Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Unemployment to Rise - Time to Cut Migrant Worker Programs

The rapid increase in Australia’s migrant worker programs over the past decade has been justified with the claim that Australia is short of workers.

This claim is now clearly false. The latest unemployment rise, along with the certainty of job losses at Holden, Ford and Qantas, and projections that the resources industry construction workforce will collapse over the next 4 years, shedding more than 78,000 jobs by 2018, make this clear.

We are now being told that the jobless rate will rise within about 18 months to 6.25% from the current 5.8%, and stay there through to the end of 2016-17!

This means more Australians will be out of work than at any time during the past decade, and far more than during the Global Financial Crisis, when unemployment peaked at 5.9%.

Last month unemployment increased by 3,400 to 712,500. Surely we must give the over 700,000 Australians who are out of work, and the Holden, Ford and Qantas workers who are going to lose their jobs, our priority.

We should reduce both the permanent migrant worker program and the temporary migrant worker programs to the levels they were 10 or 20 years ago. That way the jobs that will be created in the next 5 years will go to Australians who are out of work, or who face losing their jobs.

If we are fair dinkum about reducing unemployment, and fair dinkum about increasing workforce participation, we will cut migrant worker programs and build and use the skills of out-of-work Australians.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Support Domestic Australian Meat Industry

The recent diplomatic disagreement between the governments of Indonesia and Australia and the prospect of Indonesia moving away from live export from Australia, is more evidence of the need to support domestic processing rather than live animal export.

As I have said previously, live export is not only a failure of ethics, it is a failure of economics. One of Australia's biggest cattlemen, Jack Burton, has failed to get support from the Federal Government for investment in onshore processing to reduce the industry's dependence on live exports.

Mr Burton said he had been trying unsuccessfully for several weeks to speak to Federal Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce about Government support for an abattoir in the Kimberley. His Yeeda Pastoral Company, which has about 60,000 cattle on seven stations covering about 1.2 million hectares, is building a $20 million abattoir with capacity to process about 50,000 cattle a year between Broome and Derby. Mr Burton wants to expand the project with Government backing in preference to selling off more equity to overseas investors.
With the industry concerned about the fallout from the Indonesian situation Australia needs to diversify itself, away from live export to a chilled meat trade that will create jobs in the struggling manufacturing sector. Minister Joyce should accept Mr Burton’s request to speak about this economic opportunity.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Australia’s Rapid Population Growth Disastrous for Cities

New projections released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics have revised upwards the growth estimates that triggered the Big Australia debate in 2009 and 2010.

At that time it was estimated that Australia was heading for 35 or 36 million by 2050. Now according to the ABS central projection we are tracking for 37.5 million by 2050, and possibly 70 million by 2100.

This growth will be overwhelmingly in Melbourne, Sydney, Perth and Brisbane. Melbourne is set to double by 2060, to 8.5 million, and Perth and Brisbane are also set to double. Sydney will increase by 80%.

This increase will be disastrous for these cities. It will drive traffic congestion and gridlock, high rise and the loss of public open space, a widening gap between rich and poor and social inequality. It will fuel housing unaffordability and job insecurity for our young people.

It makes a farce of the view that population growth in Australia is about populating our regional and remote areas – 14 million of the extra 18 million people projected for 2060 will move into just 4 cities.

The latest upward lift is a consequence of net overseas migration rising yet again. The Bureau of Statistics is now using a net annual migration figure of 240,000 per year, more than double the numbers just 10 years ago. Migration is now the source of 2/3 of our population growth.

To challenge the view that rapid population growth is a good thing, I am setting up a non-government organisation called Victoria First. Its first meeting will be:

·         Sunday, December 1st;

·         10am-12 noon; and

·         Flemington Community Centre, 25 Mt Alexander Rd, Flemington.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Melbourne Planning Debacle

A report released by the Federal Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics underlines just how inadequate and incompetent Melbourne’s recent planning has been.

The report analysed population growth, jobs growth and commuter flows in Australia’s four largest cities. It found:

1)    Melbourne was the only city in which jobs growth in the outer suburbs had failed to keep pace with the population boom. Parts of outer Melbourne now have less than one job for every three working people, forcing residents to commute further for employment.

2)    Eighty-four per cent of outer Melbournians drive to work, the highest level among Australia’s biggest cities, and just 9% use public transport.

Monash University Professor of Public Transport Graham Currie said any city growing in population without expanding public transport was planning for decline. He said “the future cupboard of public transport projects is looking bare” and that “If population grows by 25% but services remain essentially static, we have a per capita decline of 25 per cent in service levels. We are not responding to growth. Rather we are going backwards”.

This report reveals as a fraud the idea that Melbourne’s rapid population growth is okay. Jobs are far removed from homes, and workers are not using public transport, leading to traffic congestion, long commutes, and reduced quality of life for everybody – a planning debacle.
It’s all very well to say that what is needed is better planning, but expanding the urban growth boundary and high rise and urban consolidation have both given us the outcomes we have today. The better planning never happens, and it won’t as long as Melbourne’s population continues to grow by 200 a day, 1500 a week, 75,000 each year.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Mistreatment of Australian Bulls in Mauritius

Graphic footage of Australian bulls being mistreated in Mauritius requires a tough response from the Australian Government.

The Department of Agriculture must either cancel or suspend the export licences of the exporter involved. Only real penalties, not Mickey Mouse ones, will act as a deterrent against these practices. It has the power to take the export license off this exporter and it should use it.

Minister for Agriculture, Joyce, has said “no one supports animal cruelty but investigations aren’t about shutting down the trade, they’re about policing it – the way an officer polices the roads”. Officers police the roads by taking dangerous drivers off them. That is what should happen here.

The Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, says, “The existing system is designed to ensure that animals are not mistreated”. It clearly isn’t achieving that objective – so real action is needed.

The live export industry has no business talking about a return to self-regulation in the light of this revelation, along with the recent case of Jordan, where 10,000 Australian sheep exported to Jordan "leaked" from approved supply chains, and were sold in unofficial markets.

The live export trade is not only a failure of ethics but a failure of economics. We should move towards a viable alternative – a local chilled meat export industry that protects and creates more Australian rural jobs, results in higher profitability through value added opportunities, and delivers decent and humane animal welfare.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Hockey’s Tax Changes a Nudge and a Wink to the Wealthy

Yesterday’s tax changes were a shameless nod to those who can afford to pay a bit more that under a Liberal Government their interests will be served at the expense of those who can least afford it.

Treasurer Hockey confirmed that 16,000 high income earners will get tax breaks, while 2.7 million small businesses and 3.6 million low income earners will lose tax breaks and be hit with higher taxes.

Small businesses are missing out on the Labor intiative of an instant asset write-off, while 110,000 small businesses will miss out on a lower threshold for the loss carry back provisions.

The Liberal Government has scrapped Labor’s 15 per cent concessional tax rate on earnings above $100,000 in superannuation income streams, that is, super balances over $2 million. This comes on the back of their decision to scrap the Low Income Super Contribution and reimpose a 15% superannuation tax on low income and part-time workers, with shop assistants, waiters, bartenders and cleaners being hardest hit – 60 per cent of these are women. Women are already retiring with less in their super accounts because of the disparity in their pay compared to men.

The Liberal Government has also watered down Labor’s efforts to get multinationals to pay their fair share of tax. For example, Google paid only $74,176 in tax in Australia 2011, despite estimated revenues of $1 billion. Labor’s rules were designed to stop profits being shipped overseas. The Treasurer’s amendments help multinationals and will mean $700 million less in tax revenue.

These changes unambiguously demonstrate the priorities of this Government. Multinational companies and high income earners get tax breaks, while small businesses and low and middle income earners miss out.

So much too for the much touted ‘budget emergency’ the Liberal Party spoke about prior to the election! The changes announced have given up $3 billion over the forward estimates. When it comes to tax breaks for big business, it seems there is plenty of money to splash around.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Commission of Audit

Before the Commission of Audit looks at cuts to public service jobs and services to ordinary Australians, it should first take the razor to the Liberal Government’s extravagant and unnecessary plans to INCREASE the dollars going to:

1.    Defence equipment

2.    Paid parental leave

3.    The Royal Park Freeway

The Commission should also review environmentally-damaging subsidies to mining and agriculture.

I agree that we should balance our books, and must live within our means. But the representatives of big business who have been appointed to the Commission of Audit should cut the very substantial taxpayer funding that lines the pockets of wealthy Australian and foreign companies, rather than reduce government support for those Australians who need it most.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Malcolm King’s Fortress Australia Article

Malcolm King’s article, Fortress Australia: green wasting the future, in the Sydney Morning Herald makes numerous claims which are far removed from reality.
Claim: “Australia has a low population but the western suburbs of its two largest cities are growing under the load of poor infrastructure and a total lack of urban planning”.

Reality: Growth boosters always claim the problems could be solved by better infrastructure and better planning. If it is capable of being solved, how come it never is? Why can no government of whatever political party, in any fast growing city, get infrastructure or planning right? The reason, pointed out brilliantly by Queensland academic Jane O’Sullivan in her work on the costs of infrastructure in a growing population, is that population growth of 2% sound innocent enough but in fact it doubles the infrastructure task of any government or council.

Claim: “The real story is that the environmental movement is under attack by the anti-populationist and anti-immigration forces who are “green washing” their anti-immigration policies to make them more palatable to the electorate”.

Reality: I got interested in Australian birds, plants and animals when I was just 10 years old. I got interested in conservation and environment issues when I was a teenager, and interested in politics as a result. I first talked about climate change in the mid-1990s, and when I was Shadow Environment Minister between 2001-2004 I successfully proposed that Labor adopt the Kyoto Protocol, increase the Renewable Energy Target, introduce an emissions trading scheme to put a price on carbon, and return water to the ailing Murray-Darling Basin.  And I have found similar priorities among the people I have met at Sustainable Population Australia. It is precisely their concern at the impacts of habitat destruction and climate change on our birds and plants and animals that cause them to believe that we should try to stabilise our population. Claims of ‘greenwashing’ are pathetic and laughable.

Claim: A stable population “would have radical implications for Australian society and capitalism”.

Reality: In fact it would have positive implications for society and capitalism. The wealthiest GDP per capita countries in the world are not those with large and rapidly growing populations, they are those with small and slowly growing populations, such as Scandinavia and northern Europe.

Claim: “Advocates of population stabilisation want a one in/one out immigration system, stop building houses for first home buyers and stop Kiwis arriving.

Reality: None of these claims is true of me. I propose net immigration of 70,000 each year (not net zero), and a cap on New Zealanders arriving which would still allow for a similar number to that we have seen since the Trans-Tasman Agreement was introduced. As for first home buyers, I am the one blowing the whistle on the way rising house prices are denying first home buyers the chance to enter the market. I support first home buyers and oppose rising house prices driven by population growth.

Claim: That the reason it takes an hour to get to work is not growing population, but because every single person drives a car.

Reality: Mr King accuses Sustainable Population Australia of having a social engineering agenda, yet he apparently wants everyone to stop driving their cars! Just how does he plan to accomplish that? Either utterly naive, or utterly insincere.

Claim: “Over the next 30 years almost 6 million baby boomers will pass on….The population of much of eastern Europe and Japan is falling”.

Reality: Australia’s population is growing faster than ever before. When I went to school and learned about population Australian was 14 million. Now we are 23 million. Treasury projections are that we will hit 36 million by 2050, and keep rising. Same for the global population, which hit 7 billion in 2011, having trebled in a little over a century, and is tracking for 9 to 10 billion by mid-century. I used to believe those demographers who claimed that population would take care of itself. But their predictions are always wrong – the population always grows by more than they predict – so I have stopped listening to them.

Claim: The solution to the traffic jam on Punt Road is to ride a push bike.

Reality: Melbourne is on track to go from 2 million cars now to over 3 million cars by 2036. If you think the Punt Road traffic is bad now, wait till Mr King’s vision for Melbourne arrives!

Conclusion: Mr King’s claims are so far divorced from reality that one wonders why he makes them. He describes himself as director of a PR Business. It is time he disclosed his clients, which may help us understand the answer to that intriguing question.

Reducing Migration is Commonsense

Victoria’s Planning Minister Matthew Guy’s comment that cutting migration would be ridiculous is very revealing. Matthew Guy, and other Planning Ministers before him, and other State Governments, usually try to sound apologetic when they inflict planning horrors on local communities- “we’re sorry but we have no choice, our increasing population has to go somewhere”. But here, talking to the Property Council, Mr Guy is unrepentant and expresses himself to be quite content with Victoria’s rapid growth rate.

Mr Guy’s reference to the 50s and 60s attempts to paint Victoria’s and Australia’s current migration and population growth as normal. It is not. For a range of years in the 1980s and 1990s net overseas migration was well under 100,000. A massive spike began during the Howard years. In 2004, it was 100,000. It then rose to 124,000 in 2005, 147,000 in 2006, and 178,000 in 2007. It continued to rise after the change of government, going to 200,000 and then 300,000. Victoria is getting more of this migration than any other State. Melbourne’s population is increasing by 200 per day, 1500 per week, 75,000 per each year. This is a larger increase than anything we have faced before.

Like other people with a weak argument, Mr Guy sets up straw men. He says “there are some still who say if we cut off all overseas migration tomorrow that is the answer to all of our problems”. No-one says that. No-one advocates cutting off all overseas migration- I advocate returning to the net 70,000 of the 1980s and 1990s- and no-one says this will solve all our problems.

Mr Guy says that even without migration Melbourne will still add the population of Adelaide (an extra 1.2million increase) by 2050. This may well be correct, but an increase of 1.2 million for Melbourne will create more than enough work and pressure for Mr Guy and his successors, and more than enough work for the Property Council, without them advocating even more rapid population growth with all the attendant traffic, planning, affordability, cost of living, social and environmental problems that come with that. Advocating growth beyond this natural increase is greedy and short-sighted.

Monday, October 21, 2013

“State of the States” Misleading and Shallow

We often talk about the numerous shortcomings of GDP as a performance indicator, and yet it continues to dominate our airwaves.

Today the ABC and other media outlets are uncritically reporting a “State of the States” report by CommSec, which purports to rank the performance of the States. The ranking system rewards economic and population growth. As far as I can tell it does not include in its ranking criteria things like protection of habitat, how endangered species are faring, the gap between rich and poor, quality of education, quality of health services, and numerous other important indicators.

I can’t see any reference to traffic congestion, housing affordability, or the cost of living pressures on older people arising from population growth. It is a pity such reports, which are shallow and misleading, receive such uncritical media acceptance.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Wild Weather But Climate Action Grinds to a Halt

There is a massive disconnect between the weather we are experiencing – drought in Queensland, bushfires in New South Wales, wild winds in Victoria, to say nothing of the typhoons in India and Japan – and the steps being taken by the new Liberal Government to bring action on climate change to a halt – disbanding the Climate Commission, stopping the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, and drafting legislation to end the carbon price.

At the very time when the signals from our climate are that we need more action on climate change, not less, it is deeply irresponsible of the Liberal Government to abandon measures which are reducing carbon emissions.

I have noted that people who draw attention to the increasing frequency and severity of extreme weather events – floods, droughts, bushfires and storms – sometimes get accused of seeking to profit from the tragedy and misery of others. This is pathetic nonsense.

When an accident happens on a country road, and the local MP demands the road be improved, I don’t assume they are trying to profit from the tragedy and misery of others. I assume they want to make the road safer, and make the world safer.

We don’t assume that people, who demand investigations into plane crashes, or recalls of cars and trucks following crashes, are seeking to profit from the tragedy and misery of others. If a Chairlift or a Ferris Wheel causes an accident we don’t assume people who demand action are seeking to profit from the accident. We assume they want to prevent repeats, and make the world safer.

So it is with climate change. It is just not right to leave to our children and grandchildren a legacy of floods, droughts, bushfires and storms, and people who point out the increasing frequency and severity of these events are doing us all a service.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Victoria Legal Aid Deficit

It is troubling that Victoria Legal Aid has tripled the loss it made last year, posting a $9.8 million deficit and cutting staff and clients.

This deficit re-inforces the point I made in late September, that legal aid funds are too precious to go on unmeritorious appeals against sentence by convicted killers who have appropriately received lengthy sentences and are simply trying it on.

Adrian Bayley should not have received legal aid to appeal against his sentence. This case was no Lindy Chamberlain. The facts were not contested, there was no gaps in the prosecution case, and the sentence handed down to Mr Bayley was entirely within the judge’s discretion, and entirely appropriate for a man convicted of rape and murder who is in fact a repeat offender.

Scarce legal aid dollars need to go where they will do some genuine good.

Live Export Supply Chain Breaches in Jordan and Kuwait

I have been informed by Animals Australia that serious breaches of Australia’s live export rules have occurred in Jordan and Kuwait on the eve of the Eid al Adha, the Festival of Sacrifice, which regrettably in the past has seen a heightened level of animal cruelty.  This has involved things like animals being stuffed alive in car boots and being killed by being stabbed to death while fully conscious.

I am concerned by reports by Animals Australia that animals are being sold at roadside stalls.  I believe that the Department of Agriculture has been made aware of this.  Animals Australia alleges about 10,000 Australian sheep exported to Jordan have "leaked" from approved supply chains, and been sold in unofficial markets.
If this is true, it would be a major breach of the live export rules put in place in 2011. I have written to the Minister for Agriculture, the Hon Barnaby Joyce, seeking his urgent attention to this matter.

The live export trade is not only a failure of ethics but a failure of economics. We should move towards a viable alternative – a local chilled meat export industry that protects and creates more Australian rural jobs, results in higher profitability through value added opportunities and addresses the public’s welfare concerns.

In 2011 the Australasian Meat Industry Employees Union (AMIEU), estimated that some 3,500 direct employment meat processing jobs have been lost because of the Australian live animal trade. World Society for the Protection of Animals research indicates that the direct and indirect jobs created by growing the domestic meat processing industry would in fact exceed those that would be lost from the live export trade.

Transitioning away from live exports and into domestic processing would be better for both animal welfare and for Australian jobs.

“Very Generous Immigration Program” Pushing Out Would Be Home Buyers

Australia used to be the country where everyone could afford to have a home of their own. But for far too many of today’s young Australians, that is no longer true. Housing affordability has declined.

Treasurer Joe Hockey confirmed yesterday in New York in an interview with CNBC that our large migration program is one of the key drivers of housing unaffordability for young people.

He told CNBC that “Australia is a long way from a housing bubble….The fact is we have a very generous immigration program and we have very slow supply coming in the market”.

Mr Hockey is correct that the high migration program is a driver of rising house prices in Australia. Where I differ from Mr Hockey is that I don’t believe rising house prices is a good thing. The fact is that housing is a necessity, like food, water, electricity and petrol. No-one cheers when the price of food, water, electricity and petrol goes up – why should we cheer when the price of a house goes up?

That cheering drowns out the quiet sad shrug of a generation being locked out of the opportunities which my generation and the one before me had the good fortune to have.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Unnecessary Tragedy in the Bangladesh Garment Industry

The news of more unnecessary deaths in the Bangladesh garment industry is distressing and requires action by the international community.  At least 10 people have perished in a fire at the Aswad Knit Composite factory, with the clear implication that the fire and safety measures at the factory were grossly inadequate. 

This follows the collapse of a garment factory in April which killed over 1100 people.

While building and factory owners in Bangladesh must be held to account for these tragedies, Western companies and consumers bear some responsibility.  While we continue to seek ever cheaper clothes, mindless of the conditions in which they are produced, tragedies of this nature will continue.

There are simple steps that companies and consumers in Australia can take. 

Many Australian companies have taken positive and responsible steps to promote improved health and safety standards in the Bangladesh garment industry. 

Indeed, more than 80 countries have signed up to the Bangladesh Fire and Safety Accord.  Companies like Cotton On, Kmart, Target, Forever New and the Specialty Fashion Group have committed to this Accord.  I encourage other companies to join them by signing up to the Accord, and follow through with its implementation in Bangladesh.

The $20 billion garment industry is an important part of the South Asian economy, providing employment to hundreds of thousands of workers.

Free trade has contributed to lifting of millions of people out of poverty.  But free trade does not and should not embrace factories that disregard fire and safety regulations, such as the factory that collapsed in April due to the illegal addition of three extra stories.  Our commitment to free trade must be coupled with an equal commitment to fair and ethical trade.  I am confident that Australians, with their sense of a fair go, are more interested in preventing tragedies of this nature than saving a few cents on a shirt.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Abbott Wants to Give the Farm Away - Literally

If reports that the Prime Minister wants to complete a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with China within 12 months are true, Australia stands to be the biggest loser.

Everyone acknowledges the China FTA negotiations have gone on for a long time.  But that reflects the vital interests at stake –

Ø  interests like access to the Chinese market for Australia’s efficient agricultural and horticultural producers;

Ø  interests like Australia’s innovators – software developers, often in strategic areas like mining, and music and film producers, who are constantly denied making any money in the Chinese market because of flagrant intellectual property piracy; and

Ø  interests like wine producers and manufacturers who face extortionate tariffs when exporting to China, making it all but impossible to do so.

China has to come to the party on a range of Australia’s interests.  Unless China agrees to take action on the things that are important to Australia, it would be foolish to give in to China’s interests in more generous treatment of investment by State Owned Enterprises, and visa concessions.

That would not be in Australia’s interests, either in the short or long-term.

Mr Abbott is reported to have said, "I’ve always taken the view that you should take what you can get today and pitch for the rest tomorrow when you’ve got a strong foundation to build upon.”

That is simply not negotiating.  That is just giving the game away.  Australia has been strong in negotiations because China will not concede ground on areas of importance to Australia, while at the same time China has made ambitious demands of Australia.

To say “well that’s fine, we’ll take what we can get today", is a recipe for disaster.  It shows a complete lack of understanding of how international negotiations work.  It shows a complete lack of regard for Australia’s interests.  The Prime Minister is effectively allowing Australia’s farmers and innovators to be denied access to potentially the world’s biggest market.

If you can’t get concessions out of China in comprehensive negotiations where their aspirations give you some leverage, what possible hope do you have “tomorrow”, when rather than a “strong foundation to build upon”, you’ve completely given the game away and don’t have any foundation to negotiate with at all.
The Chinese negotiators must be rubbing their hands with glee at the naïve statements of our Prime Minister.  One can only hope that sanity will prevail.  Australia could benefit from an FTA with China, but only if China gives real ground on Australia’s legitimate interests.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

8 Million People is Too Many for Melbourne

Reports today that on current trends Melbourne’s population would surpass Sydney’s and reach 8 million by 2049 almost double today’s numbers, are very disturbing.

Melbourne’s population is on track to rise from 4.25 million last year to 5 million by 2020. By the end of next year we will have grown 30 per cent in just 15 years.

The adverse consequences of such rapid population growth are numerous:-
  • Residents in my electorate are being told they will have to put up with 3 and 4 storey buildings and even higher in their street to fit in the extra people.
  • Traffic congestion in both our inner and outer suburbs, with billions of taxpayer dollars going into freeways and tunnels to try to cope with extra cars.
  • Rising unemployment and falling workforce participation.
  • Declining housing affordability for young Melbournians.
  • Increasing Council rates, electricity, gas and water bills, to pay for expensive new infrastructure.
  • Habitat destruction and shrinking numbers of our unique and beautiful native birds, plants and animals.

This rapid population growth is not inevitable. The ABS figures make clear once again that it is being driven by rising net overseas migration, which was a massive 238,000 nationally in the year to March. Victoria had the largest population growth of any State.
Australia should return its net overseas migration to around 70,000 per annum, as was regularly the case during the 1980s and 1990s. This would ease the pressure on the environment and on Melbournians young and old alike.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Legal Aid Should Not Have Gone to Adrian Bayley’s Appeal

Jill Meagher’s killer Adrian Bayley should not have received legal aid to appeal against his sentence.

This case was no Lindy chamberlain. The facts were not contested, there were no gaps in the prosecution case, and the sentence handed down to Mr Bayley was entirely within the judge’s discretion, and entirely appropriate for a man convicted of rape and murder who is in fact a repeat offender.

Of course Mr Bayley, like all defendants, is entitled to a fair trial and legal representation. But legal aid funds are too precious to go on unmeritorious appeals against sentence by convicted killers who have appropriately received lengthy sentences and are simply trying it on.

I regularly have constituents who contact me because they cannot afford the legal representation they need in order to get access to justice. Just yesterday I visited a pensioner constituent whose roof is leaking due to a faulty solar panel installation and who cannot afford the cost of an appeal to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal to seek redress.

Legal aid money should go where it will do some genuine good.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Congratulations to MichSquared Design

It is a great achievement that a local entrepreneur, Mr Michael Michielin, and his company MichSquared Design has been awarded first prize in the 2013 Building Designers Association of Victoria (BDAV) 10 Star Challenge, competing against many various architectural/building design firms around Victoria. 

Sustainable design is fast becoming an initiative in demand throughout the construction industry and has a significant role to play in developing sustainable alternatives for our community. This will assist in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, whilst maximizing cost savings, without compromising comfort, for the home occupier.

BDAV described MichSquared Design’s entry as “detailed, ecologically sensitive and well-articulated, illustrating their considered and holistic approach to ecologically sustainable home design”.

According to BDAV:

“The design itself, developed for the Melbourne climate zone, maintains a small building footprint with functional spaces and well-positioned rooms with significant natural light and natural ventilation for passive cooling. Universal design was also considered. A green roof balcony, permeable paving and other water sensitive features complete the holistic design approach. MichSquared Design's entry is a well-articulated 10 Star design for a home with a defined and interesting visual character and strong consideration of sustainable design.”

Households around Australia are keen to play their part in the clean energy economy. This has been demonstrated with the installation of more than 1 million roof top solar photovoltaic (PV) systems since 2007, up from less than 7,500 under the Howard Government.
Households around Australia increasingly understand the importance of acting now to address global warming and cut pollution in our economy, and it’s great that a company like MichSquared Design is showing them how.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Liberal Government to Dismantle Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal

It’s not only the headline grabbing repeal of the carbon price that we need to make the Liberal Government accountable for, but those policy reversals that don’t make the front pages because our pro-big business, anti-union media want us to miss them.

The Abbott Government is preparing to dismantle the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal under the euphemism of reducing red tape for business.

The tribunal was established by the Federal Labor Government to address safety issues in the Australian road transport industry and on our roads.

Regrettably truck driving is one of the most dangerous industries in Australia, with a workplace fatality rate that is 10 times the industrial average. Results from the Safe Rates Survey 2012 show that 73% truckies working in the Coles Supply Chain believe that pressure from big retail clients, like Coles, is a major cause of unsafe driving practices on the roads.

Some other startling facts from the drivers surveyed in 2012:

·        46% feel pressure to skip breaks

·        31% feel pressure to exceed safe driving hours

·        28% feel pressure to speed

·        26% feel pressure to carry overweight loads

·        11% feel pressure to take stimulants to stay awake

·        24% had to wait more than 11 hours when loading and unloading the truck

·        One in three drivers were not paid for hours spent waiting to load and unload

Evidence from coronial inquiries, cross-party reports and independent academic research has shown a clear link between pay and related conditions for truck drivers and safety on our roads. 

The Liberal Government’s ‘review’ of the tribunal is a pretext for its abolition and the end of Safe Rates for truck drivers. This is not only unjust and dangerous for the truck drivers concerned but for all drivers on Australian roads. You can’t abolish climate change by abolishing the Climate Change Commission and the Climate Change Authority, you can’t abolish obesity, alcohol abuse and tobacco use by abolishing the Australian National Preventative Health Agency, and you can’t make the roads safe by abolishing the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Carbon Price

Nick Champion is a serious and thoughtful MP, and I always listen to what he says very carefully.

He raises two valid points about the current carbon price debate. First, it is correct that the Liberal Government will use the carbon price as an alibi and excuse for non-performance for a long as it is in place. No doubt about it. Second, it is correct that there are alternative ways of reducing carbon emissions, such as through regulation.

In my view these points cannot be allowed to over-ride the case for Labor to continue to support its carbon price legislation in the Parliament, a case which entails the following points:-

1.    If you allow a Bill through the Parliament, you lose the right to complain about the result. Nick wasn’t in the Parliament when we were last in Opposition, but I was. Every time we allowed a Liberal Bill through, we got no credit for ‘respecting the Government’s mandate’ – we were mocked and derided by Liberal Ministers. If we complained about the Bill’s consequences afterwards, we were told, “well if it was so bad, why did you support it?”

2.    We need to keep faith with those who voted for us and the basis on which we were elected as individual MPs. To say we have skin in the game is an understatement. In the language of the joke about involvement and commitment being like bacon and eggs, where the hen is involved but the pig is committed, we are committed. We cannot retreat from supporting the carbon price without causing great dismay to our supporters and associated head-scratching about whether we are men and women of genuine conviction or not. When we retreated from the carbon price at the end of 2009 our support dropped. It would happen again.

3.    However much we try to pretend otherwise, not opposing repeal of the carbon price will weaken our capacity to defend it and to point out that it has been successful in reducing the CO2 emissions from electricity, and has not undermined our strong record of economic management, including low unemployment, low inflation and $1 trillion in business investment. It will be painted as conceding that the carbon price has damaged the economy, which is just not true.

4.    Climate change is too important to conduct experiments. We don’t have time to prove a political point about the inadequacy of the Liberal plan to tackle it. Just last week 60 bushfires took off in New South Wales, and we’re not even half-way through September.

We should not be spooked by the claims of mandate. We were elected in 2007 on an express undertaking to put a price on carbon. Did the Liberal Party in the Senate respect our claims of a mandate? No they did not. Together with the Greens they blocked our Bill. At the time Tony Abbott said “they have their mandate, we have ours”. The Liberal Party has no moral authority on this issue. The Senate is a House of review. If the electorate had wanted the Liberal Government to control the Senate, they’d have voted for that.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Indonesian Plan to Buy 1 million Hectares of Australian Land

The news that Indonesia plans to buy 1 million hectares of Australian grazing land reveals as nonsense claims that Australia’s decision to suspend live animal exports led to retaliation by Indonesia. As the report makes clear the import restrictions imposed by Indonesia on Australian cattle were also applied to other countries and to other food products, and were done in the name of Indonesian food self-sufficiency. 

Indonesia is absolutely entitled to have a food self-sufficiency policy. That is their right. But so too is Australia. One million hectares of Australian farmland is 4 times the size of the ACT and is too big in my view, and the Foreign Investment Review Board should reject it.

From an animal welfare point of view, from an economic point of view, and from a national sovereignty point of view, we should not agree to this. Far better to set up an abattoir in northern Australia, grow beef cattle there, process them there, and export chilled beef as New Zealand does.

The animal welfare shortcomings of the live animal export trade have been well documented and are well known, so I will focus on the economic and national sovereignty issues.

Economic Issues:

ACIL Tasman, an Australian agricultural and economic consultancy, has found that the domestic processing of livestock contributes more to regional economic activity and employment than live animal exports. The profitability of northern cattle producers could be significantly improved if they had access to a northern cattle processing facility. They also found that a privately financed and operated northern cattle processing facility could be economically viable and would not require significant ongoing government financial contributions.

ACIL Tasman determined that processing up to 400,000 cattle per annum domestically would:

·         contribute an additional $204 million per annum to the regional economy;

·         create an additional 1,300 jobs in the region;

·         enable some northern Australian cattle producers to increase their earnings before interest and tax by up to 245% by selling heavier animals than the 350 kg limit currently imposed by the Indonesian Government.

I believe a value added Australian meat processing industry would provide jobs for farmers, stock hands, truck drivers and more.

National Sovereignty Issues:

Foreign ownership of Australian agriculture has exploded since the Global Financial Crisis, with overseas buyers seeking approval from the Foreign Investment Review Board (FIRB) to buy agriculture, forestry and fishing assets worth an average of $2.5 billion per annum. This is 250 times higher than the value of applications in 2005-06, when applications totalled just $10 million.

The FIRB approves over 99% of applications. As a result the amount of Australian land in foreign ownership has doubled in the past 25 years. 45 million hectares of Australia’s agricultural land has some level of foreign ownership. It is not just land. More than half the milk produced in Australia is now processed by foreign-owned firms. Half the wheat export industry is controlled by foreign companies. 60% of raw sugar production is done by foreign milling groups, and 40% of Australia’s beef and lamb is processed by foreign firms. In Queensland foreign land ownership has quadrupled in the past 5 years to 4.4 million hectares. In the Northern Territory, over 14 million hectares, an area larger than the State of Victoria, is overseas owned. Over 30% of Western Australia’s water entitlements for agriculture are overseas owned.

People who express concern about this are likely to be greeted with dark mutterings about Hansonism, One Nation, racism, xenophobia etc. And yet ownership of existing dwellings by foreign non-residents is banned as “not in Australia’s national interest.” Is this racist or xenophobic? Or are land, food, water and energy less important than housing?

And you can’t buy land in China, you can’t buy land in Japan, and best of luck in the United States, New Zealand, Ireland, Brazil and many others. Are these countries racist and xenophobic? Or are they displaying an intelligent and far-sighted understanding of their own best interests?

What Should We Do?

In the Indonesian case, the land buy up should not be approved. If the Indonesian Government wants to invest in a northern Australian abattoir, that might well be helpful. In any event, the establishment of a northern Australian abattoir should be supported by policy makers.

More broadly, it’s high time we had a Commonwealth foreign ownership register for agricultural land. This will improve the transparency of foreign ownership. Present ABS research depends on self-declaration by the companies. Its validity cannot be examined or tested.
We have an obligation to our children and to future generations to leave them the same opportunities as we have enjoyed. If we sell off fundamental assets like land we compromise their chances. It is short-sighted and diminishes our control over our own destiny.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Statement on Labor Frontbench, Labor's Future, Leadership, Policy & Wills Electorate

Thank you to the Wills Electorate

First I want to say a heartfelt thank you to the people of Wills, and to my campaign team, who have given me wonderful support throughout this election campaign, and indeed the months and years leading up to it. The Electoral Commission figures reported in this morning’s newspapers show that I have the strongest two-party preferred vote of any Labor candidate in Australia. These outcomes can change of course depending on final vote counting and preference distribution, but it is a great honour to have such a strong level of support, and I am determined to work hard in the next Parliament to be a vigorous and forceful advocate and representative of the people of Wills.

Labor Frontbench

As I told my campaign team on Saturday night, I will not be a candidate for the Opposition frontbench. I was a Shadow Minister for 10 years prior to 2007. I have been there and done that. It is my experience that being a Shadow Minister brings with it obligations not to speak outside your portfolio, and to have everything you do say cleared and approved by the Leader of the Opposition’s office. For me these limitations are simply too great in a world and an Australia which I believe is facing massive challenges.

The world is being damaged, perhaps irreparably by rapid population growth, climate change, unchecked rainforest and other habitat destruction, poverty, war and terrorism. Australia is not immune from these challenges. Many of our unique and beautiful birds, plants and animals, are on the brink of extinction. Our young people can’t afford to buy a home of their own, and their jobs are insecure, while pensioners and retirees battle rapidly rising electricity, gas and water bills and council rates.

I need to be able to speak out about these things, and I intend to. Anyone who thinks my decision to return to the backbench means that I am looking to lead a quiet life and slip out the back door is very mistaken. On the contrary, it is a necessary pre-condition for being active in the debate about the issues which are of greatest importance to the world and this country. 

Labor’s Future

Labor’s election loss was not a function of poor economic management. We delivered low inflation, low unemployment, low interest rates, a triple A credit rating, and low public sector debt. We are the envy of other countries right around the world. It was a function of poor political management.

There are two key aspects of this- leadership and policy.


Over the years we have seen a steady, relentless drift of power away from the electorate, away from political party members, away from Members of Parliament, away from Ministers and Shadow Ministers, towards Party Leaders.

This is fundamentally undemocratic. Ordinary voters have plenty of opportunities to catch up with me and other Members of Parliament and make their views known to us. They have no hope of accessing Prime Ministers and Premiers.

And the trend to leave everything to a Messiah leads to poor decisions which have been made by a small group of people, and not submitted to proper scrutiny. On the floor of the Victorian Parliament is written “Where no counsel is the people fail, but in the multitude of counsellors there is wisdom”.

In the last Parliament there were numerous botched policy announcements which had not been subjected to scrutiny by the Parliamentary Labor Party, certainly not scrutiny by Labor Party Branch members and the electorate, and in some cases not even by Ministers.

My advice to the next Leader of the Parliamentary Labor Party is twofold:-

1)    Do less. Avoid the trap of the 24/7 media cycle, and don’t try to do everything. Don’t suffocate your Ministerial and Parliamentary colleagues by constantly dominating the airwaves. Giving them more say means giving voters more say. It also gives you more time to see that decisions are properly implemented, and helps save you from the trap of trying to do too much. We don’t need to announce something everyday; what we need to do is to get right the things we do announce.

2)    Give the Parliamentary Party, and the voters, some real power, by taking proposals there first, AND leaving them for consideration at the next meeting. Many decisions are announced without consulting the Caucus at all, while others are presented as a fait accompli to a Caucus Meeting. MPs have no opportunity to consult with their constituents or interested parties about the proposal. It would be far more democratic, and lead to far fewer stuff-ups, if proposals were taken to the Parliamentary Party and left there for proper consideration.

Party Branches and Policy Committees are largely moribund, and Party Conferences and the Caucus have been acting as a rubber stamp. The leadership needs to stop taking and announcing decisions without consulting them, and thereby resuscitate and breathe life into them.


We need our policies to be in touch with the views of voters. I am all in favour of us being a middle of the road party, but some in our party interpret middle of the road as doing what big business wants. I believe being middle of the road is doing what voters want.

If we did what voters want, on issues like population growth, migration, planning, foreign ownership, live animal export, rather than what big business wants, we would do a lot better.