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.