Browsing articles in "Opinion Pieces"
Feb 8, 2017

We must get up to speed on road safety – Opinion – The Huffington Post Australia

We all know the uncomfortable feeling.

You are driving along a highway at the speed limit.

Suddenly, a semi-trailer appears out of nowhere and begins tail-gating your vehicle. It seems the driver won’t be satisfied until you pull over and let him pass.

There’s a likely explanation for this risky behaviour — the imposition on the driver by his employer of an unrealistic deadline for the delivery of the load. That’s why he’s speeding.

In Australia in 2017, we should not tolerate a situation where unchecked market forces compromise public safety.

This is why it is almost incomprehensible that the Turnbull Government abolished the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal  last year with no alternative road safety strategy in place.

The former Labor Government created the RSRT in 2012 to set minimum pay rates that would allow truck drivers to make a fair living while removing incentives for them to adopt unsafe practices such as speeding or, even worse, abusing drugs to stay awake.

The creation of the tribunal was a road safety measure.

It was a position based on extensive consultation with trucking companies, the Transport Workers Union and safety experts who agreed to strip incentives for dangerous behaviour out of the system in the public interest.

That is why it is so disappointing that the Government scrapped the tribunal after some owner drivers rebelled against a finding on pay rates which they believed was unreasonable.

Rather than looking rationally at their concerns, the Prime Minister whipped up the controversy in the lead-up to the federal election as part of his broader war on trade unions.

It is always a mistake to allow politics to compromise decisions relating to road safety, particularly when our road toll is rising after years of decline.

The Bureau of Transport, Infrastructure and Regional Economics has reported there were 1300 fatalities on Australian roads last year – 8 percent more than in 2015. Fatalities in December of last year were up 23 percent on December, 2015. Trucks account for only 2 percent of registered vehicles in Australia. Yet they are involved in 16 percent of all traffic accidents.

These disturbing facts require a serious policy response. But since the RSRT was abolished, there is now no national safety plan for heavy vehicles.

That’s not good enough.

The Government has a responsibility to respond seriously to the fact that the road toll is once again headed in the wrong direction.

A serious policy response should involve greater investment on roads to ensure they are in good condition.

What we have seen is reduced infrastructure investment that has seen a slow-down in the progress of important upgrades to the Bruce and Pacific Highways.

A serious approach would also involve addressing the structural characteristics of the transport system that encourage unsafe driving.

This isn’t about unions. It happens that the TWU, which represents truck drivers, has shown leadership in this issue. But its advocacy is about road safety, not just for its members, but for all Australians.

Late last year, Transport Minister Darren Chester, concerned about the upward trajectory of the road toll, announced an inquiry to find out what was going wrong. Research is always welcome, but the link between lax regulation and road death is well and truly established.

It’s time to re-examine the structural problem with a transport system that puts the imperative to minimise costs ahead of the far more serious issue of public safety on our roads.

It was graphically highlighted in 2000 when a parliamentary committee produced a unanimous report highlighting the problem. Page one of that bipartisan report said: “Risks are compounded by the commercial imperative on transport operators to maximise the return on their investment, the demands of customers and by the pressure this places on transport workers to undertake longer hours with fewer rest breaks.”

Indeed, NSW Nationals Senator John Williams, a former truck driver, told the Senate on March 20, 2012, that he understood why Labor had introduced the RSRT. Senator Williams said: “We are talking about safe rates. We are talking about what truckies are paid, especially the contractors when they unload at Coles and Woolworths. I do not have a problem with what you are proposing.”

It is clear that the acceptance of the need for a tribunal by Senator Williams and his colleagues was put on ice last year for political convenience.

But the time for politics is over.

It’s time to re-examine the structural problem with a transport system that puts the imperative to minimise costs ahead of the far more serious issue of public safety on our roads.

Safe rates mean safer roads for all.

This Opinion piece was published today by The Huffington Post
http://huff.to/2kjUreV

Feb 3, 2017

I have nothing but admiration for my mother for raising me on her own – Opinion – Mamamia

The starting point for aspiring politicians should be a willingness to treat all Australians with respect.

Regardless of people’s wealth, race, gender, religion or sexuality, they deserve equal regard from their elected representatives.

That includes single mothers.

That’s why it is so disappointing that the One Nation Party has launched yet another attack on single mothers for cheap political gain.

This week it emerged that a One Nation candidate in the WA election, David Archibald, wrote an essay in Quadrant in 2015 in which he said single mothers had made “a lifestyle choice’’ and that they were “too lazy to attract and hold a mate’’.

He went on to denigrate the children of single mothers, saying they were causing an increase in the number of people who were “lazy and ugly’’.

One would have thought that a leader of a serious political party would have responded to these comments by distancing the party from a man who should be a former candidate.

But when One Nation founder Pauline Hanson was challenged on these comments, she doubled down by tweeting: “To all the fat lazy politicians & fat lazy journalists in the fat lazy media playing fat lazy, PC, identity politics – the answer is no”.

Ms Hanson and Mr Archibald ought to learn to respect their fellow Australians.

There’s something very wrong about an Australia in which politicians seek election to represent the community by vilifying its most vulnerable citizens.

All Australians are worthy of respect.

Whatever the circumstances in which women become single mothers, they are fellow Australians who are raising the next generation of Australians.

They deserve support.

Yet to some politicians, single mothers are political cannon fodder who can be disrespected as a means of seeking media attention and encouraging intolerance and division.

Many single mothers work, juggling their need to provide an income with the difficulty of raising children alone. That’s not easy.

Others combine parenting with study to increase their chances of finding work. That’s not easy either.

Other single mothers are not in a position to work.

As people are now aware as a result of Karen Middleton’s biography on myself published a few months ago, I was raised by a single mother.

My mother Maryanne was an invalid pensioner who suffered from chronic rheumatoid arthritis which prevented her from working.

She took my father’s name and I believed until I was a teenager that she had been widowed prior to my birth.

Such was the stigma attached to having a child out of wedlock five decades ago that I held this view until my mother explained the circumstances when I was a teenager.

I subsequently met my father for the first time in December, 2009, just five years before he passed away.

I have nothing but respect and admiration for my late mother for raising me on her own.

In 2016, we can do much better than political candidates like Mr Archibald promoting stereotypes and denigrating single mums, and for that matter, single fathers.

Sole parents often do it tough. They deserve better.

As for their children, I have served as Deputy Prime Minister, Leader of the House of Representatives and a senior minister.

One of the things that Australians are proud of in our nation is that no matter how humble people’s origins, they have access to opportunity.

For much of his upbringing, Malcolm Turnbull was raised by his single father.

The Prime Minister is rightly proud of his Dad.

In 2017, there is no shortage of issues over which politicians can engage and disagree.

But if we can’t even agree to defend the dignity of our fellow Australians, we are in a sad state indeed.

This piece was first published in Mamamia  on Thursday, 2 February 2017: http://bit.ly/2kv6OrV

Feb 2, 2017

Coalition caught misleading the nation about infrastructure investment – Opinion – Online Opinion

It is an article of faith for propagandists that if you repeat a lie often enough, it becomes the truth.

But the great risk in this approach is that eventually, the actual truth catches up with you.

The truth has finally caught up with Malcolm Turnbull over the amount of money he is investing in railway lines, roads and other infrastructure in Australia.

Infrastructure investment is a critical role for governments because it increases our capacity to deliver economic growth.

The industries of the future won’t thrive unless they have the means to get their products to market – efficient railways, roads and ports.

While infrastructure might not be the sexiest area of government activity, it’s about jobs.

That makes it important to us all.

Ever since the 2014 Budget, the Coalition has claimed it is delivering a $50 billion infrastructure investment program.

But it isn’t.

The Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development has revealed the current investment program is worth $34 billion over five years, with another $8 billion proposed to be invested “onwards” into the unspecified future.

The department released this information recently as part of the Senate Budget Estimates Committee process.

At a hearing last year, the Secretary of the Department, Mike Mrdak, was asked about the size of the program by Tasmanian Senator Jacqui Lambie.

Mr Mrdak said he did not know off the top of his head but would happily provide information about “the whole program” on notice.

His written answer, tabled recently, is unequivocal. The whole program is worth $34 billion over its first five years. Another $8 billion is allocated to “onwards – meaning an unspecified time in the future.

Mr Mrdak’s provision of this critical information highlights the importance of Senate Budgets Estimate Committee hearings in providing genuine scrutiny of Government budgets.

But it also stands as an indictment of the Turnbull Government’s preparedness to misrepresent its commitment to infrastructure investment.

There never has been a $50 billion infrastructure program.

It was invented.

Yet the Parliamentary Hansard is full of references to a $50 billion program, including in the Prime Minister’s annual infrastructure statement to Parliament on November 24.

Mr Turnbull misled Parliament.

Numerous ministers have also used the $50 billion figure repeatedly, apparently having succumbed to the biggest risk for propagandists – believing their own misleading statements.

And prior to this year’s Federal election, Mr Turnbull spent $18 million on a television and newspaper advertising campaign to support his misleading claims.

In a decision that can only be described as Orwellian, the Government funded that propaganda campaign using money that had been earmarked for actual investment in infrastructure.

This deception has to stop.

The Government must start actually investing in our national capacity.

It is widely acknowledged that the decline of the investment stage of the mining boom means Australia needs to generate jobs in other sectors.

Infrastructure investment is a critical part of this economic adjustment.

Investing in the right projects now will support economic growth and jobs in the short term, while lifting national capacity and productivity in the long term.

There is little point pursuing a policy program to create new industries through innovation if you don’t also ensure that our infrastructure can meet the requirements of new and existing industries.

That is why now is the right time to increase infrastructure investment in the national economic interest.

But the Government has reduced investment and is pretending otherwise.

It has also been so incompetent that it has been unable to even deliver the reduced investment in line with its commitments.

In 2014, when the $50 billion investment figure was first invented, the Government said it would invest $8 billion on infrastructure in the 2015-16 financial year.

But the Treasury’s Final Budget Outcomes document for 2015-16 shows the Government invested only $5.5 billion which included a $490 million payment to the Western Australian Government for GST compensation.

So the actual underspend was nearly $3 billion, or more than 35 per cent.

The truth eventually catches up.

And it keeps catching up.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, infrastructure work conducted for the public sector has been lower in each of the 12 quarters presided over by the Abbott-Turnbull governments than in any of the 21 quarters under the Rudd -Gillard governments after the first Labor Budget in 2008.

It is time for Malcolm Turnbull to get out of the propaganda business and start investing in the railways, roads and other infrastructure requires to underpin sustainable economic growth.

 

This Opinion Piece was first published BY Online Opinion on Thursday, 2 February, 2017

http://bit.ly/2kUqd2z

Jan 16, 2017

City’s sport tourism helps drive economic growth – Opinion – Herald Sun

At this time of year, it is hard to dispute Melbourne’s claim to be the sporting capital of Australia.

During summer, events such as the Boxing Day Test and the Australian Open capture the attentions of millions of Australians, as well as of sport fans across the globe.

While sport provides great entertainment, it’s also important to acknowledge Melbourne’s success in linking sport to tourism, creating tens of thousands of jobs.

Other Australian cities would do well to emulate its efforts.

Roy Morgan Research shows 12.8 per cent of people who visit Melbourne take in a sporting event — twice as many as those who visit Sydney and nearly three times more than visitors to Brisbane. Indeed, about 15 per cent of visitors interviewed in one survey said their only reason for coming to Melbourne was to attend a sporting event.

All those visitors also check out the city’s other offerings, creating jobs in restaurants, bars and shops.

For example, during the Australian Open — beginning today — hundreds of the world’s top players and their support teams are in town, along with more than 650 journalists and broadcasters. Up to 700,000 people will attend the event, many from out of town.

And that’s just the tennis. When you add the AFL, the Boxing Day Test, the Spring Racing Carnival, the Formula One Grand Prix and Phillip Island’s Motorcycle Grand Prix, you start to get an idea of the importance of sport to the Victorian economy.

Melbourne stands as the perfect example of a city that knows what it is good at and has turned that strength into a huge creator of jobs.

Much credit is due to clever marketing by tourism authorities and state governments of all political colours, who realised long ago that their city’s love of sport should be turned into an industry.

But I give most credit to the people of Melbourne, who don’t just watch sport in lounge rooms or pubs, but flock to sporting events in huge numbers.

The weight of spectator numbers creates great atmosphere, which in turn attracts more spectators.

That is why millions of Australian sport fans, wherever they hail from, tell each other in pubs and coffee shops that whatever they do, one day they will attend a Melbourne Cup or an AFL Grand Final.

Melbourne’s stunning success in sports-related tourism provides a great example for the rest of Australia at a time at a time when our economy is in transition. As the economy continues to move out of the construction phase of the mining boom, we need to lift job creation in other industries to maintain our quality of life.

Tourism holds huge potential for jobs growth, as long as we think strategically.

Not all communities have a tennis major, a Great Barrier Reef, a Sydney Harbour, or some other stunning natural attraction to draw visitors.

But it’s possible to get around that if you think outside the square.

The NSW city of Parkes, for example, has created an annual tourism boom with its Elvis Festival every January, which attracts more than 20,000 visitors. The innovation is replicated by the extraordinary silo art trail which will encourage year-round tourism through Victoria’s wheatbelt.

Tourism strategies can also be crafted around music and arts festivals.

Wine-growing regions have taken to doubling as venues for international music acts.

In 2017, governments at all levels must work hard with communities to identify and unlock these opportunities, not just in the cities but also across rural and regional Australia.

Australia is already good at tourism. But we can be even better.

Melbourne provides the perfect template.

This piece was first published in the Herald Sun on Monday, 16 January 2017: http://bit.ly/2iXYzjS 

Jan 4, 2017

The ratbag rhetoric of the Green party haters – Opinion – Daily Telegraph

Retired Greens leader Bob Brown understood how to make a difference to the political agenda. Mr Brown’s political weapons of choice were peaceful protest and ­respectful debate.

For many years his commitment to protecting the environment for the benefit of future generations had a direct impact on public opinion and policy.

He was someone with whom you could disagree, as I often did, particularly on economic policy, while ­acknowledging he had a genuine commitment to ­environmental sustainability.

Contrast this approach to the latest ideological ratbaggery to come out of the NSW division of the Greens political party.

A newly formed Greens faction calling itself Left ­Renewal has pledged itself to destroy capitalism, which it says is based on “elitism, sexism, racism, homophobia, transphobia, religious sectarianism, and ableism”.

It also rejects the authority of the police because they “do not share an interest with the working class’’.

As bizarre as these positions are, I’m not surprised.

During this year’s election campaign, the NSW Greens selected as my opponent Jim Casey, who had previously openly advocated the return of an Abbott government.

“I would prefer to see Tony Abbott returned as prime minister with a labour movement that is growing, an anti-war movement that was disrupting things in the streets, with a strong and ­vibrant women’s movement, indigenous movement, and a climate change movement that was starting actually to disrupt the production of coal,” Mr Casey told a Greens strategy workshop in 2014.

“I’d prefer to see Abbott as the prime minister in that ­environment than Bill Shorten as prime minister without it.” Australians don’t want ­better demos. They want a better nation, one where opportunity is shared, where hard work brings fair rewards and people can access decent health and education services. The views of Left Renewal are at odds with participation in mainstream politics that sees parliament as the vehicle for change.

The Greens leader Richard di Natale has on ­occasions sought to distance himself from the hardliners in his party. He knows there is a chasm between the views of progressives who vote for the Greens, but who do not back the agenda of the Marxist revolutionary movements from which most of the Greens party Sydney leadership emerged.

However, Senator Di Natale has been more than happy to campaign with the hardliners in the NSW Greens, even as they sneer behind his back and deride him as “a tree Tory’’.

During last year’s election campaign, Senator Di Natale virtually set up camp in my electorate of Grayndler trying to elect Mr Casey, the so-called radical candidate who wanted Abbott to be prime minister.

Whatever Senator Di ­Natale says about his NSW colleagues, his actions speak to his preparedness to accept and even encourage views that are in conflict with the stated views of his party.

When Bob Brown called for a clean out of the NSW leadership, state Greens Party MP Mehreen Faruqi declared he had “broken her heart”.

Senator Di Natale seems content to continue to have his party in Australia’s biggest state dominated by people who rarely mention the environment and who have joined to advance agendas that are far removed from those they seek to represent.

Knowing they could not win support in mainstream politics, these hardliners have joined the Greens, hijacked its policy agenda and are now attempting to transform it into a ­vehicle for the agendas of their former revolutionary political parties.

The NSW division of the Greens and the members of Left ­Renewal are entitled to their opinions.

Those of us in mainstream politics who believe in progressive change through democratic processes are entitled to call them out for their views.

Bob Brown did that after the last election. It’s a pity Richard Di Natale does not have the authority to do the same.

Dec 27, 2016

Greater support for the arts will boost tourism jobs – Opinion – The Guardian

Australians love sport.

Each year, 43 per cent of us attend at least one sporting event, like a football match.

But what is surprising is that each year, twice as many Australians – 86 per cent – visit a cultural event or facility.

While we might see ourselves as sporting nuts, these Australian Bureau of Statistics figures indicate we spend more time in movie theatres, museums, and other places of culture than we do cheering in grandstands.

In 2016, as we think about ways to create the jobs of the future, there are real opportunities for communities across the nation to embrace the arts as a way to attract tourists.

Just as Australians are happy to travel interstate to watch their favourite sporting teams in action, people will also travel to see their favourite band or exhibition.

They’ll drive for hours to see a major music or literary festival.

With domestic air fares now very afffordable, that creates opportunities for communities big and small.

Canberra provides a great example.

With its broad range of national institutions, including the National Art Gallery, the National Portrait Gallery and the National Library, tourism generates $2 billion worth of business a year and provides 16,400 jobs in the national capital.

Local tourism promotion aims to attract visitors for big art related events, such as the National Gallery’s upcoming  Versailles: Treasures from the Palace exhibition and then entice them to stick around to enjoy the city’s other touriism offerings.

While Canberra has a head start because it is the home to so many national institutions, the diversity of the arts means there are opportunities for everyone.

In January more than 20,000 people will converge on the NSW town of Parkes for the annual Elvis Festival, which will go for five days and has become an important part of the regional economy.

Byron Bay’s annual Bluesfest contributes $28.4 million of economic activity to the Byron Shire each year. In the same way, the Woodford Folk Festival contributes $21 million to the Queensland economy.

Recent years have also seen the development of major concerts in vineyards in communities like the Hunter, where people come to hear the music and stock up on local wines on their way home.

Yet despite these success stories, the Coalition Government has cut funding to the arts, reducing the potential for the emergence of new artistic events that can be used to lift local tourism and become international attractions, such as MONA, in Tasmania.

The Australia Council was the main funding body for the arts in Australia, providing a unique approach towards arts funding by working independently from the Government where possible.

The introduction of convoluted alternatives to the Australia Council by the Abbott-Turnbull Government, such as the now defunct National Program for Excellence in the Arts and its successor, the Catalyst program, ripped over $100 million in funding from the Australia Council.

That make no sense.

In 2012-13 the arts employed 200,000 people and contributed $4.2 billion to Australia’s GDP.

If you take into account the revenue generated through the production and distribution of Australian films, the numbers are even higher.

Indeed, 50 per cent of all domestic screen projects that are distributed globally depend on support from Screen Australia, an organisation funded entirely by the Federal Government.

It’s time for the Government to lift support for the arts, rather than viewing it as an easy target for spending cuts.

We need to be more strategic. We need to encourage communities to better align artistic endeavours with tourism promotion.

In addition to providing jobs, a well-funded arts sector is also important for our Australian culture, which is shaped by the artists, actors and musicians that we pay to see perform.

Their works speaks to us about our nation and our culture.

But just as importantly, our artists, musicians, authors and others involved in the arts present Australian stories to the world.

At the grass roots level, the arts, just like sport, strengthen communities by bringing people together.

It’s time for our governments to enhance their support for the arts – not just for the development of Australian culture, but also a means for creating jobs in our tourist sector.

Dec 16, 2016

The Government must do more than just talk about infrastructure – Opinion Piece – Huffington Post Australia

When governments are seeking to lift economic growth, one means at their disposal is to invest in infrastructure. If they choose the right projects, they can have an immediate impact on job creation and economic activity. In the longer term, the right railways, roads and port projects boost productivity, reducing costs for business and setting the scene for future waves of economic growth.

That’s why there is increasing public pressure on the Turnbull Government to increase its investment in Nation Building – pressure that has increased since last week’s National Accounts showed that the economy contracted in the September quarter and warned that: “Public capital expenditure detracted 0.5 percentage points from growth as it declined from elevated levels in the June quarter”.

Experts such as Reserve Bank chairman Philip Lowe and his predecessor Glenn Stevens, as well as state premiers, business people and senior economists, have all suggested the Government lift its infrastructure investment to boost economic activity. Yet last week at the Council of Australian Governments meeting, Malcolm Turnbull swept away such appeals.

This follows an election campaign where the Turnbull Government failed to commit to any major new infrastructure projects but preferred local road projects which would normally be delivered by state governments or even local government.

Mr Turnbull should think again.

To lift infrastructure investment, Mr Turnbull could start to make a real difference if he simply delivered his own Budget.

In its 2014 Budget, the Coalition committed to an infrastructure program that it said would include $8 billion in investment in 2015-16. But the Treasury’s Final Budget Outcome document for 2015-16 shows the Turnbull Government invested only $5.5 billion in that period. That’s an underspend of $2.5 billion.

Indeed, the underspend was more like $3 billion, because the Government included in its figures a $490 million payment to the Western Australian Government as GST compensation. So that is $3 billion promised which, had it been actually delivered, would be driving economic activity right now, right around the nation.

It would be supporting jobs in construction and engineering. It would be providing business for suppliers of concrete, steel and other products. It would be facilitating the training of apprentices. And remember, this is not new money. It is money that has already been budgeted.

This underspending is not a function of the rephasing of projects from one financial year to another due to incidental delays. The 2015-16 underspend followed a $1 billion underspend the previous year.

What is happening here is that, for a range of reasons, the Government has been unable to actually invest the money it has already put aside. Those reasons include the Government’s 2013 decision to scrap billions of dollars of investment in public transport projects that were ready to go and divert the money to toll road projects that were not ready to go. Had the government proceeded with those projects they would be underway now, supporting jobs and growth.

Instead, most of the Coalition’s favoured toll road projects have failed to get off the drawing board and it has fallen far short of its budget on investment in ongoing major projects such as the Bruce and Pacific Highway upgrades.Reduced activity equals reduced economic growth.

Major projects such as the Melbourne Metro, Brisbane’s Cross River Rail project, Melbourne’s M80 project, Adelaide’s light rail and Perth’s public transport network are ready for more investment.

The work of Infrastructure Australia has meant that there are projects which have been recommended and positively assessed that are ready to go. But there is also some low-hanging fruit that it is incomprehensible has not been funded by the Government.

For example, a $13 million investment on the Glendale Interchange in the Hunter region, which I visited last week, would be the catalyst for 10,000 jobs and more than $1 billion of private sector investment. It has been identified as the Hunter region’s most important project driving investment in the residential, commercial and retail sectors.

And yet the Government has failed to grasp this opportunity.

Mr Turnbull should immediately task his various ministers responsible for infrastructure investment with initiating talks with the states over how it can deliver its budgeted investment in the national interest. And if anyone worries that the money might go to the wrong projects, they shouldn’t.

The former Labor Government created Infrastructure Australia to examine and assess the value for money of major infrastructure proposals. The Coalition has supported the Infrastructure Australia model.

Governments don’t create jobs and growth simply by talking about infrastructure. They have to actually invest.

Oct 25, 2016

Plan to end restrictions on parallel book imports does not stack up – Opinion – Sydney Morning Herald

When governments consider big changes, they owe it to the community to carefully weigh the costs of those changes against the expected benefits.

The proposal to abolish parallel import restrictions in the book publishing industry does not stack up when the impact on jobs and culture are taken into account.

Current restrictions mean that if a book has been published in Australia and overseas, it is illegal to import overseas-produced copies of that book for sale in Australia.

The arrangements protect the Australian book publishing industry. They ensure Australian authors can make a decent living and continue to bring Australian stories to the world of literature, both here and globally.

But the Harper Competition Policy Review and a subsequent Productivity Commission review of intellectual property law have proposed to abolish parallel import restrictions.

The Turnbull government has indicated it is likely to adopt the recommendation.

The Productivity Commission position comes as no surprise given its consistent advocacy of open market positions.

But it is up to elected representatives to stand up for the national interest.

Booker Prize winner Peter Carey has warned that these changes would lead to job losses, profits going overseas and a “brutal reduction” in the range of books that are published in Australia.

“Australia will become, as it was in the 1960s, a dumping ground for American and English books and we will risk becoming, as we once were, a colony in the minds of others,” Carey has said.

Fellow Booker Prize winner Thomas Keneally said recently that when he was starting out as a writer in the 1960s, Australian novelists were a novelty.

“When I began writing, the idea of an Australian writing a novel was like a goanna riding a bicycle,” he told The Australian.

“Australia was under-examined … The national life was very skimpily covered.”

The message of Carey and Keneally is that a change in parallel import restrictions would reduce artistic activity in this country and thereby affect the depth and richness of Australian culture.

They are correct.

Out in the real world, millions of Australians place high value on the arts.

They buy books, attend concerts and watch Australia-made movies and television programs.

Australians want to read, hear and see our vibrant culture reflected in the books they read.

Beyond that, they want the best Australian writers to project our nation and our culture around the globe.

The economic costs resulting from a contraction in the printing industry must also be considered.

At least 4000 people work in the publishing industry. That figure reaches 20,000 when you add the book sellers and printers.

Their jobs are important.

For all these reasons, the former Labor federal government rejected a call to abolish parallel importing restrictions.

In the 21st century it is in Australia’s economic, cultural and social interests to nurture artistic endeavour as a critical descriptor of our national identity.

It should not only be protected, but cherished.

The application of the national interest test requires that we be proud and supportive of the authors and others who enrich our lives, not undermine them.

This piece was first published  in The Sydney Morning Herald on the 25th of October 2016 http://bit.ly/2dEB94r

Sep 23, 2016

Bill cart tracks are not the roads of the future – Opinion – The Huffington Post Australia

When Australians vote they expect that, whoever wins, their community will receive a fair share of government expenditure regardless of how it voted. That’s why in speeches claiming election victories, most Australian political leaders pledge to govern fairly for all, not just for their supporters.

However, when it comes to infrastructure funding in the campaign for the July 2 election, Malcolm Turnbull broke the fairness rule, succumbing to crude pork barrelling.

Mr Turnbull promised to spend $858 million on 78 road projects around the country. An incredible 76 of those projects were in Coalition-held electorates. There was also a severe interstate bias with, for example, 46 road projects in NSW seats and none in Victoria.

These are not Labor figures. They come from the Coalition’s formal election costing documents and the skewed nature of the allocations has been highlighted in analysis by media outlets including The Guardian and The Australian.

Mr Turnbull’s approach is unfair. However people vote, all Australian communities contribute taxes and deserve something back in return.

But unfairness is only half the story. The Government’s approach is also bad for the Australian economy and its potential to create jobs for the future. It ignores one of the most significant economic problems facing our nation — traffic congestion.

Earlier this year, the independent Infrastructure Australia warned that without action now, traffic congestion would cost the nation $53 billion a year in lost economic productivity by 2031.

Action on traffic congestion is therefore an economic necessity even before you consider the critical issue of quality of life of commuters.

Labor’s election campaign response was to propose to invest in public transport as well as roads to create fully integrated transport systems across our cities.

Mr Turnbull offered no new funding for public transport. And because his 78 road projects are small and largely based within his favoured Coalition electorates, they will do little to enhance traffic networks.

For example, the Coalition will spend $1 million upgrading a road in the Hunter Valley community of Gresford which is used for an annual billy cart race.

Projects of this size are normally funded by state or local governments. The Commonwealth should focus on the big picture.

In transport, the big picture is capacity building — delivering the big projects that produce productivity gains and facilitate economic growth. It’s about seeing the transport system in terms of how railways, freeways and smaller roads fit together to create a more efficient whole.

During the election, Labor’s funding pledges included support for transformative projects like the Melbourne Metro, Brisbane’s Cross River Rail Link, a Sydney Western Rail Link to Badgerys Creek, the Perth Metronet, Adelaide’s AdeLINK light rail network and light rail in Hobart.

We also pledged money for roads — eliminating bottlenecks on major roads like the M1-Gateway Motorway merge south of Brisbane, upgrading arterial road networks like Melbourne’s M80 ring road and building the Wanneroo Rd and Roe Highway overpasses in Perth.

These projects would make a real difference to traffic congestion — much more of a difference than Mr Turnbull’s billy cart track.

One of the roles of Infrastructure Australia, which the former Labor Government created in 2008, is to advise the government on the costs and benefits of proposed infrastructure projects.

IA’s advice is impartial. It was created to take the politics out of nation building. But since taking office in 2013, the Coalition Government has sidelined IA, ignoring public transport and funding projects not examined by IA.

The best example of the folly of this approach is the Government’s support for Melbourne’s ill-fated East-West Link. At the time the project was funded in 2014, it had not been reviewed by IA. Later, evidence emerged showing the East-West Link would have produced a miserable 45 cents in public benefit for every dollar invested.

It was a dud.

Given the decline in the investment stage of the mining boom, Australia must support policies that boost economic growth. Making our national transport networks more productive must be one of them.

That’s why infrastructure provision should be seen as a central element of economic policy. It should be above day to day politics.

The Coalition’s political approach works against the nation’s economic interests.

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

This Opinion Piece was first published in The Huffington Post on Friday, 23 September, 2016.

Aug 22, 2016

Australia needs to go to town on Cities policy – Opinion – Huffington Post Australia

One of the first rules in effective political campaigning is that you don’t make up policy on the run. If you haven’t planned it, if you can’t fund it and if you can’t implement it, then don’t announce it.

During the recent election campaign, Malcolm Turnbull broke this rule when it came to his announcement of three so-called “City Deals”. City Deals originated in the UK, where they are strengthening the bonds between the national and local government and leading to genuine improvements in economic growth and urban planning.

But in Australia, when Mr Turnbull talks of City Deals, it is unclear exactly what he is talking about.

The deals he announced in Townsville and Launceston during the campaign merely applied the City Deals label to Coalition announcements that mirrored Labor infrastructure commitments earlier in the campaign relating to the Townsville Stadium and the University of Tasmania.

In Western Sydney, the supposed City Deal was a vague statement to provide cover for the Coalition’s failure to fund a public transport link to Badgerys Creek airport.

When done properly, City Deals have something to offer.

But their implementation is certainly more complex than the Coalition’s last-minute announcements would indicate.

UK City Deals are bespoke packages negotiated by local authorities with the national government predicated on the notion of a mutually beneficial transaction. Typically, these deals focus on investment in infrastructure or transport, employment and skills training, housing and support for local business.

But these City Deals don’t just emerge from nowhere. In many areas where deals have been signed, pre-existing relationships between local authorities and businesses have formed a strong foundation for success. Greater Manchester, for example, has benefited from a well-established Local Enterprise Partnership, which has smoothed the path for the introduction of new financial powers.

As part of this, the Combined Authority can “earn back” a portion of additional tax revenue from the growth that is generated by local investment in infrastructure. Other places such as Newcastle and Sheffield have implemented tax increment financing in areas that have been identified as “key development”.

It’s a move away from a centrally determined, one-size-fits-all to the decentralisation of power through this devolution.

In Australia, our dilemma rests in our system of governance and constitutional arrangements. We have three tiers of government that require consideration and consultation, one more than in the UK.

Yet this need not be a spanner in the works. If anything, the Glasgow and Clyde Valley City Deal in Scotland shows us that an agreement can be formed between three tiers of government. This City Deal, signed in 2014, is made up of eight local authorities, and supported by both the Scottish Government and UK Government, which will kick in £500 million each. The eight local authorities are required to stump up £130 million between them. It’s too soon to know how well this will work, but one thing is clear. If you get the process right, it provides the best chance of success.

Here in Australia, we should be wary of any proposal that puts the Federal Government front and centre. If we’re to learn anything from the UK experience, it’s that City Deals work better when local authorities create and own them.

In Australia, there is an opportunity to use City Deals to incentivise collaboration across local government and also with the states and territories to maximise the economic potential of our cities. This would also ensure City Deals were adding growth to an area, not simply shifting it from somewhere else.

There is also an opportunity here for government to move from a silo approach to a cross-departmental framework that is more holistic. Labor understands this is a key element when it comes to ensuring our cities function. When in Government, I released the first ever National Urban Policy. It looked at cities as a whole, drawing in portfolios such as Communications, Environment, Transport and Regional Development, to name a few, and assessed what we needed to do to make our cities more productive, sustainable and liveable.

However, the current Government has already made this task harder for itself than need be. It has isolated and divided portfolios to cater for its own political need. For instance, Urban Infrastructure, Regional Development, and Cities all sit separate from each other.

It’s clear that the Turnbull Government has used the term “City Deals” as cover for a lack of a comprehensive urban policy plan.

Urban policy requires both the right policy framework and investment.

The Government’s track record in this area is poor. Between the September quarters of 2013 and 2015, public sector infrastructure investment fell by 20 percent.

During the election campaign, the Government failed to support important public transport projects such as the Brisbane Cross River Rail, Perth Metronet, Adelink light rail, Western Sydney Rail and the Melbourne Metro.

Funding for public transport remains an essential component of addressing the challenge of congestion in our cities.

This, coupled with policies which create jobs closer to where people live, must be at the core of government economic policy objectives.

Anthony Albanese is the Shadow Minister for Cities.

 
This piece was first published in the Huffington Post Australia on 22 August 2016: http://huff.to/2bnY5me

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