Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Climate Change Authority Targets Should Be Supported

The independent Climate Change Authority has recommended that Australia adopt a target to cut greenhouse gases by 30 per cent by 2025, compared with year 2000 levels.

They recommend this as part of a transition away from carbon based energy into renewable energy, in which we would cut our emissions by 19 per cent by 2020, 30 percent by 2025, and 40 to 60 per cent by 2030, compared with year 2000 levels.

This is highly consistent with the two per cent per annum cut I have been advocating since before 2010, which would have given us a 20 per cent reduction by 2020, a 30 per cent reduction by 2025, 40 per cent reduction by 2030, 80 per cent cut by 2050, and complete decarbonisation by 2060. The 80 per cent cut by 2050 is consistent with Labor's National Platform of 2011.

The Climate Change Authority recommendations deserve support on a number of grounds.

First, extreme weather events are already impacting on Australia and if the world does not move to renewable energy we have a lot to lose. We have more skin in the game than most.

Second, the Climate Change Authority, chaired by Bernie Fraser, was created by the Australian Government to provide independent advice on greenhouse gas targets, and brings together a strong understanding of the best science, the international context, and the economic impacts.

Third, we cannot expect to be taken seriously by the rest of the world unless our own actions reflect serious intent. Europe has committed to a 50 per cent reduction on 1990 levels by 2030. The United States has committed to 26-28 per cent reductions on 2005 levels by 2025. China has committed to peaking emissions in 2030.

Fourth, Australia is a major emitter. We are the thirteenth highest emitter in the world in absolute emissions, and the highest in per capita terms. It is not true that our actions don't matter.

Fifth, we can do this without economic damage. Our renewable energy industry is perfectly capable of meeting electricity demand over time provided Governments don't sabotage it. Last week Australia's largest greenhouse gas emitter, AGL Energy, committed to closing all its coal-fired power stations by 2050 and not building any new ones, thereby completely decarbonising its energy generation by 2050.
 
Australia should adopt the Climate Change Authority targets, and take them to the global climate summit in Paris later this year. The question is how do we want to be remembered by future generations – as greedy, selfish and short-sighted, or as visionary, intelligent and compassionate?

Friday, April 10, 2015

Royal Park Freeway

It was encouraging to see the Liberal Party Review of the 2014 Victorian Election acknowledge that their campaign “relied excessively on infrastructure announcements, with the focus falling on one initiative, the East West Link”. Indeed. $8 billion for a tunnel! The private sector sure saw them coming.

Hopefully this insight will see them abandon this foolish project and examine ways to spend taxpayers and motorists dollars to achieve real public benefit. The Federal Government should take the opportunity provided by the Review to re-direct tunnel money into grade separations, putting Melbourne’s most congested and dangerous rail crossings underground.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Ice Epidemic

I welcome the initiative by Prime Minister Abbott in establishing a Taskforce on the drug ice to be chaired by Ken Lay. Last year I hosted a visit to Federal Parliament by the renowned youth worker Les Twentyman OAM to talk about the Ice Epidemic.

In February I held a very well attended Wills Youth Issues Forum in my electorate focusing on the impact of ice and other drugs. At the forum Victoria Police and other experts re-enforced the comments of Ken Lay and Minister Keenan that while policing is essential we can’t just police our way out of this problem.
 
Following that Forum I wrote to the Prime Minister and to other relevant Ministers setting out the discussion and proposals which came forward at that Forum. I am pleased that the Government has responded to the massive challenge which ice poses, and I will forward the discussion and proposals from the Wills Youth Issues Forum to that Taskforce. I will also seek to contribute constructively to its work with proposals concerning employment, treatment services and parenting issues which I believe we need to address in order to better deal with this twenty-first century blight on our society.

Tax Avoidance

There are plenty of thought bubbles and kite flying going on about tax, but until the government actually commits to something, it looks for all the world that they’re just playing games and trying to sucker punch the Opposition.

For example we’ve had plenty of discussion about tax avoidance by multinational corporations, and Labor produced a plan a month ago to crack down on the use of hybrid structures and dodgy tax deductions by multinationals that would bring in $1.9 billion over a 1 year period to spend on things like schools and hospitals.

And where was the Government on this? They suddenly went missing in action! So if the government wants some bipartisanship on tax, why not pick that up – that has been costed by the Parliamentary Budget Office.

It is possible to improve the Budget outcome without attacking health, education or pensions. For example we have allowed companies to avoid paying tax on their income. An internal Australian Tax Office memo obtained under Freedom of Information and reported by Heath Aston in The Age ( 4 April 2015, p1) said 10 companies had channelled a combined total of $31.4 billion from Australia to Singapore in the 2011-2012 financial year.

An energy company operating in Australia transferred more than $11 billion to the low-tax jurisdiction of Singapore in that year. In the same year an estimated $60 billion in so-called "related party" transactions went from Australia to tax havens. Energy companies have established "marketing hubs" in Singapore, but their principal purpose appears to be as a destination to shift profits in order to pay less tax.
 
As Mike Steketee wrote recently, “The rising inequality of income and wealth in developed nations has come into sharp focus in recent years but it does not seem to have made its way on to the Government's radar, even though it is the tax system that potentially can play the largest role in influencing the trend”. Since this government lacks the will to address corporate tax avoidance, Labor is taking the lead.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Vale Frank Cox

Frank Cox was a remarkable man who passionately served the community of Moreland for 33 years as Councillor of the former City of Coburg. He was elected Mayor on three occasions.

His passing last Friday March 20 at the grand age of 99 leaves behind a legacy which will remain for future generations to enjoy and from which we all can learn. He was a traditional Labor community minded civic representative who worked tirelessly for the community he represented. He was awarded the OAM in the Order of Australia in 1980 in recognition of his selfless and indefatigable efforts for the Coburg community. He was a Life Member of the Australian Labor Party and to the end he was clear minded and an active member of the local RSL.

Frank was a veteran of the Second World War, serving in the Signals Corp. It was his love of motorbikes that had him pointed out as ‘you’re it’ for the job of delivering messages between camps.  He never wanted to speak of that experience. When drawn into a conversation and asked about his service in the war, he would only say that he ‘could not repeat man’s inhumanity towards man’. He was a prisoner of war, captured in Greece and taken to Germany where he remained as a POW until the end of the war.

The community of the now City of Moreland owes much to this man, who took a personal hands on role in the realisation of numerous community projects, such as the Jackson Reserve Sporting Complex, the Coburg Basketball Stadium, the establishment of the Newlands Seniors Citizens’ club, and the Newlands Colts Junior Football Club.

Frank had an extensive involvement with the Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works. He was a great representative and advocate for Newlands, and served on its Kindergarten, Primary School, and High School Committees. He was a foundation member of the Disabled Motorists Association of Victoria.

I had the great pleasure of serving with Frank on the Coburg Council. He was a natural leader, strong willed and relentlessly energetic. He had disagreements with me and with other Councillors often enough, but he was always focussed on the issue, never on the personality, and he was always able to move on to the next challenge. We were friends for the next 25 years, and I regret being deprived by a matter of a few months of the opportunity to present him with 100th Birthday Congratulations.
 
He was a major figure in Coburg for decades, and he will be greatly missed. I extend my condolences to his wife Clarice and to his children and extended family.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Liberal Party Double Standards on East West Link Contract

The Victorian Liberal Party carried out a disgraceful act of bastardry prior to the last State Election by entering into a secret contract with the East West Link Consortium purporting to guarantee them hundreds of millions of dollars in the event that the project did not proceed.

The Victorian Labor Government was elected with an express commitment not to proceed with this project, in an election described by the Prime Minister as a Referendum on the East West Link. Now the Liberal Party and its cheer squad say the Labor Government must honour this dodgy deal, at massive cost to Victorian taxpayers.

But the Liberal cheer squad is nowhere to be seen when the ACT Liberal Opposition says it won't be honouring contracts to build a $783 million light rail in Canberra. The ACT Liberals say they have let voters know they would not proceed with the light rail project (so did Victorian Labor) and that they are willing "to work with the contractor to try and re scope the project to something far more beneficial" (as did Victorian Labor).

So where is the Federal Liberal Party demand that the ACT Liberals abandon their opposition to the light rail project and agree to implement any contracts the ACT government enters into?

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Victoria's Record Underemployment

The Intergenerational Report is used to claim that we don't have enough workers, and imply that we need more – either migrant workers or people working longer. The reality is the opposite.

Victorian workers are struggling to find enough hours in record numbers, with our under-employment rate now at its highest level for almost forty years. 293,000 part-time workers are looking for and available to work more hours but can't get them. 9.5 per cent of Victoria's workforce is now classified as underemployed, the highest since the Bureau of statistics started keeping records in 1978.

So the real problem we have right now, not the imaginary problem we might have in the future, is not too few workers, but too many.

The Intergenerational Report's unsurprising and unremarkable finding that the population is ageing is used to claim that the workforce is constrained by the supply of workers, implying that there is work for all who offer themselves. As the figures above show, this is rubbish. It leads to a "blame the victim" approach in unemployment, welfare to work programs and job readiness training.

The Report is used to claim that population ageing in Australia will be a debacle. Will it? Helpfully, there are other countries with a noticeably older population than Australia, so we can compare our performance with theirs. The Queensland academic Jane O'Sullivan has done this in a chapter in the book "Sustainable Futures", recently published by the CSIRO.

Denmark, Sweden, Germany, Finland and the United Kingdom all have a much greater old age dependency ratio than does Australia. Between 2000 and 2010 Australia's population grew at three times the rate of Sweden, Denmark, the UK and Finland, twice the rate of Norway's, and Germany didn't grow at all.

So with our much faster population growth and our younger workforce, we would have outperformed those countries, right? Wrong. Germany and the UK had the same per capita increase in income in the 2000-10 period, and Sweden and Finland had much higher growth in per capita income. And every one of those five countries performed much better than Australia in terms of the percentage of income received by the poorest quintile. This is important – income inequality in developed nations is strongly correlated with worse physical health, mental health, drug abuse, imprisonment, obesity, violence, and teenage pregnancy.

As Jane O'Sullivan puts it, in stable populations like Germany, people retire with considerable savings, and give more to the next generation than they receive from them. Their retirement opens up recreational opportunities for them and a job opportunity for a young person. In contrast, the vibrancy claimed for a rapidly growing population is often that of the crowded marketplace with more buyers than sellers, where recreation is something reserved for elites and foreign tourists.
 
As said by William Grey, from the University of Queensland, growth is the problem to which it pretends to be the solution.