Browsing articles in "Opinion Pieces"
Apr 11, 2016

Create another CBD and build Melbourne’s future – Opinion – Herald Sun

When you live in a city frequently named the most liveable in the world, it’s easy to become complacent.

But Melbourne’s enviable status as a wonderful place to live is under serious threat from traffic congestion, as residents face increasingly long daily commutes to and from work. Have a look at the picture below taken on the Eastern Freeway last week.

With the city’s population predicted to reach more than seven million by 2050, now is the time to think hard about ways to prevent the traffic congestion that is seriously undermining our quality of life, not to mention our economic productivity.

Indeed, a chilling report published late last year by Infrastructure Australia predicted that unless we tackle this problem now, congestion will cost Australia $53 billion a year in lost productivity by 2031.

Lost productivity equals fewer jobs for our children. We must act.

One way that governments can help is to encourage jobs growth outside of capital city CBDs by facilitating the development of second and third central business districts.

That is where Box Hill comes in. This vibrant area is undergoing a serious property boom, with 20 buildings of more than 20 storeys on the drawing board. When I visited the area last Thursday with Monash mayor Stefanie Perri, I saw a skyline dotted with cranes.

Thousands of new residents who will live in the new buildings will drive demand among local businesses, adding to the 26,000 jobs that already exist in the precinct. But there’s a problem.

Current transport infrastructure is inadequate for the area’s existing needs, let alone for the huge increase in demand that is coming down the line.

Although Box Hill is connected to two railway lines, 22 bus routes and a tram route, those services are disconnected and hard to access.

The train station is in the basement of the main shopping centre, while the bus station is on the roof. People wanting to move from one to another have to follow a maze of escalators, when the facilities should be integrated.

A group called Building a Better Box Hill, including the Whitehorse City Council, Metro Trains Melbourne, the Deakin University and local business people, argues that a new transit centre will cement the community’s status as Melbourne’s second CBD.

It has a compelling case.

It’s clear that if all levels of government work together, we can prevent inadequate infrastructure from becoming the impediment that halts the growth under way at Box Hill.

A federal government interested in cities should get behind the local community and support plans to further advance planning for a new transit centre.

Governments need to work together with communities to tackle the growing pains of urban Australia. We can’t allow traffic congestion to be a handbrake on growth and new jobs.

Congestion will worsen in coming years because of changes in patterns of employment growth.

In the 20th century, jobs growth was strong in Australian suburbs in industries like manufacturing. But as manufacturing declines, jobs growth is shifting to areas in and around our CBDs in service sectors like banking, insurance, and information technology.

While those new jobs are welcome, the average-income earners who are filling them cannot afford inner-city housing prices. They live in drive-in, drive-out suburbs, where housing is affordable but jobs are scarce.

They are spending increasing amounts of time commuting to the city, raising their stress levels and leaving them with less time for their families. That’s bad for economic productivity. It’s worse for our national quality of life.

We need better roads and public transport, better city planning, and greater housing densities along established public transport corridors.

Just as importantly, we need to ignite jobs growth in the suburbs — closer to where average Australians live. One way to do that is the development of second and third CBDs.

Anthony Albanese is the Shadow Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, Cities, and Tourism.

This article was first published in the Herald Sun on Monday, 11 April 2016.

Mar 11, 2016

Smart country needs a smarter way of travelling – Opinion – The Australian

A great advantage of living in the 21st century is that rapidly evolving technology is constantly making life easier.

One area in which the liberating nature of technology is not well understood is its application to transport.

Not so long ago, motorists using the Sydney Harbour Bridge had to stop their vehicle and pay coins at a toll booth.

But smart infrastructure means it’s now all handled by computers, ensuring fewer delays and smoother traffic flows.

In the same way, modern smart infrastructure allows authorities to change traffic flows and lane availability according to the time of day, meaning we can get better value out of existing roads.

With traffic congestion predic­t­ed to cost our nation $53 billion a year by 2031 unless action is taken now, Australia must increase its use of technology to make better use of existing roads and railway lines.

That’s why the next Labor government will expand the brief of the independent Infrastructure Australia, asking it to work with state and territory governments to ensure smart infrastructure is incorporat­ed into all future road and rail projects that receive commonwealth funding.

Under federal arrangements, IA advises the government on whether major projects represent value for public money and whether they are properly integ­rated with the existing transport system. But we’ll add two new crit­eria for IA assessments: use of smart infrastructure and overall sustainability.

IA will advise on whether designers­ have optimised the poten­tial for the use of technology to ensure that new pieces of infrastructure are as efficient as pos­sible.

IA also should work with state governments to determine whether the outcomes sought by the construction of a new road can be achieved by applying smart infra­structure to existing roads, therefore avoiding the need to build new roads from scratch.

Governments must always be open to the ways in which the advan­ce of technology can make projects more efficient or cheaper to deliver than might have been thought previously.

Another great example is the proposal for construction of a high speed rail line from Brisbane to Melbourne via Sydney and Canberra.

While the Coalition has done nothing to advance this project since taking office, rail companies around the world are clamouring to talk to the Australian Government about fast rail in Australia.

Labor has announced previously that in government we would establish a high speed rail authority to begin to acquire the corridor for this project before it is built out by urban sprawl. But on top of this existing plan, we will also ask the authority to work toward­s gathering expressions of interest from global high-speed rail companies.

Rather than doing nothing, we need to ask the experts what the march of technology offers in terms of getting this visionary project off the ground sooner rather than later.

High-speed rail would be a game changer for interstate travel and would turbocharge eco­nomic development in regional centres along its route including the Gold Coast, Casino, Grafton, Coffs Harbour, Port Macquarie, Taree, Newcastle, the NSW central coast, southern highlands, Wagga Wagga, Albury-Wodonga and Shepparton.

It also would significantly reduce­ carbon emissions, which brings me back to sustainability.

In recent months there has been much talk from the government about its interest in improving the operation of Australian cities to make them more productive and sustainable, and to improve urban living standards.

The next Labor government will do more than just talk about cities.

As well as requiring incorporation of smart technology in new infrastructure projects, we’ll also have Infrastructure Australia work with proponents of infrastructure projects to consider sustainability measures as a precondition for federal funding.

For example, it’s no secret that an increasing number of Australians are using bicycles or walking to avoid traffic jams and improve their health.

So when we build a new road or railway line, we should consider whether it would make sense to include an adjacent cycling or walking track so we are providing options not only for cars but also for those who want to leave their cars at home.

Putting the two together, a new road equipped with smart infrastructure will reduce traffic congestion.

But if it also makes it easier for people to leave their cars at home by incorporating provision for active­ transport, the community gets a triple pay-off — less congestion, a better road and the positive health outcomes that come with people walking or cycling to work.

In the same way, when a state government builds a new train line, it should design stations that include secure places for commuters to leave their bicycles, such as at the new Regional Rail Link stations at Tarneit and Wyndham Vale in outer Melbourne.

These new sustainability and smart infrastructure conditions will revitalise IA. They come in additi­on to Labor’s existing policy to have IA administer a $10bn infrastr­ucture financing facility aimed at attracting more private investment for public projects..

Under Labor, Infrastructure Australia will be transformed from a passive assessor of infrastructure proposals to a central player in the national infrastructure scene, making it easier to get projects off the ground and ensuring that those projects represent value for money and contribute to a more sustainable future.

Anthony Albanese is opposition spokesman for infrastructure, transport, cities and tourism.

This piece appeared in today’s edition of The Australian – http://bit.ly/1LV2efc

Mar 8, 2016

A government complicit in destroying jobs and families – Opinion – Labor Herald

There can be no greater betrayal of the national interest than when an Australian government facilitates the sacking of Australian workers. Labor’s shadow infrastructure and transport minister Anthony Albanese argues the Turnbull Liberal-Nationals stand accused, and guilty.

Betrayal of the national interest is what is happening today as the Turnbull government continues its ideologically charged attempt to have Australian shipping workers sacked and replaced with cheap foreign labour.

Last November the Senate rejected government legislation that would have allowed ships crewed by foreign mariners earning third world wages to undercut Australian vessels crewed by Australians.

The wording of the legislation clearly stated the intent was to encourage Australian ship operators to sack their Australian crews, reflag overseas and hire cheap foreign labour.

The Senate’s rejection of this Bill should have been the end of the matter.

However, evidence before a recent Senate committee hearing has proven the government has been seeking to achieve its aim of destroying Australian shipping jobs through the back door.

Last October, even before the Senate rejection of the Work Choices on Water legislation, the government gave aluminium producer Alcoa a licence allowing it to replace the MV Portland with a foreign ship and a foreign crew.

The licence was issued under existing legislation that allows the use of foreign ships for domestic shipping for temporary work in cases where no Australian ship is available.

This was a blatant abuse of the intent of existing law.

The Portland already had an Australian crew. And its work was anything but temporary. The vessel had been shifting resources between Western Australia and the Victorian town of Portland for more than two decades.

Nonetheless, the government issued the permit and the Portland’s Australian crew was ordered to sail the vessel to Singapore, where it was to be scrapped and replaced by a foreign vessel with a foreign crew.

The crew refused to do so.

The resulting industrial dispute ended on 13 January 2016, when five crew members aboard the vessel were removed from the ship after being dragged out of their bunks by security guards at 1am.

During the dispute, then-Transport Minister Warren Truss had very little to say, holding himself up as a disinterested bystander.

However, at a recent Senate hearing into the increasing use of foreign vessels registered in so-called Flag of Convenience nations like Liberia, it emerged Mr Truss was up to his armpits in this issue.

The committee heard that Mr Truss knew as early as December 17 that 40 Australians were going to lose their jobs and be replaced by a foreign crew on a ship with a foreign flag.

The minister received this information from the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, which had received an application from Alcoa for accreditation for the foreign workers who were being positioned to take over these jobs.

Yet for the following four weeks, as the Australian crew conducted industrial action and the vessel sat idle, Mr Truss did nothing to attempt to save their jobs.

Mr Truss’s inaction makes him complicit in putting people out of work: real people with real families to feed, and real bills to pay.

This is a disgusting betrayal of the national interest.

It is in the nation’s economic interest to retain a vibrant domestic shipping industry for the jobs it provides and the maintenance of a maritime skills base in this country.

Having a local maritime industry is also in our national security interest, given that we know the backgrounds of local shipping companies and their Australian workers.

While the government seems to have no time for national security arguments, the Department of Immigration and Border Protection has a different view.

The department’s submission to the Flags of Convenience (FOC) inquiry offers a blunt warning on the security implications of increasing use of foreign-flagged vessels.

It says:

There are features of FOC registration, regulation and practice that organised crime syndicates or terrorists may seek to exploit.

The department says that in many FOC nations, there is a lack of transparency about the identity of the owners of vessels and insufficient enforcement of maritime standards.

Limited compliance regimes and lack of adherence to international conventions and standards can contribute to a decreased or limited crew capability and diminish a ship’s general sea-worthiness. Both factors can contribute to a heightened risk to the environment or other shipping, potentially leading to a compromise to biosecurity, for example through poor ballast water management or by causing marine pollution.

Protecting national security and the environment should be core business for any responsible federal government, along with supporting jobs.

But the Turnbull government has no time for such arguments.

It is obsessed with reducing shipping costs at any cost – including the livelihoods of hundreds of Australian workers and their families.

 

Anthony Albanese is the Shadow Minister for Infrastructure and Transport.

This piece appears today in The Labor Herald http://bit.ly/1X8nZc4

Feb 24, 2016

Cities, home to 80 percent of us, deserve a Minister – Opinion – The Australian

The ability to stick by your principles is a key requirement for the serious politician.

Saying one thing and then doing another goes down badly with voters, who deplore broken promises and admire leaders who stay true to their principles throughout their careers.

Less than six months into Malcolm Turnbull’s leadership, Australians are entitled to question the Prime Minister’s commitment to the key principles he has ­espoused throughout his many years in public life.

Action on climate change, republicanism and marriage equality used to be priorities for Turnbull. No more. He jettisoned his principles on these issues so he could become Prime Minister. But now there is a new backflip, this time on Turnbull’s claimed interest in the productivity, sustainability and liveability of the nation’s cities.

Last year, as he stalked Tony Abbott, Turnbull incessantly tweeted pictures of himself riding buses, trams and trains to demonstrate his concern about traffic congestion and to highlight how different he was from Abbott, who refused to invest in public transport. Then, on taking the top job, Turnbull appointed South Australian MP Jamie Briggs as minister for cities, promising action to improve the quality of life in cities, which are home to four out of five Australians. However, in the ministerial reshuffle sparked in part by Briggs’s resignation, Turnbull walked away from cities — downgrading the position.

Where it was previously deemed worthy of its own minister, this critical policy area is now being handled by a parliamentary secretary and the Prime Minister has appointed someone who does not live in a major city to fulfil that task. The priority did not even last six months.

Cities are not only places where people live and work, they are also critical to our economic productivity. An Infrastructure Australia report released last year warned that without action, traffic congestion would cost the nation $53 billion a year by 2031.

Tackling the problem requires investment in roads and public transport, as well as promoting ­active transport through the provision of walking and cycling paths. However, Turnbull has failed to reverse Abbott’s decision to scrap important public transport projects such as the Melbourne Metro, Brisbane’s Cross River Rail project, Adelaide’s Gawler Line electrification, and rail and light rail in Perth.

He has continued to promote Abbott’s discredited toll road projects like Melbourne’s East-West Link toll road, which would provide a paltry 45c in public benefit for every dollar invested, and the Perth Freight Link — which has been halted by the ­Supreme Court on environmental grounds.

The government also has failed to re-establish the Major Cities Unit, which was put in place by the former Labor government to drive urban policy and abolished by Abbott.

That means the government has no bureaucratic apparatus for policy implementation. It also has no budget for urban policy issues.

And now it has no minister.

We’ve also heard nothing from the government about the human impacts of traffic congestion.

Because of changes in the pattern of employment growth in the past decade towards inner-city areas and away from the suburbs, millions of Australians can’t find a job near where they can afford to live.

Instead they live in drive-in, drive-out suburbs where they can afford a home but can’t find a job.

They have to commute to the city to work, driving for hours as they watch their quality of life disappearing like the white line in their rear-vision mirror.

It is a tragedy that many working parents spend more time commuting than they spend playing with their children.

The drive-in, drive-out phenomenon is one of the most serious social and economic issues facing modern Australia.

It’s about the economy. But it is also about equity.

Traffic congestion in cities makes it harder for people to access the education and services they need.

It makes it harder for disadvantaged people to improve their circumstances through work or study.

We need more public transport, better roads, greater housing densities along existing public transport routes and improved urban planning and design.

All levels of government need to work together to address this problem, including the commonwealth.

Indeed, as Gough Whitlam said in his famous 1972 election speech: “A national government which has nothing to say about cities has nothing relevant or enduring to say about the nation or the nation’s future.”

Selfies won’t cut it.

 

Anthony Albanese is the Shadow Minister for Cities.

This piece appeared in today’s edition of The Australian: http://bit.ly/21dRUpr

 

 

Feb 12, 2016

Talk without action won’t keep Melbourne moving – Opinion – Herald Sun

Every Melbourne resident knows that when it comes to infrastructure investment, they have been dudded by the federal Coalition Government.

The 2014 Budget cut more than $3.5 billion from Commonwealth contributions to the Melbourne Metro, the M80 road project and the Managed Motorways program for the Monash Freeway.

Those projects had all been recommended by Infrastructure Australia based on cost-benefit analysis that found they represented value for public money and would boost the productivity of the Victorian economy.

The Coalition Government ignored that advice.

Instead, it reallocated $3 billion to the discredited East West Link toll road project, which had not been assessed by Infrastructure Australia and which we now know would have produced a paltry 45 cents in public benefit for every taxpayer dollar invested.

Melbourne residents should be in no doubt the Metro will be the first infrastructure priority in Victoria for an incoming federal Labor government. It is an essential project to lift the capacity of the Melbourne rail network and is expected to boost peak-hour capacity by 20,000 seats.

That is why Infrastructure Australia approved the project and the former federal Labor government provided funding in the 2013 Budget.

It is indeed the perfect example of long-term thinking that gets the planning right and breaks the nexus between the infrastructure investment cycle and the short-termism of the political cycle, which characterised the Coalition’s chaotic 2014 Budget.

It is extraordinary that minister Paul Fletcher argued in the Herald Sun on Wednesday that it was acceptable for Victoria, with a quarter of the national population, to receive only 8 per cent of the national infrastructure budget.

To Minister Fletcher and the Turnbull Government, I say good luck with running that argument to the citizens of Melbourne in the lead-up to this year’s election.

And to Malcolm Turnbull, I say it is good that you’ve taken several rides on Melbourne’s trams and buses to demonstrate solidarity with commuters.

But what people want is a Prime Minister who will fund public transport, not just ride on it to get his picture in the papers.

Australian Bureau of Statistics figures confirm that since taking office, the Coalition has overseen a 20 per cent decline in infrastructure investment.

This decline came at the very time when the national economy needed more investment to offset the decline in construction in the mining sector.

Those cuts are bad enough, but Senate Budget Estimates committee hearings this week heard the Government will cut another $18 million allocated to actual infrastructure projects in order to fund an advertising campaign designed to obscure its failures.

The Coalition can’t deliver actual infrastructure projects, so it wants to deliver propaganda.

I’m proud that as infrastructure minister, I approved funding of more than $3 billion for the Regional Rail Link project, which represented the biggest-ever Commonwealth investment in a single public transport project.

I’m also proud that the former Labor government allocated more money to public transport than all other previous federal governments since Federation combined.

Just because Mr Turnbull and Mr Fletcher live in Sydney does not mean they should ignore the interests of Melbourne, which is proudly one of the most liveable cities in the world.

Mr Fletcher has made the point that political games won’t get the Metro built.

He’s right. But investment will.

This opinion piece was published in today’s edition of the Herald Sun

 

http://bit.ly/1ovJ6K6

 

 

Jan 12, 2016

Poor plans mean a rough road – Opinion – The Daily Telegraph

WHEN it comes to ensuring that Sydney has world-class roads and public transport, there is no substitute for proper planning. Governments can spend on infrastructure, but if they don’t get the planning right, they risk delays, cost blow-outs and producing projects that don’t solve the problems for which they were designed.

Unfortunately, the federal Coalition government’s infrastructure program has suffered from poor planning and not being guided by Infrastructure Australia advice. ABS figures show that public infrastructure investment has collapsed by 20 per cent since the Coalition was elected.

The primary reason is the government cancelling all public transport projects that were not under construction at the time of its election.

And when it comes to road projects, there has been a lot more talk than turned sods. Tony Abbott promised cranes in the sky within one year of his election but the only thing in the sky has been Bronwyn Bishop’s helicopter.

Meanwhile, properly planned projects put in place by the former Labor federal government are being ­efficiently rolled out because proper attention was paid to planning.

For example, the F3 to M2 link in Sydney, renamed NorthConnex by the Coalition, was finalised in June 2013 in a government partnership with Transurban and is now under construction.

The Moorebank Intermodal project and Northern Sydney Freight upgrade are also under way.

But the Auditor-General has been critical of the Coalition’s approach, particularly its use of an advance payment of $1.5 billion for Melbourne’s East West Link without the commonwealth having a transparent business case.

In light of this, I have asked the Auditor-General to examine the federal government’s infrastructure program including the use of advance payments for projects such as WestConnex.

The proposed project must ­address Sydney’s traffic needs and Infrastructure NSW’s judgment was clear. It described the city’s first priority as making it easier to move freight to Port Botany. It seems strange then that the current design of WestConnex does not go to the port.

And the cost of the project has blown out from $10 billion to $16.8 billion. Advance commonwealth funding of $2.75 billion has already been provided yet the only work that has begun is extra lanes on the existing M4.

The greatest indictment of the Turnbull regime has been the diversion of $18 million from the infrastructure budget to a government advertising campaign. In new minister Paul Fletcher’s opinion piece yesterday he unsurprisingly failed to mention this scandalous abuse of taxpayers funding. I await his explanation.

In Opposition, Labor has sought to be positive on infrastructure, backing the second Sydney airport at Badgerys Creek as well as improving road infrastructure and public transport.

But Labor makes no apology for doing everything in our power to ensure the government plans projects properly and projects funded actually address the city’s transport needs.

The people of Sydney deserve nothing less.

Anthony Albanese is the Opposition spokesman for Transport, Infrastructure and Cities

This piece appeared in today’s edition of The Daily Telegraph

 

http://bit.ly/1SKXF8a

Jan 8, 2016

We need to invest in infrastructure, not in spin doctors – Opinion – The West Australian

In politics and in life, the facts speak for themselves.

And often, people who can’t cite facts to prove their contentions have to resort to spin.

So it is with Infrastructure Minister Warren Truss, who plans to cut his existing infrastructure budget by $18 million to fund an advertising campaign telling Australians how good he is at delivering infrastructure.

Mr Truss’s problem is that the facts don’t back his arguments.

With the decline in construction investment in the mining industry, now is the right time for the government to be lifting its investment in infrastructure to help sustain economic activity and jobs around the nation.

Such investments would help the economy in the short-term, but also lift productivity, underpinning economic growth in the medium to long term.

But according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, public investment in infrastructure has fallen 20 per cent under this government.

At the same time, two of the three big projects that sit at the centre of the government’s road program have collapsed, while the Budget for the third has blown out.

Melbourne’s proposed East-West Link was abandoned last year after news it would have delivered only 45 cents worth of public benefit for every dollar spent.

An Australian National Office of Audit released a report last month that savaged the Government for allocating $3 billion to this dud project in defiance of departmental advice and in the absence of a cost-benefit analysis.

The report said the mishandling of the project “exposed the Commonwealth to heightened risk’’ and had increased the Budget deficit.

Then there is the Perth Freight Link, – a new toll road which Mr Truss produced out of thin air in the 2014 Budget, without any proper research into its viability.

The project, which would have passed through an environmentally sensitive wetland, came as news even to the WA State Government at the time of its announcement.

In June, 2014, the WA Government’s parliamentary secretary for transport, Jim Chown, told a parliamentary committee: “… at this stage we have not actually got plans that are worthy of public scrutiny’’.

Just before Christmas, the Supreme Court of Western Australia halted the Perth Freight Link on environmental grounds.

This means the only big-ticket Coalition road project still standing is Sydney’s WestConnex toll road.

But the Budget for this project has blown out from $10 billion to $16.8 billion.

With this record of failure, it’s no wonder Mr Truss has decided the facts about his performance need to be massaged by spin doctors in the advertising industry.

Ever since he took office, Mr Truss has been re-announcing old infrastructure projects that were initiated, funded, and in some cases even delivered by the former Labor Government.

What is particularly disappointing about this new move to taxpayer-funded propaganda is that the $18 million earmarked to fund the advertising will be taken from the Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development’s existing infrastructure Budget.

In other words, Mr Truss, not surprisingly having failed to convince people he has lifted infrastructure investment when he has actually cut funding, will now cut funding again to fund advertisements seeking to perpetuate his absurd claims.

What this nation requires is actual investment in infrastructure.

For example, Mr Truss could be investing the $18 million in some of the nation’s worst traffic hazards. The average cost of projects under the existing Black Spots program is $157,000, meaning the advertising money could fund more than 100 new projects.

Yet the government wants to spend this money on spin.

That’s why I have written to the Australian National Office of Audit asking it to review the Turnbull Government’s entire infrastructure program.

Public money is scarce.

It needs to be treated with respect.

We don’t need advertising executives to conceal the problem; we need auditors to find out what is going wrong.

Anthony Albanese is the Shadow Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Cities

This piece appeared in today’s edition of The West Australian

Jan 5, 2016

Pedal power: Better facilities for cyclists will help in the fight against congestion – Opinion – Sydney Morning Herald

On busy mornings in Parliament House at Canberra, you need to take extra care when driving into the underground car park.

You have to watch out for cyclists.

Inside the building, early mornings are busy as commuter cyclists shed their lycra and use showers provided in the building before changing into office gear and getting on with work.

It’s the same in big office buildings in our big cities.

The International Towers building, in Sydney’s Barangaroo development, will include 1000 bike racks and an on-site bike repair shop, but only 600 car parking spaces.

Owners of the Grosvenor Place tower, also in Sydney, reportedly spent more than $9 million recently transforming a basement into a well-appointed cycling centre, with space for 230 bicycles, as well as fancy showers and dressing rooms including ironing boards, grooming stations and shoe cleaners.

End-of-journey facilities, as they are known, are increasingly popular in Australia.

And in 2015, with our cities clogged by worsening traffic congestion, these facilities are looming large as an important weapon against traffic gridlock.

Earlier this year, Infrastructure Australia produced a report predicting that without action to ease traffic congestion, the problem will cost our nation $53 billion a year by 2031 in lost productivity and economic activity.

This represents a genuine economic challenge. Traffic congestion is not just a nuisance, it’s a handbrake on the economic growth we need to create the jobs of the future.

The challenge requires action on multiple fronts, including significant investment on better public transport and roads, as well as increased use of active travel options like walking and cycling.

Of course, not everybody in Australia wants to ride a bike to work. But many do.

And smart governments should be doing everything they can to identify impediments to greater use of bicycles and sweep them away in the interests of economic efficiency.

A study conducted in Washington in 2012 found that people who worked in buildings with showers, clothes lockers and bike racks were 4.86 times more likely to cycle to work than workers in buildings without such facilities.

But where a workplace had lockers and bike racks but no showers, workers were only 1.78 times more likely to cycle to work.

Clearly, showers are important. People don’t like to smell sweaty all day – and I’m sure their co-workers feel the same way.

Safe storage is also an issue. We need more bicycle racks in our cities, as well as in train and bus stations.

In Melbourne, the six new train stations on Regional Rail Link, which opened earlier in 2015 and connects the Melbourne central business district to Ballarat, Bendigo and Geelong, all include secure bicycle parking.

So do many stations in inner-city locations around the nation, including in my electorate in Sydney’s inner west.

But we need to do more.

Given the productivity gains at stake here, there is a strong argument for a more-concerted push to make cycling easier in every way that we can.

More bike paths will help, as well as greater efforts to address cycling safety by, where possible, separating cars and bicycles on busy roads.

Traditionally, traffic and transport investment have been seen as matters for state and local governments, which have prime responsibility in this area.

But in 2016, with our nation searching for ways to make our cities more productive, sustainable and liveable, it’s time for the commonwealth to play a greater role in terms of policy leadership and, where appropriate, direct investment.

In particular, the commonwealth should be working with councils in suburban areas to see what role it can play to boost cycling through existing and future community grants schemes.

Given that councils are best placed to understand local priorities, we need a strong partnership with local government, not just on transport but on all areas that can have an effect on improving our cities, including town planning and building design standards.

More than a year ago, Labor recognised the challenges facing cities when I released a 10-point plan for better cities, including proposals to facilitate more opportunities for active travel like cycling and walking by ensuring they were properly connected with other modes of transport.

At the time there was no interest in the issue from the federal government.

This seems to have changed with the recent change in the prime ministership – a development that is welcome if words are matched by action.

If we accept that the commonwealth needs to focus its efforts on the economy, and if we accept that traffic congestion is inhibiting economic growth, it’s time for action on congestion.

We need all hands and indeed, all feet, on board.

This piece appeared in The Sydney Morning Herald on Tuesday, 5 January, 2016.

http://bit.ly/1mwxGoY

Dec 28, 2015

Let’s return to rational infrastructure spending – Opinion – The Australia

We all know that if at first you don’t succeed, you should try again. But experience also shows us that if we continually fail, we should re-examine our methodology.

When it comes to investment in roads, rail and other important infrastructure, it is time for the Turnbull government to review its approach.

That’s because two years after the Coalition came to power promising to focus on infrastructure, its infrastructure program is in tatters.

Public infrastructure investment collapsed by 20 per cent between the June quarter of 2013 and the September quarter this year, the Australian Bureau of Statistics says.

And as 2015 winds to an end, two of the government’s three big signature road projects — the Perth Freight Link and the Melbourne’s East-West Link — have collapsed, while the budget for the third — Sydney’s WestConnex toll road — has blown out from $10 billion to $16.8bn.

Wherever you sit on the political spectrum, it can no longer be denied that the government’s infrastructure program has gone off the rails.

Just last week, the West Australian Supreme Court ruled that Environmental Protection Authority approval for the Perth Freight Link, which would have passed through an environmentally sensitive wetland, was invalid.

The East-West Link was ­cancelled months ago by the Victorian government, based partly on the fact the project was a dud that would have returned a paltry 45c in public benefit for every dollar invested.

Also last week the Australian National Office of Audit ­condemned the commonwealth government for providing $3bn for the East-West Link against the advice of its own bureaucrats and without proper assessment of its value for money.

There’s a common feature to all of these Coalition projects — each was funded in the 2014 budget without the benefit of proper cost-benefit analysis.

The government failed to take advice on whether the projects represented the best possible solutions to the problems they sought to tackle. It committed billions of dollars in public funding without reviewing the evidence.

In infrastructure, proper planning is everything.

Public dollars are scarce. Governments need to examine proposals for major projects from every angle and satisfy themselves that the projects they choose will maximise public returns on the investment.

This is not as difficult as it may sound.

In 2008, the former Labor government created Infrastructure Australia to provide impartial ­advice about the potential economic effects of projects competing for commonwealth funding.

Infrastructure Australia weighs costs against benefits, then prioritises projects that are competing for commonwealth funding according to their potential to not only deal with localised issues but to boost the entire national economy by lifting productivity.

The Coalition’s mistake has been to ignore Infrastructure Australia. It committed to the trio of toll roads without seeking the IA’s input.

And to fund these ill-conceived projects, the government cancelled a range of projects that ­Infrastructure Australia assessed and found worthwhile.

Projects cancelled when the Coalition took office in 2013 included the Melbourne Metro and M80 upgrade in Victoria, Brisbane’s Cross River Rail Link and Adelaide’s Gawler Line electrification.

In other words, the government cancelled projects that independent experts found to be worthy, so that it could reallocate the money to projects for which no case had been established.

The folly of its approach has now been exposed by the collapse of the East-West Link and Perth Freight Link, and the enormous cost blowout of the WestConnex toll road. Just days before the 2013 election, then opposition leader Tony Abbott told the National Press Club that he would not provide money to any state for an infra­structure project worth more than $100 million without a full, published cost-benefit analysis reviewed by Infrastructure Australia.

Within months, Abbott had broken this promise. And we all know how that ended up. It is notable that in defending his record as prime minister, Abbott does not mention infrastructure.

The government needs to ­return Infrastructure Australia to a central role in determining which projects receive funding. It could start by funding projects such as Cross River Rail and Melbourne Metro, which we know will produce positive economic, social and environmental returns.

 

Anthony Albanese is the Shadow Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Cities.

This piece appeared in today’s edition of The Australian:  http://bit.ly/1PqWKqD

 

 

 

 

Dec 9, 2015

The future is on track – Opinion – Huffington Post

The development of great railway networks is a critical part of the economic development of any nation. Just as railways opened the great American west and the Australian interior to economic activity, it has in turn driven the development of today’s emerging powers like China and India.

However, it would be a grave error to assume that rail is an artifact of history.

In fact, 21st century Australia needs more railways – freight rail, passenger rail and high-speed rail – if we are to effectively handle the challenges and opportunities of the 21st century.

Australia’s key economic challenge today is the need to diversify economic activity to make up for the decline in mining caused by the shift in the resources cycle from construction to production.

Improved freight rail must be a central part of the solution.

Australian food production is primed for growth given rising demand of the rapidly growing Chinese and Indian middle classes. We need to increase exports of meat, wheat, vegetables and other commodities and also seek to value add to our raw commodities with a greater focus on food processing.

That’s a perfect argument for investment in more freight rail projects, such as the proposed Inland Freight project, linking Brisbane and Melbourne via an inland route that will pass through some of the nation’s most productive agricultural regions.

The former Labor Government invested $600 million improving parts of the existing railway network that would form part of Inland Rail and also allocated $300 million to continue the work on new sections.

It is unfortunate that progress has stalled under the current government.

But it is important that this project has bipartisan support. Completion of Inland Rail will not only improve access for raw commodities to our ports, but also get fresh food to food processors more efficiently, reducing costs and boosting productivity.

Productivity gains are also available from the construction of a high-speed rail link between Brisbane and Melbourne via Sydney and Canberra.

High-speed rail would revolutionise interstate travel, allowing movement between capitals in as little as three hours aboard trains travelling as fast as 350km per hour.

The benefits to travellers are obvious.

But imagine the economic spinoffs for development of regional communities on routes like the Gold Coast, Casino, Grafton, Coffs Harbour, Port Macquarie, Taree, Newcastle, the Central Coast, Southern Highlands, Wagga Wagga, Albury-Wodonga and Shepparton.

Capital city workers could live in regional cities and commute and city-based businesses could easily move their operations to the regions, knowing the major city was only a short train ride away.

A feasibility study completed by the former Labor Government in 2013 found that for every dollar invested in high-speed rail between Sydney and Melbourne, there would be $2.15 worth of economic benefits.

Accordingly, we allocated $54 million to create an authority to progress the planning for high-speed rail and to begin to acquire the corridor before it is built out by urban sprawl.

Regrettably, the current government has failed to follow up this plan. That’s a missed opportunity.

The Government has also refused to invest in urban passenger rail, a proven means of reducing the traffic congestion that is holding back economic and jobs growth in our big cities.

Congestion is worsening in this country, partly because in recent years jobs growth has shifted from the outer suburbs of cities in industries like manufacturing, to the inner suburbs in industries like insurance, information technology and other services. This means many Australians live in outer suburbs of cities and spend long periods commuting on congested roads.

It’s a tragedy that this trend means many working parents spend more time in their cars than they spend with their children.

Millions of Australians are trapped in this situation — watching their quality of life drifting away from them like the white lines in their rear-vision mirrors.

It is time to act to address this problem by investing in urban rail, particularly in outer suburban areas.

Better urban rail services are part of the solution, along with action on housing affordability and density as well as jobs growth in the middle and outer suburbs of our cities.

Better urban rail is the pathway to genuine improvements in productivity. But it can also address the serious deterioration of community and family life in our big cities that is being caused by urban sprawl and the shifts in employment patterns.

John F. Kennedy once offered excellent advice for politicians who were too timid to get on the front foot on nation building: “Things do not just happen,” Kennedy said. “They are made to happen.”

When it comes to issues like better urban rail, the Inland Rail and high-speed rail, we should heed Kennedy’s advice and get on with it.

 

This opinion piece appeared in today’s edition of the Huffington Post: http://huff.to/1XZOkbA

 

 

 

 

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