small but positive growth and rising consumer confidence.

The Government’s stimulus has been delivered while keeping our net debt at one-fifth of that of comparable nations – a demonstration of responsible economic management.

The second strength Australia needs to get through the global recession and prosper in the future is long-term reforming vision.

Australia has been through eras of boom and bust before, but in the past we’ve made the boom work to our long-term advantage. Take for example, the benefits of the 1850s Gold Rush which can still be seen in the splendors of Victorian-era Melbourne and cities like Ballarat and Bendigo. The Roaring Twenties left us with the Sydney Harbour Bridge, the Great Ocean Road and great memorials to the First World War – projects started when the economy boomed and completed with public investment after it crashed.

The great era of Post War Reconstruction gave us the Snowy Mountains Scheme, the Australian National University and the public infrastructure that enabled us to massively increase our population and create modern Australia. The boom of the 1980s gave us many advantages, most notably a massive expansion in education and skills.

But the most recent mining boom was a strange aberration – it’s like the dog that didn’t bark.

The fastest rise in wealth in Australia’s history failed to leave its mark. It should have accelerated us into first place in the things that determine the wealth of nations in the 21st century like early childhood education; improved year 12 retention rates; fast broadband; efficient transport systems; and cleaner energy sources.

Yet at the end of the boom, Australia had gone backwards in world rankings in so many of these areas – most ludicrously of all we even had bottlenecks and inefficiencies in the very aspect that had enabled the boom in the first place – mining exports. In fact, under the Howard Government, public investment in the nation’s infrastructure as a proportion of national income fell by close to 20 per cent.

What we had for the first time in our history was a progress-free boom. The Gold Rush without the splendour. The Twenties without the Bridge. The Forties without the Snowy. And the Eighties without the massive expansion of education opportunities.

We now have to make up for this lost opportunity, and do the things left undone when the times were relatively easy.

We are rolling out a nation-building agenda which will put people to work building the infrastructure that Australia needs for tomorrow.

The unprecedented investment of $35 billion in transport infrastructure alone will deliver real progress in developing the modern urban rail infrastructure to make it easier to get around our major cities, while also creating a national road network equal to the needs of the 21st century, and developing more efficient ports to support our exporters.

The $8.5 billion of new funding in this year’s Budget provides for 15 nationally significant rail, road and port infrastructure projects to lift national productivity, tackle urban congestion and build a stronger economy, while supporting thousands of jobs in these tough economic times.

Every year, millions of people drive over the Sydney Harbour Bridge to get to work, to visit friends or sometimes, as tourists, just for the sake of doing so.

Some may even reflect on the fact that the people who built it not only had foresight in economic nation-building for the future, but a sense of the requirement to support jobs when it was most needed.

The bridge started as a nation-building project and was completed as a means of keeping people in work. Hundreds of similar projects built with the same intentions during that era are scattered across the nation.

Great works of productive national infrastructure give people a sense of national pride. They tell us something about what sort of people we are and what sort of nation Australia is today. And they make it possible for us to leave to future generations a stronger nation and a stronger economy – like the generations that came before us.

Jun 2, 2009

Sorry Bronnie, lazy Libs don’t care about nation-building – Opinion – The Punch

In their opposition to the Rudd Government’s nation building agenda the Liberals and Nationals have reminded the Australian public that infrastructure development remains a fundamental distinction between Labor and our conservative opponents.

A fundamental fact that the Coalition has never understood is that infrastructure investment is not just a cost – it is a long term investment in the productive economy.

Investment in infrastructure generates higher returns than investment in other sectors of the economy.

Addressing Australia’s infrastructure backlog will lead to significant economic benefits including an increase in GDP and a more efficient export sector. In their recent report Going for Growth released in March, the OECD confirmed that investment in energy, water, transport and telecommunication networks can boost long-term economic output and productivity to a greater extent that other types of physical investment.

Infrastructure investment has also been shown to ease inflationary pressures on the economy and improve living standards.

In short, investment in infrastructure pays back big time.

To have neglected infrastructure investment, as the coalition did when in government, was both irresponsible and short sighted.

The simple fact is that when the mining boom delivered prosperity and surpluses to our shores, the Howard government did not invest in the long term productivity of the economy.

Good economic managers would have invested in infrastructure – and we would have been reaping the rewards today.

Instead they left Australia ranked 20th out of 25 OECD countries when it comes to investment in public infrastructure as a proportion of national income.

Their legacy was capacity constraints that have placed incredible strain on the Australian economy.

Despite some 20 warnings from the RBA about inflationary pressures due to capacity constraints, the previous government sat on their hands.

This is because their vision never extended beyond the next election.

And that lack of foresight meant that under their watch, well before the global economic recession, productivity growth had declined.

Over the last 5 years of the Howard government, productivity growth averaged its lowest in more than 16 years. Productivity growth fell from 3.3 per cent over the five years to 1998-1999, then to 2.2 per cent over the five years to 2003-2004. Over the subsequent 4 years, it averaged just 1.1 per cent.

The previous government’s infrastructure inaction has not only hurt the economy, it’s had negative impacts on the quality of life of all Australians.

Infrastructure investment drives productivity.

And productivity drives national living standards.

The infrastructure deficit is having a real impact on Australians, as a result of issues such as urban congestion.

It is a tragedy that for many working families more time is spent in their cars travelling to and from work than at home with their family.

It also means the task of transporting goods to the supermarket shelf takes longer and is more costly and a greater source of carbon pollution.

That is why Labor is investing $35.8 billion in nation building transport infrastructure.

These projects are supporting jobs and the economy today, while building the infrastructure we need for tomorrow.

The Government’s Nation Building Program will support over 120 road and 26 rail projects.

On top of that we have more than doubled the funding for the Black Spots Program which targets dangerous roads and we have established new programs to install boom gates at 292 high risk level rail crossings and construct additional rest stops for truck drivers.

The Opposition continues to criticise the Rudd Government’s economic stimulus, yet they offer no alternative.

The opportunism of Malcolm Turnbull is emerging as the biggest threat to the nation’s economic recovery and the modernisation of the nation’s economic infrastructure. Not satisfied with having left a massive infrastructure deficit, now the Coalition is attempting to thwart our efforts to act.

The Rudd Government has established structures and systems which take short-term political expediency out of the decision making process.

Our response is built around structures like Infrastructure Australia and the Major Cities Unit.

We have broken the nexus between the electoral cycle and the infrastructure delivery cycle.

Investing in the national road network including $3.1 billion for the Pacific Highway, $2.6 billion for the Bruce Highway and $950 million for the Hume Highway is good for jobs in the short term and good for the economy into the future. This is part of the vision outlined in the budget of modernising Network 1 all the way from Melbourne to Cairns.

On rail the Rudd Government is investing more in 12 months than the previous Government spent in 12 years.

Our Nation Building for Recovery Plan will ensure that Australia emerges from the challenge imposed by the global economic crisis in a strong position to make the most of our opportunities in the future.

Contact Anthony

(02) 9564 3588 Electorate Office

Email: [email protected]

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