Tuesday, July 22, 2014


Tuesday 22nd July 2014


The news that a Malaysian civilian plane has been shot down, with the loss of everyone on board, is shocking. So too is the news of ongoing conflict in Gaza, with Palestinians shooting rockets at Israeli civilians, and Israeli bombs killing Palestinian children.

These tragic events, and many others, make it clear that we need to do more to make the world safe for civilians. There should be United Nations peacekeepers in Ukraine, in Gaza, and around the world wherever there is conflict and there are civilian lives at risk.

Australia will hold the United Nations Security Council Presidency for a month in November. What should we be doing with this rare opportunity?

I am dismayed and often disgusted by events in Iraq, Syria, Gaza, Afghanistan and Ukraine. I know the people of North Korea are brutalised by their leaders and that drug lords in Mexico and Colombia routinely put on public display the bodies of those they have executed. The antics of Boko Haram, Al Shebab and other violent fundamentalists make me sick.

I don't believe in unilateral action of the "coalition of the willing" kind. As we have seen only too clearly from Vietnam to Iraq, that only makes matters worse, with violence begetting violence. But I don't believe we can just sit here and shrug our shoulders and say there is nothing we can do about it.

I do believe in collective international action to solve problems. And of course we have the United Nations, established precisely to solve international problems and to seek to improve on the abysmal record of the First and Second World Wars. I know it does a lot of good, but the level of global violence suggests that it needs to be doing much more.

Why doesn't it do more? Well that would be because the big powers - members of the UN Security Council with a veto power over UN action - are prepared to turn a blind eye to, to cover up, the sins and misdeeds of their allies and supporters. No-one has clean hands here. Not the United States, not Russia, not China. All three of them are guilty of putting up with outrageous conduct when it Is done by one of their supporters, and all three are willing to use their veto power in the Security Council to stop the UN from taking meaningful action.

Over my years of political life I've come to realise that a key measure of political integrity is what political leaders are prepared to tolerate by way of misconduct from people in their camp. And at present the big powers, instead of working together to put an end to war and political violence, are prepared to tolerate way too much.

Of course getting the big powers to lift their game is no easy matter. But I make three observations that might help. First, people concerned about global conflict should seek to breathe new life into the "responsibility to protect". This doctrine took a long time to develop and was very quickly put into cold storage after Libya. But it does have the potential to save civilian lives, and we should demand that the UN Security Council uses it when outbreaks of violence occur. Some people might think that this will require a lot more resources for the UN. But it is nonsense to think that we don't have these resources readily at hand. The US, Russia and China have massive numbers of troops and equipment at their disposal. All that is required is for some of these resources to be handed over to the UN, and to operate as blue helmets.

Second, we should be wary of the way that trade agreements and global trading arrangements act as a handbrake and make countries reluctant to tell home truths to their trading partners. Countries around the world should not allow their independence and self-sufficiency to become so compromised that they cannot say what needs to be said or do what needs to be done.

Third, our attitude matters. Everyone has to be willing to put the weights on the big countries and demand action from them. It is not good enough to let them blame this or that rogue state, or rogue General, or rogue religious leader. We should tell the big powers we know they can the fix the problem if they genuinely want to, or if they can't that the world is willing to help out.

Not an easy row to hoe, to be sure, and often inconvenient. But far superior to Coalition of the Willing type unilateral action, which has proven to be disastrous, and far superior to fatalism, and meekly allowing this violence to continue, or trying to pick up the refugee pieces. That is an ambulance at the bottom of the cliff, when what is needed is more fences at the top. An ounce of prevention is indeed worth a pound of cure, and we should use our time in the sun chairing the Security Council to advocate that.

Kelvin Thomson
Member for Wills

Thursday, July 17, 2014

End to Carbon Price Reinforces Need for Renewable Energy Target

The abolition of the carbon price underscores the importance of the Renewable Energy Target. It is now the only national initiative directed at reducing Australia's greenhouse gas emissions. The last hope.

And it is a very effective one. The Climate Change Authority has forecast the target will cut emissions by 102 million tonnes between 2012 and 2020. That is a significant part of Australia's commitment to lower emissions from 2000 levels by 2020. The renewable energy industry now employs over 20,000 workers, many of them in regional Australia.

It is high time the Liberal Government stopped undermining and white-anting the Renewable Energy Target. It should wind up the Warburton Review - I thought they were against reviews – and let the RET get on with the task of moving Australia to the clean energy of the future.

The Renewable Energy Target is Direct Action – we need to promote it, not attack it.

The Government says that abolishing the carbon price will lead to electricity bills being cut by 9 per cent, and that the average power bill will be $200 a year lower. New South Wales power companies don't agree. The NSW power network companies Ausgrid, Endeavour Energy, Essential Energy and Transgrid have submitted proposals to the Australian Energy Regulator to INCREASE their prices over the next four years.
The Australian Energy Regulator should not agree to this. Let's see whether electricity bills for industry and consumers now actually come down, and by how much.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Moreland Holding Pattern Leads to Developer Stampede

I am very concerned at reports that there has been a surge of developer applications for high rise and higher density building projects since the plan for new residential zoning was announced.

Clay Lucas in The Age reports that since the new zones were announced there has been a 35 per cent rise in planning applications.

Whereas Council normally receives between 80 and 100 planning applications each month, in May it received 208, and in June it received 248. On June 30 the last day before the interim zones came in, it got 40 planning applications!

As Ernest Healy from Monash University has pointed out, there is at present a window of opportunity for developers to get medium density in places which in due course will be designated as lower density.

The State Government and local councils such as Moreland need to close off this window as soon as possible, and put in place zones that properly reflect the views and interests of local residents.

ABARE Report Exposes Live Export Myths

The Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES) Live export trade assessment report:
  • Confirms that live export is not a significant industry in Australia and pales in comparison to our boxed meat exports.
  • Confirms that most Australian farmers don’t live export.
  • Confirms that the vast majority of those who do are not reliant on the trade.
  • Indicates that for sheep farms involved in the trade (just 7% of ALL farms in Australia), live export contributes very little to total farm income (average 7%).
  • Finds that just 12% of northern cattle producers derive half their income from live exports (180 farms from a total of 1,500).
  • Dispels the myth that importing countries won’t substitute live animals with boxed meat – concluding that the Middle East, Egypt and parts of South East Asia will take meat from Australia when live animals are not available.
  • Finds that the potential for meat imports to substitute for live cattle imports has increased in recent years, reflecting improving availability of refrigeration and increasing supply of low-cost beef imports.
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 presently depend on the live export trade.

We should move towards the more viable economic alternative of 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 legitimate welfare concerns. Doing so would better position us economically to take advantage of the changing demand for quality produce from the growing Asian middle-classes in the Asian century.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Temporary Moreland Zoning

It is a debacle that developers can now apply for approvals under a temporary zoning system which doesn’t adequately protect neighbourhood character.

Both the State Government and Moreland City Council had a responsibility to avoid this outcome – the Council should have developed a housing strategy as eastern suburb councils have done, and the State Government should not have truncated the process with its 1 July deadline.

Both Council and the State Government need to work quickly and cooperatively to get the new zones in place which properly protect neighbourhood character and resident rights.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Doubling of Foreign Purchase of Australia Real Estate

Rick Wallace in The Australian has reported that in the first 9 months of the 2013-14 financial year, sales of Australian real estate to foreign purchasers are almost double the total of the whole of last year, and represent a record 13% of the total value of property sold.

In Victoria, the situation for first homebuyers is even worse. Purchases by overseas purchasers made up 23.2% - almost a quarter of the total value of property sold in Victoria over this period.

This information was extracted from Treasury figures and supplied to a parliamentary inquiry by RP Data.

The doubling of foreign purchases of Australian established property in the last financial year comes at the expense of first homebuyers, who are now priced out of the market.

I believe the Foreign Investment Review Board is na├»ve, under-resourced and doesn’t actually regard it as its mission to maintain Australian ownership of Australian real estate. Young Australians who can’t afford to buy a home are the silent victims of this neglect and indifference.

I would like to see the Parliamentary Committee find out whether foreign investors who breach the law are actually required to sell the houses they have acquired. I would also like to see the Parliamentary Committee examine what happens to house purchased by, or in the name of, overseas students – whether they really are sold after the student leaves Australia, as they are supposed to be.

The Parliamentary Committee needs to ensure that our rules are enforced and that loopholes are closed down.