Browsing articles in "Opinion Pieces"
Jun 29, 2017

Project funding needed, not just fancy finance – Opinion – The Australian Financial Review

An old Chinese Proverb says that talk doesn’t cook rice.

In the same way, talk doesn’t build railway lines. Nor does it build roads, ports or other pieces of critical infrastructure.

Despite much talk about infrastructure in the lead-up to last month’s Federal Budget, the Government reduced investment by $1.6 billion this financial year alone.

Investment will fall off a cliff over the next four years, from the $9.2 billion originally promised this year to $4.2 billion in 2020-21.

In the end the infrastructure Budget was a bit like the last time Halley’s Comet visited our part of the solar system – all hype, but ultimately disappointing.

Peak infrastructure sector representative group Infrastructure Partnerships Australia issued a devastating critique of the Budget.

Responding to the Government’s absurd claim that it has increased infrastructure investment, the IPA said: “The Budget confirms the cut to real budgeted capital funding to its lowest level in more than a decade using a mix of underspend, re-profiling and narrative to cover this substantial drop in real capital expenditure.’’

This is a bad outcome for the economy at a time when we need to address our infrastructure deficit to underpin economic growth.

But even more concerning is the way in which the Government imagines that the private sector will make up for its cuts and inaction if acts as a broker to achieve “innovative’’ financing arrangements for major projects.

That is the reasoning behind the creation for the new Infrastructure Financing Unit (IFU).

Labor strongly supports engagement with the private sector on infrastructure projects.

But anyone who pretends that clever financing arrangements or old concepts like value capture will meet Australia’s infrastructure needs without significant Commonwealth investment is kidding themselves.

This approach will ensure that the infrastructure deficit becomes worse.

The IFU will sideline Infrastructure Australia, which already possesses the capacity and the legislative mandate to involve itself in financing. Part 2, Section 5, of the Infrastructure Australia Act 2008 explicitly states that Infrastructure Australia has the function of providing advice on “mechanisms for financing investment in infrastructure.’’

In its pre-budget submission, Infrastructure Partnerships Australia implored the Government not to create the agency.

“We cannot identify any currently proposed infrastructure projects which are commercially viable and not already attracting finance, the submission said.

“Therefore we cannot see how the IFU will increase the pace of project delivery.

“Commonwealth Government funding support is needed for infrastructure. Commonwealth financing is not.’’

The IPA represents big infrastructure investors. They ought to know what will give them the comfort to invest in public infrastructure projects.

Creation of the IFU also arrogantly assumes states governments have no financing expertise.

In fact, infrastructure is part of their core business.

The former Federal Labor Government worked with the Victorian and Queensland governments to seal innovative agreements to deliver the Melbourne Metro and Brisbane’s Cross River Rail project.

Value capture and availability payments were integral to these arrangements.

They were hammered out with the involvement of Infrastructure Australia but were unfortunately scrapped when the Coalition took office.

Similar co-operation produced Northconnex in Sydney, the Moorebank Intermodal Terminal, Legacy Way in Brisbane and the Gold Coast Light Rail project.

The IFU is a solution looking for a problem that does not exist.

A Shorten Labor Government will abolish the agency and reallocate its funding to Infrastructure Australia to enhance its ability to deliver its responsibilities of project assessment, preparation of a pipeline of projects and provision of financing advice.

The funding will also be used to re-establish the Major Cities Unit within Infrastructure Australia to drive Commonwealth policies to boost the productivity, sustainability and liveability of the nation’s cities.

The infrastructure sector does not need a new bureaucracy.

It needs a Federal Government prepared to invest in nation-building and work with states and the private sector in genuine partnership.

This piece was first published in The Australian Financial Review today http://bit.ly/2sT7gn3

Jun 23, 2017

Traffic congestion is a hand brake on economic growth – Opinion – The Brisbane Times

Imagine if each and every year, the Australian government discovered a hollow log containing $16.5 billion.

We could use that windfall to boost services or reduce government debt. Or we could return the money to the pockets of families and small businesses via tax cuts.

Actual hollow logs are rare in Canberra.

But it is sobering to think that traffic congestion is costing the national economy $16.5 billion in lost productivity each year, according to the government’s own bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics.

That figure is expected to reach $53 billion a year by 2031 if nothing is done.

It makes economic sense to act to reduce these losses.

That would involve investing in better urban rail as well as roads, making it cheaper and easier for people and goods to move around our cities.

Such action would lower costs to business, boost profitability and allow businesses to create more jobs.

This is not rocket science. It’s common sense.

But the Coalition government is reducing investment in roads and refusing to make new investments in public transport infrastrucuture. This inaction is allowing traffic congestion to worsen and detracting from other elements of government policy aimed at lifting growth.

Peak industry group Infrastructure Partnerships Australia recently warned that last month’s budget would drive federal infrastructure investment to its lowest level in more than a decade.

That’s not surprising.

In 2013 the incoming Coalition government cancelled all Commonwealth investment in public transport, scuttling funding deals reached by the former Labor government to deliver projects such as Brisbane’s Cross River Rail and the Melbourne Metro.

It reallocated the funding to dud toll road projects including Melbourne’s East-West Link and the Perth Freight Link.

But both of these projects had not been the subject of proper planning and collapsed when it became clear they did not stack up in terms of design or value for public money.

When Malcolm Turnbull took over the prime ministership in 2015 he reversed predecessor Tony Abbott’s public transport ban, at least in rhetorical terms.

But while the Prime Minister enjoys taking selfies aboard trains, trams and buses, he has failed to provide new investment for trains, trams or buses.

The budget included a plan for a National Rail Fund which the government says could be used to contribute to rail projects including Cross River Rail and the Melbourne Metro, as well as newer proposals such as the AdeLINK light rail project and the Western Sydney Rail link to the new Western Sydney Airport.

But this fund is a sham.

It won’t yield a dollar this year, next year or the year after.

Meanwhile, the excuses continue.

Back in 2012, the independent Infrastructure Australia declared Cross River Rail was “ready to proceed” and placed it at the top of its National Infrastructure Priority List. Five years later, Mr Turnbull is refusing to contribute to the project, claiming that it has not been assessed by Infrastructure Australia.

Mr Turnbull is also trying to sideline Infrastructure Australia by creating a new Infrastructure Financing Unit within the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet.

The IFU is supposed to work with the private sector on “innovative” arrangements to finance infrastructure projects.

But the IFU is a solution looking for a problem.

Infrastructure Partnerships Australia, which includes investors in its membership, says there is no need for this body.

“Commonwealth government funding support is needed for infrastructure,” IPA said in its pre-budget submission.

“Commonwealth financing is not.”

Traffic congestion acts as a handbrake on economic growth and is a misery to commuters.

It won’t fix itself. It requires Commonwealth leadership and investment to help states, local government and the private sector to deliver.
This piece was first published in The Brisbane Times on Friday, 23 June, 2017: http://bit.ly/2t0QIdL

Jun 23, 2017

Western Sydney Airport will be an aerotropolis of jobs, opportunity – Opinion – The Australian

Since its birth a century ago, air travel has revolutionised the way we live our lives and do business.

It has helped to create a world that’s more interconnected than ever before. It has brought us closer to family and friends. It has broadened our horizons and given us the opportunity to explore our nation and the world beyond. And it has facilitated trade and commerce on an unprecedented scale.

Today, aviation is a $3 trillion a year global industry employing 29 million people.

And at its heart are airports.

But this infrastructure is more than just places where you catch planes, hold in-transit meetings with business associates, or do a bit of duty-free shopping.

Indeed, to fully appreciate the potential of airports you need to look beyond their runways and terminals.

Increasingly, they are being acknowledged as powerful drivers of regional economic development.

Just as in the past economic and employment activities sprang up around sea ports, railway hubs and highways, they are now springing up around airports, drawn by the fast, efficient connections they offer to markets domestically and internationally.

As world-renowned academic from the University of North Carolina, John Kasarda, has written: “Airports continue to transform from primarily air transport infrastructure to multimodal, multifunctional enterprises generating considerable commercial development within and well beyond their boundaries.”

Kasarda has described this worldwide phenomenon as the rise of what he has termed the “aerotropolis”.

Airports are sought-after neighbours by a growing number of organisations and industries. They include manufacturers, aerospace companies, health and education providers, logistics and transport firms, retailers, as well as the operators of hotels, conference facilities, exhibition centres and entertainment complexes.

They also include corporations engaged in international commerce that simply want to base their globetrotting executives and professionals within a short commute of the flights they regularly need to catch in order to meet clients, suppliers and business partners.

For example, the trailblazing Amsterdam Aertropolis is home to more than 1000 firms, including the global headquarters of ABN Amro, and financial giant ING.

Meanwhile, 2000 companies and four Fortune 500 HQs are ­located in the Las Colinas precinct near the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport in Texas.

Furthermore, consider this: right now there are 450,000 jobs within an 8km radius of O’Hare International Airport, which is located some distance from Chicago’s CBD. And research by Kasarda and his colleague Stephen Appold found that those jobs are relatively well paid.

In short, airports are proven investment and job magnets.

Our ambition for the Western Sydney Airport must be nothing less than this.

Given Sydney’s Kingsford Smith Airport — the country’s busiest, most important hub — is near capacity, building Badgerys Creek is in the national interest. But it also has the potential to transform western Sydney’s economy and address its biggest challenge: a lack of local jobs.

At present there are only 0.75 jobs for every local worker. As a result, hundreds of thousands of western Sydney residents must travel daily to other parts of the city for work, with many having to commute for up to two hours each way on increasingly congested roads.

But the airport’s potential to attract new high-value industries and tens of thousands of new jobs to western Sydney will only be realised if we get the planning right.

A successful aerotropolis doesn’t just happen. And that planning must be accompanied with a guarantee that the airport will be connected to Sydney’s passenger rail network from the day it opens.

Again, modern, reliable public transport is critical to the development of the aerotropolis model.

What’s more, laying the rail line at the same time the airport is being built would maximise opportunities to access value capture to help pay for the construction of both.

Further, this construction activity is an opportunity to skill new apprentices recruited from the western Sydney community.

Lastly, if you want a glimpse of what the future of western Sydney could look like if the planning is right, you need look no further than what is springing up just north of the airport site.

Sydney Science Park is an ambitious $5bn project that promises to turn 280 hectares of paddocks into an epicentre of research, innovation and education. All up, it will bring more than 12,000 “knowledge” jobs to the region.

It will also have the highest number of green-star-rated buildings in the country, host Australia’s first kindergarten to year 12 science, technology, engineering and mathematics school, and house more than 10,000 residents.

In the words of the park’s western Sydney-based proponent Celestino: “This is not a science park as much as it is a new science city.”

In 1949, then prime minister Ben Chifley observed that: “Civil aviation has revolutionised life in the outback. Every community is within a day’s flying of a capital city and medical help is never more than a few hours away. Distant places are no more.”

More than 60 years later, aviation is not only connecting Australians to each other and with the rest of the world, it is also revolutionising the development of our cities and regions.

If we get it right, the Western Sydney Airport will be much more than a runway and a terminal.

It will be a fully fledged aerotropolis, and western Sydney will be at the forefront of the industries and jobs of the future.

This piece was first published in The Australian on Friday, 23 June, 2017: http://bit.ly/2sVQLab

Jun 21, 2017

New industries are being stymied by old infrastructure – Opinion – Huffington Post

We have to shape the future, rather than kidding ourselves it will just somehow sort itself out.

Genuine leadership requires vision, but in Australia in 2017 an absence of vision is selling our future short when it comes to provision of railways, roads, broadband and other infrastructure.

Infrastructure investment is in decline, down by $1.6 billion in this financial year alone and about to fall off a cliff over the coming four years from $7.6 billion this year to $4.2 billion by 2020-21.

Our cities are congested. Our regional communities cry out for investment and better communications technology. Yet, in the analysis of private sector peak industry group Infrastructure Partnerships Australia, nation building investment under the Turnbull Government is at a 10-year low.

The Government’s failure to exercise vision is illustrated by its attitude to two major nation building projects — High Speed Rail and the National Broadband Network.

A High Speed Rail link from Brisbane to Melbourne via Sydney and Canberra has been talked about for years as a way to allow people to travel between capital cities in as little as three hours.

It would turbo-charge economic development of communities along its route like the Gold Coast, Casino, Grafton, Coffs Harbour, Port Macquarie, Taree, Newcastle, the Central Coast, Southern Highlands, Wagga Wagga, Albury-Wodonga and Shepparton.

A study initiated by the former Labor Government found High Speed Rail was viable and would produce more than $2 in economic benefit for every dollar invested.

Acting on the recommendations of an independent panel, we proposed establishing a High Speed Rail Authority to work with relevant state and territory governments on planning for the project and preserving the corridor before it is built out by urban sprawl. However, after taking office in 2013, the coalition rejected this sensible way forward.

Since then, nothing has happened. No land has been acquired and informal talks between the Federal Government and the relevant states have gone nowhere.

Even if construction of High Speed Rail is some time off, we need to get cracking on planning. Otherwise it will never happen.

We have to shape the future, rather than kidding ourselves it will just somehow sort itself out.

The coalition’s lack of vision is even more marked with regard to its delivery of the National Broadband Network.

The former Labor Government commenced this project on the basis that it would connect to homes, businesses, schools and hospitals to the network by optical fibre — the technology of the 21st century. But the current Government is connecting the network to street corner boxes, not premises, and recently purchased 15 million metres of copper wire to complete the job.

So what was envisioned as 21st century broadband will end up as last century Fraudband that will be obsolete even before it is completed.

Fibre-based broadband is an essential piece of economic infrastructure. That’s why it is being rolled out in nation across the world and is taken for granted in nations like South Korea, Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore, and Taiwan.

In Australia, it offers extraordinary opportunities for businesses in rural and regional Australia to engage with the global economy, finally taming the tyranny of distance as an obstacle to growth.

Earlier this year it was revealed that when Brisbane computer game designer Morgan Jaffit wanted to send one of his products to a design specialist in Melbourne, he found it was faster to send it by snail mail than online.

Our nation must do better in a world of ever-accelerating change.

Information technology pioneer Bill Gates has more than a few runs on the board when it comes to looking over the horizon and imagining future possibilities.

In his 1995 book ‘The Road Ahead’, Gates wrote: “We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten. Don’t let yourself be lulled into inaction”.

That’s an important point. The Federal Government needs to get the message.
This piece was first published in the Huffington Post on Wednesday, 21 June,  2017: http://bit.ly/2sUr7Dj[

Jun 15, 2017

Black spots on road to fixing infrastructure – Opinion – The Australian

You can always tell when a government is losing the battle of ideas — it abandons its own policies and imitates those of its political opponents. It’s a dead giveaway. So it is with infrastructure policy in Australia.

In the recent budget the Turnbull government went to extraordinary lengths to recast its position on infrastructure after years of cuts and inaction.

Almost overnight, it appeared to have embraced long-held Labor positions such as the need to borrow to invest in productivity-enhancing infrastructure as well as the desirability of commonwealth investment in public transport and the potential of high-speed rail.

But the Coalition’s big infrastructure shift is entirely rhetorical. It is not backed by actual investment. Indeed, the budget cut national infrastructure investment by $1.6 billion this year alone. And spending will fall off a cliff over the next four years from $7.6bn this year to $4.2bn by 2020-21.

The budget included cuts to the Bruce and Pacific highways, the Black Spot Program, the Bridges Renewal Program and the delivery of new and improved roadside rest facilities for interstate truck drivers.

In his budget speech, Scott Morrison made much of the creation of a $10bn National Rail Fund, which he said could be used for public transport projects such as the Melbourne Metro, Brisbane’s Cross River Rail project, Western Sydney Rail and AdeLINK light rail. This, too, seemed to represent a major shift.

After taking office in 2013, the Coalition cancelled all public transport projects not under construction at the time. Since then, it has failed to deliver new investment anywhere in the country.

But the government’s National Rail Fund is a con.

It won’t yield a dollar for public transport until well after the next federal election.

There is no funding this year, next year or the year after that. Finally, in 2019-20, $200 million will be made available.

The need for public transport is urgent. Traffic congestion is a handbrake on economic growth and a misery for commuters.

The fund is not a serious investment vehicle. It’s a political fix designed to create the appearance of action by a government that has come to realise Australians are sick of its excuses.

What is needed is actual investment — now.

The government’s major announcement was its recommitment to deliver the Inland Rail freight link from Brisbane to Melbourne with an equity injection into the Australian Rail Track Corp, the government-owned entity that runs the national freight network.

Labor supports this project.

In government we invested $600m upgrading parts of the existing rail network that will form part of Inland Rail and provided $300m to take the project forward in the 2013 budget.

In the 2013 election campaign, the Coalition vowed construction would begin in 2016.

Not only has construction not begun but, after four years in office, the Coalition also has not put in the work to address the fact the proposed line won’t meet its stated purpose of taking freight to the Port of Brisbane. It stops 38km short of the port at Acacia Ridge.

The government’s capital injection into the ARTC to deliver the project has been made on the assumption that Inland Rail will provide a financial return to taxpayers over time.

But a business case produced in 2015 by former deputy prime minister John Anderson warned that the revenue generated by the rail line in its first 50 years would not cover the cost of its construction.

Anderson wrote: “Hence, a substantial public funding contribution is required to deliver Inland Rail.”

The budget included no such funding. The government simply ignored Anderson’s advice about how to deliver the project.

Once again, we have a political fix, not a serious funding plan.

The infrastructure sector is underwhelmed by the budget.

Infrastructure Partnerships Australia — the nation’s peak infrastructure industry group — was not seduced by the government’s spin. Spotting the con a mile away, IPA said that the budget ripped $7.4bn from the federal infrastructure budget over the next four years.

“The budget confirms the cut to ‘real’ budgeted capital funding to its lowest level in more than a decade — using a mix of underspend, re-profiling and narrative to cover this substantial drop in real capital expenditure,’’ it says.

This piece was first published in The Australian on Thursday, 15 June, 2017: http://bit.ly/2sBVWfT 

Apr 20, 2017

Record Store Day and the Magic of Music – Opinion – The Herald Sun

MUSIC is a part of us. Like literature, it speaks to us about who we are, where we have been and how we understand our journey through life. It’s one of our key forms of expression.

That is why independent record stores have a very special place in our culture, a place that will be celebrated on International Record Store Day on Saturday.

This event, in its 10th year, will be celebrated in 30 countries as a tribute to the importance of independent record stores in our culture and our economy.

In the words of the late, great Chuck Berry: “Music is an important part of our culture and record stores play a vital part in keeping the power of music alive.”

Down the generations, just about everyone has spent time in independent record stores, thumbing through record and CD racks, looking at band T-shirts or posters or buying tickets to live performances. We might have been after something specific. We might have been just killing time.

In 2017, digital technology allows us to buy or stream music without leaving our lounge chairs. We can go online and immediately download or stream the latest song by our favourite artist.

But it’s just one song. You don’t hear it on the album with other songs that were carefully chosen and placed in a specific order by the artist. You don’t get to feel the CD or record in your hands, read the liner notes or look at the pictures and artwork.

And because you don’t have those experiences, you can’t discuss them with your friends.

Australian band Grinderman, a side project of the great Nick Cave, put this concept somewhat more colourfully in a statement released for a previous Record Store Day.

“Do yourself a tremendous favour and go to a record store today. The relatively mild exertion of getting off your fat, computer-shackled ass and venturing out to find the object of your desire, the thrill of moving through actual space and time, through row upon row of records and the tactile ecstasy of fondling the freshly discovered treasure — all this will augment and enrich the mental associations the music invokes in you for the rest of your life.”

Record stores also enrich social links. Who hasn’t seen groups of young people milling around CD racks, exploring their growing independence while schooling themselves on our cultural history, as illustrated by our music?

Back in 1970s two young men were browsing in a record store in the US state of Georgia and stopped to have a chat about common interests. Michael Stipe and budding guitarist Peter Buck went on to form one of the most influential American bands of our times — REM.

And Nick Hornby’s awesome novel, High Fidelity, perfectly outlined the record store culture. Later turned into a movie starring John Cusack, the book told the story of Rob Gordon, whose life and relationships are centred on his record store and compiling endless lists of his top five records in any particular category.

Australian independent record stores also play a critical role in local communities. The musical development of just about all professional musicians in this country would have been very much influenced by their patronage of independent stores.

Independent music stores are often the only places you can buy recordings from local bands who are just embarking on their careers. If you go to a department store or one of the big music chains, you won’t find that debut recording of the new band that plays in the pub around the corner from your house.

Record stores are important. It’s not just nostalgia or the revival in the popularity of vinyl records, welcome as that is.

It’s also about jobs, small businesses and the continuing expression of our culture through music.

In Australia on Saturday, more than 180 independent record stores will mark the event with live music, DJ performances and other in-store activities as well as fundraising for various charities.

Across the globe, the international music industry will celebrate the occasion with the release of many new musical recordings, not just from new artists, but also from established names.

For example, previously unreleased recordings of songs from one of my favourite bands, The Smiths — The Boy With the Thorn in his Side and Rubber Ring — will be released on a limited edition, 5000-copy run.

There will also be new recordings by the late David Bowie, Lou Reed, Pink Floyd and Prince.

As the enigmatic US singer Tom Waits says of music stores:

Folks who work here are professors. Don’t replace all the knowers with guessors.

“Keep’em open. They’re the ears of the town.”
This piece was first published in The Herald Sun on Thursday, 20 April, 2017

Apr 18, 2017

Rail critical to economic revival – Track and Signal Magazine

Construction of railway lines has long been a catalyst for economic development.

From the opening of the trans-continental railway a century ago to the construction of mass-transit railway systems in our capital cities, railway lines have been critical to our economic development.

They still are.

That is why it is disappointing that in recent years rail investment has fallen when we should have been boosting our economic capacity in response to the decline in mining investment.

With productivity in Australian cities under assault from traffic congestion we need to invest in public transport. And as we seek to lift the job-creating capacity of industries outside of mining, we must invest in the freight rail required to goods to market.

This is why businesspeople and economists, including Reserve Bank Chairman Philip Lowe and his predecessor Glenn Stevens, have been calling for more infrastructure investment.

However, in the Coalition’s first two years in office, total public sector infrastructure investment fell by 20 per cent.

Australian Bureau of Statistics figures released in January show the value of work conducted for the public sector has been lower in each of the 12 quarters presided over by the Coalition Government than in any of the 21 quarters under the Labor Government after our first Budget in 2008.

We must do better at a time of low interest rates and economic transition.

Investing in the right infrastructure projects now will create jobs and economic activity in the short term while yielding long-term productivity gains that will drive future prosperity.

We should start in our cities by attacking traffic congestion, which is a hand brake on productivity growth.

Infrastructure Australia’s advice is clear – without action now, traffic congestion will cost the nation $53 billion a year by 2031.

We need to act.

When the Federal Government took office, it cancelled billions of dollars’ worth of investment and transferred the funding to questionable toll road projects like Melbourne’s collapsed East-West Link and the Perth Freight Link.

Having failed to commence a single new public transport project, it is time the Coalition changed direction.

It should release funding now for the Melbourne Metro and Brisbane’s Cross River Rail project, both of which were approved by Infrastructure Australia before it even took office.

After years of Commonwealth stalling, the Andrews Labor Government has been forced to go it alone on the Melbourne Metro, leaving Victorians to confront the fact that they receive less than 8 per cent of the Commonwealth infrastructure budget despite accounting for a quarter of the national population.

In Queensland, the Government is refusing to fund the Cross River Rail project, which would provide a second rail crossing of the Brisbane River in the city’s CBD.

With the existing Merivale Bridge approaching full capacity, failure to act now will hold back economic growth in the nation’s third biggest city.

The Government should also get behind the proposed Perth METRONET and the expansion of the Adelaide light rail network through AdeLINK.

It must also begin serious planning to connect Sydney’s Badgerys Creek Airport to the Sydney’s passenger rail network from the day it opens.

Its current plan of a passenger rail link some time many years from now will limit the job-creating potential of the new airport and reduce the funds that might be raised toward its cost through value capture.

In the freight sphere, it’s time to get cracking on the Inland Rail Project between Brisbane and Melbourne.

Travelling through the agricultural heartland of the Australia’s east, Inland Rail would lift the export capacity of tens of thousands of businesses.

That’s why the former Labor Government invested $600 million on improving parts of the existing rail network that would form a part of Inland Rail and also allocated a further $300 million for ongoing work.

Since then, not a further sleeper has been laid, despite promises for action in both the 2013 and 2016 election campaigns.

To further boost export capacity, the Government should adopt Labor’s proposal to complete the duplication the Port Botany Freight Line and expedite the Maldon-Dombarton line to link the Illawarra region with south-western Sydney.

It should also get serious about advancing High Speed Rail between Brisbane and Melbourne via Sydney and Canberra.

In 2013 the former Labor Government allocated more than $50 million to establish a High Speed Rail authority to advance planning and begin to secure the corridor.

The incoming Coalition Government scrapped that funding and, nearly four years later, has yet to outline an alternative approach.

This is despite strong support private sector for High Speed Rail and the recently tabled parliamentary committee report endorsing the need to establish an authority to secure the corridor.

High Speed Rail would be an economic game changer for all communities along its path, including the Gold Coast, Casino, Grafton, Coffs Harbour, Port Macquarie, Taree, Newcastle, the Central Coast, Wagga Wagga, the Southern Highlands, Albury-Wodonga and Shepparton.

Infrastructure development in Australia has been allowed to lag behind demand because of a lack of vision.

If we really want to set up long-term national prosperity and create jobs for future generations, it’s time to start building.

This piece was published in the April-June 2017 edition of Track and Signal Magazine.

Apr 17, 2017

Turnbull Government must change tack on infrastructure – Opinion – The Australian

If you asked businesspeople to nominate Australia’s biggest economic challenge, you might guess they would name tax rates or the budget deficit.

But you’d be wrong. According to an Australian Institute of Company Directors’ survey of 833 directors last July, the problem that most worries businesspeople is Australia’s low level of infrastructure investment.

Eight-five per cent of the company directors said they believed current levels of infrastructure investment, particularly in regional areas, were too low. The issue topped the list of concerns ahead of the budget deficit, the ageing of our population, education and tax reform.

But it’s not just the business sector. The Reserve Bank has made repeated calls for additional investment in railways and roads to generate economic activity and jobs, and take pressure off the housing affordability crisis.

With the 2017-18 budget looming, it’s time we started listening to the experts.

Investing in the right infrastructure projects has two important economic benefits. In the short term, construction supports economic activity and jobs. But over the medium to long term, building the right projects unlocks productivity gains that fuel further job creation and greater prosperity.

Take freight in Sydney. The former Labor government established and funded the Moorebank Intermodal Company and appointed Kerry Schott as chairwoman to drive the project, which has now begun construction.

This is a sound project, allowing for the transfer of freight from road to rail. It will reduce traffic congestion by eliminating 1.2 million truck trips a year through the city, providing a link to the port and the north-south rail corridor.

But if the government funded the Australian Rail Track Corporation to have a separate loop line near Moorebank and to complete the duplication between Mascot and Port Botany, it would be far more productive. It makes no sense that a train can be held up for the “last mile” into the port if another train is exiting along the same track. These simple upgrades would cost $200 million and repay the investment many times over. It’s a no-brainer.

Good infrastructure projects equal jobs — now and in the future. That’s why we need to invest now. We should also invest in urban public transport to reduce traffic congestion that the experts warn is a handbrake on productivity growth.

But we must also invest in regional infrastructure — better freight rail, better roads and a fibre-based broadband system powerful enough to allow regional businesses to overcome the tyranny of distance.

Now is the time to progress high-speed rail by creating an authority to co-ordinate across jurisdictions, preserve the corridors and engage with consortiums that have a proven record of construction and operation of such a nation-building project.

Far from shaping the future, the Coalition has reduced infrastructure investment. There is no $50 billion program, as the government claims. The Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development, which is actually rolling out the program, values it at $34bn over the government’s first five years in office with another $8bn set aside for some unspecified period in the future.

Australian Bureau of Statistics figures show total public sector infrastructure investment fell by 20 per cent in the Coalition’s first two years in office.

More recent ABS figures show that in the 12 quarters in which the Coalition has been in office, total quarterly public sector infrastructure investment has been lower than it was in every single quarter under the previous Labor government.

While the government frequently re-announces ongoing projects devised and funded under the former Labor government, it has failed to achieve progress on any new transformative projects.

It is yet to lay a single sleeper on the Inland Rail project. This freight rail link between Brisbane and Melbourne would allow producers to get their goods to port more quickly. During the 2013 election campaign the Coalition promised it would commence construction by 2016.

Part of the problem is the government’s refusal to take expert advice.

When it came to office, it funded road projects without business cases by transferring funds from public transport projects that had been approved by Infrastructure Australia, such as Melbourne Metro and Cross River Rail.

Meanwhile, the government’s Northern Australia Infrastructure Fund, created two years ago, has not funded a single project and the government is now proposing to create an infrastructure financing unit within the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet.

None of this is needed. Infrastructure Australia already exists to assess projects and advise on funding models. The government must use next month’s budget to change direction on infrastructure investment.

As the respected industry group Infrastructure Partnerships Australia has pointed out, there is no shortage of private capital available for investment in infrastructure projects, provided they stack up.

And as the Reserve Bank has pointed out, low interest rates mean it’s a good time for governments to borrow for new infrastructure projects, provided they are properly assessed and will boost productivity.

It’s time to get on with it.

This piece was first published in The Australian on Monday, 17 April 2017: http://bit.ly/2ogRiOE

Mar 20, 2017

Why Anthony Albanese wants politicians to take craft beer seriously

Poet Henry Lawson once wrote: “Beer makes you feel the way you ought to feel without beer”.

Many Australians would agree, particularly at the end of a hot summer’s day.

But in 2017 there’s a serious economic side to beer that needs genuine attention from Australian governments – the significant potential for jobs growth in the craft beer industry.

Australia’s annual consumption of beer has been declining in recent years.

But despite this, craft brewing is growing strongly and has taken nearly 10 per cent of the national market.

The industry is worth about $400 million a year and, according to Austrade, there are about 200 small breweries around the nation.

The research shows that drinkers in their 20s and 30s in particular are attracted to boutique brews for their variety in taste as well as the fact that they are produced locally, in their own communities.

Craft beer looms as an economic opportunity that we cannot afford to ignore.

If we get the policy settings right, this industry could deliver thousands of new jobs. And like many other small businesses, they tend to employ locals.

However, based on the feedback I received from brewers in Sydney’s inner west, current policy settings need some work.

They were created at a time when big international brewers dominated the industry and they work against the expansion of craft brewing.

For example, the rate of federal excise charged for a keg containing 50 litres of beer is less than the rate charged for smaller kegs.

This works in favour of big brewers and against small brewers.

Excise accounts for about 46 per cent of a small brewer’s costs – almost half of the costs to actually produce the beer.

This makes no sense. It must be reviewed.

Craft brewers also warn they are being strangled by paperwork that consumes about a day out of each week – time they could better spend on marketing and product development.

Their third problem is the difficulty they face obtaining town planning approvals to establish small bars on site at their breweries, in the same way that many wineries offer wine-tasting facilities on site.

While such applications need to be balanced against the rights of nearby residents, the industry points out that, just like wine-tasting, beer-tasting has no heritage of promoting anti-social behaviour.

Beer enthusiasts are in it for the taste, not the volume.

Local government regulation in this area is somewhat inflexible. It needs to be updated to facilitate economic development in communities that are crying out for job creation.

There is also huge potential in craft beer tourism – whereby operators set up walking tours where enthusiasts visit several breweries to sample different types of beer.

Craft beer tours are already available in the inner west as well as in Adelaide and Melbourne and other parts of the country.

But I’d like to see more.

Sydney’s inner west is just one area with thriving small breweries providing jobs for locals, supplying pubs and restaurants and attracting tourists.

Regional centres around Australia are developing local brewing centres as well as the capital cities.

So it is time for governments to work with the industry to set this already promising industry on the path to greater prosperity.

In particular, we should be working with beer producers to lift exports, particularly to Asia.

In China alone, for example, the market for premium beer is expected to be worth $35 billion by 2020. Chinese purchases of Australian wine have skyrocketed in recent years. We should add beer to the menu.

Because beer is perishable, Australia’s proximity to such massive markets offers us a real advantage over potential rivals.

The need for continued economic growth to drive job creation demands that Australia grasp these opportunities.

Anthony Albanese is the Member for Grayndler and Shadow Minister for Tourism. Inner west brewery Willie the Boatman named a beer after him.

This piece was first published in The Sydney Morning Herald  on Monday, 20 March 20, 2017
http://bit.ly/2nTe7HX

Mar 5, 2017

Opinion Piece- Going to the footy is good for the economy

As an eight-year-old watching the 1971 Rugby League Grand Final at the Sydney Cricket Ground, I could never have imagined the important role that football would come to play in the Australian economy in the 21st century.

While the mighty South Sydney Rabbitohs took home the premiership that year, the entire Australian economy is the beneficiary of the stunning rise in sport-related tourism in this country.

Each weekend thousands of Australians travel to watch their favourite sporting teams compete interstate. As they gather like tribes on enemy territory to enjoy their teams’ away games, they flood local economies with money for accommodation, food and associated tourism activities.

This economic activity creates jobs. That’s why we need more of it.

The rise in sporting tourism is the result of a happy confluence of events over the past three or four decades. The first is the rise of national sporting competitions across many major codes, including rugby league, Australian rules, rugby union, soccer, cricket, basketball and netball. The second is the steady decline in the cost of air travel thanks to competition created by the rise of budget airlines, which have brought air travel within reach of average Australian families.

In 1988 I saved for months to raise $1900 to fly return to London. Nearly 30 years later, you won’t pay much more than that, and you can fly between Australian capital cities for less than $100.

For governments and for communities that are home to major sporting teams, this presents an economic opportunity. We need to understand that sporting facilities have become important components of economic infrastructure and support communities that aspire to develop world-class stadiums.

The trend is well underway in our big capital cities. Melbourne’s claim to be the sporting capital of Australia is hard to resist when you consider the quality of its sporting stadiums. They are central, comfortable and easily accessible by public transport or on foot from CBD hotels.

Likewise, Brisbane’s Suncorp Stadium is perhaps the best rugby league facility in the world. Hotels, pubs and restaurants in its vicinity thrive because of its existence.

Next year Perth will open what it is already promoting as the nation’s best multi-purpose stadium and thousands of new hotel rooms are under construction right now to cater for the anticipated resulting tourism demand.

Adelaide businesses have been beneficiaries of the redevelopment of the Adelaide Oval, a magnificent facility that has included the roof climb as a tourism experience.

Likewise, the Sydney Cricket Ground has been renovated to improve the amenity while respecting the historical character of the ground.

Now it is time to for governments to think harder about the potential for sporting tourism in regional Australia.

In Townsville, for example, federal, state and local government are working together with the private sector to develop a new home for the North Queensland Cowboys. If we get that development right, the new stadium will not just create short-term jobs in the construction industry, but will also attract thousands of rugby league fans from around the nation to the completed stadium. While they will go to Townsville to see their teams battle the Cowboys, many will stay for a long weekend or even a week to sample the region’s tourism offerings, such as the Great Barrier Reef.

Last year I visited Geelong’s Kardinia Park, the home of the Geelong Cats, where officials are seeking government support for the continuing expansion of the ground, which earlier this month hosted international cricket for the first time.

And in Canberra, there is a growing push for construction of a bigger and more central stadium that could attract weekend visitors from Sydney and beyond for the city’s Raiders and Brumbies, as well as for visiting AFL teams.

There’s also great potential for soccer’s A League to drive regional growth. Centres including Gosford and Newcastle, and indeed Western Sydney, have their own teams backed by very loyal fans who are happy to follow them far and wide.

Of course, there is only so much public money available for contribution to developing sporting stadiums. But with the changing patterns of behaviour, we need to understand that the economics of sport and tourism are changing. They will keep changing too. The past year has seen an amazing explosion in women’s sport, including netball, cricket, AFL, soccer, rugby league and rugby union. There are so many opportunities to be grasped.

Now’s the time for governments, sporting codes and tourism organisations to work together to harness and maximise the potential benefits in the national interest.

This piece was first published in The Huffington Post  today: http://huff.to/2lJFAtR

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Email: [email protected]

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