Monday, August 18, 2014

Police Association Links Crime to Population Growth

The Victorian Police Association has called for an extra 1880 first response officers to deal with rapidly rising demand on a stretched Police Force. The Sunday Herald Sun has reported police force fears that ghettos and no-go zones could emerge unless Victoria Police gets more police.

Police Association Secretary Detective Ron Iddles said that population growth and crime went hand-in-hand. He said "Population is the main driver of demand for police resources and it is no surprise that crime rates are rising when Victoria's population is growing at the fastest rate in decades".

He is absolutely right. There would not be the increasing levels of crime and the need for more and more police if Victoria was not running such rapid population growth. Furthermore it is unfair that ordinary Victorians, who have not asked for and are not the beneficiaries of rapid population growth, should be expected to pay for its consequences, such as a big increase in police numbers.

It is the population boosters such as the Housing Industry Association, and the property developers who make a killing through population driven rising land prices, who should pay for these costs, not ordinary Victorians.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Reduce Unemployment

Reports today that the Australian Government will make it easier for employers across Northern Australia to import workers for a $34 billion gas project betrays a total lack of understanding of the seriousness of current local unemployment levels, and a tin ear when it comes to responding to the last week’s revelations of fraud in our migrant worker programs.
Only last week the national jobless rate jumped to 6.4 per cent, the highest point since August 2002. 789,000 Australians are now out of work. Our unemployment rate is now higher than that of the United States – 6.4 compared with 6.2 – for the first time since 2007. Youth unemployment is particularly troubling. Unemployment for 15-24 year olds is now over sixteen percent – 16.1 – the highest level since 2001. In my home state of Victoria unemployment is an unacceptable 7 percent, the highest level for nearly 13 years.

Unemployment can feed on itself, damaging confidence and inducing a downward spiral. The Reserve Bank has signalled that Australia's jobless rate could remain high for the next two years, saying in its quarterly update on the Australian economy that it will be "elevated for some time yet". Yet despite all this the Liberal Government apparently wants to introduce a scheme where employers will be able to water down English-language requirements, skills benchmarks and minimum salaries. This represents a race to the bottom in employment standards, and a slap in the face to unemployed Australians.

In Australia we have over 1 million people from other countries on temporary visas who have work rights. I am even more strongly of the view that we need to cut back the migrant worker programs given last week’s revelations of widespread visa fraud in recent years. Anything up to 90 per cent of Skilled Migration visa applications could contain fraudulent claims about qualifications, or work experience etc.

The proposed scheme will exacerbate existing problems as employers will be able to hire semi-skilled workers without having to meet strict language, salary and training requirements.

If the Australian Government was sincere about reducing unemployment, it would not make it easy for employers to bring in overseas workers. It would urge them to employ unemployed Australians.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Dental Health Week

4 to 10 August is Dental Health Week. The Australian Dentists Association is using Dental Health Week to draw attention to healthy eating and the importance of stopping tooth decay. The number one cause of tooth decay is the frequent consumption of sugary foods and drinks.

The Australian Dental Association says many snacks that are marketed as healthy are actually high in sugar and get stuck to kids teeth, resulting in acid attacks which cause decay. Some of the major culprits are dried fruit, sweet and savoury biscuits, fruit juice, muesli bars, crackers, children's cereals, flavoured milk, sweetened yoghurt, fruit bars, fruit slices, and flavoured popcorn.
The Dental Association urges tighter advertising standards such as a ban on unhealthy television food advertising during broadcast periods when high numbers of children are watching TV. This is because the Dental Association has found that 33 per cent of Australian parents admit to allowing their children to have soft drinks, fruit juice and energy drinks four or more times a week, and 72 per cent of parents find it difficult to get their children to eat less sugary foods.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Treaties Committee Hearing Canberra 5 August 2014 – Korean Bilateral Trade Deal

During the Labor Government period Australia refused to agree to a deal with Korea that included an investor state dispute settlement clause. Why have we agreed to one now? We are not some banana republic that runs around confiscating foreign property.

Doesn't the ISDS give foreign investors rights that domestic investors don't have?

Didn't the Productivity Commission find in its 2010 Report on Bilateral Trade Agreements that foreign investors have greater legal rights than domestic businesses because ISDS gives them access to third party arbitration?

Isn't ISDS inherently anti-democratic – it means that governments that want to take actions that they believe are in the public interest, in the best interests of the nation, can find themselves being sued by multinational corporations and brought before arbitrators who in fact before or after the case might be hired by those same multinational corporations?

Isn't the case being brought by Philip Morris against the Australian Government over its plain packaging regulation, using the ISDS clause in the Hong Kong trade treaty, inherently undemocratic?

Given that a 2009 survey of ISDS found 33 cases with claims over $1 billion US, and more than 100 cases with claims between US $100 million and US $ 900 million, it's not right that the Philip Morris case is an isolated one.

Why does this Treaty have an ISDS clause and the Japanese treaty not have one? If the Japanese were happy enough to sign a Trade Agreement without an ISDS clause, why weren't the Koreans?

What did we get out of the Korean deal, as compared with the Japanese deal, that made this handcuff on our democracy worthwhile?

What modelling has been done to establish the likely impact of KAFTA on Australian manufacturing?

When you were negotiating the Korean deal, did you ask the Australian motor vehicle manufacturers Ford Holden and Toyota whether a bilateral Trade Agreement with Korea could risk bringing forward their closure date?

We have had evidence that there is a risk that one or more of these companies could bring forward their closure date. This would be terrible if it were true. It is absolutely imperative that the automotive parts suppliers that presently depend on these manufacturers get as much time as possible to find other markets or other products, and imperative that the workers at these factories have as much time as possible to find other jobs and develop other skills. The market theory is that these workers and businesses can move to other parts of the economy, but the market reality is that will not happen unless there is time. Ford is not scheduled to close till October 2016, and Holden and Toyota say they will motor on until 2017. Don't we need to hang on to this, rather than walk away from it?

During the course of the negotiations, who did you consult and in what detail?

The reason I ask is that the question of consultation has been highly controversial in evidence before the committee. On the one hand we have unions and civil society saying the se bilateral trade agreements are a closed book. No-one sees them till they are signed and they are then presented to the Parliament on a take it or leave it basis. They say there is nowhere near enough consultation or transparency. Then on the other hand we have the agribusinesses who give completely opposite evidence saying they couldn't be happier with the consultation and give the Department absolutely glowing reports. Now I think you would agree that all sorts of people have vested interests in these Trade Agreements – agribusinesses, manufacturers, unions, farmers, internet service providers, copyright holders, consumers and so on. Am I right in thinking that there is a double standard at work – that some people are kept in the loop, while others are kept in the dark?

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.