Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Building Excavation Not Good Enough

This morning I visited John Wade at his Engine Fit business in Nicholson Street Brunswick. His workshop has collapsed due to excavations next door. The damage is so great that it will almost certainly put him out of business for a year, threatening a 40 year family business.

But it could have been worse. If his son had not alerted everyone inside when he heard the wall cracking, enabling them to flee the building, there could have been injury or deaths.

This is not the first time Melbourne has seen building excavations causing chaos for next door properties. It raises two important questions. First, whether we should continue with the privatised system of building surveying introduced by the Kennett Government in the 1990s. Are building surveyors, who nowadays work for builders and developers, doing their job properly? Secondly, in our rush to cram more people into Melbourne in general and Moreland in particular, are we permitting high rise buildings that are not suitable for the land they are being built on?

I will await the findings of WorkSafe and Moreland Council, who are investigating the collapse, with great interest. Small family businesses like John Wade's deserve better than to be the innocent victims of developer greed and inadequate regulation.

Monday, September 28, 2015

457 Visa Workers Used to Undercut Australian Workers

I received a troubling letter from Mr Geoff McMahon, a constituent of mine who lives in North Coburg. Geoff is a 61 year old highly qualified electrical engineer. He has worked on numerous Australian fly in fly out resources jobs and says proudly that he has never been on the dole.

But in the last 18 months he has seen all his engineering roles handed to 457 visa workers, and has had just three months work.

He says Julie Bishop's statement that 457 visa workers who come to Australia are paid the same as their Australian counterparts "is a lie". He says he can testify from working alongside them that migrant workers are paid less. "While on the Santos GLNG project in Queensland, of the 105 engineers on gas compression Hub 04, I was one of two Australians, the rest were 457 visa workers. The Filipino engineers were paid $8 per hour. I told the Filipino that they are entitled to better pay. They all emphatically stated that they will not rock the boat and that $8 per hour was good pay for them".

Geoff McMahon concludes his letter with the plea "Please rid this country of 457 workers. I need to work". He is right. With 800,000 people in this country out of work – and many more like Geoff who don't count as unemployed but who are underemployed – 457s are an employer rort. We should wind down the 457 program and make sure Australian workers have the opportunities, the training, and the right financial incentives to do these jobs.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Election of Malcolm Turnbull as Liberal Leader

I congratulate Malcolm Turnbull on his election as Liberal Party Leader. It is an immense honour and privilege to lead the great nation of Australia and I wish him every success in this most important responsibility.

I also congratulate Bill Shorten, who has vanquished an elected Prime Minister in his first term, a tribute to his strong and effective leadership of the past two years.

The Australian people could have been served better by their political leaders in recent years, and I urge Malcolm Turnbull as Prime Minister to do three things.

First, give us evidence based policy, not ideology and voodoo. I am particularly thinking here of climate change. The level of public leadership of this issue by Tony Abbott was just appalling. Malcolm Turnbull has the chance to make Australia a team player in the international fight to cut carbon emissions. If he will not take a stronger target to Paris, he should certainly be willing to sign up to a stronger one at Paris in return for relevant commitments by other countries, which also have a role to play. He can also put a stop to the undermining of renewable energy and help rather than hinder the transition which Australia needs to make and is making.

Second, restore trust in politicians by keeping faith with election promises. The broken promises of the 2014 Budget were disastrous for Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey. Malcolm Turnbull should jettison them. He should in particular do away with the plan to deregulate student fees. Students are already fitted up with massive HECS-HELP debts; they should not be increased.

Third, he should be prepared to compromise and negotiate, rather than continue the ruthless take no prisoners approach of Mr Abbott. The China Free Trade Agreement is a case in point. Mr Abbott lost the support of the voters in Victoria and South Australia, and as a result he lost the support of Liberal MPs in those states, who feared losing their seats. Victoria and South Australia are referred to as the AFL States, but that was not Tony Abbott's problem. His problem was that they are manufacturing states. His government was prepared to trash manufacturing in order to get an outcome for agriculture. Last week I visited the Alucoil factory, a manufacturer just north of my electorate, where unemployment is over 20 per cent, which is threatened by cheap imports as a consequence of the China Free Trade Deal.

Malcolm Turnbull should reject this winner take all approach to politics and be prepared to compromise. Labor wants to negotiate protections for Australian workers against unfair competition from easily exploited temporary foreign workers. The China Free Trade Agreement does away with labour market testing for nurses, engineers, electricians, motor mechanics, and 200 other occupations. And if the China Free Trade Agreement has such public support as the Government claims, why is it that after weeks of pushing it in the Parliament that Malcolm Turnbull could say the Liberal Party was headed for electoral oblivion and have a clear majority of his colleagues agree with him?

Finally, when Labor replaced Kevin Rudd with Julia Gillard because we were headed for defeat in 2010 the chorus of scorn and derision from the Liberal Party and the media was deafening. We were told we had no right to do this. Now that the Liberal Party has taken precisely the same action, we await the relevant apologies.