Browsing articles in "Opinion Pieces"
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]

Jun 9, 2011

Turning a national eye to our cities – Opinion – The Punch

As friends and family gathered to celebrate my friend Tom Uren’s 90th birthday recently, he had many reasons to be proud of his contribution to Australia. History books abound that record the unique achievements of the Whitlam Government in which Tom was a senior figure. But there’s a big one that is barely remembered – the role the pair played in getting rid of the septic tank. These famously malodorous mosquito and cockroach breeding pits lay beneath the lawns of suburban homes everywhere, including the then home of Prime Minister Whitlam in western Sydney.

As Tom tells it, by the time he was elected to power Gough had decided enough was enough – a modern Australia deserved a modern sewerage system. So he appointed his Minister for Urban and Regional Development, Tom Uren, to clean up the country by funding new sewerage plants across urban Australia.

What’s unusual here is that this was one of the first forays by a Federal Government into something that had until then been the absolute province of the States – disposing of waste. But the Whitlam Government realised that left to the States, this public health issue could take forever to fix. Hence Tom Uren’s unusual federal assignment.

In 1990, Federal Labor once again took direct interest in our nation’s major cities. The Better Cities program set out to revitalise our inner-city communities but this worthy program was abandoned six years later with the election of the Howard Coalition.

And now, the Gillard Government is once again turning a national eye to our cities. Not because it’s easy, not because it’s without risks, but because it’s necessary. Cities are home to three out of every four Australians making us the most urbanised nation on the planet. It is our cities that produce 80 percent of our national wealth.

And as a planet we are becoming ever more urbanised. For the first time in human history, one night last year more people in the world slept on a bed in a city than in the countryside. That’s unlikely to change. People are drawn to cities for all sorts of reasons and life in an Australian city offers much. Access to high-quality medical and educational facilities, a wide variety of jobs and social activities are just some of them.

But the facts are that our cities are facing unprecedented pressure. Anyone who has sweated their way through the morning traffic on their way to work will know what I mean. Congestion is sapping away at the productivity of our cities. It is stealing time from our families and workplaces. In fact the Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics estimates that if nothing is done to arrest it, congestion is likely to sap $20 billion from our annual national wealth by the end of this decade.

One way this Government is tackling this issue is through investing in urban rail. Like sewerage, urban rail is something that has traditionally been left up to the States. But we believe that public transport is an issue of such importance that we are now funding a major urban rail project in every mainland State capital. Since we came to office in 2007, we have committed more to urban rail projects than all previous governments – collectively – since Federation. We are also investing in Smart Motorways, where data sensors on our major highways can improve real time vehicle movements. This improves the speed and flow of traffic, reducing the stop-start behaviour of congested roads, reducing accidents and greenhouse emissions.

But it’s not just about traffic congestion and the loss of productivity. As our cities grow, we also need to make sure that they are sustainable. We know the planet is groaning as the population grows and that means we need to be much smarter about how our cities are planned and how we deal with waste, water and energy use. We also need to account for the reality of climate change in the design, location and construction of our city buildings and structures to protect against the kind of disasters we’ve seen in Australia in recent years.

I am particularly impressed with the leadership show by the City of Sydney at Green Square – visionary and sustainable development that by 2030 will be home to 40,000 people and a workplace for 22,000. We know that by mid-century one in every five people will be aged 65 or over. That means a smaller workforce and an eroded tax base. We must be smarter about how we sustain our workers with variety of affordable housing and job opportunities close to home where walking, cycling and public transport are genuine alternatives to the car.

For a city to really work it’s got to be liveable. That’s why in the budget we announced $20 million in seed funding to invest in demonstration urban renewal projects. We will be working with the States and Territories on a set of design standards so that our homes can be more sustainable and adaptable over time to changing needs.

Reaching this point has been a national process with the Commonwealth working hand in hand with the States and Territories through COAG. By next January, all of our capital cities will have in place strategic plans to show how they will meet a nationally agreed set of criteria. This is a condition of future Commonwealth infrastructure investment.

We know there is a very long way to go. But the interest that has greeted the release of the policy – Our Cities, Our Future – has been heartening. There’s clearly a hunger among Australians for our cities to perform better and a realisation that it’s for the benefit of all of us that our cities become more productive, sustainable and liveable.

[ENDS]

May 25, 2011

Setting the record straight on Sydney’s roads – Opinion – The Australian

In recent days there has been a serious level of misreporting based on the assertions of unnamed sources regard my motivations as Federal Infrastructure Minister when it comes to tackling Sydney’s infrastructure challenges.

I am taking this opportunity to set the record straight.

I love Sydney. No ifs. No buts. No maybes.

And I’m proud to be part of the Gillard Labor Government which actually believes that Federal Governments can make a difference by investing and building infrastructure across the suburbs of our major cities.

We have our sleeves rolled up and want to work with the NSW Government and the private sector to improve Sydney’s transport infrastructure.

So far, Federal Labor has allocated $3.5 billion for transport projects in Sydney alone. This is part of the $12.1 billion we’re investing in NSW – one in every three infrastructure dollars goes to NSW, their fair share per person.

There is no such thing as a quick fix for the city’s transport issues. Sensationalist headlines and politicisation will not fix them. Considered policy making, investment, cooperation between governments, as well as engagement with the private sector is what is required.

We’re investing almost $1 billion to detangle the freight and passenger rail network coming in from the north of Sydney. The Memorandum of Understanding is awaiting NSW Government approval so work can begin this year.

We’re widening the F5 close to Campbelltown. We’re upgrading rail infrastructure around Port Botany. We’re investing in the proposed intermodal terminal at Moorebank which could take a million trucks off the M5.

We’ve allocated funds for planning for a future M4 and M5 expansion. This is in recognition of the fact that you need to get the planning for major infrastructure right.

We’ve allocated the federal funds for the Parramatta to Epping Rail Link. This is an important part of fulfilling Parramatta’s role as Sydney’s second CBD and will take pressure off the main western line, providing enormous benefits for Western Sydney.

Compare our record to that of the Coalition. They had twelve years in office with record tax revenues and only ever invested in one Sydney project, $350 million towards the construction of the M7.

The Gillard Labor Government has already committed ten times as much.

What’s now on offer from Mr Abbott and the Coalition is nothing. Zero dollars. They have a clear record of leaving Sydney in the lurch.

Mr Abbott has never made one commitment to a single transport project in Sydney. He’s not interested in urban policy or improving our cities. In his own words, “transport infrastructure is a state responsibility” and the provision of Federal funding for such projects is as silly as “…the State Government having to buy new tanks for the army”.

He’s just interested in opposition for opposition’s sake. That’s simply not good enough.

Building better infrastructure for our cities is the economically responsible thing to do.

When we took office, the Coalition had neglected Australia’s major cities for twelve long years. Their transport investment stopped at the borders of our cities.

We knew we needed to change this and focus on real national productivity. That’s why we set up Infrastructure Australia to critically and independently assess the nation’s infrastructure priorities. When public funds are used, projects need to stack up. The work of Infrastructure Australia plays a crucial role in making sure this is the case.

They are also looking at private financing options including for the F3 to Sydney Orbital and the M5 East projects.

They have undertaken cost-benefit analysis of projects and have also been at the forefront of micro-economic reform to advance the nation building agenda which Australia requires to secure of future prosperity. Their first piece of work was to have adopted uniform national guidelines for Public Private Partnerships.

If imitation is the greatest form of flattery then the decision of the O’Farrell Government to replicate the Infrastructure Australia model through the creation of Infrastructure NSW is a high complement indeed.

As the most urbanised country on the planet we must have a framework in place for our cities. That’s why we have developed and released a National Urban Policy. Not because it’s easy, not because it’s without risks, but because it’s necessary. Cities are home to three out of every four Australians. Our cities produce 80 percent of our national wealth.

The Commonwealth is working hand in hand with the States and Territories through COAG in this area. By next January, all of our capital cities will have in place strategic plans to show how they will meet a nationally agreed set of criteria. This is a condition of future Commonwealth infrastructure investment.

We are determined to make all our major cities more productive, sustainable and liveable.

[ENDS]

May 15, 2011

Time to end the horror toll from hell’s highway – Opinion – Sunday Telegraph

Just before dawn on 20 October 1989 not far from Grafton, the driver of a semi-trailer loaded with fruit juice went to sleep. With a massive concentration of ephedrine in his blood, he’d done everything he could to stay awake. His vehicle careered across the road into the path of a passenger bus, splitting it open and throwing passengers onto the road. Twenty-one people died in that crash and a further 22 were injured. It was the worst accident of its kind in Australian history.

That record didn’t last for long. Two months later at Clybucca near Kempsey two fully-loaded tourist coaches, each travelling at 100 kilometres per hour, collided head-on. Seats were ripped from their anchor bolts, people were trapped within the bus and 35 people died, with 41 injured. The coronial inquiries that followed both disasters produced a long list of improvements to vehicle and road safety. But at the top of the list was the call for the Pacific Highway to be duplicated.

Some things must be above politics. I believe the saving of lives on our roads is one of them. And it’s a sad reflection on governments of all persuasions that almost 22 years after those tragic deaths, much of the Pacific Highway remains single lane.

When I became Transport Minister in 2007, I made the duplication of the Pacific Highway a top priority and have set 2016 as completion date. With the money announced this week in the Federal Budget, our spend on this road so far stands at $4.1 billion.

As I told the Federal Parliament this week, there is something of a personal note to my campaign to make this road safe. My own name, Anthony, comes from my young cousin who I never got to meet. After WWII, his parents built a motel and service station on the Pacific Highway at Halfway Creek between Grafton and Coffs Harbour. My uncle was an ex-serviceman and he and my aunt built the Halfway Creek Motel with their own hands. Just before I was born, little Anthony rushed onto the Pacific Highway and was killed. In their grief, my aunt and uncle renamed their business Anthony’s Motel and I was called Anthony in his memory.

The work underway right now on the Pacific Highway makes it the largest road construction project in the nation. There are more than one thousand people working on the Kempsey bypass, the Bulahdelah bypass, the Ballina bypass, duplication of the road between Sapphire and Woolgoolga and at Glenugie. Work will begin shortly on two more big stretches – duplicating the road between Tintenbar and Ewingsdale and at Devils Pulpit.

During the 12 years of the Howard Government, the spending on this critical national highway was just $1.3 billion, less than one-third of what we have invested so far. Had the Howard Government funded this road appropriately, it would be fully duplicated by now.

I welcomed NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell’s words in the Northern Star last month that “The Pacific Highway should be above party politics.” The Deputy Premier Andrew Stoner is also committed to the 2016 duplication date telling ABC Mid North Coast “It’s an ambitious target. We think we can do it by streamlining the planning processes and also by putting forward additional money.” In Opposition, the now Roads Minister, Duncan Gay on ABC News urged the former NSW Government to “match that money and save the lives of people in NSW that have to use that highway.”

The fact is that funding a road the size of the Pacific Highway must always be a partnership. The Federal Government cannot do the heavy lifting on this alone. Duplication by 2016 is a mighty goal and I look forward to working with Barry O’Farrell and his team to achieve it together.

It is more than two decades since Australians shared the grief of the families who lost fathers, mothers, children and friends in those early morning bus smashes. The tragedy is that in the intervening years a further 574 Australians have died on the Pacific Highway and another 14,500 injured. This simply can’t go on.

Let’s work together and dig deep to make this road safe for the locals who use it each day and for the families of the future as they head north for a holiday in the sun.

 

[ENDS]

May 6, 2011

Economic Stimulus puts rail back on track – Opinion – The Australian

Geoff Thomas has a big job. As general manager of logistics for Woolworths, he and his team need to make sure that the tub of yoghurt you collect from your local store is fresh, undamaged and makes it into your shopping trolley in the fastest time possible from cow to shelf. It is the complex art of logistics and it is something that occupies the minds of some very smart Australians. Central to every decision is whether to use road or rail.

For a long time, there was no contest. Though rail was the mode of choice for some long distance runs between, say, Brisbane and Cairns, on the busy Melbourne/Sydney/Brisbane route rail was simply too slow, too unreliable. In fact in 2007, Woolworths stopped using rail on that route altogether. It was more reliable and quicker to send everything along our highways by truck.

Four years later, our nation’s largest supermarket chain is considering changing its mind. According to Thomas, sometime later next year Woolworths is looking to switch to rail to carry the 2,000 tonnes of goods that are moved north each week from Melbourne to Brisbane and the smaller quantity that returns the other way.

It is not a decision that Woolworths can take lightly. There is the cost of new rail containers, as well as new systems, new staff to manage those systems and the development of a relationship with the new rail carrier. And while cost is the main driver, Thomas says Woolworths recognises that rail transport is safer and has a lower carbon output than road so the switch offers the opportunity to shore up its credentials as a good corporate citizen.

That the nation’s largest supermarket chain is considering such a monumental change is only possible because of Federal Government’s Economic Stimulus Plan which we introduced just over two years ago to counter the effects of the world economic crisis that was devastating the economies of the advanced world.

The plan fast-tracked 17 major rail projects, accelerated work on 14 major road projects and improved the safety at hundreds of black-spots and dangerous rail-crossings.

We have invested more in rail over the past 12 months than our predecessors did in 12 years. Among these projects were much needed improvements to the Brisbane to Melbourne freight line. Extended crossing loops, new signalling systems and the removal of severe curves are part of a $3.4 billion investment by the Gillard Labor Government in interstate rail. This is helping the Australian Rail Track Corporation upgrade the north-south line that will see 11 hours shaved off the trip, reducing the earlier travel time by one-third.

Making rail attractive to companies such as Woolworths makes great sense. One 1500 metre train can carry the load of 100 semi-trailer trucks. Woolworths alone has 160 B-double trucks on the Melbourne Brisbane route. Carrying those loads via rail leaves our roads safer and less congested for private motorists and reduces our global footprint.

The stimulus plan has worked. We have saved jobs. We have helped parents continue the job of raising their families with a sense of confidence that they weren’t about to lose their livelihoods. Our unemployment rate is less than half that of most industrialised countries. While the advanced world has shed 30 million jobs, there are now 740,000 more Australians in work than before the financial crisis began.

We have doubled the national roads budget to more than $27 billion. Two of the major road projects are now finished and open to traffic. One of those is the $564 million Northern Expressway in South Australia which opened last August three months ahead of schedule. Drivers now save up to 20 minutes in travel times to and from Adelaide.

The jobs created to support this activity are considerable. Just one example – manufacturing 1.2 million concrete rail sleepers has given work to factories in five towns in New South Wales, Victoria and Western Australia. This has employed hundreds of workers with flow-on effects right throughout their communities.

We have also accelerated the black spot program targeting some 600 known dangerous sections on our roads with a further $150 million to improve safety at some 300 rail level crossings. This sensible investment saves lives and prevents injuries by making our roadways and crossings safer for everyone.

Figures just out by the Bureau of Infrastructure, Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics show some impressive results. Average infrastructure construction between 2007/08 and 2009/10 was almost double the average over the previous 11 years in real terms, from $28 billion per year to $54 billion per year.

There is nothing new here. Nation building is what Labor governments do. The Snowy Mountains Scheme, the transcontinental railway and today’s national broadband network are three fine examples of Labor nation building programs that protect the livelihoods of Australian workers while providing a legacy for generations that follow.

Apr 20, 2011

Road and Rail on Track for National Growth – Opinion Piece – Newcastle Herald

Today I will be in the Hunter Valley to celebrate the start of construction of the second stage of the $1.65 billion Hunter Expressway. When it is finished in two years time, the new 40 kilometre four-lane expressway will vastly improve travel times for commuters and business operators in the region, cutting up to half an hour off the trip between Newcastle and the Hunter.

It will also free up the New England Highway for local traffic, removing up to 30,000 vehicles each day so the residents of Thornton, Maitland and Rutherford will be able to move around their towns without the daily congestion caused by the large trucks and other vehicles competing for road space. Critically, the Hunter Expressway will also improve the capacity for economic growth with the faster passage of people and commodities across the region and between the Hunter Valley and Sydney.

With Australia’s freight load expected to double by 2030 and triple by 2050, the Hunter Expressway is a critical plank in the Gillard Government’s $37 billion National Building Program which, through targeted funding of new rail and roads, is preparing Australia for a period of considerable economic expansion.

Despite being raised as a ‘good idea’ by successive governments since the mid 1980s, it wasn’t until 2009 that the Hunter Expressway was finally given the go-ahead. This followed a recommendation from Infrastructure Australia, the body set up by the Federal Labor Government to independently assess and advise on our infrastructure needs, that the project be ranked top priority. Through the Building Australia Fund, the Federal Government committed $1.45 billion towards it in partnership with $200 million from the NSW Government.

Those building the Hunter Expressway face an unusual challenge, to protect the new work from subsidence from the labyrinth of underground tunnels, remnants of the area’s coal mining past. A 60-person team is injecting 200,000 cubic metres of grout into the tunnels, some of which are 120 metres underground.

About 1300 construction workers, general staff and subcontractors will be employed directly on the expressway with flow-on effects for businesses right across the Hunter region. Construction materials and landscape supplies will be sourced locally wherever possible, creating opportunities for a large range of suppliers and service providers.

There are Aboriginal employment programs with 13 Aboriginal staff already engaged as carpentry apprentices, construction trainees and in other positions. A university undergraduate program supports work placements for engineering students as well as internships and scholarships through the University of Newcastle with several new engineering graduates employed to learn on-the-job skills alongside more experienced industry professionals.

When Labor was elected in 2007, Australia’s infrastructure investment was in a parlous state. Australia ranked 20th out of 25 OECD nations when it came to investing in public infrastructure as a proportion of national income. Put simply, many of our roads and rail networks were not capable of meeting the demands of the rapidly growing Australian economy.

When the financial crisis gripped the globe in 2008, the Federal Government acted decisively by accelerating many road and rail projects. This fuelled investment and jobs and now, almost three years later, Australia has avoided recession and is in the process of building a much improved transport network.

NSW is receiving $12 billion or about one-third of the funds from the Nation Building Program. Much of this investment is taking place in the Hunter. Apart from the expressway, we are addressing serious under-investment in the Hunter Valley’s freight rail capacity.

In partnership with the Government’s investment arm the Australian Rail Track Corporation, $1 billion is being invested in the Hunter on five major rail track upgrades, including the duplication of the line between St Heliers and Muswellbrook and a third track between Maitland and Minimbah. This will vastly improve the flow of coal and commodities such as grains and cotton to Port Waratah.

A quarter of a century after it was first proposed I am delighted that the Hunter Expressway is finally becoming a reality. I know there is still an enormous amount of work to be done to ensure our transport sector can meet the demands of a growing population and economy. But this new road is one of many that will help us achieve that. I look forward to waving through those first vehicles in two year’s time.

Apr 20, 2011

Shaping Future Freight Networks – Opinion Piece – Big Rigs

Never has the need been greater for a national approach to the way we move freight around our nation and onto and off our shores. We know that we are facing enormous growth in our freight load with volumes set to double by 2030 and triple by 2050. We need faster, smoother better integrated freight networks to cope with this growth. Our economy depends on it. Our international competitiveness depends on it.

That’s why I asked Infrastructure Australia and the National Transport Commission to prepare a document outlining the challenges we face and a roadmap for how we might address those challenges. That draft National Freight Strategy was released for public discussion late February and submissions close at the end of April. Until those submissions are closely scrutinised, we won’t have a clear idea about how the draft has been received.

However, early indications are favourable. “Long term planning is the key to solving challenges and that’s why the strategy is important,” says Infrastructure Partnerships Australia, the nation’s peak infrastructure body. “Australia’s geography means a web of efficient transport corridors and intermodal facilities must be integrated to maximise the benefits of our current and future growth,” says Engineers Australia. And the Australian Trucking Association’s Chair David Simon welcomed the proposal for dedicated road freight infrastructure between capital city ports and intermodal facilities. He said more efficient movement of freight would “lead to a slower growth in prices and a more competitive economy, while also giving trucking operators the chance to keep some of the efficiency gains to improve their viability.”

So what does the draft offer the trucking industry? The strategy calls at the outset for a map identifying the existing and yet-to-be built road, rail lines, ports and airports that would form a workable, truly national freight network. These would be linked by a series of intermodals – freight transfer points – where goods going to or coming from our ports, or from interstate via the national road and rail network, would be redirected to their ultimate destination in the fastest time with minimal handling. As part of this process, consideration would be given to opening up more national highways to bigger vehicles, when balanced with appropriate road improvements including town by-passes, duplications and grade easings.

Roads would be rated so that truck drivers would know precisely which ones they could use, depending on the size of their vehicle and load. And consideration would be given to building dedicated freight roads between capital city ports and freight intermodals. Smart technology would be employed wherever possible to manage traffic flows – variable speed limits, ramp metering to control access of vehicles to particular roads, lane controls to allow reverse traffic – all designed to avoid the stop/start accordion affect that causes congestion and ultimately limits our national productivity.

Key to the success of any improvements to our national freight system is the introduction of a single national safety regulator. It’s hard to believe that 110 years after Australia came together as a federation, the Commonwealth and each of the eight states and territories still run their own often conflicting rules for things such as annual registration, axle weight loads and vehicle widths. Some of these defy common sense, such as different fatigue rules, which drivers must remember from state to state. Not to mention the cost in compliance fees and time lost in red-tape.

None of these changes will happen unilaterally. The Gillard Labor Government is consulting with the freight industry and state and territory governments every step of the way. We expect to have a national single heavy vehicle regulator in place by 1 July 2013. And I look forward to COAG later this year considering the recommendations contained in the national freight strategy.

Finally, my thanks to everyone who has made a submission or has in some way been part of this process. The importance of your involvement, no matter how small, cannot be over-estimated. We have to get this right because we are shaping the future of our nation.

The national freight strategy can be seen at www.infrastructureaustralia.gov.au/publications/files/NLFS_220211.pdf

Apr 20, 2011

Rail Sector Given a Chance to Shape Transport Vision – Opinion – Track and Signal Magazine

The tough and often contentious reforms put in place by the Hawke-Keating Labor governments – deregulation of the financial sector, floating of the dollar, compulsory superannuation, lowering of tariffs and enterprise based bargaining – left Australia with one of the highest rates of productivity growth in the world.

However, since then our nation slipped down the global rankings.

Indeed annual productivity growth has plunged from two per cent in the 1990s to just 1.4 per cent today, the lowest in half a century. If this trend continues, we will struggle to meet the major challenges that lie ahead, including an ageing population and climate change.

But if we could restore growth to two per cent then our economy would be 15 per cent larger than what it would otherwise be by 2050, adding $570 billion to annual economic output and increasing the living standards of the average Australian by around $16,000 a year.

That’s why the Gillard Labor Government’s productivity agenda is so important to the nation’s future.

It’s an agenda which recognises that in the competitive, globalised world of the 21st century, prosperous nations will be those with highly-skilled workforces and modern, well-planned infrastructure.

Better transport infrastructure will not guarantee our future economic success. But a failure to adequately invest in the nation’s roads, railways, airports and seaports will almost certainly consign Australians to a poorer quality of life.

That’s why we have been so determined to reverse the neglect we inherited and begin building a modern transport network equal to the challenges of an increasingly globalised and mobile world – a task given even greater urgency by the fact that freight volumes are set to double within just two decades.

Our approach is a simple one: greater investment and better long term planning.

We are already delivering on the first through our $37 billion Nation Building Program which includes a tenfold increase in average annual rail spending. In addition, long term planning took a major step forward last month following the release of a draft National Freight Strategy.

Developed by Infrastructure Australia and the National Transport Commission, this document outlines a blueprint for a truly national, integrated and multimodal system capable of moving goods around our vast continent quickly, reliably and efficiently.

For too long there’s been a lack of planning consistency across jurisdictions with transport modes too often pitted against one another for a share of finite infrastructure dollars. Historically, this inconsistency and conflict has been to the detriment of rail. The National Freight Strategy will help put an end to both.

The release of the draft Strategy gives industry a chance to have its say in shaping Australia’s transport future. In particular, we want your views on the Strategy’s key proposals, including:

  • Agreeing now the existing and yet-to-be built roads, rail lines, intermodals, ports and airports which will link together to form a workable, truly national freight network;
  • Establishing dedicated freight routes and separating passenger trains from freight trains, particularly through our major cities like Sydney; Putting in place effective local planning to protect vital road and rail corridors from urban encroachment;
  • Completing the program of rail standardisation in Queensland, Victoria and Western Australia;
  • Developing greater intermodal terminal capacity at strategic locations around the country.

From the Government’s perspective, we want a long term strategy which greatly increases the amount of freight being transported on the back of trains or in the hull of ships.

Finally, we understand such a national approach cannot simply be imposed unilaterally. It will only endure and deliver results when all governments and industry have signed up to its vision and the specific tasks required of them.

That’s why Infrastructure Australia will continue working with state and territory authorities, councils and industry to build a consensus for action before submitting the final Strategy to the Council of Australian Governments for endorsement.

Together with our National Ports Strategy, the final National Freight Strategy will guide our ongoing process of regulatory reform as well as inform our future infrastructure investment decisions.

The Gillard Labor Government will not allow our quality of life and international competitiveness to again become the victims of poor planning and a lack of national leadership. We must avoid the bottlenecks at our ports and the capacity constraints on our roads and rail lines which cost the economy tens of billions of dollars in lost export earnings during the previous mining boom.

To obtain a copy of the draft Strategy and provide feedback on the direction, ideas and measures it is proposing, go to: www.infrastructureaustralia.gov.au. Submissions close at the end of April.

Jan 14, 2011

Boycott of Israel is beyond the pale

As part of Leonard Cohen’s successful world comeback tour in 2009 he included a concert at Ramat Gan stadium near Tel Aviv in his itinerary.

For that he was condemned by some activists for promoting a cultural exchange in Israel. Never mind the fact that proceeds from this concert were directed to the “Fund for Reconciliation, Tolerance and Peace”.

Groups which directly benefitted included the “Parents Circle”, made up of both Palestinian and Israeli parents who have lost children in the middle east conflict with the aim of promoting peace and reconciliation.

Cohen described the concert as “representing a triumph over the inclination of the heart to despair, revenge and hatred”.

The decision of the Greens Party controlled Marrickville Council to “boycott all goods made in Israel and any sporting, academic, government or cultural exchanges”, is unfortunate and misguided at best.

The Council goes even further and suggests that any organisation or company with links to Israel should be boycotted also. It is not clear how much ratepayer funds will be expended on this research.

It is doubtful how fair dinkum the Greens Party Councillors are, given that the resolution carried a month ago included a third point, that they would write to local Parliamentary representatives “seeking their support at the State and Federal level” and the Greens Party Mayor has not actually got around to sending the correspondence.

It’s not as if there are no policy challenges or local issues facing the Greens Party Mayor of Marrickville. The Council is in the process of laying off staff, the Mayor voted to close down Marrickville West Public School’s child care centre which provides vital support to disadvantaged families and the Greens have opposed a series of modest affordable housing proposals.

This ill thought out attempt to challenge the State of Israel through a single Local Council in the inner west of Sydney is clumsy and counterproductive.

I believe that engagement between peoples promotes understanding and tolerance and is worthwhile whether it be between national leaders or student exchanges.

Progressives have long argued for multilateral solutions to foreign policy issues and have therefore emphasised the role of the United Nations and other Institutions. The Marrickville Council resolution contradicts this with its unilateral declaration that sanctions will be imposed and funded by ratepayers.

As Local Government Minister during Labor’s first term I saw many examples of how Local Government has moved beyond rates, roads and rubbish, particularly in service delivery and community engagement.

International engagement through the development of sister cities programs is, in my view, positive as it promotes understanding and tolerance across geographic distances and cultural divides.

As a strong advocate of justice for Palestinians, I along with Joe Hockey established the Parliamentary Friends of Palestine Group and was its founding Secretary.

Any lasting resolution to the Middle East conflict cannot be at the expense of either Palestinians or Israelis. Surely contact and engagement between Palestinians and Israelis is a precondition for a peaceful settlement.

If simplistic slogans were enough to resolve this issue it would have become an historical footnote of the last century.

Australians are making a contribution to global tolerance by the way that we have developed as a multicultural society. The inner west of Sydney is a microcosm of what is desirable in the international community – a place where neighbours live in harmony regardless of religion or race.

As it stands all those who attended the recent concerts of Leonard Cohen are in violation of the decree from the Marrickville Mayor made on their behalf – lucky Cohen didn’t try to perform at the Enmore Theatre!

ENDS

Dec 8, 2010

Reforms to the Australian Shipping Industry – Opinion Piece – The Australian

Australia is the largest island continent on earth. We are surrounded by vast oceans and almost all our major cities nestle into our coast-line. Our busy ports manage ten percent of the world’s sea trade, while 99 per cent of our imports and exports are carried by ship.

Yet somehow this country, which is encircled by a vast ‘blue highway’, has just 30 registered major trading ships aged on average 20 years. With so few ships and an ageing fleet we are reaching the tipping point where an Australian industry will simply cease to exist.

For some this doesn’t matter. If the market determines this outcome then so be it. I believe this is short-sighted and ignores the fundamental economic, environmental and security benefits of an Australian-based industry. When the Howard Government was elected in 1996, there were 55 Australian trading vessels shipping 3.2 million tonnes. By 2008, the 30 remaining vessels were shipping just 1.8 million tonnes. Less than half of one percent of our huge export trade was carried by Australian ships.

The Howard Government had abandoned Capital Grants Assistance, accelerated depreciation and the PAYE rebate scheme. At the same time, it had tripled the number of trading permits to foreign-flagged crews from less than 1,000 in 1999 to more than 3,000 in 2008.

So while major shipping nations such as Japan, China, the UK and Denmark were employing a list of new tax measures and policies to keep their fleets competitive, ours was in freefall.

With trade at our ports predicted to triple over the next two decades it makes great economic sense that the Australian economy enjoys the benefits from this growth.

In 2000, the United Kingdom introduced a tonnage tax to help reinvigorate its failing shipping sector. Historically one of the world’s greatest maritime nations, by 2000 the UK’s fleet had contracted to just 379 ships.

By 2007, seven years after the introduction of the new tax, the UK fleet had swelled to 646 vessels and since 2004 UK shipping has consistently recorded a surplus, contributing $15.7 billion annually to GDP and $4.65 billion in overall tax revenue. Importantly, the training of UK seafarers has soared and this is seen as critical to maintaining London’s position as one of the world’s leading providers of maritime services.

These competitive reforms contrast with the United States’ model where every ship in its domestic industry must be not just American flagged, owned and crewed but also built in its own ship-yards. In the past this was probably a case of old-fashioned protectionism, but now this position is argued on the basis of national security.

The Australian Government does not support this protectionist model.

In early 2008 I asked a parliamentary committee to inquire into Australia’s coastal shipping sector and recommend ways of improving competitiveness and sustainability.

The committee issued a unanimous bipartisan report in October 2008. I then convened an advisory group to look more broadly at the international shipping sector made up of industry leaders from Rio Tinto Marine, Teekay Shipping, ANL Container Lines, the MUA, Jebsens International, Australian Shipowners Association, ASP Ship Management and the National Farmers’ Federation.

I asked this group of experts to consider the parliamentary recommendations and, using their industry knowledge, report back to me with a package of reforms to revive and revitalise Australian shipping.

One of the most urgent calls was to remove the barriers to the sustainable use of Australian ships and crews.

That’s why the Gillard Government will allow Australian registered ships to elect to use either a low, flat tax based on vessel tonnage, similar to the UK system, or stay with the current tax regime, bolstered by accelerated depreciation.

We will consider exempting vessels leased to Australians from the Royalty Withholding Tax when they engage Australian crews, bringing them into line with the use of foreign crews.

Increasing our workforce of skilled seafarers is essential for the industry to grow so companies seeking eligibility for the financial incentives will be required to sign up to a training program. A reference group will be formed, bringing together industry, unions and training providers to advise on the best way of improving our maritime skills base.

Existing education funding programs will be extended to trainee seafarers and major training providers such as the Australian Maritime College in Launceston, and TAFEs in Perth and Newcastle will be encouraged to provide seamless national training.

The Gillard Government will work with the industry and unions to align practices in Australian shipping with the best in the world. We will be seeking a compact between industry and the unions to drive that productivity agenda. This compact will address cost reduction targets, work practice improvements, and training and skills development.

A skilled maritime workforce is in the national interest. This was recognised in the 2008 Defence White Paper which saw enhancing our maritime capability as important to security and necessary to help address the significant workforce challenges faced by the Australian Defence Force. A highly-experienced, capable seafaring workforce creates career opportunities in both the navy and commercial shipping sector.

There are also good environmental reasons for viable shipping sector. A greater number of safer, cleaner Australian ships travelling our ‘blue highway’ will reduce the likelihood of incidents such as the grounding of the Shen Neng 1 on the Barrier Reef earlier this year and oil spills off Moreton Island early last year. Both those incidents are the subject of criminal proceedings.

Importantly, the outdated Navigation Act 1912 will be completely rewritten and eight separate and different regulatory regimes in the States and Northern Territory will be replaced by a single national maritime safety regulator. So one national regulator, one national law and much less red tape at our ports.

Without reform to our shipping sector, we risk simply becoming the customers of others. Australia must become an active player in the enormous international shipping industry. Other developed countries have embarked on extensive and successful programs to rebuild their shipping industries. They have all recognised that a healthy competitive shipping sector brings great economic, security and environmental benefits.

Those benefits are something that Australia should seek and clearly we have a long way to go. However the Gillard Government is facing this challenge head on. No-one questions Government involvement in our road and rail, in fact they expect it. A viable shipping industry should be no different. Ships are the lowest carbon emitters of any transport mode and the more goods we carry along the blue highway, the fewer trucks crowd our national highways.

Reforms to Australian shipping, when added to improvements from our national ports strategy, will stop the sinking of the Australian shipping industry. They will create a platform for rejuvenation with enormous potential for new jobs, opportunities and productivity that will benefit the whole of this island nation.

Contact Anthony

(02) 9564 3588 Electorate Office

Email: [email protected]

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