Friday, April 10, 2015

Royal Park Freeway

It was encouraging to see the Liberal Party Review of the 2014 Victorian Election acknowledge that their campaign “relied excessively on infrastructure announcements, with the focus falling on one initiative, the East West Link”. Indeed. $8 billion for a tunnel! The private sector sure saw them coming.

Hopefully this insight will see them abandon this foolish project and examine ways to spend taxpayers and motorists dollars to achieve real public benefit. The Federal Government should take the opportunity provided by the Review to re-direct tunnel money into grade separations, putting Melbourne’s most congested and dangerous rail crossings underground.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Ice Epidemic

I welcome the initiative by Prime Minister Abbott in establishing a Taskforce on the drug ice to be chaired by Ken Lay. Last year I hosted a visit to Federal Parliament by the renowned youth worker Les Twentyman OAM to talk about the Ice Epidemic.

In February I held a very well attended Wills Youth Issues Forum in my electorate focusing on the impact of ice and other drugs. At the forum Victoria Police and other experts re-enforced the comments of Ken Lay and Minister Keenan that while policing is essential we can’t just police our way out of this problem.
 
Following that Forum I wrote to the Prime Minister and to other relevant Ministers setting out the discussion and proposals which came forward at that Forum. I am pleased that the Government has responded to the massive challenge which ice poses, and I will forward the discussion and proposals from the Wills Youth Issues Forum to that Taskforce. I will also seek to contribute constructively to its work with proposals concerning employment, treatment services and parenting issues which I believe we need to address in order to better deal with this twenty-first century blight on our society.

Tax Avoidance

There are plenty of thought bubbles and kite flying going on about tax, but until the government actually commits to something, it looks for all the world that they’re just playing games and trying to sucker punch the Opposition.

For example we’ve had plenty of discussion about tax avoidance by multinational corporations, and Labor produced a plan a month ago to crack down on the use of hybrid structures and dodgy tax deductions by multinationals that would bring in $1.9 billion over a 1 year period to spend on things like schools and hospitals.

And where was the Government on this? They suddenly went missing in action! So if the government wants some bipartisanship on tax, why not pick that up – that has been costed by the Parliamentary Budget Office.

It is possible to improve the Budget outcome without attacking health, education or pensions. For example we have allowed companies to avoid paying tax on their income. An internal Australian Tax Office memo obtained under Freedom of Information and reported by Heath Aston in The Age ( 4 April 2015, p1) said 10 companies had channelled a combined total of $31.4 billion from Australia to Singapore in the 2011-2012 financial year.

An energy company operating in Australia transferred more than $11 billion to the low-tax jurisdiction of Singapore in that year. In the same year an estimated $60 billion in so-called "related party" transactions went from Australia to tax havens. Energy companies have established "marketing hubs" in Singapore, but their principal purpose appears to be as a destination to shift profits in order to pay less tax.
 
As Mike Steketee wrote recently, “The rising inequality of income and wealth in developed nations has come into sharp focus in recent years but it does not seem to have made its way on to the Government's radar, even though it is the tax system that potentially can play the largest role in influencing the trend”. Since this government lacks the will to address corporate tax avoidance, Labor is taking the lead.

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