Friday, December 21, 2012

Response to My Letter on Gun Law Reform from Washington State US Senator Patty Murray

United States Senator Patty Murray has responded to my letter urging the US to adopt Australia's gun laws :

"Thank you for writing me regarding the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.  It was good to hear from you.
As a mother, grandmother, and former preschool teacher I was shocked by the tragedy that unfolded in Newtown.  My thoughts and prayers go out to the families and loved ones of the victims whose loss is difficult to comprehend.  

Unfortunately, this horrific tragedy was another in a long line of gun violence episodes that have ranged from places like Columbine, Virginia Tech, and Aurora to coffee shops in Lakewood to the corner of South Byron Street and McClintock Ave South in Seattle.  These episodes have plagued our cities, our schools, and our shared sense of security.  This cannot go on.  As a society we need to come together to begin a real conversation on all the factors contributing to those horrific instances of gun violence, but we also need to take specific action to bolster our current gun safety laws.
There is no question that we can and should limit access to the assault style weapons of war that are on our streets and that are too often being used to kill innocent people indiscriminately. I have repeatedly voted for an assault weapons ban and will do so again as soon as we can get a bill to the Senate floor. 
But preventing tragedies like the one in Newtown will take more than just common-sense gun policies and enforcement. It will also take a renewed commitment to understanding and dealing with the root causes that lead isolated individuals to carry out these atrocities.  At this moment, everything needs to be on the table for scrutiny. 
Our nation is at a crossroads moment, and we must take the path that protects future generations from re-living these gun violence tragedies over and over again.  It will take the courage of people with opposing views but a common purpose sitting down with one another and agreeing that the status quo is unacceptable.
Please be assured I will keep your views in mind as I work with my colleagues and please feel free to share with me your ideas on how to address this crisis. Thank you for contacting me, and please do not hesitate to contact me again".

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

US Should Look at Australia's Gun Laws

This is a letter I have written to members of the United States Congress urging them to adopt Australia’s gun laws:

“As a Member of the Australian Parliament I am writing to urge you to adopt Australia’s gun laws in the United States.

I am aware of the risk of advice from outsiders being unwelcome, but feel compelled to write all the same because

1. We cannot sit idly by and just allow senseless and avoidable deaths, in this case including 20 small children, to go on, and
2. Australia’s experience is crystal clear and I believe the United States can benefit from it.

After 35 people, including small children, were killed in the Australian island State of Tasmania in April, 1996, the Australian Police Ministers Council agreed to a national plan for the regulation of firearms.  The Plan is known as the National Firearms Agreement and its terms include:

•Banning military style automatic and semi-automatic firearms;
•Limiting the availability of non-military style semi-automatic rifles and shotguns to primary producers, professional vermin exterminators, and a limited class of clay target firearm users;
•Introducing registration for all firearms, including longarms;
•Grouping firearms into 5 broad licensing categories;
•Requiring all licence applicants to establish a genuine reason for firearms ownership;
•Requiring all licence applicants other than those applying for category A firearms to establish that they have a special need for the particular category of firearm;
•Requiring that permits be acquired for every new firearm purchase, with the issue of a permit to be subject to a waiting period of at least 28 days to enable appropriate checks to be made;
•Stricter storage requirements for all firearms; and
•Requiring all sales to be conducted by or through licensed firearms dealers.

Since these laws were enacted in 1996 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.

I implore you to look at our experience.  As the number of guns in Australia reduced, so too did gun violence.   It is simply not true that owning a gun makes you safer.  The fact that Adam Lanza’s mother was killed with a weapon she owned is all too familiar.

More weapons in homes and schools = more killing.

Those families who have lost a loved one are in our hearts and thoughts at this time. But please let this not be yet again condolences and prayers and hand-wringing – let this be the time when something real was accomplished.

There are plenty of problems in our world which are beyond the power of legislators to do much about.  This is not one of them”.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Treatment of Cattle in Israel Abbatoir

The treatment of these cattle was described as sadistic, and appalling, not by me, not by animal welfare activists, but by industry and government representatives.

They were right about that. They were not right, however, in suggesting the footage and the response represent the system in action.

We don’t know about this mistreatment due to the work of industry appointed auditors. We know about it due to the footage obtained by an Israeli journalist working undercover.

Indeed the best the Elders auditor could come up with when they inspected the abbatoir was that one of the gates was rusty and too noisy! I said last year when these arrangements were being put in place that it should be animal welfare groups like Animals Australia or the RSPCA doing this work. The industry ignored that call, so I’ll repeat it.

If the live animal export industry expects the public to have any confidence in it, it needs to contract representatives of animal welfare groups to carry out audits and inspections of overseas abbatoirs.

I congratulate the Israeli journalist on his work in bringing this mistreatment to the attention of the public.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Electricity Prices

It seems to me that a key driver of rising electricity prices that doesn’t get much attention in the electricity prices debate is population growth. This growth was driving electricity prices up at twice the rate of CPI long before the carbon price ever showed up. I did a detailed speech in Parliament in late 2010 about this issue, which pointed out that electricity prices in Sydney and Melbourne had doubled in the previous decade, which was twice the rate of CPI.

The impact of population growth on the cost of infrastructure isn’t well understood, not even by policy makers. If the average life of the nation’s infrastructure is 50 years, then you’ve got to set aside 2% of the nation’s income every year to keep replacing it and deal with it wearing out. But if your population is increasing by 2% a year then the new people need 100% extra infrastructure for their needs, so you’ve got to set aside another 2% of the nation’s income for that, that is, twice as much as with a stable population.

A 2% population increase only gets you 2% extra income, but it doubles your infrastructure spend. That’s why electricity, gas, water, council rates all keep rising higher than inflation. I don’t think it’s fair that pensioners and ordinary consumers should have to pay for this. I think that it’s the beneficiaries of population growth who should pay for the costs of it. The principal beneficiaries are the property developers whose land values rise when population rises.

A classic example was reported in Melbourne a couple of days ago of property developers wanting to build 30 storey high-rise buildings at Fisherman’s Bend. These developments inevitably require more electricity infrastructure – I don’t think pensioners in my electorate and other inner city residents should have to pay for that. I think that when they put in an application for rezoning or planning permits that mean more people are going to live on the site, there should be a financial contribution that genuinely reflects the extra infrastructure costs that come with that population growth. The mechanism for that needs to be worked out between governments, electricity companies and Councils, but the principle should be that the beneficiaries of population growth pay for the extra infrastructure costs that come with it.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Ending Student Fees and Charges at the University and TAFE Level

In calling for the abolition of the Baby Bonus and a grandfathering of the payment of Family Tax Benefit for those who have more than two children I am arguing that it would be more beneficial to use the money to help abolish student fees and charges at both the university and TAFE level.

The theory behind HECS at the time of its introduction was that it would generate money for more tertiary places and that it was reasonable for people who had profited from their higher education to put something back. Whatever the merits of the theory, in practice it has not worked out that way. The Howard Government essentially flat-lined the number of Commonwealth subsidised University places for domestic students between 1996-2007.

Furthermore it substantially reduced the income threshold at which HECS cuts in, so that instead of it being about affluent professionals giving something back, it has become a burden for quite modest income earners, and a yoke around the necks of young students. Nor was this about the Government switching resources from tertiary education to trades training. Between 1997 and 2006 the Commonwealth contribution to vocational education and training costs declined by over 20%.

The total cost of abolishing student fees and charges in both tertiary and vocational education is roughly $3.3 billion. We could find this money by abolishing the Baby Bonus, by abolishing the 38 cents per litre fuel tax credit for the mining industry, which would save around $2 billion each year, and by grandfathering Family Tax Benefit A for third and subsequent children, and the Large Family Supplement. The Henry Tax Review stated that the case for the Baby Bonus and Large Family Supplement is not strong.

I don’t think it’s appropriate for taxpayers to fund students indefinitely. But if we’re serious about building skills and being more than a mining boom one trick pony, we should pay for everyone’s first three or four post-secondary education years, so everyone with the capacity gets the opportunity to get a degree or other post-secondary qualification under their belt.

As money comes in from phasing out the Large Family Supplement and Family Tax Benefit A for third and subsequent children, I think we should consider forgiving some of the HECS debt that our present generation of young people have been saddled with. I think that we could treat them better than we have done.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Moreland Council Elections 2012

The Federal Labor member for Wills, Kelvin Thomson today called for Moreland City Council to act to return to single member wards as was introduced at its establishment in1996.

Mr Thomson said that the number of candidates running in the North/East and North/ West Wards was excessive and very confusing for voters.

The North East Ward fielded 24 candidates and the North West Ward had 17 candidates.

“Many people conveyed to me that this method of electing councillors was confusing and that the number of elected positions in each of the wards reduced the accountability of individual councillors to ratepayers.  The system of single wards ­- Glencairn, Grandview etc – which operated when the City of Moreland was originally established, should be returned”.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Stopping Female Circumcision for Maasai Women

I welcome and congratulate the Maasai in Kenya for their decision to cease the barbaric act of female circumcision.

In a traditional 2 day ceremony in Kenya the fate of 52 young girls was changed in an historic Alternative Rites of Passage (ART) performed without female circumcision.

Maasai men and women who accepted the new ceremony have embraced a new way forward in health and education for their culture. Three Maasai women were selected by the African Schools of Kenya (ASK) to talk with the girls about issues ranging from their basic human rights as young women to reasons for using birth control.

Female circumcision, widely known as Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), is illegal in Kenya and is punishable by law, yet it is still practised in many countries worldwide. Many regions in Africa and some countries in Asia and the Middle East widely practise the procedure, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO). According to the WHO website, it is estimated that 100-140 million women and girls have already been subjected to some form of FGM.

As a global community we need to act to end female circumcision and other practices or traditions that are simpy violence against women.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Importance of Affordable Gas Prices for Manufacturing

Eastern Australia’s focus on producing natural gas for export instead of domestic use threatens to undermine the viability of Australian manufacturers due to rising costs. The surge in gas exports is set to drive east coast gas prices from $3-$4 per gigajoule to $9 by the end of the decade.

This represents yet another cost impost on our manufacturing sector already struggling under a high Australian dollar. DomGas Alliance, which represents natural gas users, infrastructure investors and producers in Western Australia, believe the key to manufacturing success in Australia is access to affordable and reliable gas supplies, and yet Australian industry cannot secure long term contracts at affordable prices, notwithstanding Australia’s massive natural gas reserves.

The fact is that most of Australia’s gas resources are now controlled by the world’s biggest oil and gas companies, who have a commercial preference to sign multi-billion dollar contracts with large overseas customers, and who will not sell voluntarily to smaller Australian companies.

Australia is the only country where international oil companies can access and export gas without prioritising domestic supply, and is the only major gas producing country suffering serious gas shortages and sharply rising prices as production increases.  The United States, for example, will not allow LNG exports unless gas producers ensure supply and affordable prices for US industry. This has delivered US gas prices of around $2 per gigajoule. There is no policy outside Western Australia to ensure our energy resources are prioritised to supply Australian industry and households.

The Dom Gas Alliance says a 15% domestic gas reservation policy would be in Australia’s national interest. I believe the Government should give greater consideration to this proposal or to alternative ways of providing affordable gas supplies for Australian manufacturers.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Queensland Government Sacks Public Servants Then Seeks to Increase Migrant Workers

The Queensland Government is in the process of sacking 14,000 public servants. You would think the Queensland Government would have a sufficient sense of obligation to these employees to try to give them first crack at some of the jobs becoming available in Queensland as the liquefied natural gas industry ramps up construction and the coal industry, notwithstanding Tony Abbott’s insistence that a carbon price would destroy it, continues to expand in central Queensland.

But you would be wrong. The Queensland Government has moved to water down the present requirements under the state-sponsored migrant worker system, to try to lift the number of overseas mining engineers etc who come to Queensland. Instead of watering down the standards and trying to lure foreign workers, the Newman Government should help train Queensland workers who are out of work and give them a go instead.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Peace March for Jill Meagher

For everyone who walked down Sydney Rd Brunswick yesterday it was undoubtedly the last thing we wanted to be doing.

But we did it all the same. Did it because we needed to state clearly and unequivocally that this is not us – that Jill Meagher’s violent and senseless death is not what we are as men, as people, as a community.

We did it because we needed to say that violence against women is never acceptable. Not under any circumstances.

We did it to affirm that Jill Meagher and her life mattered, that she and her lifer were important and meaningful to us.

We did it because sometimes grief and sorrow and anger is better shared than borne alone.

And we did it to look for answers to that ultimately unanswerable question. Why?

I have had preliminary discussions with the State Member for Brunswick Jane Garrett, Moreland Mayor John Kavanagh, Brunswick Police, and White Ribbon, and intend to have a joint forum about community safety in Brunswick in the next few weeks.

The intention of the forum will not be to promote fear or hysteria, but neither should it sweep anything under the carpet. It should be a clear-eyed and honest discussion about how we are travelling in terms of public safety, and what positive things we can do to make this community safer.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Jillian Meagher, Rest In Peace

We all know that there is evil in the world, but when we confront it face to face we are still shocked, in the literal sense, and disoriented, finding it hard to concentrate on our usual business.

My heart goes out to Jillian’s family at this terrible time and in particular to her husband Thomas. We can only glimpse the pain and grief and sorrow and anger he must be going through. I also wish to extend my condolences and sympathies to Jillian’s work colleagues at the ABC, who are doing it tough right now.

I want to congratulate Victoria Police for their mighty efforts in the days since Jillian went missing, and to thank Brunswick Police for the most co-operative way they have responded to requests for information from the Member for Brunswick Jane Garrett and I concerning community safety issues in Brunswick following Jillian’s disappearance.

The time will come soon enough for discussion about the issues which this crime raises – violence against and attitudes towards women, CCTV cameras, late night bars and clubs, and what actions we need to take to make our community a safer place.

But today we are mostly left to reflect on the cruel and capricious nature of life and fate. In 1968, near Marysville, four schoolchildren were killed by a huge tree which fell on them while they were enjoying themselves in the bush. A monument erected there asks the question, Why them?, And it is again the unanswerable question – Why this day? Why this place? Why this young woman?

“No men is an island
Entire of itself
Each is a piece of the continent
A part of the main…
Each man’s death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee”.
-John Donne

Monday, September 24, 2012

Let’s Accelerate the Achievement of the Millennium Development Goals

Progress has been made since 2000 when world leaders committed to the Millennium Development Goals (MDG).

More children than ever before are surviving to their fifth birthday and beyond. More women are receiving skilled care during pregnancy and childbirth. An additional 110 million children around the world are now in school. The MDG target on safe drinking water has been achieved.

Much remains to be done, however. I have called on the Australian Government in the past to adopt the United Nations General Assembly international aid target of 0.7% of GDP. The increase would bring us into line with countries like Norway, Sweden, Luxembourg, Denmark and the Netherlands.

I also think it would help ensure the effectiveness of our aid effort by investing at least 25% of the aid budget in health – including $500 million annually on water, sanitation and hygiene, with half of this amount directed towards sanitation and hygiene, where attention is most needed.

Tax evasion and corruption is a serious impost on aid effectiveness with developing countries losing more than USD $160 billion through multinational corporate tax evasion. Requiring companies to report their revenues, taxes and royalties on a country-by-country basis could help governments of developing countries hold corporations to account. Australia could also consider this reporting for all multinational companies registered in Australia, starting with those operating in extractive industries.

Achieving the Millennium Development Goals will help lift the standard of living for people in Africa, Asia and the Middle East, alleviating the grinding poverty and the associated problems that blight our world.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Importance of Manufacturing to Productivity

Some industry leaders have been blaming the Fair Work Act for not helping Australia’s rate of productivity and calling for deregulation of the labour market. I believe this is misguided view and misses the real issue.

The key to improving our productivity performance is a vibrant and innovative manufacturing sector in Australia, not a race to the bottom which sees offshoring of our manufacturing.

The economist Dani Rodrik has said that countries that ignore the health of their manufacturing industries do so at their own peril. He says that in the United States the fall of manufacturing's share of employment has been damaging to productivity because labour productivity is substantially higher in manufacturing than in the rest of the economy. The bulk of new employment in the United States has come in personal and social services, which is where the economy's less productive jobs are found. The migration of jobs down the productivity ladder has shaved 0.3 percentage points off US productivity growth every year since 1990.

In their book Seeds of Destruction, Glenn Hubbard and Peter Navarro, say:

“A strong manufacturing base spurs the technological innovation necessary to boost productivity, wage growth, and consumer purchasing power.

Susan Helper of Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, for the Brookings Institution, a think-tank in Washington, DC says manufacturing provides better-paid jobs, on average, than service industries, is a big source of innovation, helps to reduce trade deficits and creates opportunities in the growing “clean” economy, such as recycling and green energy.

These are all good reasons for Australia to engage in manufacturing. Manufacturing must be part of Australia’s future if we are to keep a balanced economy that does not rise and fall solely on commodity prices. By contrast the Coalition would slash investment in manufacturing, sending jobs offshore and reducing our research and engineering base, hurting our productivity and ultimately our national independence.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Bushfire Prevention Should Always Be About Quality Prevention

I agree with the comments by the Bushfire Commission Implementation Monitor Neil Comrie who said the target to burn 5 per cent of Victoria’s public land every year to ease bushfire risk should instead be focused on protecting high-risk fire areas and public safety rather than simply meeting a target.

In March this year I held a Bushfire Prevention Forum where experts came together to discuss the prevention of another Black Saturday from ever happening again.

The 2009 Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission recommended Prescribed Burning and Underground Cabling of electricity as two key bushfire mitigation approaches.

However the annual rolling target of a minimum 5% prescribed burning of public land as outlined in Recommendation 56 of the 2009 Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission is not directly linked to protecting communities and accordingly drives perverse public policy outcomes.

As reported in The Age (Monday 23 January 2012) the Department of Sustainability and Environment’s planned burning program has achieved only 16% of its target in the densely populated central region, whereas in the sparsely populated North-East DSE has burnt 150% of its goal!
Aerial electricity transmission lines are a major cause of bushfires, particularly on Total Fire Ban and Code Red days. Recommendation 27 of the 2009 Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission proposed the progressive replacement of all SWER powerlines in Victoria with aerial bundled, underground cabling or other technology that delivers greatly reduced fire risk.

It is time the Baillieu Government made a tangible commitment to this Recommendation’s implementation. This would make a real, rather than imaginary, contribution to the protection of human life and the safety of communities.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Troubling State Government Plans for Development in National Parks

The Baillieu Government’s plan to allow ninety-nine-year leases for private sector development in Victorian national parks should ring alarm bells with the public.

The State Government says it is supporting the tourism industry by allowing this private sector development, and that such developments will need to be sensitive to the environment, but the recent track record of State Liberal governments on protecting national parks or the environment in general does not engender confidence.

The Baillieu Government had only been in power 5 minutes when it allowed the resumption of cattle grazing in the Alpine National Park, the O’Farrell New South Wales Liberal Government has permitted shooting in that state’s national parks, and the Newman Queensland LNP Government claimed in May this year that the protections for koalas in Queensland were 'needless duplication' and 'mindless green tape', despite overwhelming science that the Queensland koala has taken a massive hit over the last 20 years.

I strongly oppose the idea of permitting ninety-nine-year leases. I believe it is improper and undemocratic – it denies the community the right to say no to these developments, if the community disapproves of the commercialisation of national parks and votes out the government which has done this, it is still confronted with the legal reality of a 99 year lease. No Parliament should be able to find a successor Parliament in this way.

Friday, August 3, 2012

$100Million withdrawal to HRL Coal Power Plant Project- A big win for Community Environmental Action!

Friday 3rd August 2012/ac

$100Million withdrawal to HRL Coal Power Plant Project-
A big win for Community Environmental Action!

I welcome the announcement by my Labor Government colleague, Minister for Energy Resources, The Hon Martin Ferguson MP, that the Australian Government is withdrawing the offer of a potential $100 million grant to the HRL Project in the Latrobe Valley.

This is a big win for community environmental action, with many people across Victoria raising serious concerns about the proposal. In February I presented a petition from 11,916 petitioners calling on the House to withdraw federal funding for the proposed new coal-fired power station in Victoria and invest in a clean renewable energy future for Victoria instead.

Energy Company HRL proposed to build a $1.2 billion 600 megawatt power plant, which would have produced around 4 million tonnes of carbon emissions. How we can reduce carbon emissions with projects that are plus 4 million tonnes.
The funding was originally awarded by the Howard Government in 2007, but since then the money had not been spent, conditions had not been met, and extensions had been granted until the end of June. Given HRL still could not meet the funding requirements, it was appropriate that Minister Ferguson withdraw the funding.

 The HRL project also had no private money. Environment Victoria advised me that in 2009 HRL lost their major Chinese partner, who withdrew their 50% stake. In 2011 Australia’s big four banks all announced that they would not be involved in the project, and in October 2011 a number of international banks declared that they too would not finance the proposed power station, with HSBC indicating that HRL was too polluting for them to invest in. According to Environment Victoria HRL’s project costs blew out.
This is a great win for local environmental action.

Kelvin Thomson MP
Federal Member for Wills

-       Speech to Australian Parliament calling on HRL Funding to be withdrawn:

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Melbourne's population growth, is this good for Melbourne

Tim Colebatch's report on the rapid growth of Melbourne raises the question, is this growth good for Melbourne? As he points out, during the last decade Melbourne's population grew by much more than any other Australian city. Melbourne grew by over 647,000 people, with Sydney the next largest with an increase of 477,000.

It is clear that the pace of this growth has been way too rapid for State and local governments, as well as public and private infrastructure providers, to cope with. The consequences have been severe, with travel times to and from work blowing out, electricity and council rates skyrocketing, residents losing their ability to preserve their street scape and neighborhood character, and young people unable to afford a house with a backyard anywhere near where they grew up.

It doesn't have to be this way. As Tim Colebatch reports, 60 per cent of this growth came from overseas migration. Both our permanent and temporary migrant worker programs were greatly increased during the last decade, supposedly to deal with the mining boom, but instead many migrant workers end up in Melbourne. The migrant worker programs should be returned to the level of the 1990s and 1980s, and Melbourne would be able to cope much better than it is at present.

This is first and foremost the responsibility of the Federal Government, but it would help if State and local government started calling for it, instead of behaving like drivers of the getaway car, which is what they have done all too often during the past decade.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

High School for Coburg!

I welcome the announcement by the Victorian Government to expand Coburg Senior High School to a full year 7 to 12 school in 2015.

I am delighted the Victorian Government has responded to this pressing need. Coburg will finally have the year 7 to 12 high school the community has been crying out for.

I have supported the call for a Coburg Open Entry High School for many years, and have been working to help make this happen.

In February 2008 I arranged a Wills Secondary Education Forum, following the closure of St Joseph’s Secondary College in Pascoe Vale. In the lead up to this meeting and following this meeting, it was made very clear to me that local parents in Coburg and Pascoe Vale wanted a local open entry secondary school.

In September 2010 I made a detailed submission to the Victorian Government’s Secondary School’s Provision Plan for the Coburg Schools Network, which recommended a Coburg Open Entry High School be opened.

I have continuously campaigned for a Coburg High School at every possible opportunity; through my Kodak Redevelopment Submission, and at community and Labor Party forums.

I congratulate Moreland Council, local schools, residents, and in particular Cate Hall and the High School for Coburg Group, all of whom have done a fantastic job to help build support over the years for this important cause.

The evidence on this issue was very clear. The Review commissioned by the Department of Education found there was a shortfall of 301 places in year 7 to year 9 in the area, with the number predicted to rise to 715 by 2021. As I outlined in my submission, Moreland has been experiencing a baby boom, and high population growth is placing record demand on local infrastructure, including the need for a High School.

I support the location of the new Open Entry High School at the Coburg Senior High site off Bell Street, which is located in the heart of the Coburg community, is easily accessible by all forms of transport, and which has the capacity to take in students.

I look forward to working with all concerned in getting the school up and running and making it the success that Coburg and Pascoe Vale parents and their children deserve.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Violence Against Women Unacceptable

I want to congratulate the Essendon District Football League on its ongoing work to make violence against women unacceptable. Last Saturday I attended a White Ribbon lunch at the Oak Park Football Club where the Guest Speaker, Acting Inspector Graham Banks from Victoria Police, gave a powerful and highly personal account of the impact of violence against women.

Since 2010 the EDFL Clubs have taken part in the “Fair Game: Respect Matters” program which aims to increase the awareness of domestic violence against women and create a more inclusive environment for women within local football clubs.

EDFL General Manager Marc Turri has also set out the history of the White Ribbon Campaign in an EDFL newsletter – how a man walked into a Montreal University in 1989 and massacred 14 of his female classmates, leading to national soul searching and the establishment two years later of the White Ribbon Campaign in Canada. In 1999 the United Nations General Assembly embraced the White Ribbon Campaign, and White Ribbon began in Australia in 2003. It is now the largest global male-led movement to stop violence against women.

White Ribbon calls on men to swear the White Ribbon oath: “I swear never to commit, excuse, or remain silent about violence against women”.

As one of the Australian Parliamentarians who belong to this campaign, and in a world where the position of women continues to be vulnerable and precarious, exemplified most dramatically by the disgusting public executions and abductions carried out by the Taliban, I am pleased to acknowledge the work being done by the EDFL to confront the issue in our own community.

Selling and Tolling Existing Roads Just Stupid

The idea of selling and tolling existing roads is one of the stupidest ideas I have ever heard, and could only come from people completely out of touch with the lives of ordinary Australians and Victorians.

Ordinary Victorians are feeling serious cost of living pressures. How does being required to pay each time we drive on roads we can presently travel on for free make us better off? It makes us worse off. Selling off existing roads to private companies and putting tolls on them will make those private companies wealthy, but it will be at the expense of ordinary motorists.

The reason Melbourne and other capital cities have traffic congestion is because our population growth is too fast, and we should tackle that by cutting migration back to the levels we used to have in the 1980s and 1990s.

Improved public transport is a superior answer to traffic congestion than building more freeways, but seriously, what is the point of building a freeway and then discouraging people from using it by sticking a toll on it?

It is a stupid idea and governments at both State and Federal level should reject it.

Friday, July 13, 2012

The State Government Should Act to Compensate Firefighters

In the wake of revelations of the use of cancer-causing chemicals at the major fire training facility at Fiskville, it is time for the Baillieu Government to bring state legislation into line with federal law, accepting the occupational risks of cancer in firefighting.

The Senate had an inquiry last year into the link between the occupation of firefighting and occupational cancer. It was an extensive inquiry that called evidence from international experts, and visited a number of fire stations, including the CFA station at Geelong, and concluded there is a direct link between the occupation of firefighting and the incidence of cancers as a result of that exposure over a period of time.

The Senate report's recommendations were unanimously accepted by Federal Parliament and by all political parties, with a recommendation they be replicated in various state jurisdictions. The Fiskville scandal makes clear that now is the right time to align state law, as a remedy has already been identified as to how to deal with the link between occupational cancer and firefighting through legislation - it's a simple amendment to the current worker's compensation act. The work's already been done - all the Baillieu Government needs to do is replicate what's been done on a Federal level.

Peter Marshall from the United Firefighter’s Union points out the clear division that has now resulted between the way 'Federal' firefighters are treated when reporting with cancer, and where Victoria’s thousands of CFA firefighters find themselves. This needs to be urgently rectified by the Baillieu Government by bringing Victoria into line with Federal law.

Thursday, July 5, 2012


The concerns about the proposed Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) raised by the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties in a unanimous report to Parliament last week have been reinforced by an overwhelming vote last night by the European Parliament to reject the Treaty.

The vote - 478 against, only 39 in favour, with 165 abstentions - is likely to be a fatal blow to the European Union's participation in a treaty it helped to negotiate. The European Parliament has responded to concerns that ACTA would limit Internet freedom and to street protests about this issue in Europe with concerns that the agreement would have permitted private companies to spy on the activities of Internet users.

The vote effectively ends the treaty’s ratification in the 22 member states that signed the agreement, since individual member states cannot join ACTA once the EU officially rejects it. The concerns expressed by the Treaties Committee have been reinforced by this vote, and it would be appropriate for the Government to put ratifying ACTA on the back burner and undertake the work recommended by the Committee.

In Australia the Treaties Committee has recommended that ACTA not be ratified by Australia until the Treaties Committee has received and considered an independent and transparent assessment of ACTA's economic and social benefits and costs, until the Australian Law Reform Commission has reported on its Inquiry into Copyright and the Digital Economy, and the Australian Government has issued notices clarifying some of the terms of the agreement.

In Australia a significant area of concern was the potential impact of ACTA on generic medicines. The pharmaceutical manufacturer Alphafarm, for example, has advised me that ACTA as drafted could have delayed access by Australians to "quality, safe, efficacious and affordable generic medicines" in Queensland, and that they view the Committee's recommendations as a win for Australians and for the sustainability of the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.

The Treaties Committee also recommended that Australia should have regard to ACTA's ratification status in the European Union and the United States of America, given their importance in the world economy. Given the overwhelming vote of the European Parliament, it is clear that the Committee's unanimous report is on the wavelength of European public opinion, and almost certainly global public opinion.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Rail not Road - East West Tunnel is wrong priority

On July 1 the carbon price was introduced. The whole point of doing this is to reduce our carbon emissions. One of the greatest challenges facing the 21st century is the challenge of climate change. We cannot tackle climate change by building more roads. By all means let us build transport infrastructure- let’s be a nation of builders- but let it be public transport infrastructure. We cannot build our way out of congestion. We have been trying it for years and it does not work.

The cost of this project was said two years ago to be $10 billion. Now it is said to be $5 billion, with the Tony Abbott proposed contribution of $1.5 billion. You know what will happen - motorists will have to pay tolls to use it. But whatever the amount of public money involved, the East West Tunnel is the wrong priority. This money should go towards public transport in Melbourne - building a railway line to Doncaster along the Eastern Freeway, building a rail link to Monash University, improving the inner network capacity to take more frequent rail services.

This will not help traffic congestion in Melbourne. For years we have been told that one more freeway would solve Melbourne’s traffic congestion problems. I supported City Link, I supported East Link, I supported the Metropolitan Ring Road, I supported the Craigieburn By-pass. But it never works. As many studies around the world have shown, freeways generate new traffic and new trips.

So it would be better to put public money into public transport. This will do more to help traffic congestion, more to contain carbon emissions, and more to help people who don’t drive cars, for example younger people, older people and people with disabilities.

Friday, June 15, 2012

World's Biggest Marine Reserves Network

I welcome yesterday’s announcement by the Australian Government of the world’s largest network of marine reserves which will ensure protection of Australia’s most precious ocean environments.

The inclusion in the Coral Sea network of Osprey and Shark Reef is something I lobbied for and spoke about in the Parliament. I have attached a copy of this speech for your information. Protection of these iconic reefs in the Coral Sea Marine Reserve is important for both marine turtles and large ocean predators.

The new marine reserves take the overall size of the Commonwealth marine reserves network to 3.1 million square kilometres, by far the largest representative network of marine protected areas in the world.

Together the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and the Coral Sea Commonwealth marine reserve will become the largest adjoining marine protected area in the world, covering 1.3 million square kilometres.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Melbourne’s Quality of Life Under Siege

The Baillieu Government is displaying a disregard for Melbourne’s quality of life by both unveiling plans to extend Melbourne’s urban boundary and allowing Government-owned businesses to sell off public land.

It will be the fourth time the boundary has been shifted since 2002, and makes a joke of claims that all that high rise we are allowing will save us from urban sprawl. We are getting both high rise and urban sprawl!

Urban sprawl gives us more communities isolated from reliable transport services and highly car dependant, as well as clogged, congested inner suburb streets, and leaves new communities without adequate facilities.

Urban sprawl eats into the Green Wedges – areas set aside by the Victorian Government in 1967 to be forever protected from development. How ironic that it was a visionary Liberal Party Premier, Dick Hamer, who established the Green Wedges.

We need to retain Green Wedges as permanent wedges between growth corridors, not as potential urban land supply that is bulldozed as soon as there is a demand for it. The fact that new suburbs are being announced to house another 100,000 people shows that our migrant worker programs are bringing people to Melbourne rather than to the Pilbara.

The Baillieu Government has also failed to deliver a pre-election promise to establish a State Register of Significant Public Land and to require Ministers to spell out to Parliament why any public land is to be sold off. This promise needs to be honoured!

A current example is public land close to Kororoit Ceek in Sunshine, prized by local residents for over three decades as a place of community recreation, that is now targeted for development.

It should be retained as open space, as should other similar public open space, which allows people to breathe and find refuge close at hand from hectic urban life.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Breaches of Animal Welfare Export Standards

In my view 37 breaches is way too many and the two exporters should have their licences suspended or even cancelled.

The Department Deputy Secretary said if further animal welfare breaches occur they would face the possible loss of their export licence, but you have to wonder how many chances they get. When the trade was resumed last year after being suspended, the Government said the industry was on notice, so I think the public would expect that any exporters now found to be treating animals inhumanely would be run out of the industry.

Even more worrying for me than the question of penalty is the fact that it wasn’t industry self-regulation that brought these breaches to light, it was Animals Australia- Lyn White and her little video camera. You have to wonder whether we are really seeing the tip of the iceberg.

I think the only way we are going to ensure our animals are not being mistreated is to insist on mandatory stunning- that all animals are stunned before being killed. I further think we should be supporting proposals for the establishment of abattoirs in northern Australia, such as the Australian Agricultural Company proposal for Livingstone Valley south of Darwin, and transitioning away from live exports and into domestic processing, which is better for both animal welfare and for Australian jobs.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Manufacturing Industry is vital locally, and nationally.

Last week on Wednesday 11th April, it was announced that APV Automotive Components would be going into voluntary liquidation. This underscores the importance of manufacturing for Melbourne and more importantly in Wills.

The fact that this company has been going since 1946, that 126 workers are presently without work, and that Ford, Holden and Toyota all look to it to supply parts make it an important component of Melbourne’s manufacturing infrastructure.

Last week I had discussions with the newly appointed administrator Stephen Longley, and with the Vehicle Building Division of the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union.

I indicated to both that I am ready to help in any way I can. I understand that APV Automotive Components parent company received a $4.5 million Structural Adjustment Program Grant not so long ago. I will be pursuing the way in which that money was used, as both workers and taxpayers will want to be satisfied that that money was used to secure the best possible future for APV.

On Thursday 12th April I met with Mr Julian Grobler, Customer Service Manager for AusIndustry, to discuss support for manufacturing in the Wills electorate to ensure it remains globally competitive with the introduction of a carbon price on July 1 this year.

I am a strong supporter of the Australian Government’s programs to assist manufacturing in Victoria. The Australian Government’s Automotive Industry Structural Adjustment Program provides support to the automotive supply chain to achieve greater scale and retain core capabilities. Additionally, as part of its recent co-investment with Holden, the Government announced a new $35 million Automotive New Markets Initiative to help component manufacturers develop new business opportunities domestically and overseas.

The Prime Minister’s Taskforce on Manufacturing held its second meeting in Melbourne on Wednesday 11th April, with the Minister for Industry and Innovation updating the Taskforce on measures to strengthen Australian Industry Participation rules for major private sector and government funded projects. These measures will significantly improve opportunities for local suppliers and service providers to win contracts on large resources and infrastructure projects.

Without initiatives like this, the high Australian dollar will see manufacturing continue to retreat and, we will end up with a two state economy. Queensland and Western Australia will benefit from the mining boom, but states like Victoria will not.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Baillieu Government set to renege on election promise of 20 per cent cut in greenhouse gas emissions

I would like to share the following from Climate Code Red in light of the recent report in the The Age that the Baillieu Government is considering dumping the states plan to cut Victoria’s greenhouse gas emissions by 20 per cent over the next decade. It is noteworthy that many of the commentators who fire up the most about the significance of Julia Gillard’s ‘no carbon tax’ statement are conspicuous by their absence when a Liberal Government changes a position it took to an election, especially when it waters down action on climate.

·         While government support to renewable power sources is subject to seemingly endless media and political scrutiny, the 500% larger subsidies given to oil, gas and coal rarely get much attention.
·         Worldwide, governments and taxpayers spent $409 billion in 2010 supporting the production and consumption of fossil fuels, three-quarters of which went to the oil industry. 
·         Just 8% of that $409 billion went to the poorest 20% of the population
·         Global subsidies for fossil fuel consumption are set to reach $660 billion in 2020 unless reforms are passed to effectively eliminate this form of state aid, according to International Energy Agency chief economist Fatih Birol.
·         Eliminating fossil fuel consumption subsidies by 2020 would cut global energy demand by 4 percent, cutting demand for oil by 3.7million  barrels a day.
·         Dropping subsidies could slow growth in CO2 emissions by 1.7bn tonnes a year, equivalent to the total emissions of the UK, Germany, Italy and France.
·         In Australia, the SMH reported that taxpayers spend about 11 times more encouraging the use of fossil fuels than on climate change programs. Fossil fuel incentives and subsidies will cost about $12.2 billion this financial year in Australia, compared with $1.1 billion spent on programs designed to cut greenhouse gas emissions and boost research.
It’s hardly as though big oil needs the cash. The five biggest oil companies made a record-high $137 billion in profits in 2011, and have made more than $1 trillion in profits from 2001 through 2011. And for every $1 spent on lobbying in Washington, the big five received $30 worth of tax breaks.
On 24 January 2012, Independent US Senator Bernie Sanders pledged to introduce legislation to repeal federal tax breaks and subsidies to the fossil fuel industry, declaring at a Capitol Hill rally that "the most profitable corporations in the world do not need subsidies from the American people."

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Australian Financial Review's ‘Brave New World’

The Australian Financial Review of 6 March had a wraparound front cover with the headline “First we revolutionised the Price. Now we’re revolutionising the Agenda.” The two page colour spread below the headline appeared to be a graphic of the Fin Review’s idea of Australia. I found it a very troubling picture.

It was entirely devoid of any Australian wildlife. There were no Kangaroos, Koalas, Emus, Lyrebirds, Echidnas or Platypus. There were no birds or animals or reptiles at all. In one sense this was scarcely surprising, because the picture of mines, industry, agriculture and infrastructure left no room for them – they cannot survive in an Australia without forests and grasslands and waterways and wildlife corridors.

But it is a barren Australia, totally stripped of the natural beauty which has been such a source of joy and inspiration to Australians and visitors for hundreds of years.

The Financial Review’s accompanying words refer to a clean environment, but surely an environment without birds and plants and animals would be a sterile nightmare. I hope the omission was inadvertent.