Thursday, January 30, 2014


RIP Pete Seeger, who was a gifted folk singer who inspired not only many of our most renowned musicians but also tens of millions of people around the world with his progressive politics and the decency of his values. I am indebted to Bob Norlin for drawing my attention to the attached song from Pete about population, showing his insights, even in his nineties. I thank Bob for passing it on, because I daresay the public tributes to Pete Seeger won’t mention his views on population.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Prime Minister Seeks to Rewrite History

In Davos at the World Economic Forum last night Prime Minister Abbott sought to re-write economic history when criticising the Labor Government’s stimulus spending during the global financial crisis (GFC) in 2008-09. He ignored the widespread praise and recognition from around the world for Labor’s aggressive response, which averted a recession in Australia.

All developed economies were impacted severely by the GFC. As markets collapsed and workers lost jobs in their millions all governments scrambled to respond. Only one developed nation emerged almost unscathed from that turmoil: Australia. As private aggregate demand collapsed the Labor government stepped in with stimulus to shore up demand. It was textbook countercyclical budget policy as opposed to the pro-cyclical budget position of former Treasurer Costello, who in the boom years was throwing money at the electorate for political advantage. This had been inflationary and pushed up interest rates.

By 2012 Australia found itself a clear world leader on economic indicators with contained inflation, low unemployment, low public debt and low interest rates with a AAA credit rating. The only other developed country to avoid two negative quarters of gross domestic product growth and thus avert recession was Poland, which executed similar stimulus spending.

The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) found that Australia’s fiscal stimulus measures were amongst the most effective in the OECD in terms of stimulating economic activity and supporting employment. The organisation said that although Australia had entered the deep global downturn in good shape, including having a healthy budget surplus, by itself this had been insufficient to protect it from the worst of the world recession. They said:

"This would not have been enough if monetary and fiscal policies had not been developed to respond to the crisis. These have in no small part shielded businesses and citizens from the initial damaging impacts of the global recession."

Nobel Prize-winning economist, Joseph Stiglitz said:

''Not only was it the right amount, it was extraordinarily well structured, with careful attention to what would stimulate the economy in the shorter run, the medium term and the long term. When I look around the world, it was, I think, probably the best-designed stimulus program in the world and you should be happy that in fact it worked in exactly the way it was designed to work.''

The GFC was the moment of truth for the idea central to the neo-liberal faith and the Liberal Government – the superiority of the invisible hand of the market to the economic intervention of government. It was shown to be a myth. The fact is that, depending on the circumstances, both market forces and government actions have their place.

Joseph Stiglitz summed it up as follows:

“Most of the individual mistakes boil down to just one: a belief that markets are self-adjusting and that the role of government should be minimal…The embracing by America – and much of the rest of the world – of this flawed economic philosophy made it inevitable that we would eventually arrive at the place we are today.”

If the Labor Government had not implemented timely and targeted stimulus, we would have experienced a deep recession and much higher unemployment, with all the destruction of capital and skills that comes with that. The Prime Minister’s Davos contribution makes it plain that the Liberal Party does not understand this, and that had they been in Government during the GFC Australia would have joined the rest of the developed world in deep and prolonged recession.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014


I saw a TV program about homelessness a while ago which used as its illustration of homelessness a man who was reduced to sleeping in his car after losing his job.  The man had come from New Zealand. This is not that co-incidental when you realise that the Trans-Tasman Arrangement gives New Zealanders an automatic right to come to Australia and stay indefinitely, but locks them out of Australian social security payments.  They’re fine if they’ve got a job, but not if they haven’t.

Anglicare Southern Queensland says the hardship for New Zealanders in Australia is increasing, with ‘lots of overcrowded houses with two or three families and lots of kids”.  Anglicare says we should lift the ban on unemployment and sickness benefits and pay them to New Zealanders in Australia.

But if that was all we did then we would generate an even greater exodus of New Zealanders to Australia than the present Arrangement does, because our social security system is more generous.  All out-of-work New Zealanders would be tempted to come to Australia.  Already over 648,000 New Zealand citizens, 12% of New Zealand’s population, is living in Australia. Of those, 84,700 were born elsewhere than New Zealand, and have come to Australia from a third country via New Zealand.

And Britain has had experience of open borders and a superior social security system.  It predicted in 2004 that around 13,000 Polish citizens would arrive each year after borders were opened, but in fact more than a million have arrived.

What might improve matters is if we renegotiated the Trans-Tasman Arrangement to put a cap on New Zealand migration of between 30 and 40,000 per annum, and then open up permanent residence and social security entitlements for New Zealanders who have been in Australia for a reasonable period.  I think this would be fairer all round. Australia would regain control of its migration program, and New Zealanders wouldn’t be at risk of sleeping in cars if they lose their job.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014


The Liberal Government says that welfare spending is at unsustainable levels of $70 billion each year. This may be true, but their proposed solution, a crackdown on people on unemployment benefits and disability pensions, is a mean spirited attack on the poor which smacks of class warfare and will not give us a better society.

There are two much fairer and more appropriate ways of reducing the $70 billion welfare budget. The first is to lift Australia’s workforce participation rate. The latest figures show our participation rate has fallen to 64.6%, the lowest level since 2006. We have over 720,000 Australians out of work, and over 820,000 Australians receiving the Disability Support Pension. Why, then, are we running such massive permanent and temporary migrant worker programs? Over one million temporary visa holders have work rights in Australia. We need to cap and reduce the migrant worker programs and give job opportunities and job security to Australians who are presently out of work. This will lift our participation rate and reduce the welfare bill.

Secondly, the government should not proceed with its extravagant Paid Parental Leave scheme – if it wants to collect more company tax from wealthier companies then instead of funding the Paid Parental Leave scheme it can use that money instead to help balance the books, rather than attacking Australia’s poorest and most disadvantaged.


As the United States celebrates the life and work of the great Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., it is appropriate to remind ourselves of his comments back in May 1966 about the issue of population:-

“There is no human circumstance more tragic than the persisting existence of a harmful condition for which a remedy is readily available. Family planning, to relate population to world resources, is possible, practical and necessary. Unlike plagues of the dark ages or contemporary diseases we do not yet understand, the modern plague of overpopulation is soluble by means we have discovered and with resources we possess. What is lacking is not sufficient knowledge of the solution but universal consciousness of the gravity of the problem and education of billions who are its victims”.

Friday, January 17, 2014


Crikey it’s hot. Mercifully today should be the last day of it for a while. Just as well; I don’t how much more of this I could take.

We should always try and learn from bad experiences, and I think there are three things that we should take out of this one. First, as Paul Gilding writes in the December 2013 edition of Spinifex, the publication of Queensland Conservation, while it’s understandable that people don’t like talking about climate change in the middle of a bushfire emergency, this is in fact precisely the time when we should be talking about it. As he says, people don’t like talking about uncomfortable things. The thought that major bushfire emergencies could become more common, with people dying and houses and communities being destroyed, is very uncomfortable. The thought that we are aggravating this by our greenhouse gas emissions is particularly uncomfortable.
So it is understandable that people prefer not to talk about it. But as Paul Gilding also says, the resistance from right wing politicians and commentators to linking climate change and fires is not just driven by compassion for those suffering loss. As the old quote goes, “Hell hath no fury like a vested interest disguised as a moral principle”. If the public learns to relate natural disasters that go to the heart of the Australian psyche, like fire, drought and flood, to climate change – those who resist strong climate policy will be in serious trouble.  So the first thing is that as a community we need to understand the link between carbon emissions and extreme weather events, and be willing to talk about it.

Secondly we had the experience in Melbourne of our electricity demand exceeding supply, and people being cut off at perhaps the very time they needed power most. It is at such times that renewable energy is not just the right option for the planet, but the right option for households and our electricity supply system. People who install solar panels contribute to electricity during these peak times when we need electricity most, so they are doing everyone a favour. Secondly, if people have their own independent means of electricity generation they are much better able to cope with power outages and cutbacks. It was a mistake for the Victorian Government to cut payments for solar energy in 2012 to households that supple electricity to the grid from 25 cents per kilowatt hour to 8 cents. South Australia has more rooftop solar, meeting 7 to 8 % of total demand, compared with Victoria’s 2%. We should be aiming to match and surpass South Australia in the field of solar panels. Similarly it would be a disastrous mistake for the Federal Liberal Government to discourage renewable energy, for example by watering down the Renewable Energy Target. Renewable energy is exactly what we will need more of to contain electricity bills, and build our independence and resilience to face the world of the future.
Third, Melbourne is leading Australia for heat-related deaths, because we are hotter than our surrounds. We have about 200 heat related deaths each year, and this is expected to more than double by 2030. The city centre is up to 4 degrees hotter than the suburbs because of the heat island effect. This comes from cutting down trees, leading to a lack of shade and open green space. I have constituents reporting their neighbours’ air conditioners spilling out hot air and foiling their attempts to cool their yards. High rise buildings are trapping and storing heat like a baking oven. The high ceilings of the early European settlers are largely gone. People who believe or claim that urban consolidation and high rise is environmentally desirable are wrong. As Nursery and Garden Industry Australia says, we need to increase, not reduce, urban green spaces. We need to maintain and increase our tree canopy and urban vegetation, not allow it to disappear to make way for dual occupancies, multi-unit developments, and high rise.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

December 2013 Unemployment Figures

Today’s unemployment figures show nearly 722,000 Australians out of work, the number of Australians employed falling by over 22,000, and a drop in the labour force participation rate to 64.6%, the lowest level since April 2006. Australia also has over 800,000 disability support pension recipients.

The fall in our workforce participation rate is bad news. It is further evidence that both our permanent and temporary migrant worker programs are too big and out of step with Australian economic conditions. The 457 visa program is uncapped, and over a million temporary visa holders have work rights in Australia.
We need to cap and reduce the temporary migrant worker programs and give job opportunities and job security to young Australians. The temporary and permanent migrant worker programs are a recipe for more young Australians to be out of work, with all the negative consequences unemployment has in relation to mental health, drugs, crime, and social harmony.

Australian Sheep Deaths at Sea

Heat waves don’t only affect people. Heat stress is a known risk for sheep being transported from an Australian winter into a Middle Eastern summer. Livestock Shipping Services (LSS) has admitted that heat stress was the cause of the deaths of 4000 sheep on an LSS voyage from Australia to Qatar and the United Arab Emirates in August last year. The region was experiencing 50 degree days at the time.

This kind of recklessness is simply not good enough.  The number of sheep deaths on this voyage is comparable to the 5000 deaths which occurred on board the Cormo Express 10 years ago. LSS is the same exporter which is already under investigation for animal cruelty in Jordan and Gaza.

Heat stress is a terrible way to die. Animals suffer convulsions and severe distress. If the heat stress was sufficient to kill 4000 sheep it will also have caused pain and suffering for the other animals.

The claim that stopping live export will damage Australian meat producers is not correct. 2013 broke records for exports of sheep meat and boxed beef. When we stopped sending Bahrain live sheep they replaced this with Australian sheep meat. Saudi Arabia has moved from taking live animals to Australian meat.
If Australia’s claims to be concerned about animal welfare are to mean something, there have to be consequences for this debacle. LSS should have their export licence taken off them indefinitely.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014


Back in 1994 the UN had a major conference about the issue of global population, in Cairo. Unfortunately there was no international agreement reached about the need for countries to stabilise their populations, and we have seen since then global population, which for most of human history was less than one billion, increasing by a billion every 13 or so years. We are now at 7 billion and tracking for 9 or even 10 billion by mid-century.

Ironically one of the countries which has suffered most from the failure of the Cairo Conference was Egypt itself. In 1948 Egypt’s population was less than 20 million. It added a further 20 million by 1975, and another 20 million by 1994, the time of the Conference, and another 20 million to reach 80 million by 2011. The UN says that continuing high fertility rates would see Egypt reach 100 million by 2025 and 140 million by 2050.

In fact Egypt’s birth rate for the last three years exceeds the UN’s “high” projections. The number of births in the 1990s was 1.6 million on average. This increased to around 1.8 million births in the first decade of this century. There were 2.4 million births in 2011 and 2.6 million in 2012, according to the Central Agency for Public Mobilisation and Statistics. Back in 1950 Egypt had the same number of births as Italy. By 1977 it had the same number as Italy and France combined. By 2000 it matched the combined total of Italy, France and Spain, and by 2012 the combined total of Italy, France, Spain and the United Kingdom.

The consequences of this rapid population growth are plain for all to see – violent, debilitating conflict over access to scarce resources. The world’s leaders need to tell Egypt’s leaders that they need to stop focussing on today’s battles for just long enough to draw attention to the underlying problem, and the need to reduce their birth rate to more traditional levels. If they do not, it is entirely predictable that there will be more conflict and misery in future, not less. It is entirely predictable that many people will seek to escape the conflict and misery, ending up in boats headed for islands in the Mediterranean and other destinations. It is also predictable that religious leaders will urge the world to be compassionate and welcoming – religious leaders from the same religious organisations that worked hard at the Cairo Conference in 1994 to scuttle and undermine attempts to stop rapid population growth.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Institute of Public Affairs Cheerfulness

The Institute Of Public Affairs, a mouthpiece for the views of large companies, is strikingly upbeat about the modern world. Its latest publication, in a cheerful article titled Richer, Better, Cheaper, proclaims that free markets are making the world a better place, concluding that products are becoming cheaper, better, and more accessible for everyone right across the income spectrum.
Much as I wish to join in with their happiness, I find it hard to reconcile with the almost daily proposals to make things more expensive, on the basis that we can no longer afford things which in the past were free. There are proposals to introduce a new charge for visits to the doctor. There are proposals to introduce a charge for visits to hospital emergency wards. Infrastructure Australia says we should start charging motorists to use the roads, and get rid of the “entrenched culture” of treating infrastructure as a free public good. There are claims that we can no longer afford to keep Medibank Private or Australia Post in public hands, and no longer afford to keep Qantas in Australian ones. Furthermore it is none other than the Institute of Public Affairs which advances or supports such ideas.
It seems to me that if we can no longer afford things which we used to be able to afford, then perhaps ordinary Australians are not getting richer after all. Not that this actually worries the IPA, which represents the wealthiest Australians, who have most certainly been getting richer.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Extraordinary Call for Increase to Migrant Worker Program

It is astonishing that the Australian Industry Group is calling for an increase in Australian migration from 190,000 to 220,000, through an increase to our permanent Migrant Worker Program. First it is astonishing that they think the number should be lifted by 30,000, when as recently as twenty years ago the entire permanent Migrant Worker Program was less than 30,000.

Secondly it is astonishing that they want to increase the number of migrant workers when we are already unable to find jobs for Australian workers, including those who have come here on previous permanent Migrant Worker Programs. Last month unemployment increased by 3,400 to 712,500 Australians who cannot find work, and this number is forecast to increase.  Official forecasts are that the jobless rate will rise within about 18 months to 6.25%, and stay there through to the end of 2016-17. More Australians will be out of work than at any time during the past decade, and far more than during the Global Financial Crisis.  The forthcoming closures of Ford and Holden, job losses at Qantas, concerns for jobs at SPC Ardmona and Alcoa, the resources industry construction workforce winding back – all the indicators are that many Australians, including migrant workers, are looking for work or will be looking for work in the near future. They are entitled to our first consideration.

The Australian Industry Group says that increasing migrant numbers is needed to “support positive growth in our population”, and refers to relatively low levels of natural population growth. This is incorrect. For each of the past thirty-six years I have gone back to check this, births have exceeded deaths in Australia by over 100,000 – we have natural population increase by over 100,000 every year without any migration at all. In any event, population growth is not a good thing. It is putting great pressure on our environment, quality of life, housing affordability, traffic congestion etc.
The permanent Migrant Worker Program, referred to as “Skilled Migration”, should be used to bring workers with skills that it is not possible to find in Australia,  not used as a catch all scheme – recently we even saw calls to bring in truck drivers from overseas.  It should not be used to drive population growth, not used to put downward pressure on wages and conditions, and not used as a substitute for genuine action to train and skill young Australians. If we are fair dinkum about reducing unemployment, and fair dinkum about increasing workforce participation, we will reduce migrant worker programs, not increase them, and build and use the skills of out-of-work Australians.

Friday, January 10, 2014

The Changing Nature of Power

Some commentators are correctly observing that the nature of political and other power has changed a lot in the past couple of decades.

Nick Reece, Public Policy Fellow at the Centre for Public Policy at Melbourne University, says “From boardrooms to battlefields, from churches to nation states, being in charge just isn’t what it used to be”. He says power is moving from states to non-state actors and from state control to market forces. “In a deregulated economy, politicians haven’t controlled interest rates, the exchange rate, wage levels or prices for decades. Nor do they hold sway over industries like they did when they were protected by tariffs or regulation or even owned by the government”. (The Age 21/12/13)

Lord Paddy Ashdown, former UK Liberal Democrat leader, writing in the New Statesman (15-21 November 2013) points to the changes in global power taking place. “We are reaching the beginning of the end of six centuries of the domination of western power, western institutions and western values”. He says “Power is not only shifting laterally, but vertically, too. It is migrating out of the structure of nation states and into the global space, where the instruments of regulation are few and the framework of law is weak.”

He points out that those institutions growing in power and reach – the internet, trans-national corporations, international money changers and speculators, international crime and terrorism – operate oblivious of national borders and largely beyond the reach of national regulation and the law.

This decline in government power brings with it, of course, a declining capacity to solve people’s problems. Nick Reece makes the astute observation that the gap between public expectations and the capacity of politicians to meet them leads to “a sharp decline in trust and confidence in political institutions”, and that this is a global phenomenon. He says “Almost every advanced democracy in the world has a deeply unpopular government that is unable to deliver on its policy agenda”.

This is a very significant insight. But how can this unhappy state of affairs be altered? Nick says governments and political parties should campaign to increase political participation. But political participation has declined precisely because governments have surrendered power and are no longer capable of solving problems – given this, why would you bother?

The author Christian Caryl has also noted an increasing gap between rich and poor, with wealthy elites gaining immense sway over the political process. He says that in the United States 40% of political campaign contributions in 2012 came from one hundredth of 1% of United States’ households. The rest of the population feels increasingly divorced from meaningful participation. Christian Caryl says the erosion of alternative power centres, such as labour unions, contributes to a sense of rising cynicism and disengagement.

I think the Queensland academic Jane O’Sullivan has identified a key cause of the problem in her work on the burden of infrastructure provision on rapidly growing populations, which I have written and spoken about previously. In cities with population growth of 1% per annum or faster, no Council, State or Federal authorities are able to keep up, and many people cannot get basic problems solved.

Population growth also diminishes democracy, as pointed out by the late Professor Al Bartlett of Boulder Colorado. As towns and cities grow, people are no longer listened to as much as they used to be. They often respond to this powerlessness by disengaging from the political process, or with increasing resentment that can be seen in increasing incivility in our political discourse, or simply increasing incivility in our society full stop.

To stop the gap between the governing and the governed from becoming ever larger, and protect the quality of our democracy, I believe we need to stop the rapid population growth, and that countries should each seek to stabilise their populations. Only in this way can we retain the quality of our democracy and arrest the drift towards powerlessness, apathy and incivility.

The other thing we should do is recognise that although large corporations like disempowering governments and citizens, it’s not a good thing. We shouldn’t go further down this path. This means no to privatisations, and no foreign ownership of essential services. It means no to “investor-state dispute resolution” clauses in our trade treaties, which enable foreign corporations to sue the Australian Government if it takes decisions that disadvantage them.
And it means no to the silly idea I saw recently of amalgamating and reducing the number of Councils in Melbourne or Sydney. Larger Councils have increased the distance between Councillors and ratepayers, and even larger Councils will only increase the distance still further, leading to ever-more alienated and dis-satisfied citizens.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Proposal for Foreign Truck Drivers is Unsafe and Unnecessary

The Australian Trucking Association (ATA) has proposed adding truck driving to the list of occupations eligible for Australia’s temporary migrant worker program (“457” visas).

We are seeing an unacceptable number of deaths as the result of speeding, fatigue and poor maintenance caused by employers setting lunatic deadlines and keeping trucks on the road too long. A 2012 industry survey of drivers in the biggest supply chain, Coles, showed that 46 per cent of drivers felt economic pressure to skip rest breaks, 28 per cent felt pressure to speed and 26 per cent felt pressure to carry illegally overweight loads.

As the Transport Workers Union (TWU) has highlighted, Bureau of Statistics figures show there are plenty of people looking for work in the sector, but long hours, tight delivery deadlines and poor pay deter drivers from taking the jobs. Bringing in foreign drivers unfamiliar with Australian roads and road rules, and under unreasonable deadline pressures, risks an increase in the number of accidents involving heavy vehicles.

There is no shortage of Australian drivers. The underemployment data at August 2013 shows that 34,500 people were looking for work in transport, postal and logistics. As acting national secretary of TWU, Michael Kaine, says, “This is not an industry that is one that there's a shortage of people looking for work, this is an industry that needs to get those pressures lifted so that there's an attraction and retention rate in the industry for drivers”.
The Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal was established to address these pressures and to mitigate safety issues in the Australian road transport industry and on our roads. It should be retained, rather than abolished as the Liberal Government wants to do, and we should continue to employ Australian drivers and give them decent wages and conditions. Cheap food and other supermarket items aren’t so cheap if it’s a member of your family involved in the next truck crash.