Thursday, December 18, 2014

Australia's Rapid Population Growth Continues

Australian Bureau of Statistics figures show Australia's population reached 23 and a half million at the end of 2013/14, having increased by around 365,000 during the past year.

The natural increase in population – the number of births minus the number of deaths – was over 150,000 for the eighth year in a row, again making a nonsense of claims that without migration Australia's population would stop growing.

Net overseas migration was over 212,000. This is consistent with the average for this decade so far, which is nearly 50,000 higher than the average of 165,000 during the previous decade, and two and a half times the 80,000 average of the 1990s.

There is no precedent for Australia running such a migration program at a time of 6 per cent plus unemployment. It is a certain recipe for rising unemployment, long-term unemployment and job insecurity, with all the personal misery and social problems which arise from that.

Rapid population growth also leads to wildlife habitat destruction, increasing carbon emissions, rising cost of living, and makes it harder to balance the books. It is a short-sighted and greedy drive for profit from the big end of town which prejudices the future of our young people.

Senator Leyonhelm's Gun Madness

Senator Leyonhelm's opposition to John Howard's gun laws, and his view that the world would be a safer place if we all carried arms, is plain madness.

After 35 people, including small children, were killed at Port Arthur in 1996, the Australian Police Ministers Council agreed to a national plan for the regulation of firearms.

Since these laws were enacted Australia has not had a repeat of the massacres we had before they came into effect. The number of gun deaths in all categories – homicides, suicides, and accidental shootings – has declined dramatically since 1996, and thousands of Australian lives have been saved as a result.

Australia's deaths by firearms homicides dropped by 59 percent in the decade after the gun laws were tightened. Britain also achieved a decline in murders involving firearms after banning all private ownership of automatic weapons and virtually all handguns in 1996, after 16 children and their teacher were killed by a gunman in Dunblane, Scotland. Japan has very strict laws about guns – in 2008 only 11 people were killed with guns in Japan, while 12,000 people were killed by firearms in the United States!

In Australia people going for a jog are not at risk of being murdered by young thrill seekers, as happened to my former constituent Chris Lane, shot in the back in the United States last year. The United States has the lax gun laws that Senator Leyonholm admires, and it has one hundred times as many gun deaths each year as we do.

This is because, as research on the matter has shown, when you own or carry a gun, you are more likely to be the victim, perpetrator or accessory to a crime that wouldn't take place without it in the first place.

Before Adam Lanza killed 20 little schoolchildren and six teachers at Sandy Hook primary school, he killed his mother with a gun she had bought to enhance her safety. When Aaron Alexis killed 13 people in the Washington Navy Yard rampage last year, he killed a security guard with a shotgun he had purchased legally, took the guard's weapon and killed another victim with that after his shotgun ran out of ammunition.

The fewer guns there are in Australia, the safer we all are.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Liberal Government Wimps Out on Multinational Tax Avoidance

Today's reports that Treasurer Joe Hockey has backed away from action to tackle companies that avoid tax by shifting billions of dollars in profits between Australia and their international subsidiaries are remarkable for a number of reasons.

First, the Government said it would act to stop tax avoidance by profit shifting across international borders – though given the mountainous pile of broken promises perhaps a gap between promise and performance is no longer remarkable.

Second, the issue of global corporations loading up subsidiaries with debt so they can claim to have made all their profits in low tax jurisdictions was a major topic of discussion at the G20 Conference, where countries were urged by civil society to stop global tax avoidance. Australia needs to be part of the international effort to combat this.

Third, only this week the government was crying poor in releasing its MYEFO estimates and saying it had suffered a revenue downturn and would have to cut spending. The projected benefit to the revenue from abolishing deductions under Section 25-90 of the Income Tax Assessment Act is $600 million. Before the government attacks students, pensioners and the unemployed it should enact this measure and make sure multinational corporations are paying their fair share of tax.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Mid-Year Economic Forecast

There are five points that ought to be made about Australia's deteriorating budget position.

First, Joe Hockey and the Liberal Government must never be allowed to forget the standards they applied when the Labor Government's predictions of a Budget Surplus did not eventuate due to declining revenue. They insisted this was no excuse, and accused the Government of incompetence and worse – Joe Hockey talked about people going to jail over such matters. They said there would be no excuses.

Second, the big end of town and their Liberal Party and media cheer squad will try to use the deteriorating Budget position to promote their ideological agenda of cutting back Government spending, jobs and services. No matter what the state of the economy they always advance this agenda. But Joe Hockey's Budget has damaged consumer confidence and contributed to the rising Budget Deficit and rising unemployment we now see. It was a shock, not a shock absorber. Austerity measures in Europe following the GFC made those economies worse. They didn't work there and they won't work here.

Third, it is possible to balance the books without taking the axe to health, education, or pensions. The Liberal Government has chosen to greatly increase Australia's defence spending to 2 per cent of GDP. This is an arbitrary figure and an increase which will not make Australia a safer place. We could do much more to close tax breaks both offshore and onshore, which have increased substantially in recent years. We don't need to continue negative gearing, which costs taxpayers dearly and pushes up the cost of housing at the expense of young Australian homebuyers who can't afford to buy a home.

Fourth, we have pursued policies for years now of globalisation and free trade which have promoted mining and damaged manufacturing. This was very short-sighted. For years I and others have pointed out that we should be doing more to spread the benefits of the mining boom, and that it was foolish to put all our eggs in the mining basket, and allow the dollar to rise and kill off manufacturing. Our economy has become too narrow, and we are way too vulnerable to things like a fall in commodity prices. The free trade fundamentalists have left us vulnerable and exposed.
Finally, we have lost interest in the current account deficit and the national debt. There was a time when the Liberal Party rolled out a "Debt Truck" to draw public attention to our trade imbalance and our overseas debt. But while the current account deficit and the overseas debt turned the Debt Truck into a metaphorical Road Train or Ocean Liner, they lost interest in this. Instead of encouraging household saving and investment by Australian owned companies or superannuation funds, they think foreign debt is not a problem provided it is turned into equity – selling off the farm. Again this is an incredibly short-sighted view and a recipe for Budget Deficits as far as the eye can see.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Register of Foreign Land Ownership Delay

I am concerned that the Australian Government's Register of Foreign Land Ownership has been delayed. This is something Australian people tell me they want, and Australian Governments regularly promise, but which never seems to happen.

Recently I visited Colac to discuss with Colac dairy farmers their concern at the prospect of foreign large scale purchases of dairy farms in South-West Victoria. The point they made to me was that if a foreign company buys Victorian farmland, brings in foreign workers to produce the milk, exports the product to foreign consumers, and the profits also go offshore, how do Victorian communities benefit? What kind of future does this provide for our young people?

I have also raised in the Parliament the use of holding companies to disguise the real levels of foreign ownership. Until a proper Register is put into place, I doubt that we will know the real levels of foreign ownership of Australian land.
I am not opposed to foreign investment. But there is a world of difference between investment, where the investor shares the risks and rewards with local businesses and employees, and ownership, where Australia loses control over its own destiny. We need real transparency about foreign ownership of Australian land, and we need it sooner rather than later.

Appointment of Former Liberal and National MPs

Attorney General Senator Brandis has continued the Labor Government's tradition of appointing former Liberal and National Party MPs to government positions.

Senator Brandis has appointed former Nationals MP Paul Neville to the National Film and Sound Archive Board, former Liberal Senator Gary Humphries as a Deputy President of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, and former Liberal Minister Ian Campbell and former NSW Liberal leader Peter Collins to the Council of the National Maritime Museum.

Senator Brandis has also appointed right-wing columnist Janet Albrechtsen to the council of the National Museum of Australia.

Former Liberal and National MPs Bruce Baird, Brendan Nelson, Peter Costello, Warwick Smith, Margaret Reid, John Fahey, Ross Cameron, Chris Puplick, Russell Trood, Paul Calvert, Nick Minchin, Peter Rae, Trish Worth, Sandy McDonald and Alexander Downer received Government positions during the period of the Rudd and Gillard Governments.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Unemployment Jump More Bad News for Santa

A week ago Joe Hockey was urging consumers to look after Santa. But the latest rise in unemployment is still more evidence that the Liberal Government is Santa's great enemy.

Unemployment has risen to 6.3 per cent. Over 775,000 Australians are out of work. The total number of hours worked in Australia last month actually FELL by 0.3 per cent. This is clearly a recipe for an income recession. This is clearly a major reason why the Westpac-Melbourne Institute Consumer Sentiment Index is now at its lowest level in over three years. Ugly news for Santa.

The big end of town doesn't care about unemployment or job insecurity, because they believe they make better profits if they can keep wages down, and they think that unemployment and job insecurity through a part-time, casualised workforce, keeps wages down. They should be careful for what they wish for. The economy is not travelling well, and could get worse.

There is a number of things the Liberal Government could do to stop the slide in consumer confidence. They could abandon their plans to deregulate student fees and to cut pension indexation. They could abandon their plans for job cuts in health, education, the CSIRO, the ABC, and many other areas of the public sector workforce. They could stop undermining manufacturing in Australia's automotive component parts and shipbuilding industries.

But most of all they should put a stop to the migrant worker programs that skyrocketed in times when Australia's unemployment was much lower and job security was much higher.

It is crazy that we now have permanent net overseas migration running at three times the rate it did during the 1990s, and in addition we have over one million people in Australia on temporary visas which give them work rights.

The Consumer Sentiment Index and today's unemployment rise show the absurdity of Joe Hockey urging consumers to spend up big for Santa. It is like a Football Coach who has his players run twenty laps and do a hundred push ups on the morning of a match, then exhorts his team to go out and kill em.