Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Ending Student Fees and Charges at the University and TAFE Level

In calling for the abolition of the Baby Bonus and a grandfathering of the payment of Family Tax Benefit for those who have more than two children I am arguing that it would be more beneficial to use the money to help abolish student fees and charges at both the university and TAFE level.

The theory behind HECS at the time of its introduction was that it would generate money for more tertiary places and that it was reasonable for people who had profited from their higher education to put something back. Whatever the merits of the theory, in practice it has not worked out that way. The Howard Government essentially flat-lined the number of Commonwealth subsidised University places for domestic students between 1996-2007.

Furthermore it substantially reduced the income threshold at which HECS cuts in, so that instead of it being about affluent professionals giving something back, it has become a burden for quite modest income earners, and a yoke around the necks of young students. Nor was this about the Government switching resources from tertiary education to trades training. Between 1997 and 2006 the Commonwealth contribution to vocational education and training costs declined by over 20%.

The total cost of abolishing student fees and charges in both tertiary and vocational education is roughly $3.3 billion. We could find this money by abolishing the Baby Bonus, by abolishing the 38 cents per litre fuel tax credit for the mining industry, which would save around $2 billion each year, and by grandfathering Family Tax Benefit A for third and subsequent children, and the Large Family Supplement. The Henry Tax Review stated that the case for the Baby Bonus and Large Family Supplement is not strong.

I don’t think it’s appropriate for taxpayers to fund students indefinitely. But if we’re serious about building skills and being more than a mining boom one trick pony, we should pay for everyone’s first three or four post-secondary education years, so everyone with the capacity gets the opportunity to get a degree or other post-secondary qualification under their belt.

As money comes in from phasing out the Large Family Supplement and Family Tax Benefit A for third and subsequent children, I think we should consider forgiving some of the HECS debt that our present generation of young people have been saddled with. I think that we could treat them better than we have done.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Moreland Council Elections 2012

The Federal Labor member for Wills, Kelvin Thomson today called for Moreland City Council to act to return to single member wards as was introduced at its establishment in1996.

Mr Thomson said that the number of candidates running in the North/East and North/ West Wards was excessive and very confusing for voters.

The North East Ward fielded 24 candidates and the North West Ward had 17 candidates.

“Many people conveyed to me that this method of electing councillors was confusing and that the number of elected positions in each of the wards reduced the accountability of individual councillors to ratepayers.  The system of single wards ­- Glencairn, Grandview etc – which operated when the City of Moreland was originally established, should be returned”.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Stopping Female Circumcision for Maasai Women

I welcome and congratulate the Maasai in Kenya for their decision to cease the barbaric act of female circumcision.

In a traditional 2 day ceremony in Kenya the fate of 52 young girls was changed in an historic Alternative Rites of Passage (ART) performed without female circumcision.

Maasai men and women who accepted the new ceremony have embraced a new way forward in health and education for their culture. Three Maasai women were selected by the African Schools of Kenya (ASK) to talk with the girls about issues ranging from their basic human rights as young women to reasons for using birth control.

Female circumcision, widely known as Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), is illegal in Kenya and is punishable by law, yet it is still practised in many countries worldwide. Many regions in Africa and some countries in Asia and the Middle East widely practise the procedure, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO). According to the WHO website, it is estimated that 100-140 million women and girls have already been subjected to some form of FGM.

As a global community we need to act to end female circumcision and other practices or traditions that are simpy violence against women.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Importance of Affordable Gas Prices for Manufacturing

Eastern Australia’s focus on producing natural gas for export instead of domestic use threatens to undermine the viability of Australian manufacturers due to rising costs. The surge in gas exports is set to drive east coast gas prices from $3-$4 per gigajoule to $9 by the end of the decade.

This represents yet another cost impost on our manufacturing sector already struggling under a high Australian dollar. DomGas Alliance, which represents natural gas users, infrastructure investors and producers in Western Australia, believe the key to manufacturing success in Australia is access to affordable and reliable gas supplies, and yet Australian industry cannot secure long term contracts at affordable prices, notwithstanding Australia’s massive natural gas reserves.

The fact is that most of Australia’s gas resources are now controlled by the world’s biggest oil and gas companies, who have a commercial preference to sign multi-billion dollar contracts with large overseas customers, and who will not sell voluntarily to smaller Australian companies.

Australia is the only country where international oil companies can access and export gas without prioritising domestic supply, and is the only major gas producing country suffering serious gas shortages and sharply rising prices as production increases.  The United States, for example, will not allow LNG exports unless gas producers ensure supply and affordable prices for US industry. This has delivered US gas prices of around $2 per gigajoule. There is no policy outside Western Australia to ensure our energy resources are prioritised to supply Australian industry and households.

The Dom Gas Alliance says a 15% domestic gas reservation policy would be in Australia’s national interest. I believe the Government should give greater consideration to this proposal or to alternative ways of providing affordable gas supplies for Australian manufacturers.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Queensland Government Sacks Public Servants Then Seeks to Increase Migrant Workers

The Queensland Government is in the process of sacking 14,000 public servants. You would think the Queensland Government would have a sufficient sense of obligation to these employees to try to give them first crack at some of the jobs becoming available in Queensland as the liquefied natural gas industry ramps up construction and the coal industry, notwithstanding Tony Abbott’s insistence that a carbon price would destroy it, continues to expand in central Queensland.

But you would be wrong. The Queensland Government has moved to water down the present requirements under the state-sponsored migrant worker system, to try to lift the number of overseas mining engineers etc who come to Queensland. Instead of watering down the standards and trying to lure foreign workers, the Newman Government should help train Queensland workers who are out of work and give them a go instead.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Peace March for Jill Meagher

For everyone who walked down Sydney Rd Brunswick yesterday it was undoubtedly the last thing we wanted to be doing.

But we did it all the same. Did it because we needed to state clearly and unequivocally that this is not us – that Jill Meagher’s violent and senseless death is not what we are as men, as people, as a community.

We did it because we needed to say that violence against women is never acceptable. Not under any circumstances.

We did it to affirm that Jill Meagher and her life mattered, that she and her lifer were important and meaningful to us.

We did it because sometimes grief and sorrow and anger is better shared than borne alone.

And we did it to look for answers to that ultimately unanswerable question. Why?

I have had preliminary discussions with the State Member for Brunswick Jane Garrett, Moreland Mayor John Kavanagh, Brunswick Police, and White Ribbon, and intend to have a joint forum about community safety in Brunswick in the next few weeks.

The intention of the forum will not be to promote fear or hysteria, but neither should it sweep anything under the carpet. It should be a clear-eyed and honest discussion about how we are travelling in terms of public safety, and what positive things we can do to make this community safer.