Friday, March 27, 2015

Vale Frank Cox

Frank Cox was a remarkable man who passionately served the community of Moreland for 33 years as Councillor of the former City of Coburg. He was elected Mayor on three occasions.

His passing last Friday March 20 at the grand age of 99 leaves behind a legacy which will remain for future generations to enjoy and from which we all can learn. He was a traditional Labor community minded civic representative who worked tirelessly for the community he represented. He was awarded the OAM in the Order of Australia in 1980 in recognition of his selfless and indefatigable efforts for the Coburg community. He was a Life Member of the Australian Labor Party and to the end he was clear minded and an active member of the local RSL.

Frank was a veteran of the Second World War, serving in the Signals Corp. It was his love of motorbikes that had him pointed out as ‘you’re it’ for the job of delivering messages between camps.  He never wanted to speak of that experience. When drawn into a conversation and asked about his service in the war, he would only say that he ‘could not repeat man’s inhumanity towards man’. He was a prisoner of war, captured in Greece and taken to Germany where he remained as a POW until the end of the war.

The community of the now City of Moreland owes much to this man, who took a personal hands on role in the realisation of numerous community projects, such as the Jackson Reserve Sporting Complex, the Coburg Basketball Stadium, the establishment of the Newlands Seniors Citizens’ club, and the Newlands Colts Junior Football Club.

Frank had an extensive involvement with the Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works. He was a great representative and advocate for Newlands, and served on its Kindergarten, Primary School, and High School Committees. He was a foundation member of the Disabled Motorists Association of Victoria.

I had the great pleasure of serving with Frank on the Coburg Council. He was a natural leader, strong willed and relentlessly energetic. He had disagreements with me and with other Councillors often enough, but he was always focussed on the issue, never on the personality, and he was always able to move on to the next challenge. We were friends for the next 25 years, and I regret being deprived by a matter of a few months of the opportunity to present him with 100th Birthday Congratulations.
 
He was a major figure in Coburg for decades, and he will be greatly missed. I extend my condolences to his wife Clarice and to his children and extended family.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Liberal Party Double Standards on East West Link Contract

The Victorian Liberal Party carried out a disgraceful act of bastardry prior to the last State Election by entering into a secret contract with the East West Link Consortium purporting to guarantee them hundreds of millions of dollars in the event that the project did not proceed.

The Victorian Labor Government was elected with an express commitment not to proceed with this project, in an election described by the Prime Minister as a Referendum on the East West Link. Now the Liberal Party and its cheer squad say the Labor Government must honour this dodgy deal, at massive cost to Victorian taxpayers.

But the Liberal cheer squad is nowhere to be seen when the ACT Liberal Opposition says it won't be honouring contracts to build a $783 million light rail in Canberra. The ACT Liberals say they have let voters know they would not proceed with the light rail project (so did Victorian Labor) and that they are willing "to work with the contractor to try and re scope the project to something far more beneficial" (as did Victorian Labor).

So where is the Federal Liberal Party demand that the ACT Liberals abandon their opposition to the light rail project and agree to implement any contracts the ACT government enters into?

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Victoria's Record Underemployment

The Intergenerational Report is used to claim that we don't have enough workers, and imply that we need more – either migrant workers or people working longer. The reality is the opposite.

Victorian workers are struggling to find enough hours in record numbers, with our under-employment rate now at its highest level for almost forty years. 293,000 part-time workers are looking for and available to work more hours but can't get them. 9.5 per cent of Victoria's workforce is now classified as underemployed, the highest since the Bureau of statistics started keeping records in 1978.

So the real problem we have right now, not the imaginary problem we might have in the future, is not too few workers, but too many.

The Intergenerational Report's unsurprising and unremarkable finding that the population is ageing is used to claim that the workforce is constrained by the supply of workers, implying that there is work for all who offer themselves. As the figures above show, this is rubbish. It leads to a "blame the victim" approach in unemployment, welfare to work programs and job readiness training.

The Report is used to claim that population ageing in Australia will be a debacle. Will it? Helpfully, there are other countries with a noticeably older population than Australia, so we can compare our performance with theirs. The Queensland academic Jane O'Sullivan has done this in a chapter in the book "Sustainable Futures", recently published by the CSIRO.

Denmark, Sweden, Germany, Finland and the United Kingdom all have a much greater old age dependency ratio than does Australia. Between 2000 and 2010 Australia's population grew at three times the rate of Sweden, Denmark, the UK and Finland, twice the rate of Norway's, and Germany didn't grow at all.

So with our much faster population growth and our younger workforce, we would have outperformed those countries, right? Wrong. Germany and the UK had the same per capita increase in income in the 2000-10 period, and Sweden and Finland had much higher growth in per capita income. And every one of those five countries performed much better than Australia in terms of the percentage of income received by the poorest quintile. This is important – income inequality in developed nations is strongly correlated with worse physical health, mental health, drug abuse, imprisonment, obesity, violence, and teenage pregnancy.

As Jane O'Sullivan puts it, in stable populations like Germany, people retire with considerable savings, and give more to the next generation than they receive from them. Their retirement opens up recreational opportunities for them and a job opportunity for a young person. In contrast, the vibrancy claimed for a rapidly growing population is often that of the crowded marketplace with more buyers than sellers, where recreation is something reserved for elites and foreign tourists.
 
As said by William Grey, from the University of Queensland, growth is the problem to which it pretends to be the solution.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Cyclist’s tragic death a wakeup call to improve Sydney Road & Upfield Transport Corridor Safety

On Sunday I held a highly enjoyable mobile office at the Sydney Road Brunswick Music Festival, where I met with many residents to talk about a wide variety of national and local issues. However lingering close to the thoughts of many at the festival was the tragic death of the young 25 year old Italian national, Alberto Paulon, on Friday 26th February, who was cycling with his partner, Cristina Canedda, and allegedly doored then hit by a truck on Sydney Road in the vicinity of Barkly Square.

This is a devastating incident for the young man’s partner, their families and our local community. Everyone should feel safe as they commute, whether it be by bike, foot, tram, train, bus or car to and from their homes, shops or work. Unfortunately for this young man a tragic set of circumstances have meant this commute cost him his life.

Sydney Road is one of Melbourne’s worst stretches of road for bike crashes. Almost half of reported casualty crashes on the road in the past 5 years involved a cyclist. There were 179 incidents in that time and 85 involved a bike rider, 25 of whom were taken to hospital. Around 360 cyclists a day use Sydney Road in the two hour morning peak.

According to Census data and as reported by the Bicycle Network, the highest level of participation in travel to work by bicycle in 2011 was recorded in Yarra (3,651) and Moreland (3,454). Moreland experienced a great percentage increase in people bicycling to work, an 80% increase between the 2006 census and 2011 census. In Moreland more than one person now rides for every ten people who commute to work by car. Cycling is increasingly being recognised as a viable mode of transport.

Sydney Road is becoming increasingly congested as a result of rapid population growth and the proliferation of high density developments.

State Member for Brunswick, The Hon Jane Garrett, has stated that the area in question has the highest density of cyclists of any local government area. As a result of this tragedy, The Hon Jane Garrett has called an emergency meeting of VicRoads, Police, cycling groups, Moreland Council and Yarra Trams to discuss how Sydney Road can be made safer. This follows on from the announcement she made a week before, which included a $1.6 million investment by the Victorian Government to reduce accidents involving cyclists along Sydney Road, banning right hand turns along parts of Sydney Road between Barkly and Albion Streets and also upgrades to lighting, signs, and improving bike facilities along Sydney Road.

This tragedy should be a wakeup call for all of us as local community leaders, commuters, motorists, cyclists, pedestrians, residents, and local businesses; to work constructively to improve safety along Sydney Road.

One of the options that I understand will be discussed by the emergency meeting convened by Jane Garrett is in relation to the Upfield Shared Path, which runs parallel to Sydney Road and the Upfield Train Line. The meeting is set to look at ways to encourage people to use the path. According to the Moreland City Council Bike Strategy of 2011-2021, the Upfield Shared Path attracts thousands of bicycle movements each day.

During morning peak, the crossing at Brunswick Road becomes congested and it can take more than one cycle of pedestrian lights to clear waiting cyclists from the Upfield Path-Brunswick Road intersection. The Upfield Shared Path is also the main route for pedestrians heading to and from city bound trains, and many railway stations exit directly on to the Upfield Shared Path. This creates difficulties when cyclists ride past railway stations at high speed or distracted pedestrians walk onto the path without looking for bikes. I note the bicycle strategy by Council states that congestion along the path is expected to continue to grow as more people choose to ride. Council states it will work with the state government and adjoining landowners to secure additional land for the path widening works to create additional capacity and address current sight line constraints. I also note and welcome the other measures contained in the strategy which include creating alternative north-south route options along the Moonee Ponds Creek, Brunswick West, upgrades to cycling facilities along Sydney Road, and ‘Shimmy routes’ through East Brunswick.

I am writing to the relevant authorities in relation to this matter to offer my assistance and support for any measures that will prevent such an incident occurring again. I am willing and able to work with all stakeholders, including the Moreland Bicycle Users Group, who do great work in advocating for greater investment in local cycling. In the meantime our thoughts are with the family of this young man who are going through this difficult period and loss.

Kelvin Thomson MP

Thursday, February 26, 2015

United Nations Security Council Veto

On Monday in Parliament I moved a motion stressing the superiority of collective security through the United Nations over unilateral action. In my speech I drew attention to the increasing level of global violence and asked the question, why doesn't the United Nations do more to make civilians safe?

The answer I gave was that the permanent members of the UN Security Council, who have a veto power over UN action, are prepared to turn a blind eye to, to cover up, the sins and misdeeds of their allies and supporters. I urged that we be less fatalistic about the conduct of the big powers, and demand that they allow the United Nations to do its job of protecting civilians.

I therefore welcome the call by Amnesty International's Secretary-General, Salil Shetty, in Amnesty's Annual Report for the UN Security Council to adopt a code of conduct agreeing to voluntarily refrain from using the Veto in a way which would block Security Council action in situations of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. The Secretary-General notes that such a step could save many lives, and that the proposal is now backed by 40 governments. He said the Security Council’s permanent members were using their power of veto to “promote their political self-interest or geopolitical interest above the interest of protecting civilians”.

Amnesty International's 2014/15 Report documents a frightening catalogue of human rights abuses and increasing global violence. It describes 2014 as a devastating year for those seeking to stand up for human rights, and those caught up in war zones. It's findings are consistent with those of the Institute for Economics and Peace, which found that since 2000 there has been a five-fold increase in the number of people killed by terrorism.

We can do better than this. The permanent members of the UN Security Council should stop using their veto to try to gain strategic advantage for their country, and start using the United Nations for the purpose for which it was established - to protect civilians and prevent conflict.

The Hon. Kelvin Thomson

Federal Member for Wills

Monday, February 23, 2015

Melbourne Heat Island Effect

Last year I did research into, and gave speeches about, the public health benefits of public open space. My view about the importance of this is reinforced by recent statements in the Moreland Leader by University of Sydney Associate Professor Tonia Gray that research shows that neighbourhoods with more green spaces are much healthier and socially cohesive. She says, "Nature has a calming effect, it recalibrates your body. Australian kids spend an average of 52 hours a week in front of a screen but an average of 40 minutes outside".

The importance of trees and vegetation cover is also reinforced by research calling for Melbourne suburbs to increase their tree cover to combat rising temperatures. The urban heat island effect occurs when built-up areas with surfaces such as roads, concrete and buildings absorb heat on hot days. It is dangerous to public health. In 2013 and 2014 over 400 Victorians were admitted to hospital for heat related illness. Researchers say "heat islands" are only going to get hotter unless more green spaces are incorporated.

Given this, it is folly to allow dual occupancy, multi-unit and high rise developments to lead to the cutting down of trees and shrubs and the paving over of open spaces which are presently cooling Melbourne down. We need to push back against plans by property developers and council officers to allow more buildings in what are already built up suburbs.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Melbourne's "Hyper-Dense" Skyscrapers

The co-ordinator of Melbourne's City Plans and Policy, Leanne Hodyl, has pointed out in a Churchill Fellowship paper that Melbourne's high rise apartment towers are being built with far fewer controls than apply in other cities around the world.

Her report found that –

  1. High-rise apartment towers in Central Melbourne are being built at four times the maximum densities allowed in some of the world's most crowded cities, including Hong Kong, New York, and Tokyo.
  2. The skyscrapers are being built with little regard to the effect on residents within, the impact on the streets below or the value of neighbouring properties because of weak, ineffective or non-existent state government policies.
  3. In Melbourne, planning controls offer "cheap density" to developers, because they are able to ratchet up the number of apartments in a tower with only a very limited need to make any significant community contribution, but other cities studied are not choosing to develop in this way.
In Vancouver, for example, developers are allowed to cram high numbers of apartments into a project only if they agree to help fund construction of parks, plazas, childcare centres, cinemas, performing arts spaces and the like.

Ms Hodyl warns that continuing planning policies supporting high-density CBD growth and continued overseas investment could have dire and long-lasting impacts. "It will create a legacy of apartments that are of poor quality – homes that lack access to light, air and an outlook and that diminish the quality of the streets and parks below".

The report is backed by international planner Gary Lawrence, former planning director for the City of Seattle, now with engineers AECOM. Shown the density and height of buildings on the block, he said "This cluster of towers would never be built in New York", and “The idea of creating a liveable city at this density is crazy".