Browsing articles in "Opinion Pieces"
May 17, 2019

Opinion – Bob Hawke, my mentor, was a nation builder and our greatest PM – Sydney Morning Herald – Friday, 17 May 2019

On the wall of the Carlisle Castle Hotel in Newtown there is a large mural of a great Australian. He has the broadest smile. And he is holding a beer and a newspaper open at the crossword puzzle page. This is Bob Hawke, Australia’s 23rd, and greatest, prime minister.

It says a lot about Bob that artist Scott Marsh chose to represent Bob Hawke as a knockabout everyman.

Generations of Australians know Bob Hawke as a passionate, intelligent, fun-loving larrikin, a leader with the common touch who was just as at ease with battlers as he was around boardrooms or with presidents.

Bob really was one of us. His appeal crossed political and class divides. It was almost universal. Everyone loved him. They recognised his humanity and it reminded them of theirs.

But to those of us in the Australian Labor Party, Bob Hawke was more than a loved icon and a leader. He was an inspiration.
Bob’s greatest gift to the Labor Party was his demonstration of the discipline, focus and professionalism required to transform the raw passion of its social and political mission into genuine, permanent reform that became part of the Australian fabric.

His message was that it wasn’t enough to win office and shake up the world in a flourish of radical change. He showed that to secure real change in this nation, you must win election after election after election to set your reforms in concrete.

Bob was a keen student. As head of the ACTU in 1972, he watched Gough Whitlam lead Labor out of the wilderness and into power, where his government implemented a progressive and sweeping reform agenda including the introduction of universal health care, the opening up of universities, the Racial Discrimination Act and indigenous land rights. But Bob understood that the problem with the Whitlam era was its brevity.

Although the overdue changes Whitlam implemented transformed Australia, Labor lost office after only three years. The reforms had not been bedded down, so the incoming Fraser Coalition government was able to dismantle some of them, including the Medibank system of universal health insurance.

Eight years later, Bob led Labor back into power. He was also armed with an ambitious reform agenda, this one based on economic reform to open up the Australian economy to an increasingly globalised world.

This was not an end in itself. It was to lift living standards by expanding the social wage.
His master stroke was to build consensus. Bob was brave enough to offer visionary leadership – but smart enough to know that effective reform required bringing people with him.

Critically, he understood that aspiration in this country is not just about individuals, but is about the most basic aspiration of all – our desire to build a society where our children have more opportunities than we enjoyed ourselves.

Bob tapped into this human aspiration. He brought together unions and businesses, harnessing their goodwill so they truly worked together to advance the national interest.

Bob led an outstanding team of ministers into government. And he got results. The economic reform program he implemented with Paul Keating lifted Australian living standards and sparked a period of economic growth that is still going nearly three decades later.

He improved the environment for the future, stopping the Franklin Dam in Tasmania, saving the Daintree in Queensland, prohibiting mining in Antarctica and saving Kakadu.

He was effective on the international stage and played a determined role in the end of Apartheid in South Africa.

But the standout measure of Bob Hawke’s greatness is Medicare. He came to office determined to re-institute universal health care but acutely aware the Coalition still opposed the concept.

However, because Labor won five consecutive terms in office, the concept that all Australians should have access to health care regardless of their means was woven into the Australian social fabric.

Bob had won. By the time the Coalition took power in 1996, his Medicare dream was entrenched.
That is real reform – reform that lasts and makes a real, practical difference to the life of a nation.
Bob’s record will stand forever as a blueprint for successful progressive government.

Bob was a mentor to me and generations of Labor men and women. He was generous with his time and his counsel was always thoughtful and wise. His greatest advice was: “Be true to yourself and your values show people who you are.’’

One of the greatest honours of my life was Bob launching Karen Middleton’s biography of me. When Karen asked me who I  wanted to launch the book, I said without hesitation: “Bob Hawke.’’ She asked who would be my second choice. I replied: “Bob Hawke.’’

“Third?” “Bob Hawke.’’

Bob Hawke was one out of the box. He transformed Labor as a precondition to transforming the nation. He was truly one of a kind.

We have a more modern, more confident, more prosperous, more sustainable nation due to his contribution.

To Blanche, his family, his friends and his comrades, my sincerest condolences.


Anthony Albanese is the Labor member for Grayndler and federal opposition spokesman on infrastructure, transport, cities, regional development and tourism.

Apr 29, 2019

Opinion – Inland Rail Is A Train Wreck. This Is The Only Way To Get It Back On Track – 10 Daily – Monday, 29 April 2019

When governments spend billions of dollars of public money on major transport projects, it is critical that they get the details right.

To achieve value for taxpayers, big projects must be the subject of careful planning, transparency over financing arrangements and detailed consultation with affected communities.

But when it comes to the fine details of the Inland Rail link between Brisbane and Melbourne, the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison Government has let down Australians.

The project’s financing arrangements are questionable and the planning and public consultation have been botched so badly that farmers and affected communities have become openly hostile to a project which, delivered properly, would be a positive for the nation.

That is why a Federal Labor Government would appoint an eminent Australian to conduct an independent inquiry into Inland Rail. With $8.4 billion of public money already invested in the project, it’s time for some transparency.

Federal Labor supports Inland Rail.

It is a nation-building project that will allow freight to be moved the 1700km between Brisbane and Melbourne. The project will also improve logistics for producers and businesses in some of Australia’s most important agricultural regions.

When Labor was last in Government we invested $900 million in the project to upgrade sections of existing rail lines that will be part of Inland Rail and to advance planning for other sections that need to be built from scratch.

However, as NSW Nationals Leader John Barilaro told a meeting of farmers in Dubbo in February, Inland Rail has “barnacles’’ on it that need to be sorted out by the Federal Government.

The first problem is financing.

To keep the project off budget, the Morrison Government is funding Inland Rail via an $8.4 billion equity investment into the Australian Rail Track Corporation.

Labor has no problem with equity financing when it stacks up. The same financing model is being used to deliver the Western Sydney Airport and the Sydney’s Moorebank Intermodal Project.

However, the basic rule of equity financing is that it can only be used to fund projects that repay the capital outlay and produce an ongoing financial return.

Former Deputy Prime Minister John Anderson expressed his doubts in 2015 in the Inland Rail Implementation Study he produced for the Government.

Mr Anderson wrote that: “operating revenue over 50 years will not cover the initial capital investment required to build the railway’’.

The CEO of the ARTC, John Fullerton, has also raised doubts, telling a Senate Estimates Hearing in February, 2018: “From a strict ARTC point of view, no, the revenue that flows to us would never cover the full capital cost and provide a return’’.

With such a large amount of money involved, Australians deserve greater transparency.

The next problem with Inland Rail is the fact that it does not go to the Port of Brisbane but stops Acacia Ridge, 38km short of the Port of Brisbane.

That makes no sense.

Port of Brisbane chief executive Roy Cummins has described Inland Rail as “fundamentally flawed,’’ noting that containers bound for the port will have to be unloaded at Acacia Ridge and taken to the port by trucks.

“That means millions of tonnes of product will still have to fight its way through Brisbane’s congested passenger rail networks, which will negatively impact the liveability of Brisbane’s suburbs, as well as the export efficiency of our economy,’’ Mr Cummins told The Courier-Mail in January last year.

For Inland Rail to work, rail access to the port is critical. This is a detail that should have been resolved years ago and factored into the cost of the project.

There are also serious concerns about route selection.

The NSW Farmers Association has expressed concerns about inadequate consultation with landholders over route selection on the greenfield section of Inland Rail between Narromine and Narrabri.

And its Queensland counterpart, Agforce, has warned that the proposed route through the Condamine floodplain, in southern Queensland, could exacerbate flooding events.

Inland Rail can be a great project for Australia. It’s the kind of project that, if delivered properly, will underpin decades of economic prosperity and growth.

But we need to get it right.


Apr 11, 2019

Opinion – Electric Vehicle scare puts Morrison at odds with his party and Treasurer – The Australian – Thursday, 11 April 2019



If misrepresentation could generate energy, Scott Morrison’s inflated claims about Labor’s policy on electric vehicles would light up the world. The Prime Minister’s hysterical response to Labor’s announce­ment of a plan to remove obstacles to the take-up of EVs proves what many Australians must already suspect — he’s not much of a future thinker.

Global car manufacturers are moving away from internal combustion engines and towards new technologies, including cars powered by electricity and hydrogen. The Labor Party is not responsible for this shift. The automotive industry is driving change in response to the huge technological advances and the need to reduce carbon emissions and pollution.

EVs are popular in many nations, but Australia is falling behind the rest of the world. We are unprepared for a shift that is already happening and, worse still, this government has no plan to back Australian industry to exploit these technological shifts in our economic interest. This is despite the fact the government’s own policy is based on EVs representing up to half of new car sales by 2030 — the same as Labor.

Labor’s EV policy addresses what is already happening. Our position mirrors that of Josh Frydenberg. In January last year the Treasurer, in a newspaper column, called for action to address barriers to the take-up of EVs including their cost, their range and the shortage of recharging stations.

In that Sydney Morning Herald piece, Frydenberg said EVs would provide benefits for consumers and that there would be 250,000 on Australian roads by 2025.

Noting that manufacturers such as Volvo, General Motors, Jaguar, Volkswagen and Land Rover were moving away from the internal combustion engine, he called for “better co-ordination of existing and future activities around research and development, charging infrastructure planning, vehicle fleet targets and financial incentives”.

These are the very measures in Labor’s EV policy.

A Labor government would ensure $200 million was invested in building recharging stations across the country. We’d ensure that EVs represented half of new leases and purchases in the government’s car fleet by 2025. We’d give businesses a tax break with 20 per cent depreciation in the first year if they chose EVs.

None of this is revolutionary.

On January 21 the NSW Liberal government announced an EV policy that includes buying EVs for the government fleet and investing in fast-charging EV points in community carparks. So Morrison’s attacks on Labor’s EV policy don’t fit with the position of his own party or Treasurer. As in so many policy areas, the Prime Minister can’t resist a scare campaign.

Even more pathetic is the fact the government has disputed Bill Shorten’s recent comment that technology allows for EVs to be charged in eight to 10 minutes.

The Opposition Leader is right. We know this because in October last year, Morrison’s Energy Minister, Angus Taylor, issued a media release boasting the government was investing in a rolling out of an “ultra-rapid charging network” — Coalition government-funded ­stations that could, in as little as eight minutes, charge up an EV enough to travel 200km.

The EV industry offers great opportunities for prosperity and job creation in our resources sector. For example, given EVs require four times as much copper as conventional vehicles, it’s no coincidence that BHP is ramping up copper production. It is even using EVs in its copper mining operations at Olympic Dam in South Australia.

The other issue raised about Labor’s EV policy is whether increasing EV use will overburden our power grid while we are seeking to transit to greater use of alternative energy sources such as pumped hydro power.

Frydenberg doesn’t think so. He wrote last year: “The Finkel review found electric vehicle charging can be ‘relatively easily managed’ and (the Australian Energy Market Operator) has said something similar.’’

Nonetheless, Labor’s EV policy takes the issue of supply seriously. We understand it is critical that Australian businesses and consumers have access to reliable and affordable power supplies.

That’s why Labor’s EV policy includes a commitment to convene a national electric vehicle summit to bring together representatives from across the planning, energy and transport sectors to make sure that we have an ­electricity network fit for purpose. When it comes to EVs, the last thing we need is more scare campaigns and shouting from the Prime Minister. We need a sensible plan that allows our nation not only to meet the challenges of technological shifts in the automotive sector but also to harness them in our national economic interest. Labor has one.

In the words of Frydenberg: “A global revolution in electric vehicles is under way and with the right preparation, planning and policies, Australian consumers are set to be the big beneficiaries.”


Anthony Albanese is the opposition infrastructure, transport and regional development spokesman.

Mar 6, 2019

Opinion Piece – Give us a Ticket to Ride – Wednesday, 6 March, 2019

A Shinkansen train pulls into Tokyo Station. Photo: iStock

Australians are great travellers. Whether going from London to Paris, Rome to Milan, Beijing to Shanghai or Tokyo to Kyoto, hundreds of thousands of Australians have experienced the convenience of high-speed rail and returned asking themselves: Why don’t we build it here?

The reason is too many governments are incapable of thinking beyond the next election.

On this page yesterday Judith Sloan rejected the idea of high-speed rail in Australia. She wrote that, with only a few exceptions such as Japan, China and “one trunk line” in France, high-speed rail projects overseas lose money and fail to attract patrons.

In truth, high-speed rail is booming. Successful services operate in 20 countries and are being built in a dozen others.

High-speed rail is successful in China, Japan, South Korea, Germany, Italy, Spain, Turkey and even Uzbekistan, where you can travel the 344km from Tashkent to Samarkand at 250km/h.

In France, travellers can ride high-speed rail from Paris to Bordeaux, Lyon and Marseilles and connect to Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, Italy and Spain. The British government is investing £56 billion ($104bn) in expanding high-speed rail to Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds and Sheffield.

London’s The Independent yesterday reported Eurostar, which operates high-speed rail from London via the Channel Tunnel to Paris and beyond, recorded a 12 per cent increase in patronage last summer.

High-speed rail works overseas. It could also work down the populated east coast of Australia.

An independent study commissioned by the former Labor government and completed in 2013 proved the viability of a line from Brisbane to Melbourne via Sydney and Canberra. Trains would travel at speeds of up to 350km/h, allowing people to move between capital cities in three hours. The study found the project stacked up economically, returning $2 in public benefit for every $1 invested.

On the basis of that research we appointed an independent panel including former Nationals leader Tim Fischer, Business Council of Australia’s Jennifer Westacott and the Australasian Railway Association chief, the late Bryan Nye, to advise on the way forward. They recommended creating a high-speed rail authority to work with states and territories on planning and to begin securing the corridor for the project.

Although this federal government has not pursued that recommendation, it formed the basis of Labor Party policy in the 2013 and 2016 elections and is also reflected in a private member’s bill I have had before parliament since 2014.

The case for this project has strengthened. With Australia’s population topping 25 million, there is bipartisan support for decentralisation to take the pressure off our capitals.

High-speed rail would revolutionise interstate travel and be a game-changer for communities along its path, including the Gold Coast, Grafton, Coffs Harbour, Port Macquarie, Newcastle, the central coast, southern highlands, Canberra, Wagga Wagga and Shepparton.

It would bring these communities closer to capital cities, allowing increased commuting and strengthening the case for regional business investment.

Australia’s strong growth will drive a renaissance in rail. More urban public transport, more freight on rail and, inevitably, an exciting role for high-speed rail in our national future.

Incidentally, it’s important to correct Sloan’s assertion yesterday that Victoria’s Regional Rail Link, which has increased rail capacity to the west of Melbourne, was the subject of a cost blowout.

The project was to have cost $4bn but came in considerably under budget, with savings transferred to Victoria’s level crossing elimination program.

Anthony Albanese is opposition spokesman on infrastructure, transport, regional development and cities.

This piece was first published by The Australian on Wednesday, 6 March, 2019

Feb 19, 2019

Opinion Piece – ‘Labor will tackle rail industry shortage skills’ – Track and Signal Magazine – Tuesday, 19 February 2019

The old saying goes that every dark cloud has a silver lining.

As we enter 2019, after five years of Coalition Government, inadequate infrastructure investment, particularly in passenger rail, is threatening Australia’s economic productivity.

There’s a significant infrastructure deficit – a dark cloud that must be addressed in the national interest.

But with this challenge comes an opportunity to address another looming problem – the significant shortage of skills in the rail sector.

The Australasian Railway Association recently commissioned research by BIS Oxford Economics that highlights the extent of the problem.

It found that training of train drivers, controllers, track workers, signalling engineers and technicians, maintenance workers, electrical technicians and tunnellers is not keeping pace with growing demand.

The challenge is further complicated by the ageing of the existing workforce and the emergence of new technologies that require new skills not previously required in rail.

The research warns that by as early as 2023 we may have a workforce gap of up to 70,000 workers.

This will not only slow down progress, but also drive up prices as projects fight against each other for scarce labour.

It’s already the case that states within the Commonwealth are aggressively attempting to poach each other’s workforces.

This situation is the end result of poor long-term planning by governments and a reduction in investment in training and skills development by both government and industry.

It’s an indictment on the current Federal Government, which is failing to meet one of industry’s key requirements – skills development.

If Labor is privileged to form a government after the forthcoming Federal election, we will create a Strategic Rail Workforce Development Forum to deal with the skills shortage.

It will be tasked with developing strategic responses to the skills issues facing the industry and building productive working relationships across the industry and with TAFE and other training providers.

The resulting skills development strategy will not only aim to boost the national training effort, but also to ensure that the training is fit for purpose.

If we get it right, there’s potential to not only meet our national needs but also develop exportable high-end skills and technology.

The forum will come in addition to Labor’s existing plan to create a National Rail Industry Plan, designed to build capacity for the construction of rolling stock required for the many rail projects that will be built in Australia in coming decades.

Sourcing rolling stock offshore is an easy option. It is often cheaper than building in Australia.

However, Governments must always remember that when you buy offshore, you are also sending jobs offshore, eroding the national skills base and working against the innovation.

Decisions about procurement need to take account of the economic damage caused by allowing erosion of critical skills.

Skills shortages are also a problem in other transport sectors.

For example, the nation faces a shortage of aviation maintenance engineers because airlines increasingly send aircraft offshore for maintenance.

It means that over time, our nation is losing another skills base – this one central to public safety.

A Labor Government will restore the critical balance between saving money and preserving skills.
This piece was first published in the February-April edition of Track and Signal Magazine. 

Feb 6, 2019

Opinion Piece – ‘There’s a problem with Australia’s expanding transport networks: finding people with the right skills to make them work’ – Business Insider – Wednesday, 6 February 2019

Workforce planning is critical for successful businesses.

Smart managers think ahead, anticipate future needs and act early on training and skills development to ensure their enterprise is well positioned to meet changing conditions.

While businesses can be very good at thinking ahead, governments often struggle to take a long-term view, allowing their attention to be diverted by short-term political challenges.

That seems to have been the trap that has captured the current Federal Government when it comes to serious skills shortages emerging in the Australian rail and aviation sectors.

We simply aren’t training enough workers to meet our transport needs.

When it comes to rail, the next few decades will see billions of dollars of new investment, including public transport projects in most capital cities, the Inland Rail freight project and, potentially, High Speed Rail down the east coast.

However, we lack sufficient train drivers, controllers, signalling engineers, maintenance workers, electrical technicians and tunnelling experts.

Industry body the Australasian Railways Association recently produced research conducted by BIS Oxford Economics indicating that by as early as 2023, the peak of the construction phase, we may have a workforce gap of up to 70,000 workers.

We must act.

Indeed, we should already be acting, given that states are already trying to poach each other’s workforces.

Left unaddressed, labour shortages increase costs for taxpayers and deprive families of the income they would receive from being in good jobs. They will also delay progress on the new railways, most of which are designed to tackle traffic congestion in our cities.

An additional challenge for rail will be procuring the thousands of new railway engines and carriages required for the new rail projects.

The bad option is to buy the rolling stock offshore.

It would be wiser to build the rolling stock in Australia, thereby turning a challenge into an opportunity and potentially breathing new life into Australian heavy manufacturing.

Once again though, none of that can happen unless Australian workers possess the requisite skills.

Skills development would be a key focus of a Federal Labor Government.

We would create a National Rail Industry Plan to harness the opportunities in manufacturing as well as a workforce development plan in consultation with industry, unions, states, training providers and other stakeholders.

None of this will be easy.

But we are determined to take a constructive approach in working with the private sector in the national interest.

We’ve already made clear we would significantly boost investment in education and training.

But for that spending to be effective, collaboration will be critical. We need to understand what skills are required and work hard to ensure they are being delivered as they are required.

The current Federal Government is taking a hands-off approach to skills development. It seems to work on the view that somehow “the market’’ will sort everything out.

But the market doesn’t plan ahead. Planning and intervention where necessary are the roles of government.

In aviation there is a glaring example of what can go wrong when governments take their eye off the ball on skills.

Australia’s aviation safety record is second to none.

But safety standards are under pressure because of a shortage of licensed aviation maintenance engineers, who service aircraft.

In recent decades, the globalisation of aviation has seen many airlines shift their maintenance facilities offshore to nations like The Philippines, Singapore and Malaysia.

Thousands of Australian jobs have been lost, although, to its credit, Qantas retains its heavy maintenance facility in Brisbane, employing 600 people.

The problem is that because aircraft are being serviced offshore, there has been a reduction in opportunities to train safety engineers in this country.

The average age of existing workforce now exceeds 50 years.

This is not acceptable. Safety engineers are an indispensable part of aviation. They don’t just conduct scheduled servicing of aircraft; they are also the people called to make checks when, for example, the pilot of a packed aircraft awaiting take-off on a tarmac sees a warning light in the cockpit.

A Federal Labor Government would establish the Strategic Aviation Workforce Development Forum to work with stakeholders to find a way to maintain safety engineering training in this country.

Business operators know what is required when it comes to preparing for their future challenges.

But they can’t do it alone. Government leadership is required.

Labor stands ready to deliver.

This piece was first published by the Business Insider website today.

Feb 6, 2019

Opinion Piece – ‘Australians want a say in their communities’ – Fifth Estate – Wednesday, 6 February 2019

Australians have a tremendous interest in the history of their local communities.

This was confirmed to me when last year I organised neighbourhood history walks in the inner west. I asked a local history expert to act as a guide and invited locals to join in.

The response was incredible.

When we took a walking tour of Marrickville, more than  200 people turned up – along with surprised police who had noticed the crowd and wondered what was going on.

At the second walk, through Petersham, 140 people joined in.

Crowds were diverse. Parents with babies in strollers mingled with seniors. New arrivals to the area rubbed shoulders with people who had lived their whole lives locally.

The raging success of these simple experiments in community-building contains clear messages to governments as we seek to come to grips with the huge pace of change in our cities.

The key message is that Australians cherish their local communities.

And they want a say in how their communities evolve.

Australians have a strong sense of ownership over their immediate surroundings extending beyond mere parochialism.

Most Australians accept that change is inevitable, but want it managed in a way that does not trash the existing character of their neighbourhoods or destroy their historical links to the past.

Therein sits a profound challenge for governments at this critical point in our nation’s history.

With our population now exceeding 25 million people, higher population density in some parts of our cities is inevitable. That means that in the future more Australians will live in apartments, rather than in detached houses on quarter acre blocks.

The challenge for governments is to provide adequate rail, road and other infrastructure to meet the demands of increasing populations without eroding our quality of life.

Public consultation is critical.

That is why a Labor government would create City Partnerships – formal agreements between local, state and federal government over agreed objectives for the physical, social and economic development of cities.

We want the different levels of government to work together on the basis of shared aims and actions that will allow us to properly balance development and the views of communities.

Our plan involves a significant reworking of the current Federal Government’s City Deals program, which has produced co-operative arrangements for Western Sydney, Townsville, Launceston and Darwin.

The process behind City Deals is flawed when it comes to community consultation.

The problem is that the Federal Government has decided its vision for the cities involved and then sought to impose that vision on communities.

City Partnerships will be different.

Instead of imposing ideas from the top down, we’ll work with communities through their local councils on a bottom-up approach.

Economic development will sit at the heart of City Partnerships. Greater government investment in communities can spark jobs growth and productivity gains, particularly with input from the private sector.

But unlike City Deals, City Partnerships will also take heed of community views on amenity. Rather than paying councils and communities lip service, we want them to work with us to deliver growth and prosperity.

We can’t stop progress. But we can direct development in ways that provides a proper balance between change and amenity.

Above all, our aim must be to preserve and, where we can, enhance liveability.

A great example of how not to respect communities is the NSW State Government’s process for delivering its WestConnex toll road in my electorate in Sydney’s Inner West.

A new toll road was never going to be popular.

But the consultation process over Westconnex has been a disaster.

The NSW government barely talked to residents before it began digging tunnels under their homes. And even as the drills began, it was unable to say where the tunnels would emerge or how the traffic they were meant to carry would disperse.

In 2014 one of my constituents received two letters from WestConnex officials concerning the project on the same day, one saying his house would be resumed and the other saying it would not be resumed.

That’s pathetic.

What is even worse is that when Westconnex was first proposed, the object of the exercise was for the new road to take trucks from Western Sydney to the airport and cars from Western Sydney to the Sydney CBD.

The project being delivered does neither.

We can do better. The secret is to work together. 


This piece was first published by the Fifth Estate website today.

Jan 29, 2019

Opinion Piece – Australia needs to improve the sustainability and liveability of our cities – Starts at 60 – Tuesday, 29 January 2019

If there is one thing Australia needs to achieve in 2019, it’s a greater focus on improving the productivity, sustainability and liveability of our cities.

Cities are home to four out of five Australians. Their efficiency is critical to the health of our economy, not to mention the quality of life of Australians.

Yet for the past few years, a withdrawal of infrastructure investment by the Federal Government has made our cities more congested, less efficient and harder to get around.

Too many cities are ill-served when it comes to the efficient movement of people. But with the right policy settings, we can do much better.

Public transport, particularly rail transport, is the key to tackling traffic congestion.

Back in 2013, the independent Infrastructure Australia released research which suggested that without action, traffic congestion would cost the economy $53 billion a year by 2030 in lost productivity.

This was a clear warning that failure to invest in better urban transport would worsen congestion and reduce quality of life for people who live in cities.

The former Labor Government invested more in urban rail than all previous Governments combined since Federation in projects such as Victoria’s Regional Rail Link, Redcliffe Rail Link, Noarlunga to Seaford in Adelaide and Gold Coast Light Rail.

Going forward investment was allocated for rail projects, including the Melbourne Metro and the Cross River Rail in Brisbane as well as projects in Adelaide and Perth.

This was common sense. Each commuter train takes hundreds of cars off the roads.

Then Tony Abbott became Prime Minister and cancelled all Federal investment in public transport, transferring the funding to new toll roads, two of which he was unable to deliver.

Mr Abbott kids himself that Australians do not use public transport.

In his 2009 manifesto Battlelines, Mr Abbott wrote: “Mostly there just aren’t enough people wanting to go from a particular place to a particular destination and a particular time to justify anything larger than a car, and cars need roads.

What nonsense.

Five years later, it is no surprise that traffic congestion has worsened, despite efforts by state governments to improve rail services without much support from Canberra.

Indeed, the Bureau of Transport, Infrastructure and Regional Economics has calculated that in 2016, traffic congestion cost the nation more than $16 billion in lost productivity. We should expect that, just as Infrastructure Australia warned in 2013, this figure is rising with each passing year.

The congestion we are now seeing is the outcome of a Coalition philosophy that places scant emphasis on building for future prosperity.

While the Coalition, like Labor, supports business growth because it creates jobs, their interest in Australians stops with employment.

They take little responsibility for quality of life issues, apparently in the belief that if government just gets out of the way, the market will fix everything.

However, the market doesn’t care whether commuters get home from work in time to play with their children. The market treats people like units of economic production, not as human beings with responsibilities and individual needs.

Labor wants Australians to have great jobs. But we also believe Government has a role in delivering services that preserve or enhance their quality of life.

We also believe that people who pay tax deserve something in return – including efficient transport systems.

Being in Government is not only about dealing with the challenges of today, but about planning ahead to avoid problems in the future.

That is why if Labor is privileged to win the next federal election, we’ll do what the Coalition has largely refused to do – we will work with state governments to address traffic congestion.

We will help build the Western Sydney Rail and the Western Metro in Sydney.

We will help build Brisbane’s Cross River Rail, the Perth METRONET and Melbourne’s Suburban Rail Loop.

We would also deliver $300 million in investment to improve Park and Ride facilities at suburban railway stations.

At train stations across suburban Australia car parks are full before 7am and commuters instead park in nearby streets and walk to stations.

It’s inconvenient for them and a nuisance to the residents of streets near train stations.

Providing more parking is a practical measure to encourage more people to leave their cars at home and catch the train to work.

This policy is targeted squarely at suburban Australia.

If you are lucky enough to live close to a central business district of one of our capital cities, chances are you can walk, cycle or catch a bus to a train station.

But the further you get away from CBDs, the greater the distance required to get to train stations. The commuter’s choice is simple – drive to the train station, or drive all the way to work.

While better Park and Ride facilities will help in the short term, we also need to work much harder at connecting suburban train stations to surrounding residential areas with better bus services, as well as more walking and cycling tracks.

Liveable cities don’t build themselves. They require investment.

Labor will deliver that investment in the national interest.


This piece was first published today on the website Starts at 60:


Jan 28, 2019

Opinion Piece – It’s Time for Action on Highway Safety – Herald Sun – Monday, 28 January 2019

Motorists know the feeling: you are driving along the highway at the speed limit when a semi-trailer appears and begins tail-gating your vehicle.

It’s a scary feeling even if the truck driver is trying to do the right thing.

This is a common scenario on Australia’s highways, particularly at this time of year when Australians head up and down our coasts for holidays.

There’s a likely explanation for the impatience of some, but by no means all, truck drivers — some employers impose unrealistic deadlines for the delivery of loads, forcing them to speed to perform their duties.

This makes trucking, already a dangerous job, more dangerous than it should be; more dangerous not just for the truck drivers, but for those who share the road.

In 2019 this is unacceptable. We can do better than maintaining a transport system with baked-in encouragement for drivers to cut corners on safety by speeding, not taking rest breaks or, even worse, taking drugs to stay awake.

It wasn’t always like this.

In 2012 the former Labor Government attempted to remove incentives for truck drivers to cut corners by creating the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal.

Its job was to set pay levels and conditions that would allow drivers to earn a fair living without having to adopt dangerous work habits.

The tribunal was designed after 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.

But just before the 2016 federal election, former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull scrapped the tribunal after complaints from some truck owners.

Anxious to exploit ideology to support his re-election, Mr Turnbull characterised the tribunal as some sort of trade union conspiracy, rather than what it was – a road safety mechanism that had been developed in consultation with industry and, importantly, that arose out of a unanimous, bi-partisan parliamentary report “Burning the Midnight Oil’’

His rash decision, made in the heat of an election campaign, ignored the life-and-death issue of road safety. It placed minimal value on the people who share the roads with truck drivers – Australian motorists and their families.

Heavy vehicles make up three percent of vehicles on our roads. But they are involved in more than 16 per cent of fatalities. And when cars and trucks collide, the occupants of the cars are more likely to suffer death or serious injury because, obviously, their vehicles are smaller.

Mr Turnbull’s decision might have been more palatable if he had replaced the tribunal with some other mechanism to address the proven link between road safety and pay rates for truck drivers.

But nearly three years since the abolition of the RSRT, the Coalition has not come up with any alternative plan on trucking safety.

Road safety should never be conflated with political ideology to win votes. It must be beyond politics.

Federal Labor will re-examine this important issue should we form a government after this year’s election. It’s a difficult policy area, but the principle of safe rates should be supported by industry, motoring organisations and the broader community.

We could make an almost immediate improvement on road safety by refocusing the Federal bureaucracy on existing road safety programs left to languish by the Coalition.

One of our most successful road safety programs is the Black Spot program, which delivers safety upgrades to intersections or stretches of road where there have been traffic accidents involving death or serious injury.

It’s a practical, sensible program that enjoys bipartisan support.

However, the Morrison Government’s administration of the Black Spot program has been a disaster.

In its first five Budgets, the Government has announced $390 million for the program. But the most recent Budget update shows that during that period the Government has in fact delivered $290 million – $100 million less than promised.

Based on 2012 research conducted for the Department of Infrastructure, the average cost of Black Spot projects is about $157,000. This means that if the Coalition had delivered the funding it announced in its own budgets, it could have completed more than 600 safety upgrades to traffic black spots around the nation.

The same is true for the Heavy Vehicle Safety and Productivity Program, created by the former Labor Government to build more rest stops, decoupling bays and parking facilities for interstate truck drivers.

In the past five years the Government has announced $290 million for the HVSPP, but spent $157 million.

That’s not good enough.

There’s a crisis in project delivery that requires immediate attention.

Safer roads should be an objective which unites not just the Parliament, but the entire nation.
This piece was first published in The Herald Sun today.


Jan 23, 2019

Opinion – We’re all for boosting regional Australia, but it must start with jobs – The Australian – Wednesday, 23 January 2019

As our population tops 25 million, our nation must promote growth in our regions so they can absorb some of the pressure causing congestion and crowding in our cities.

Decentralisation of population growth is a matter of bipartisan political agreement. The Morrison government says it wants to force migrants to settle in regional areas, rather than Sydney, Melbourne or southeast Queensland.

But there is something missing in the Coalition’s approach: jobs.

The problem is that many regional areas suffer from high unemployment. Forcing migrants to settle in communities where there are no jobs solves nothing.

What is required is a genuine decentralisation program, with regional jobs at its core.

That’s where infrastructure investment comes in.

New rail and road projects not only create jobs in the short term, they also boost productivity, which is the key to unlocking long-term, sustainable jobs growth.

For the past five years the ­Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison government has cut infrastructure investment and routinely broken its promises about how much it will spend.

The government’s own budget documents show it has failed to deliver almost $5 billion in infrastructure investment that it announced in its first five budgets.

Critically, the smaller states — those with the greatest potential to absorb population growth — have been worst affected. South Australia has been short-changed by $337 million, Western Australia by $556m, Tasmania by $132m and the Northern Territory by $256m.

Even programs specifically designed to boost economic growth in the regions have been drastically underspent.

For example, the Coalition has announced $520m for the Northern Australia Roads Program since 2015 but delivered just $290m.

Unbelievably, the underfunding of regional infrastructure is about to get worse.

Budget forward estimates show overall federal infrastructure grants to states will plummet over each of the next four years from $7bn in 2017-18 to $4.5bn in 2021-22.

But the biggest cuts will affect the smaller states.

South Australia’s federal grants will fall from $800m last year to $136m by 2020-21. Across the same period, grants to the Northern Territory will fall from $222m to $80m. Grants to Western Australia will fall from $1.2bn to just $411m in 2021-22.

None of this helps if our aim is to create jobs in regional Australia. Indeed, the Morrison government’s policy settings work against regional development.

Labor would take a different approach. We understand there is no point asking people to live in areas where they can’t find work. We’ll lift infrastructure investment in the regions, boosting productivity and also improving quality of life for their existing residents.

One project that will make a difference on the east coast is a high-speed rail link between Brisbane and Melbourne via Sydney and Canberra.

Such a link will revolutionise interstate travel, allowing people to move between capitals in less than three hours.

What is less understood is the project’s potential impact on regional development. It would supercharge development of communities along its route such as the Gold Coast, Casino, Grafton, Coffs Harbour, Port Macquarie, Taree, Newcastle, the NSW central coast, the southern highlands, Canberra, Wagga Wagga, Albury-Wodonga and Shepparton.

Bringing these communities to within short travelling distance of their nearest capital cities would make them more attractive locations for investment. Business owners could establish operations in such communities, taking advantage of their lower overheads, safe in the knowledge that their staff could quickly access the cities for business and recreation.

Labor also would establish a $1bn northern Australia tourism infrastructure fund to provide fin­ancing and concessional loans for tourism projects. Tourism provides jobs for a million Australians. We can build on that.

Communications infrastructure also is critical for regional development. One of the Coalition government’s worst errors has been scaling back the former Labor government’s National Broadband Network.

Providing 21st-century broadband to businesses in rural and regional areas would be a game-changer. It would banish the tyranny of distance as an impediment to jobs growth by giving businesses access to the full potential of the global market. While much of the damage is done on the NBN, a Labor government would strive to ensure all Australians, regardless of where they live, have a chance to be full participants in the global economy.

Our intention is to work with state governments and regional communities to transform regional Australia.

Most important, that program would be backed by the infrastructure investment required to make it work.


This piece was first published in The Australian today  2017: