Friday, September 28, 2012

Jillian Meagher, Rest In Peace

We all know that there is evil in the world, but when we confront it face to face we are still shocked, in the literal sense, and disoriented, finding it hard to concentrate on our usual business.

My heart goes out to Jillian’s family at this terrible time and in particular to her husband Thomas. We can only glimpse the pain and grief and sorrow and anger he must be going through. I also wish to extend my condolences and sympathies to Jillian’s work colleagues at the ABC, who are doing it tough right now.

I want to congratulate Victoria Police for their mighty efforts in the days since Jillian went missing, and to thank Brunswick Police for the most co-operative way they have responded to requests for information from the Member for Brunswick Jane Garrett and I concerning community safety issues in Brunswick following Jillian’s disappearance.

The time will come soon enough for discussion about the issues which this crime raises – violence against and attitudes towards women, CCTV cameras, late night bars and clubs, and what actions we need to take to make our community a safer place.

But today we are mostly left to reflect on the cruel and capricious nature of life and fate. In 1968, near Marysville, four schoolchildren were killed by a huge tree which fell on them while they were enjoying themselves in the bush. A monument erected there asks the question, Why them?, And it is again the unanswerable question – Why this day? Why this place? Why this young woman?

“No men is an island
Entire of itself
Each is a piece of the continent
A part of the main…
Each man’s death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee”.
-John Donne

Monday, September 24, 2012

Let’s Accelerate the Achievement of the Millennium Development Goals

Progress has been made since 2000 when world leaders committed to the Millennium Development Goals (MDG).

More children than ever before are surviving to their fifth birthday and beyond. More women are receiving skilled care during pregnancy and childbirth. An additional 110 million children around the world are now in school. The MDG target on safe drinking water has been achieved.

Much remains to be done, however. I have called on the Australian Government in the past to adopt the United Nations General Assembly international aid target of 0.7% of GDP. The increase would bring us into line with countries like Norway, Sweden, Luxembourg, Denmark and the Netherlands.

I also think it would help ensure the effectiveness of our aid effort by investing at least 25% of the aid budget in health – including $500 million annually on water, sanitation and hygiene, with half of this amount directed towards sanitation and hygiene, where attention is most needed.

Tax evasion and corruption is a serious impost on aid effectiveness with developing countries losing more than USD $160 billion through multinational corporate tax evasion. Requiring companies to report their revenues, taxes and royalties on a country-by-country basis could help governments of developing countries hold corporations to account. Australia could also consider this reporting for all multinational companies registered in Australia, starting with those operating in extractive industries.

Achieving the Millennium Development Goals will help lift the standard of living for people in Africa, Asia and the Middle East, alleviating the grinding poverty and the associated problems that blight our world.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Importance of Manufacturing to Productivity

Some industry leaders have been blaming the Fair Work Act for not helping Australia’s rate of productivity and calling for deregulation of the labour market. I believe this is misguided view and misses the real issue.

The key to improving our productivity performance is a vibrant and innovative manufacturing sector in Australia, not a race to the bottom which sees offshoring of our manufacturing.

The economist Dani Rodrik has said that countries that ignore the health of their manufacturing industries do so at their own peril. He says that in the United States the fall of manufacturing's share of employment has been damaging to productivity because labour productivity is substantially higher in manufacturing than in the rest of the economy. The bulk of new employment in the United States has come in personal and social services, which is where the economy's less productive jobs are found. The migration of jobs down the productivity ladder has shaved 0.3 percentage points off US productivity growth every year since 1990.

In their book Seeds of Destruction, Glenn Hubbard and Peter Navarro, say:

“A strong manufacturing base spurs the technological innovation necessary to boost productivity, wage growth, and consumer purchasing power.

Susan Helper of Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, for the Brookings Institution, a think-tank in Washington, DC says manufacturing provides better-paid jobs, on average, than service industries, is a big source of innovation, helps to reduce trade deficits and creates opportunities in the growing “clean” economy, such as recycling and green energy.

These are all good reasons for Australia to engage in manufacturing. Manufacturing must be part of Australia’s future if we are to keep a balanced economy that does not rise and fall solely on commodity prices. By contrast the Coalition would slash investment in manufacturing, sending jobs offshore and reducing our research and engineering base, hurting our productivity and ultimately our national independence.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Bushfire Prevention Should Always Be About Quality Prevention

I agree with the comments by the Bushfire Commission Implementation Monitor Neil Comrie who said the target to burn 5 per cent of Victoria’s public land every year to ease bushfire risk should instead be focused on protecting high-risk fire areas and public safety rather than simply meeting a target.

In March this year I held a Bushfire Prevention Forum where experts came together to discuss the prevention of another Black Saturday from ever happening again.

The 2009 Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission recommended Prescribed Burning and Underground Cabling of electricity as two key bushfire mitigation approaches.

However the annual rolling target of a minimum 5% prescribed burning of public land as outlined in Recommendation 56 of the 2009 Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission is not directly linked to protecting communities and accordingly drives perverse public policy outcomes.

As reported in The Age (Monday 23 January 2012) the Department of Sustainability and Environment’s planned burning program has achieved only 16% of its target in the densely populated central region, whereas in the sparsely populated North-East DSE has burnt 150% of its goal!
Aerial electricity transmission lines are a major cause of bushfires, particularly on Total Fire Ban and Code Red days. Recommendation 27 of the 2009 Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission proposed the progressive replacement of all SWER powerlines in Victoria with aerial bundled, underground cabling or other technology that delivers greatly reduced fire risk.

It is time the Baillieu Government made a tangible commitment to this Recommendation’s implementation. This would make a real, rather than imaginary, contribution to the protection of human life and the safety of communities.