Browsing articles in "Opinion Pieces"
Jan 30, 2012

2012 – A year of significance for the nation’s railways – Opinion – Track & Signal magazine

2012 marks the centenary of a significant year in the creation of the Australian nation.

With the Federation still in its infancy and Australians still clinging to old colonial loyalties, the Labor government of Andrew Fisher, the former Scottish coalminer in his second term as prime minister, set about unifying the continent and its people.

With vision, courage and purpose, the Fisher Labor Government created an unparalleled legacy of national institutions without which Australia’s economic and social development would not have been so assured and so rapid.

On May 23, the Chicago-based architect Walter Burley Griffin and his wife Marion won the international competition to design and oversee construction of Australia’s new capital city, Canberra.  After years of delay and interstate rivalry, Fisher was finally able to declare: “The wrangle about the home of the government of Australia is over.  The city is to be built, and the Commonwealth will build it.

This significant milestone was quickly followed with the establishment of the Commonwealth Bank and the opening of its first branch on July 15 in Melbourne.  Opposed by the conservatives and predicted to fail, it quickly gained the confidence of its shareholders, the Australian people, and is today the nation’s second largest publicly listed company and one of the world’s ‘safest’ financial institutions.

But Andrew Fisher’s ‘nation-building’ drive didn’t stop there.  He then turned his attention to one of his great passions, railways, and set his sights on closing the vast ‘tyranny of distance’ separating Western Australia from the eastern states.

This great nation work,” as he called it, was “an urgent necessity for reasons of economy, transport and effective defence.

So on 12 September, Fisher and his ministers gathered amidst the celebrations at Port Augusta to watch the Governor-General turn the first sod on the eastern section of what would become known as the Trans-Australia Railway.  When completed five years later (1917) at a cost of more than £4 million, the line covered a distance of 1,711 kilometres from Port Augusta to Kalgoorlie and boasts the world’s longest stretch of dead-straight track (478 kilometres).

For the first time, there was now an overland route connecting east with west, a transformative achievement which both literally and symbolically united the Australian continent.

While Fisher’s ultimate ambition for this massive engineering project were never fully realised – he believed, as had happened in the United States, his new railway would open up the interior, even claiming the so-called desert just needed water to become “…equal to the best of the other lands…” – the railway he built a century ago continues to serve our nation today.

In fact it currently carries about 80 per cent of the freight which moves between Australia’s east and west coasts.

Like the Snowy Mountain Scheme, the Trans-Australian Railway stands as a lasting legacy of its visionary proponent and a permanent reminder of our nation’s resourcefulness, ingenuity and ability to think big.

While the challenges confronting this Government differ from those faced by our Labor predecessors, the Party’s ‘nation building’ mission remains constant: to build a prosperous, inclusive and fair society for all.

And like 1912, 2012 is set to be a big one for rail in Australia.

As well as finalising arrangements for the introduction in 2013 of historic reforms which will the replace existing state-based regimes with a single national rail safety regulator and one set of nation-wide laws, we will continue the rollout our massive $12.2 billion capital works program.

Most notably, we expect major construction to get underway on:

  • The nation’s biggest ever urban rail project – the $4.3 billion Regional Rail Link through Melbourne’s western suburbs;
  • The long-awaited Moreton Bay Rail Link in Brisbane’s northern suburbs,
    a $1.15 billion project first proposed back in 1895.  Once completed in 2016, the new 12.6 kilometre line will connect the Redcliffe Peninsula to the existing urban rail network.
  • The Northern Sydney Freight Corridor Upgrade, a $1.1 billion project which continues the modernisation of the Interstate Rail Network by upgrading the section through Sydney’s northern suburbs to Newcastle.  Once completed in 2016, the new infrastructure will speed up the movement of trains through the City and take up to 200,000 trucks a year off its roads.
  • Upgrade and duplication of the line from the Hunter Valley over the Liverpool Range, a $284 million project which will support the long term growth of the region’s mining industry.

At the other end of the construction cycle, we expect work to finish on the following projects:

  • Port Botany Line Upgrade (Stage 1) – $21.1 million;
  • Upgrades at Geelong Port and along the line between Melbourne and Adelaide – $50 million;
  • Re-sleepering of the line between Broken Hill and Parkes – $253 million;
  • Extension of seven passing loops on the line between Melbourne and Adelaide – $76 million;
  • Re-railing of the line between Whyalla and Broken Hill as well as the line from Cootamundra to Parkes – $312 million;
  • Re-railing of the line from Albury to Geelong via Melbourne – $110 million;
  • Restoration and upgrade of Western Australia’s Grain Rail Network – $292.2 million;
  • Extension of Adelaide’s urban rail network from Noarlunga to Seaford – $291.2 million.

 

As we begin a new year, our ambition for rail remains unchanged: to restore it to its rightful place at the heart of the nation’s transport system.  Like Andrew Fisher, this Labor Government understands the economic, social and environmental dividends which come from investing in rail.

That to us is what ‘nation building’ is all about: putting the resources of government to work building the physical infrastructure and collective institutions which will both spur economic development and share its benefits across the entire community.

Jan 17, 2012

Abbott’s stunts no substitute for policy grunt – Opinion – The Australian

When Parliament resumes next month, there will be a different atmosphere from that of just one year ago.

The Opposition spent 2011 acting as if the Government would fall the next day and some in the media encouraged the delusion. Indeed Tony Abbott declared at the 2010 Press Gallery end of year drinks that he would host the 2011 drinks in the Lodge.

Of course, we know that represented a triumph of ambition over reality.

2011 was a year of decision and delivery for the Gillard Government. In spite of the minority status of the Government, 254 pieces of legislation passed through the House of Representatives.

Many big ideas are now a reality.

The Clean Energy Future package, the Minerals Resource Rent Tax, the National Broadband Network, structural separation of Telstra, national health reform, plain packaging for cigarettes, a Parliamentary Budget Office – all done.

In my own area, we have passed legislation to protect the marine environment from the Great Barrier Reef to the Antarctic, improved the security of air cargo following the attempted Yemeni terrorist plot and introduced a safe rates bill to eliminate incentives for truck drivers to speed and engage in unsafe behaviour on our roads.

These are all significant reforms to build a more prosperous economy, create new and better jobs, protect Australians and deliver a cleaner and healthier future for our children.

Every bill, every amendment has had to be negotiated, consulted on and fought for, both within the Parliament and on the public stage.

Yet, we have not lost a single one, nor has a bill been amended without the Government’s support.

The Coalition’s only strategy has been to say no. Tony Abbott has turned the Coalition of yesterday, into the Noalition of today.

For example, the Opposition wasted more than 18 hours of the Parliament’s time with pointless stunts and attempted suspensions of the Standing Orders.

These stunts meant that Tony Abbott gave up the opportunity to ask nearly 340 questions of the Government during Question Time – one of the key roles of an effective opposition in the Westminster system.

Despite the Opposition’s stunts, we have delivered a transparent and better functioning Parliament.

During the nearly 12 years of the Howard Government, 627 private members bills and motions were introduced into the House.  Only five of these were ever put to a vote.

In 15 short months, 51 private members bills and motions have already gone to a vote.

Every day, Tony Abbott has run the same mindlessly negative scare campaign, hoping that a new election is called tomorrow.

Often, this involved ducking out of Parliament to scare the bowling clubs, mechanics, and small businesses of Queanbeyan by holding press conferences on their premises – 13 of them at last count.

It’s claimed that Albert Einstein once said that insanity was doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

At 254 not out for the Government, it is time for Tony Abbott to reassess – not just because the only political Party to lose a Member is the Liberal Party.

After all, it was former Prime Minister, Robert Menzies, who said that the duty of an Opposition “is not just to oppose for opposition’s sake”.  He warned that “ it is unwise, when in Opposition, to promise what you cannot perform; that a quick debating point scored in Parliament against some Government measure will be a barren victory unless you are confident that, in office, you would not be compelled to do, substantially what the Government is doing.

The Government will continue to advocate a positive Parliamentary agenda in 2012.

We will continue to work constructively with the cross bench Members and respect the Parliament that the people elected. We would welcome a more constructive approach from the Opposition who are now further away from Government than they were this time last year.

After all, Robert Menzies also said: “There is no room in Australia for a party of reaction. There is no useful place for a policy of negation.”

 

Jan 16, 2012

Steering the Gold Coast from the past into the future – Opinion – The Gold Coast Bulletin

Its golden sands caress the coast for almost 60 kilometres forming one of the most famous pleasure grounds in the nation. Lieutenant James Cook noted it in 1770 and Matthew Flinders later chartered it as they sailed past on their respective journeys of exploration. It wasn’t until 1823 when John Oxley landed his cutter The Mermaid at what is now Mermaid Beach that European settlement really began. Now almost two centuries later, the settlement we now call the Gold Coast has become a mecca not just for tourists but for Australian families seeking a better life. It is a region with many claims to fame, but we now know a whole lot more about this much loved coastal City.

For instance, the popular belief that the Gold Coast is dominated by retirees is not true. In fact its age profile largely mirrors the Australian average with projections pointing to children as the fastest growing group. And there is no doubting the area’s popularity – it sits just behind Cairns as Australia’s fastest growing city. We love it so much that we are choosing to ‘migrate’ to the Gold Coast and greater south east Queensland in numbers three times greater than the next most popular growth areas of south west WA and the NSW mid-north coast.

Surprisingly for a place famous for its outdoor life, we also know that Gold Coast locals are among the most inactive in Australia. And while they own more bicycles than just about anyone else, very few are actually hopping onto them for transport purposes. That said, people are choosing public transport over their cars more than ever with trip numbers increasing by more than 70 percent over a ten year period. This trend will no doubt continue when the new Gold Coast Rapid Transit, funded under the Gillard Government’s Nation Building Program and State and Local Governments, is completed.

These facts and many more are contained in a unique publication – The State of Australian Cities 2011. It provides a snapshot of our major cities, defined as those with populations above 100,000.  While the report (which can be downloaded) makes fascinating reading, its purpose is much more than that. What this and future editions serve to do is to enable us to compare our cities with each other and to check progress over time, towards becoming more productive, sustainable and liveable.

Australia’s cities have never been more important. They generate 80 percent of our national wealth and are home to three out of every four of us. Despite the charming international perception of us as a nation of stoic miners and bushies, it could hardly be more misplaced. We are one of the most urbanised nations in the world. Those vast farmlands and desert landscapes are well over the horizon for the 85 percent of us who live within 50 kilometres of the coast.

Since 2007, the Australian Government has begun re-engaging with our cities. The reason is that while our cities rate towards the top of almost every international liveability scale, they are facing unprecedented pressures. Population growth, housing affordability, an ageing population, growing congestion and urban sprawl are among the most obvious.

But there are other less obvious ones that require national attention – such as the capacity of our cities to respond to severe storms like those that caused so much suffering last summer along our eastern seaboard. Or how our ports, rail lines and roads will cope with the enormous growth in our freight load given that volumes are set to double by 2030 and triple by 2050. There’s also a pressing need to make sure our new homes and office towers are more sustainable than the energy-wasting designs of the past.

The State of Australia Cities points to an environmental challenge for the Gold Coast. With more than 15,000 residential buildings near soft, erodible areas of coastline, it is particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change and any sea level rises. The report paints an optimistic employment picture – while unemployment still sits at a comparatively high 6.3 percent, labour force participation is growing steadily. The Gold Coast has the highest proportion of people employed in property and business services of any non-capital major city.

In recent years the Federal Government has contributed substantial investment into Gold Coast projects, including the Rapid Transit, the Tugun Bypass, the Pacific Motorway and the Gold Coast Stadium. The run up to the Commonwealth Games will focus even more attention on the Gold Coast.

Converting cities such as the Gold Coast into cities of the future is not easy. It requires fresh thinking by governments of all levels. Traditionally, the growth and policies of cities has been left in the hands of state and local authorities. But now, following an agreement between the Federal Government and State and Territory leaders, all major cities are finalising extensive plans, showing just how they are preparing for the future.

And these plans are important. Future Federal infrastructure funding will depend on how well they address nine key areas of concern. These include planned evidence-based land-release with an appropriate balance of in-fill, preserving corridors at key transport gateways such as ports to allow for future expansion, preparations for climate change and natural disasters, better designed and more environmentally-sensitive new homes and offices, and addressing the housing needs of a growing and older population.

We live in the most competitive and fastest growing region of the planet. Our cities must be ready to seize the opportunities that come with that. The response to the Federal Government’s efforts to make our cities better places to live and work has been heartening. There is clearly a hunger among Australians for our cities to perform better and a realisation that it is for the benefit of all of us that our cities become more productive, sustainable and liveable.

 

Jan 10, 2012

Steering Adelaide from the past into the future – Opinion – Adelaide Advertiser

Adelaide’s founders were so convinced of the morals of its free settlers that a gaol was not even considered in the original city plan. And that plan, with its elegant geometric boulevards flanked by parklands, made Adelaide one of only a handful of fully-planned cities since Roman times. Proclaimed as a British colony under a gum tree in 1836 at what it now Glenelg North, Adelaide is now known the world over for the remarkable quality of its arts scene, fine wines and restaurants. But we now know a whole lot more about the city that snuggles so comfortably between the Gulf of St Vincent and the Mount Lofty Ranges.

For instance, the people of Adelaide lead the nation in recycling, returning 70 percent of waste for reuse. They are also quick to turn off the tap with one of the lowest rates of water usage in Australia, not bad for the nation’s driest city. Adelaide is also extremely liveable. In fact it is rated as the most liveable city in the country by its own residents while the influential Economist Intelligence Unit rates it in the top 10 in its league of 140 world cities.

Curiously, despite its liveability and the fact that its houses are more affordable than in any other capital city, Adelaide ranks highest for adult psychological distress, just slightly ahead of Melbourne and then Sydney. It also has the smallest households, the smallest homes and the highest proportion of children in jobless families.

And while commuting by public transport might be growing steadily in other big cities, only Hobart residents use public transport less than the locals of Adelaide. This should change once the electrification of the Gawler line and the extension of the Noarlunga to Seaford line are completed, both funded under the Gillard Government’s Nation Building Program in partnership with the Weatherill Government.

These facts and many more are contained in a unique publication – The State of Australian Cities 2011. It provides a snapshot of our major cities, defined as those with populations above 100,000.  While the report (which can be downloaded) makes fascinating reading, its purpose is much more than that. What this and future editions serve to do is to enable us to compare our cities with each other and to check progress over time, towards becoming more productive, sustainable and liveable.

Australia’s cities have never been more important. They generate 80 percent of our national wealth and are home to three out of every four of us. Despite the charming international perception of us as a nation of stoic miners and bushies, it could hardly be more misplaced. We are one of the most urbanised nations in the world. Those vast farmlands and desert landscapes are well over the horizon for the 85 percent of us who live within 50 kilometres of the coast.

Since 2007, the Australian Government has begun re-engaging with our cities. The reason is that while our cities rate towards the top of almost every international liveability scale, they are facing unprecedented pressures. Population growth, housing affordability, an ageing population, growing congestion and urban sprawl are among the most obvious.

But there are other less obvious ones that require national attention – such as the capacity of our cities to respond to severe storms like those that caused so much suffering last summer along our eastern seaboard. Or how our ports, rail lines and roads will cope with the enormous growth in our freight load given that volumes are set to double by 2030 and triple by 2050. There’s also a pressing need to make sure our new homes and office towers are more sustainable than the energy-wasting designs of the past.

The State of Australia Cities points to a challenge for hot, dry Adelaide. While cyclones and floods in other parts of Australia are clearly devastating, the evidence shows that heatwaves are our deadliest killer. The record highs that hit Adelaide almost precisely two years ago and that persisted for eight long days caused up to150 deaths and 3000 heat-related illnesses. The load placed on the city’s power grid and the extreme heat caused outages, further adding to the misery of residents. The human and economic costs of heatwaves point to the need for greater resilience and preparedness in the face of similar disasters in the future.

Converting 19th century cities such as Adelaide into cities of the future is not easy. It requires fresh thinking by governments of all levels. Traditionally, the growth and policies of cities has been left in the hands of state and local authorities. But now, following an agreement between the Federal Government and State and Territory leaders, all major cities are finalising extensive plans, showing just how they are preparing for the future.

And these plans are important. Future Federal infrastructure funding will depend on how well they address nine key areas of concern. These include planned evidence-based land-release with an appropriate balance of in-fill, preserving corridors at key transport gateways such as ports to allow for future expansion, preparations for climate change and natural disasters, better designed and more environmentally-sensitive new homes and offices, and addressing the housing needs of a growing and older population.

We live in the most competitive and fastest growing corner of the planet. Our cities must be ready to seize the opportunities that come with that. The response to the Federal Government’s efforts to make our cities better places to live and work has been heartening. There is clearly a hunger among Australians for our cities to perform better and a realisation that it is for the benefit of all of us that our cities become more productive, sustainable and liveable.

[ENDS]

Nov 28, 2011

Helping our cities meet the challenges of the future – Opinion – Canberra Times

As Air Force One swooped low over Canberra before its smooth landing on the tarmac recently, it’s interesting to wonder what President Obama thought of the bush capital laid out below him. Because it is from the air that the masterful city plan of his compatriot Walter Burley Griffin most readily reveals its extent and elegance. In 2013, the city that began as a compromise between rivals Sydney and Melbourne will celebrate 100 years since Lady Gertrude Denman stood amidst the boulders and scrub on what is now Capital Hill and named it Canberra.

Much has been written about the nation’s capital as it has grown from dusty hamlet into modern metropolis. Burley Griffin’s dream of a successful, beautiful city has indeed been realised for not only does it function well as a centre of government, it also rates highly on just about every social and liveability scale.

But we now know a lot more about the city of Canberra. For instance, the city’s malls and restaurants can rest easy in the knowledge that Canberrans dig deeper into their pockets for goods and services than anyone else. This could be due to their higher than average wages or that unemployment stands at just 2.8 percent, only just behind Darwin as the lowest in the nation and well below the national average of 5.3 percent. The children of Canberra are also more likely than any others to live in a home where at least one parents has a job.

Cycle stores should also be thriving because the people of Canberra love their bikes with the second highest level of bike ownership and bike use of any major city. They also rank highest  for rates of physical activity and lead the nation in volunteering, always a sign of community connectedness and well-being.

We know that Canberra’s rapid suburban spread is slowing with nearly two flats and apartments being built for every new free standing house, a rate unmatched by any other capital city. Canberrans are also doing a great job saving water and are the best recyclers in the country, producing the lowest quantities of landfill waste. These fact and many more are contained in a unique publication – The State of Australian Cities 2011. It provides a snapshot of our major cities, defined as those with populations above 100,000.  While the report (which can be downloaded) makes fascinating reading, its purpose is much more than that. What this and future editions serve to do is to enable us to compare our cities with each other and to check progress over time, towards becoming more productive, sustainable and liveable.

Australia’s cities have never been more important. They generate 80 percent of our national wealth and are home to three out of every four of us. Despite the charming international perception of us as a nation of stoic miners and bushies, it could hardly be more misplaced. We are one of the most urbanised nations in the world. Those vast farmlands and desert landscapes are well over the horizon for the 85 percent of us who live within 50 kilometres of the coast.

Since 2007, the Australian Government has begun re-engaging with our cities. The reason is that while our cities rate towards the top of almost every international liveability scale, they are facing unprecedented pressures. Population growth, housing affordability, an ageing population, growing congestion and urban sprawl are among the most obvious. But there are less obvious ones that require national attention – such as the capacity of our cities to respond to severe storms like those that caused so much suffering earlier this year along our eastern seaboard. Or how our ports, rail lines and roads will cope with the enormous growth in our freight load given that volumes are set to double by 2030 and triple by 2050. There’s also a pressing need to make sure our new homes and office towers are more sustainable than the energy-wasting designs of the past.

The State of Australia Cities report does not paint a completely rosy picture of Canberra. It is highly dependent on a single industry (government) with the lowest level of manufacturing employment of any of the major cities, and low numbers of jobs in the retail and wholesale sectors. Public transport is also less available than in other capital cities.

Converting cities designed in another age into cities of the future is not easy. It requires fresh thinking by governments of all levels. Traditionally, the growth and policies of cities has been left in the hands of state and local authorities. But now, following an agreement between the Federal Government and State and Territory leaders, all major cities are finalising extensive plans, showing just how they are preparing for the future.

And these plans, which will be in place by 1 January 2012, are important. Future Federal infrastructure funding will depend on how well they address nine key areas of concern. These include planned evidence-based land-release with an appropriate balance of in-fill, preserving corridors at key transport gateways such as ports to allow for future expansion, preparations for climate change and natural disasters, better designed and more environmentally-sensitive new homes and offices, and addressing the housing needs of a growing and older population.

We live in the most competitive and fastest growing region of the planet. Our cities must be ready to seize the opportunities that come with that. The response to the Federal Government’s efforts to make our cities better places to live and work has been heartening. There is clearly a hunger among Australians for our cities to perform better and a realisation that it is for the benefit of all of us that our cities become more productive, sustainable and liveable.

[ENDS]

Nov 11, 2011

Jetting into the Smart Era – Opinion – Illawarra Mercury

My earliest exposure to smart infrastructure came from The Jetsons, that great television experience that was the space-age counterpart to The Flintstones.  Time-saving technology meant that George Jetson could keep the whole family fed, watered and clothed via his nine-hours-a-week job at Spaceley’s Sprockets.

Traffic lights and congested roads didn’t trouble the Jetsons.  Across the sky they scooted in their 60s-look flying saucer, which conveniently collapsed into a briefcase when George arrived at the office.  Parking was never a problem in Orbit City.

Let me step back now to our future, and, be assured, I’m not expecting a rapid transit system to provide a personal spaceship any day soon.  But I am excited at what is coming out of the SMART Infrastructure Facility, full of creative minds and energy which is finding solutions to our real-life transport infrastructure challenges.

I was here a month ago with Prime Minister Julia Gillard at the announcement of the roll-out into Wollongong next year of the National Broadband Network.

SMART was the perfect venue because it is at facilities such as this where the benefits will be immediately felt.  It is significant that SMART is located in a major regional university, already home to two other leading technology facilities.

What this means is a growing cluster of creative minds and industries that are regenerating the skills base of the Illawarra.  We already know Wollongong’s university produces more IT graduates than any other in the country.  As centres such as this grow and flourish, it will mean more jobs for local graduates and a retention of the brain-power than comes with those young, energetic minds.

The Federal Government’s $35 million contribution to this centre is indeed an investment in our nation’s future.

Already, SMART is performing important research, such as the scenario work surrounding the expansion of the Port Kembla Harbour.  This What If tool allows for the testing of scenarios aimed at eliminating bottlenecks into and out of the port.  What if trains delivering coal were twice the length? What if we could load the coal twice as fast?

Testing scenarios and business cases can save millions of dollars.

This work ties in nicely with the Federal Government’s recent announcement of a further $25.5 million for the Maldon to Dumbarton Rail Link project.  The rail link has the potential to help make the Illawarra to the industrial powerhouse it once was by vastly improving the flow of freight.

Earlier this year, my department and SMART formally agreed to exchange information openly so that good research can become good policy.

Let me finish where I began – with the Jetsons.

The series is now almost 50 years old and as such, has provoked discussion about just how well it predicted the world we find ourselves in.

The American academic Jeffery Tucker wrote this year: “The whole scene – which anticipated so much of the technology we have today – is our world: explosive technological advances and a culture of enterprise that is very fond of the good life.”

I am not sure about ‘‘explosive’’ but I am confident that great technological advances and a culture of enterprise will also mark this impressive institution.

ENDS

Nov 11, 2011

Steering Hobart from the past to the future – Opinion – Hobart Mercury

 

HOBART is home to the nation’s oldest brewery, producing golden ale for close to two hundred years. Its harbour means safety and sometimes victory for exhausted sailors in the famous race from Sydney. And Australia’s first legal casino rises high from the green banks of its clean flowing river. The city of Hobart has many claims to fame. But we now know a whole lot more about the nation’s southernmost capital that enjoys more summer daylight than just about any other city on earth.

For instance, the men of Hobart deserve a pat on the back – fewer of them are overweight or obese than those living in any mainland capital. It would not be prime territory for psychiatrists because its residents have the lowest levels of psychological distress. That could be in part because commuting distances are the shortest in the nation, or that it is ranked the safest city for both people and property. Or maybe it is because so many people volunteer, one of the surest signs of community connectedness and well-being.

These fact and many more are contained in a unique publication – The State of Australian Cities 2011. It provides a snapshot of our major cities, defined as those with populations above 100,000.  While the report (which can be downloaded) makes fascinating reading, its purpose is much more than that. What this and future editions serve to do is to enable us to compare our cities with each other and to check progress over time, towards becoming more productive, sustainable and liveable.

Australia’s cities have never been more important. They generate 80 percent of our national wealth and are home to three out of every four of us. Despite the charming international perception of us as a nation of stoic miners and bushies, it could hardly be more misplaced. We are one of the most urbanised nations in the world. Those vast farmlands and desert landscapes are well over the horizon for the 85 percent of us who live within 50 kilometres of the coast.

Since 2007, the Australian Government has begun re-engaging with our cities. The reason is that while our cities rate towards the top of almost every international liveability scale, they are facing unprecedented pressures. Population growth, housing affordability, an ageing population, growing congestion and urban sprawl are among the most obvious.

But there are other less obvious ones that require national attention – such as the capacity of our cities to respond to severe storms like those that caused so much suffering earlier this year along our eastern seaboard. Or how our ports, rail lines and roads will cope with the enormous growth in our freight load given that volumes are set to double by 2030 and triple by 2050. There’s also a pressing need to make sure our new homes and office towers are more sustainable than the energy-wasting designs of the past.

The State of Australia Cities report does not paint a completely rosy picture of Hobart. For instance, it has the lowest number of green-star rated buildings, perhaps because the city’s low population growth means there is little call for new commercial buildings. And while more residents might live in a detached house than in any of the major Australian cities, this means that fewer live in apartments or townhouses which might be a better style of living for singles, the aged and less physically active, particularly in the future. Hobart also has the lowest levels of public transport use in the nation, a figure that has not improved in a decade.

Converting 19th century cities such as Hobart into cities of the future is not easy. It requires fresh thinking by governments of all levels. Traditionally, the growth and policies of cities has been left in the hands of state and local authorities. But now, following an agreement between the Federal Government and State and Territory leaders, all major cities are finalising extensive plans, showing just how they are preparing for the future.

And these plans, which will be in place by 1 January 2012, are important. Future Federal infrastructure funding will depend on how well they address nine key areas of concern. These include planned evidence-based land-release with an appropriate balance of in-fill, preserving corridors at key transport gateways such as ports to allow for future expansion, preparations for climate change and natural disasters, better designed and more environmentally-sensitive new homes and offices, and addressing the housing needs of a growing and older population.

We live in the most competitive and fastest growing corner of the planet. Our cities must be ready to seize the opportunities that come with that. The response to the Federal Government’s efforts to make our cities better places to live and work has been heartening. There is clearly a hunger among Australians for our cities to perform better and a realisation that it is for the benefit of all of us that our cities become more productive, sustainable and liveable. The citizens of Hobart can breathe easy on yet one more front. The air they breathe is some of the cleanest in the nation, indeed the world.

Sep 13, 2011

Shipping reforms will make us a maritime player once more – The Australian

The Australian Government has proposed the most comprehensive package of reforms in Australian maritime history. These reforms will bring jobs and return Australia to a major force in world shipping. The alternative to these bold and innovative reforms is for Australian shipping to pass the tipping point where it ceases to exist.

Our industry has declined from 55 ships in 1995 to just 22 today. This is in spite of the fact that Australia accounts for ten percent of the world’s entire sea trade. But while 99 percent of our international trade is carried by ships, only one half of one percent of that is carried by vessels that proudly display the Australian flag. Those 22 Australian ships that still service our ports average 20 years of age, around eight years older than the world average. Our seafarers are also getting on in years with half of them aged older than 45.

With so few ships, an ageing fleet and a declining workforce, our industry has reached the point where it is facing extinction. Such a collapse is not just an economic tragedy. There are also sound security and environmental reasons why an Australian shipping industry is essential. We all watched with dismay when the Chinese bulk-carrier the Shen Neng 1 ran aground on the Great Barrier Reef. Cleaner, better maintained Australian ships would provide greater environmental certainty for our precious marine ecosystems. More Australian ships would also improve our broader maritime security, particularly at our ports.

In 2008, the newly elected Labor Government commissioned a parliamentary inquiry into coastal shipping. It unanimously recommended revitalising Australian shipping. During the 2010 election campaign, a commitment was given that a re-elected Gillard Government would revitalise not just the coastal sector, but the Australian shipping industry as a whole.

Last December, I released a discussion paper with a list of proposed reforms. Since then, separate industry groups have tackled the complex tax, regulatory and workforce elements of the package. They represent the breadth of the maritime industry – ports, shipping operators, regulators, unions and training providers.

Bringing together the collective intelligence of people from across the maritime sectors has paid great dividends. What has been produced is a bold package that follows no precedent or formula. It is uniquely crafted to suit the complexities of a sector that employs Australians but for the most part, operates internationally.

At the heart of the package is tax reform. We recognise that foreign operators enjoy very competitive rates. We want to not simply catch up but lead them. Thus the tax arrangement agreed to includes a proposed zero tax rate. In other words, Australian-based companies with vessels registered here, including those that will operate internationally, will pay no company tax. There are conditions – ships must be Australian-flagged, they must embark on training for new mariners, once they elect into the exemption they must remain there for 10 years and there will be a 10 year lock out period to curb tax avoidance.

To encourage cleaner, younger vessels, we are also halving the depreciation rate from 20 to ten years. There’s an economic benefit here because the cost of operating a 20 year old bulk carrier is at least 40 percent more than for a five year old ship. This will also encourage more ship-building in Australia with the benefit flow-on of jobs.

We are creating an Australian international shipping register to address the cost disadvantage faced by Australian ships. This will bring us into line with other successful maritime nations. Under the new deal, crews operating via this register will work according to the terms and conditions of the International Maritime Convention. When vessels work the domestic coastal route, Australian workplace laws will apply.

Encouraging Australian-flagged ships to work our own blue highway is a prime aim of this reform agenda. Remember, the more we use the blue highway the less we need spend on land transport systems that are certainly not free of cost. Not only are ships the lowest carbon emitters, every tonne carried in a ship’s hull is not being transported along our public roads and highways. We are also removing the disincentive to employ Australian crew on vessels chartered by Australian companies by removing the royalty withholding tax for bareboat charters. These reforms will not close the coast to foreign shipping. What they will do is set clear and fair rules for all operators.

There can be no industry revival without a serious commitment to training. The Australian Government recently funded a new simulator at the Australian Maritime College in Launceston. It is the best of its kind in the world and, supported by a large educational funding package, has set the foundations for the training of a new workforce. Governments can do only so much. It is in the interest of the industry to also address the skills lag and share this vital training task.

This momentous reform package will turn Australian from a shipper to a shipping nation. We will once again be participants rather than simply customers. “This policy provides the necessary elements to allow shipowners to base their operations in Australia and add value to the economy by doing so,” says the Australian Shipowners Association. The Maritime Union of Australia says the reforms greatly increase the potential for Australian businesses to participate in international shipping and address “the critical shortage in maritime skills that Australia so desperately needs.”

Given the dire straits that the industry is in, we have brought forward these reforms by 12 months to 1 July 2012. They come on top of the deal struck last month at COAG that will see a single maritime regulator replace the multiple costly state-based rules that have burdened the industry since Federation. With a national port strategy now advanced, Australian shipping is embarking on a brand new era. There is nothing stopping us taking our place as a global maritime player, a fitting place for the world’s largest island nation.

Aug 19, 2011

Premiers Must Not Be a Block on Road To Reform – Opinion – The Australian

The nation’s leading transport companies on Wednesday night delivered an open letter to the Australian Prime Minister, Premiers and Chief Ministers demanding they reach agreement at COAG today on the most important reform to their sector since Federation. They are seeking an end to 110 years of duplication, confusion, conflicting regulation and red tape that the nation’s truck drivers have been forced to comply with in the course of their daily business. What they are demanding is a decision to abandon state by state regimes in favour of a single national regulator, with one set of laws that will apply from Broome to Burnie to Bundaberg.

The letter from CEO of Linfox, Michael Byrne, the Managing Director of Toll Paul Little and the head of the Australian Logistics Council Michael Kilgariff was directed in particular at potential waverers among the political leaders: “…for leaders to vote against the concept as a whole would be a significant mistake.” It argued that support from the leaders for a single transport regulator would be an important indicator of the seriousness of their resolve to boost productivity, increase efficiency and safety and move towards a seamless national economy.

The proposal being put to COAG today extends beyond heavy road freight. It also includes single regulators for the maritime and rail sectors. These are also strongly supported by industry groups across their sectors. The need for this reform is stronger than ever with figures showing that cutting our transport regulators from 23 to three will boost national income by $30 billion over the next two decades. Talks between the Federal Government and the States and Territories have been underway for three years now. In May, transport ministers met in Alice Springs and signed up to this long overdue reform.

Transport regulations may not be sexy or at the top of the public agenda but those businesses that are forced to pay fresh fees and adjust to different rules each time they cross a border know that this is a critical microeconomic reform. It is system that has existed since the nation was federated in 1901 but has no place in a modern Australia.

It does not make sense that a hay farmer taking a load across the border from Victoria to NSW must stop and rearrange his load because in Victoria you can carry a load three metres wide, while in NSW it’s restricted to two.

It does not make sense that a cattle farmer transporting animals from Queensland to NSW must unload some or transfer them to a second vehicle to meet the lower mass limits in NSW. It is stressful for stock and adds up to $9 per head to freight costs.

Nor does it make sense that every time a fishing vessel crosses territorial waters between the Northern Territory and Queensland – and back again – each crew member’s qualifications must be freshly assessed and a fresh seaworthy certificate obtained.

Across the maritime sector alone, there are seven different regulators and 50 separate pieces of legislation. In the rail sector there are also seven regulators with 46 pieces of legislation including seven safety acts, nine occupational health and safety acts and seven dangerous goods acts. Heavy road freight users must work within nine different regulatory regimes.

While everyone knows about the madness of different sized rail gauges, the inconsistencies in the rail sector are far greater than that. For instance, in NSW a green over red signal means ‘caution’ and in Victoria green over red means ‘all clear’. A track worker moving from NSW to Victoria must get fresh accreditation and rail operators must undergo separate safety audits in each State.

A long distance truck driver travelling the busy Brisbane to Melbourne route must carry in his cabin road access permits from three states. NSW requires drivers to fill out a log book from the start of each journey. In Victoria it is required after 100 kilometres and in Queensland after 200 kilometres. When drivers rarely carried loads far from home base, these variations hardly mattered. But now, with drivers regularly crossing the nation, it is an unfair and unnecessary burden.

Replacing mountains of paperwork and multiple fees so that transport operators deal with one regulator only is clearly a saving for all. That’s why the $61 billion transport industry has been demanding this reform for years. To weigh it down with outdated rules from another age is wrong. This issue must be above politics. Australia’s State and Territory leaders must not miss the opportunity to advance this critical productivity reform.

Jun 23, 2011

Time to seek a cleaner future for our cities – Opinion – Canberra Times

In early October 1957, a small satellite was launched from a rocket in the skies above earth and the world learned a Russian word – sputnik. While people almost everywhere marvelled at this leap of human achievement, a giant shiver ran down the American spine. If the Soviet Union could get ahead of them in the space race, in what ways could it get ahead of them on earth?

It became known as America’s sputnik moment and prompted a massive investment in space investment that saw Neil Armstrong step onto the lunar surface just 12 years later. Recently, President Obama used his State of the Union address to call for another sputnik moment to address environmental challenges and invest in the clean energy technologies “to strengthen our security, protect our planet and create countless new jobs for our people.”

The environmental issues here in Australia differ little from those in Obama’s America. Though vastly smaller in population, we face much the same problems of urban sprawl, road congestion, management of waste, water and energy and how to integrate green solutions into cities built for an entirely different age. And as Australia moves to place a price on carbon like our regional neighbours in New Zealand, we are also reappraising the way we make our nation more productive, sustainable and liveable.

It is just over a month since I released the Federal Government’s National Urban Policy Our Cities, Our Future. The policy was the result of three years of consultation, including meetings in all 18 Australian major cities with populations above 100,000 residents. I said at the launch that I wanted the policy to spark a national conversation about the future of our cities.

“The urban policy framework fills a yawning policy gap in Australia’s efforts to foster more competitive, sustainable and liveable communities,” said the Property Council of Australia. “The [policy] is a positive foundation for much-needed change in the way our cities and regional areas are planned and serviced,” said the Real Estate Institute of Australia, and the Council of Capital City Lord Mayors: “…the Gillard Government is making a long-term commitment to invest in and engage with Australian cities.”

The facts are cities have become too important to ignore. We know they are home to 75 percent of us and it is our cities that generate 80 percent of our national wealth. We also know that the population of Australia is growing and ageing. That is why the Federal Government is turning a national eye to our cities, to make sure they are prepared for the inevitable changes ahead.

One of the biggest challenges is something no-one living in a major Australian city can escape – road congestion. Not only does congestion steal time from our families but idling engines add pollution to the air we must all breathe. Left unattended congestion will cost our economy $20 billion by 2020 according to the Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics.

One way of reducing congestion is to encourage people onto trains. While this is the responsibility of the States, the Federal Government is investing $7.3 billion in an urban rail project in every mainland State capital. In fact we have committed more to urban rail than all previous federal governments – collectively – since Federation.

We’ve also allocated funds for smart technology where road sensors and electronic signage can make a big difference to the speed and flow of traffic, reducing crashes and cutting emissions. The budget also backed the Henry Review’s recommendation to abandon the old car fringe benefit tax which encouraged people to drive further, with a simpler single rate system.

For a city to really work we need to make our homes and our public spaces more liveable. This week, around 200 architects, planners and green building experts are descending on the national capital to place their ideas before parliamentarians. The Government is working hand in hand with these groups in a range of areas, such as the construction of demonstration urban renewal projects and design standards so our homes can be more sustainable and adaptable to changing needs.

By 1 January next year, the State and Territories have agreed through COAG they will have in place strategic plans for their capital cities. Future Commonwealth infrastructure funding will be tied to these plans. This is no takeover. It is an opportunity for leaders across the country to work together to help create cities that serve our people and our country better.

Australians deserve cities that are productive, sustainable and liveable and that can adapt as our population grows and ages. America’s race to the moon showed what can be done when a nation pulls together for a common aim. As President Obama now asks his people to turn their eyes to a cleaner future, Australia must do what we can to help our nation fulfill that dream.

[ENDS]

Contact Anthony

(02) 9564 3588 Electorate Office

Email: [email protected]

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