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.