Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Michaelia Cash Channels Groucho Marx

Groucho Marx famously once said "Those are my principles, and if you don't like them... well I have others.”

Minister Michaelia Cash is doing her best to channel him with her two totally different positions concerning penalty rates.

On the one hand she says penalty rates are not for the Government to decide, but a matter for the Fair Work Commission.

But then she says that the Government will not change penalty rates without taking a proposal to the voters at an election first.

So what really is the Government's position? That penalty rates are a matter for the Fair Work Commission or a matter for Government? And if they are a matter for the Fair Work Commission, why did the Government send them off to the Productivity Commission in the first place?

Workers are entitled to more security than this. They are entitled to know whether the government supports continued Sunday penalty rates or not. They know that claims that cutting the Sunday rate will create more jobs are nonsense. They know that if their penalty rate is cut they will have to work more hours to make up for the pay cut, so there is a negligible prospect of more work for people who don't already have work.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Private Training Colleges Should Be Cut

The Federal Government is lamenting its latest Budget blow out (I know, I know, the government that said under it there would be no surprises and no excuses). It says we have a spending problem, not a revenue problem.

We certainly have a spending problem when it comes to bankrolling private training colleges. The States used to fund Technical and Further Education, and it worked well. But then some bright sparks decided that the free market could do technical and further education better than the public sector.

Private training colleges sprang up, and successive Federal Governments decided they were worth bankrolling. The cost of courses has trebled since VET Fee Help funding came on tap in 2012. We've seen the flowering of online courses – with a 92 per cent dropout rate! – and college brokers, who forge peoples signatures and sign up the brain injured and intellectually disabled to courses they have no hope of completing.

Some private colleges now receive hundreds of millions of dollars every year. For example "Careers Australia" received $146 million in 2014, and less than 1200 students graduated from its courses. You would think that at over $100,000 per successful student the Government might have concluded that it was more efficient to put the money into TAFE, but you would be wrong. This year "Careers Australia" received a whopping $229 million in public funding for the eleven months to November 15. This is $27 million more than the biggest publicly funded provider, NSW TAFE, got this year. No wonder the deficit is increasing!

Many of these courses have given students debts of tens of thousands of dollars, and no job with which to repay them. This ideological experiment has been a disaster. The Government should cut the funding of these private colleges, which have spread like Prickly Pear, and save itself some serious money by funding TAFE places that industry has ticked off on as genuinely likely to lead to employment.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Improve National Security by Importing Less Oil

Malcolm Maiden is right when he says in Today’s Age that reducing our oil imports could make Australia safer. He says every barrel of oil saved would tighten the funding equation for Islamic State and its supporters, and that the connection between oil money and terrorism is toxic and chronic. This is true. An analysis for Thomson Reuters last year by Jean-Charles Brisard and Damien Martinez found that 38 per cent of Islamic State funding comes from oil sales. It also gets money from donations, and some of the money behind the donors comes from oil sales.

The methods we have used so far to defeat Islamist terrorism ever since Osama Bin Laden’s September 11 2001 attacks on the World Trade Centre have not been successful, and the world is every bit as dangerous as it was then, arguably more so. Given this, it makes sense to me to do everything we can to throttle the funding sources for Islamic State and other Islamist terrorists. Transitioning out of oil and into electric vehicles and battery storage technology would be an excellent place to start. And the UN Climate Change talks in Paris would be a deeply appropriate time and place for the world to become fair dinkum about this transition.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Predicted Hot Summer Means Danger for Bird Species

The forecast hot summer is causing concern among ecologists regarding danger for woodland birds and frogs.

This comes on top of the protracted millennium drought of 1996 to 2010, the effects of which are still being felt where kookaburras and superb fairy wrens declined and have not properly recovered since. As reported in today’s The Age, ecologist Dr Dale Nimmo has said more than half our bird species experienced a substantial reduction in their population.

This decline affects the broader ecosystem as birds play a key function as pollinators and pest controllers.

In a paper co-written by Dr Nimmo, he and his colleagues outline the importance for species of adequate tree cover which enhances their resilience in tough times such as during a drought. The more tree cover you have, according to Dr Nimmo, the more birds are able to survive a drought.

In the report the authors say that woodland bird communities in landscapes with larger areas of tree cover retained a larger proportion of their species richness during the Millennium Drought. Vegetation cover can influence the resistance, resilience and stability of species in an extreme weather event, events that are becoming more common as a result of climate change.

The impact of climate change, with more droughts and other extreme weather events, makes it all the more important that we protect, restore and enhance Australia’s native vegetation.

Monday, October 12, 2015

What’s Wrong With the China Free Trade Agreement?

1. We don't need it. China is already our largest trading partner. We didn't need a deal to do business up until now, and we won't need one in future. Australian agriculture exports to China have trebled in the past six years, from $3 billion in 2007/8 to $9 billion in 2013/14. They will continue to grow in future, deal or no deal.

China had $22.7 billion - $12 billion of it in Australian real estate - in investment proposals approved by the Foreign Investment Review Board in the 2014 financial year, more than from any other country. Chinese investors bought more real estate in Sydney and Melbourne combined – almost $3.5 U.S. billion) than in each of London, Paris, or New York.

Any China market access advantage for Australian exports will only be temporary. Nothing in the deal prevents China from giving the same access to other countries. But all Australian concessions will be permanent.

2. The deal weakens the rules about employing migrant workers from China. At present employers have to test the labour market – that is to say, advertise positions or vacancies in Australia and show no qualified locals are available - before they can bring in Chinese temporary migrant workers, or employ those already here.

But the China FTA puts an end permanently to labour market testing in the 457 visa program for all Chinese nationals in all skilled occupations. This includes engineers, nurses, electricians, motor mechanics and another 200 trades and occupations where testing currently applies, plus the 400 or so other mainly graduate-level occupations where there is no testing now simply by government policy. Employers will use this loophole to substitute easily exploited overseas labour for Australian workers and graduates.

3. It utterly fails to create a level playing field for Australian domestic industry facing competition from Chinese imports. There is no chapter on labour standards. There is no chapter on environment standards. There is no mechanism to ensure that imported products are of an appropriate standard. Alucoil Australia advises that the much publicised Docklands Fire in Melbourne was in a high rise apartment building cladded with non-compliant panels imported from China.

4. A Memorandum of Understanding establishes Investment Facilitation Arrangements. These will allow Chinese-owned companies registered in Australia undertaking infrastructure development projects of more than $150 million in specified sectors  (a very low threshold these days, which would cover most projects a Chinese-owned company would bother with) to negotiate bringing in semi-skilled temporary workers on 457 visas plus ‘concessional’ skilled workers. The Liberal Government says it will be the same as the Enterprise Migration Agreements proposed by Labor at the time of the Roy Hill Mining proposal.  But trade unions objected vehemently to Enterprise Migration Agreements for good reason and none of them ever happened – not at Roy Hill and not anywhere else. 

The Liberal Government says direct employers on these infrastructure projects must test the local labour market first. But the government’s labour market testing requirement allows employers to stop advertising jobs locally up to a year and a half before employing Chinese semi-skilled workers!

5. A side letter does away with mandatory skills testing by the Australian Government in a range of trades before Chinese-trained workers come to Australia. These include high risk trades like electrical work, which is inherently dangerous. We have stringent electrical training and safety standards in Australia, and eroding these standards could lead to accidents, injuries and deaths.

The Liberal Government says we shouldn't worry because the Immigration Department can still order a skills test ‘if needed’, and the States will step in and do assessments for licensed trades. Really?  And if they don't? I guess we can always have a Royal Commission.

Mandatory skills assessment for 457 visa applicants from high-risk countries including China was introduced in 2009 by the former Labor Government to help restore some integrity to the 457 program. Before that it was commonplace for employers to nominate Chinese and other workers for skilled 457 visas in trade occupations but work them as semi-skilled or unskilled workers. For example some Chinese workers granted 457 visas as professional engineers were found to be working as labourers on Australian construction sites! There was also concern about trade training standards and qualifications and document fraud in some countries. Authorities like the World Bank say those concerns are still valid.

6. The deal contains an Investor-State Dispute Settlement provision. The details of the provision haven't yet been finalised. In all seriousness, the details haven't been finalised, but the Liberal Government is demanding that Labor agrees to the deal. But Investor-State Dispute provisions allow overseas companies to sue the Australian Government for actions that disadvantage them. Phillip Morris is suing the Australian Government right now, using one of these clauses in a Hong Kong investment agreement, over the introduction of plain paper packaging for tobacco products. ISDS has mutated into a privatised system of 'justice', whereby three arbitrators are allowed to override national legislation and the judgments of the highest courts in the land, in secret and with no right of appeal. No governments should enter into treaties which could stop them carrying out their proper role of protecting public health, the environment, and basic human rights.

There’s a lot wrong with the China Australia Free Trade Agreement.


Friday, October 9, 2015

Statewide Fuel Reduction Target Unscientific

The damage done by the Lancefield fuel reduction burn again raises the issue of whether our fuel reduction burning is scientifically based.

It should be remembered that the Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission's recommendation to burn 390,000 hectares per year for fuel reduction was not supported by its own expert panel. The experts said a statewide target would encourage fuel reduction burns in the larger, more remote areas, which were not as important for public safety as smaller areas around towns.

I made two submissions to the 2009 Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission and I held a Public Forum in 2012 which provided an opportunity for fire management experts to discuss the fuel reduction issue in detail. These experts didn't support a statewide target – what they proposed were local, zone-based targets for fuel reduction burns, and local, science-based prescriptions for ecological burns.

I was pleased that the Inspector General for Emergency Management recommended earlier this year that the 5 per cent prescribed burn target be replaced by a risk reduction target. I hope that the Victorian Opposition in particular will get behind a change to what has been an unsuccessful and counterproductive approach.

I also hope there is full accountability from the Northern Territory uranium mine owners ERA who allowed a "controlled" burn to become uncontrolled and enter the Kakadu National Park, threatening indigenous rock art. The Northern Territory gets far too many hot, late dry season fires, and the traditional owners and the environment deserve better.

China Free Trade Agreement – Myths and Realities


The China FTA does not change existing protocols about labour market testing. (National Farmers Federation 16 September 2015).


There can be no doubt that the China FTA puts a permanent end to labour market testing for all Chinese nationals in all 651 skilled occupations in the standard or ‘non-concessional’ 457 visa program.  This includes over 200 occupations which are currently subject to the 457 Labor Market Testing obligation – engineers, nurses, and Skill Level 3 jobs like electricians, motor mechanics; plus  the 450 or so other mainly graduate-level occupations where there is no testing now simply by government policy.

The Government has expressly stated that in order to implement our obligations under ChAFTA, a Migration Act Determination is required in relation to labour market testing in the 457 visa program. Clearly if nothing was changing there would be no determination.

The definition of 'contractual service suppliers' of China, in combination  with other ChAFTA provisions, means that all standard business sponsors nominating Chinese citizens for non-concessional 457 visas will no longer have to labour market test.

The definition of 'contractual service suppliers of China' is identical to that of 'contractual service suppliers of Korea' in the Korea Free Trade Agreement. It is noteworthy that the Immigration Department has advised registered migration agents that "The effect of the obligations under the KAFTA is that labour market testing will NOT be applied to Korean nationals/permanent residents or to employees of businesses in Korea transferring to an Australian branch of that business being nominated under the 457 programme".

The China FTA also removes Australia’s right to apply labour market testing in the 400 visa program, for Chinese ‘installers and services’ of machinery and equipment.

At present there is no legislated requirement for labour market testing in the 400 visa.  But by policy 400 visas are only granted to foreign workers to do ‘highly specialised work – that is, it involves skills, knowledge or experience….which cannot reasonably be found in the Australian labour market.’

The China FTA will remove the Australian government’s ability to apply this current test or indeed any form of labour market testing to Chinese ‘installers and services’ in the 400 visa program.


We need a free trade agreement with China in order to do business with China. New Zealand etc will steal a march on us if we don't.


Australian agricultural exports to China have trebled in the past six years, rising from $3 billion in 2007/8 to $9 billion in 2013/14.

China had $27.7 billion - $12 billion of it in Australian real estate - in investment proposals approved by the Foreign Investment Review Board in the 2014 financial year, more than from any other country. Chinese investors bought more real estate in Sydney and Melbourne combined (almost $3.5 U.S. billion) than in each of London, Paris, and New York.

Any China market access advantage for Australian exporters will only be temporary.  Nothing in the deal prevents China from giving the same access to other countries. But all Australian concessions will be permanent.


This agreement is the same as others we've done. People who oppose it are being hypocritical at best and xenophobic or racist at worse.


Both the words and the meaning of the China deal are different from those of previous treaties.

The definition of "contractual service suppliers" in the Chile deal refers to persons with "high-level technical or professional qualifications, skills and experience". The definition for the China, Korea and Japan deals was watered down to persons with “trade, technical or professional skills and experience", with the words "high-level" and "qualifications" being omitted.

The Department provided unequivocal advice to the Treaties Committee in 2008 that the Chile deal was limited to professional skilled business people, and people with high-level qualifications who are already employed by an enterprise of the other country. The Department said the Chile FTA would not widen the capacity for people to apply for 457 visas, and was "not about nationals seeking access to the employment market; it is about service professionals coming temporarily to Australia to deliver their particular service and then leaving".

But with the China FTA there are over 650 trades and other occupations in the 457 program (including over 200 about which the Department has said that there is labour market testing now) which can never again be subject to labour market testing if this China deal comes into force.

The Department also said the Chile deal did not limit Australia's scope to change or abolish 457 visas. This is not true of the China deal.

The ASEAN and Malaysian FTAs, which Labor signed in government, provided labour market testing exemptions in the 457 visa program for very limited categories of foreign nationals. The China deal gives labour market testing exemptions to all Chinese nationals in the 457 program.

But wait, there's more. The initial period of entry for temporary contractual service suppliers in the Japan and Korea FTAs is one year. It is four years for the China FTA, four times as long.

The China Deal also differs from other trade deals in that it has:

  • No labour market testing for Chinese ‘installers and servicers’ in the 400 visa program – other deals do not.
  • A Memorandum of Understanding on Investment Facilitation Arrangements – other deals do not. Workers under IFAs will be semi-skilled or substandard skilled workers. Both can have lower English skills than under the standard 457 visa, which will hamper their ability to understand their rights or complain about violation of them. Lower English skills also have worrying implications for workplace safety.
  • An Investor State Dispute Settlement provision – the Chile Deal does not, and the Japan deal does not.
  • No labour rights chapter.
  • No environment chapter.
  • A side letter that removes mandatory skills assessment for ten skilled trades, including electricians, motor mechanics, and carpenters. Mandatory skills assessment for 457 visa applicants from high risk countries including China was introduced in 2009 by the former Labor Government as part of a series of reforms designed to restore some integrity to the 457 visa program. Prior to this it was all too common for employers to nominate Chinese and other overseas workers as skilled 457 workers in trade occupations but work them as semi-skilled or unskilled workers. Some Chinese workers granted 457 visas as professional engineers were found to be working as labourers on Australian construction sites. There were also well-founded concerns about the trade training standards and the extent of qualifications and document fraud in certain countries including China. Authorities like the World Bank say those concerns are still valid.
  • A Memorandum of Understanding which provides young Chinese with 5000 work and holiday visas each year, with the right to work in Australia for the full 12 months of the year. There is no reciprocal arrangement for young Australians to work and holiday in China.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

UN Expert Says Trade Agreements Need to Respect Human Rights

The first Independent Expert appointed by the UN to promote a democratic and equitable international order, Mr Alfred de Zayas, says that governments across the world need to put a stop to free trade and investment agreements that conflict with human rights treaty obligations.

He says "Over the past decades free trade and investment agreements have had adverse impacts on the enjoyment of human rights by interfering with the States's fundamental functions to legislate in the public interest and regulate fiscal, budgetary, labour, health, and environmental policies".

His report deplores the paradox resulting from assuming conflicting treaty obligations, where countries ratify human rights treaties, but then enter into agreements that prevent him from fulfilling their human rights obligations.

In particular he urges the abolition of the Investor-State Dispute Settlement mechanism in Trade and Investment Agreements. He says it "encroaches on the regulatory space of States and suffers from fundamental flaws including lack of independence, transparency, accountability and predictability".

"This dispute settlement mechanism has mutated into a privatised system of 'justice', incompatible with article 14(1) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, whereby three arbitrators are allowed to override national legislation and the judgments of the highest national tribunals, in secret and with no possibility of appeal. This constitutes a grave challenge to the very essence of he rule of law."

Voting in Melbourne City Council Elections

A report commissioned by the Electoral Regulation Research Network recommends that only residents be allowed to vote in Melbourne City Council elections, that is to say that businesses would be banned from voting in them. Presently businesses are required to vote, and corporations operating in Melbourne are allocated two votes.

The lead author of the report, Monash University Associate Professor Ken Coghill, said giving votes to corporate entities and non-resident property owners was not democratic. He rejected the idea businesses should have a vote because they pay rates.

"The cry of 'no taxation without representation' is false: it is not accepted for voting in state or Commonwealth elections or in other democracies", Professor Coghill said.

The Municipal Association of Victoria opposes the idea. They say "a dominance of residential voters could see more focus on the amenity of living in the city, possibly at the expense of economic activity and development".

And the problem is?

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Building Excavation Not Good Enough

This morning I visited John Wade at his Engine Fit business in Nicholson Street Brunswick. His workshop has collapsed due to excavations next door. The damage is so great that it will almost certainly put him out of business for a year, threatening a 40 year family business.

But it could have been worse. If his son had not alerted everyone inside when he heard the wall cracking, enabling them to flee the building, there could have been injury or deaths.

This is not the first time Melbourne has seen building excavations causing chaos for next door properties. It raises two important questions. First, whether we should continue with the privatised system of building surveying introduced by the Kennett Government in the 1990s. Are building surveyors, who nowadays work for builders and developers, doing their job properly? Secondly, in our rush to cram more people into Melbourne in general and Moreland in particular, are we permitting high rise buildings that are not suitable for the land they are being built on?

I will await the findings of WorkSafe and Moreland Council, who are investigating the collapse, with great interest. Small family businesses like John Wade's deserve better than to be the innocent victims of developer greed and inadequate regulation.

Monday, September 28, 2015

457 Visa Workers Used to Undercut Australian Workers

I received a troubling letter from Mr Geoff McMahon, a constituent of mine who lives in North Coburg. Geoff is a 61 year old highly qualified electrical engineer. He has worked on numerous Australian fly in fly out resources jobs and says proudly that he has never been on the dole.

But in the last 18 months he has seen all his engineering roles handed to 457 visa workers, and has had just three months work.

He says Julie Bishop's statement that 457 visa workers who come to Australia are paid the same as their Australian counterparts "is a lie". He says he can testify from working alongside them that migrant workers are paid less. "While on the Santos GLNG project in Queensland, of the 105 engineers on gas compression Hub 04, I was one of two Australians, the rest were 457 visa workers. The Filipino engineers were paid $8 per hour. I told the Filipino that they are entitled to better pay. They all emphatically stated that they will not rock the boat and that $8 per hour was good pay for them".

Geoff McMahon concludes his letter with the plea "Please rid this country of 457 workers. I need to work". He is right. With 800,000 people in this country out of work – and many more like Geoff who don't count as unemployed but who are underemployed – 457s are an employer rort. We should wind down the 457 program and make sure Australian workers have the opportunities, the training, and the right financial incentives to do these jobs.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Election of Malcolm Turnbull as Liberal Leader

I congratulate Malcolm Turnbull on his election as Liberal Party Leader. It is an immense honour and privilege to lead the great nation of Australia and I wish him every success in this most important responsibility.

I also congratulate Bill Shorten, who has vanquished an elected Prime Minister in his first term, a tribute to his strong and effective leadership of the past two years.

The Australian people could have been served better by their political leaders in recent years, and I urge Malcolm Turnbull as Prime Minister to do three things.

First, give us evidence based policy, not ideology and voodoo. I am particularly thinking here of climate change. The level of public leadership of this issue by Tony Abbott was just appalling. Malcolm Turnbull has the chance to make Australia a team player in the international fight to cut carbon emissions. If he will not take a stronger target to Paris, he should certainly be willing to sign up to a stronger one at Paris in return for relevant commitments by other countries, which also have a role to play. He can also put a stop to the undermining of renewable energy and help rather than hinder the transition which Australia needs to make and is making.

Second, restore trust in politicians by keeping faith with election promises. The broken promises of the 2014 Budget were disastrous for Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey. Malcolm Turnbull should jettison them. He should in particular do away with the plan to deregulate student fees. Students are already fitted up with massive HECS-HELP debts; they should not be increased.

Third, he should be prepared to compromise and negotiate, rather than continue the ruthless take no prisoners approach of Mr Abbott. The China Free Trade Agreement is a case in point. Mr Abbott lost the support of the voters in Victoria and South Australia, and as a result he lost the support of Liberal MPs in those states, who feared losing their seats. Victoria and South Australia are referred to as the AFL States, but that was not Tony Abbott's problem. His problem was that they are manufacturing states. His government was prepared to trash manufacturing in order to get an outcome for agriculture. Last week I visited the Alucoil factory, a manufacturer just north of my electorate, where unemployment is over 20 per cent, which is threatened by cheap imports as a consequence of the China Free Trade Deal.

Malcolm Turnbull should reject this winner take all approach to politics and be prepared to compromise. Labor wants to negotiate protections for Australian workers against unfair competition from easily exploited temporary foreign workers. The China Free Trade Agreement does away with labour market testing for nurses, engineers, electricians, motor mechanics, and 200 other occupations. And if the China Free Trade Agreement has such public support as the Government claims, why is it that after weeks of pushing it in the Parliament that Malcolm Turnbull could say the Liberal Party was headed for electoral oblivion and have a clear majority of his colleagues agree with him?

Finally, when Labor replaced Kevin Rudd with Julia Gillard because we were headed for defeat in 2010 the chorus of scorn and derision from the Liberal Party and the media was deafening. We were told we had no right to do this. Now that the Liberal Party has taken precisely the same action, we await the relevant apologies.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

China Share Meltdown Shows Folly of Too Many Eggs in One Basket

China is our largest trading partner – our largest export market and our largest source of imports. Last week there was a hearing of the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties on the China Free Trade Agreement. At that Hearing I asked a Department of Foreign Affairs Deputy Secretary whether such a great reliance on China made Australia vulnerable to their economic fortunes, and asked whether Australia might be better served by trying to diversify, or become more self-reliant.

The Deputy Secretary's reply expressed puzzlement at my describing our trade relationship with China as making us potentially vulnerable. She was clearly of the view that the more trade the better, and that we could not possibly have too much of this good thing.

But I think the dramatic events on global share markets in the past week have borne out my concern. Commentators have regularly mentioned how dependent Australia is on China, using expressions such as "If China sneezes, Australia catches a cold". We are referred to as one of the commodity exporting countries at risk if China's growth is less than expected.

The fact is that we have put a lot of eggs in the China basket. For the past thirty years we have engaged in an experiment, putting our faith in globalisation and free trade. We have allowed our manufacturing industries to go to the wall and have allowed our economic base to narrow. As a result we are less self-sufficient and more vulnerable than we used to be more vulnerable than is good for us.

This is one of the reasons for my concern about the China Free Trade Agreement. I hope the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Australian Government will take a good hard look at what has been happening in the past few months, and rethink a strategy that is all about commodities and to hell with manufacturing. Australia needs to be more independent, self-sufficient and self-reliant than the policies of the past thirty years have left us.

Tax Cuts Less Important than Balancing the Books

After its election the Liberal Government waxed long and hard about what it called a Budget Emergency. There was no end to the shrill and hysterical rhetoric about the state of the Budget and the prospect of Budget Deficits into the future.

The Budget Emergency was used as the alibi for all manner of attacks on public services and lower income earners in the 2014 Budget. It was the justification for the cutting of pension indexation. It was the justification for the deregulating of fees for university students. It was the justification for a new payment to visit the doctor. It was the justification for cuts of billions of dollars in health and education for the States. It was the justification for cuts to foreign aid, legal aid, and the ABC. It was the justification for abandoning the promise to implement the Gonski funding which had been promised to schools.

When we voted against these broken promises, these harsh and counterproductive austerity measures, the Labor Opposition was attacked relentlessly for sabotaging the Government's efforts to "repair the Budget".

Then, disappearing almost as suddenly as it came, the Budget Emergency vanished. The 2015 Budget took a new tack altogether. The Government stopped talking about it, and if asked about it, suggested they now had the problem under control.

But the fact is that the Budget Deficits are still there. And yet Treasurer Hockey now talks about tax cuts! What a lightweight Joe Hockey is. He is totally incoherent on the subject of economic management. He must think the Australian electorate has the memory of a goldfish, that people will forget that only last year he was lecturing us day in day out on the need to balance the books.
The fact is that balancing the books does matter, and we should not be talking about tax cuts – and note that it is only talk, there is no substance to this talk whatsoever – until we have the books in a healthier condition, and have taken serious action to crack down on tax avoidance. It is not prudent or responsible to spend money we don't have, and Joe Hockey damages the credibility of politicians generally when he abandons the idea of fiscal discipline without any rational basis for doing so.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Garfield Barwick=Liberal

Garfield Barwick was a Liberal MP, then a Liberal Government Attorney-General and Minister for External Affairs. He was appointed to the High Court by a Liberal Government, where he proved controversial, ruling in favour of tax avoiders and giving under the radar advice to John Kerr which was highly prejudicial to the Whitlam Government. His autobiography was titled “A Radical Tory”!

So when you get invited to give a “Garfield Barwick” Lecture, you don’t need the forensic skills or analytical ability of a High Court judge to suspect that the Lecture might be a Liberal Party show. Dyson Heydon’s position as Royal Commissioner is untenable and he should resign from it.

Shooting the Environment Messenger

If there was a narrative about the Liberal Government it is one of payback and punishment, in this case, of environmental groups who dare to have the temerity to challenge projects, as environmental groups should when environmental damage is foreseeable

The announcement yesterday of proposed changes to the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act to repeal a section of the Act that allows green groups to mount legal challenges to environmental approvals is all about the government not accepting the umpire’s decision. This is following the Federal Court forcing the Government to reconsider its approval of Adani's $16 billion Carmichael coal mine because Environment Minister Greg Hunt had not properly considered the impacts on the yakka skink and ornamental snake.

The Mackay Conservation Group launched its legal challenge in the Federal Court in January, alleging that greenhouse gas emissions from the mine, vulnerable species and Adani's environmental track record had not been taken into account. "The Minister conceded that he had made an error and Adani did as well that the proper process hadn't been followed in approving the Carmichael mine. He is required to take advice from his department on threatened species into account and he didn't do that,” Mackay Conservation Group coordinator Ellen Roberts said.

Rather than seeing a failure in the Minister’s lack of due diligence, the Government has decided to shoot the messenger.

The Government's claims the EPBC Act is costing jobs is not borne out by the facts. Since being passed by the Howard Government 15 years ago, the EPBC Act has been the overriding national environmental protection law, including throughout the mining boom – and environmental groups are required to operate within this law.

Very few projects are legally challenged, and hardly any have been stopped. Adani has not been stopped, it has simply been required to comply with the law, as it should be.
Labor will not support weakening environmental protections or limiting a community's right to challenge Government decisions.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Government Ignores Climate Change Authority on Greenhouse Emissions

The Liberal Government's announcement that it plans to reduce greenhouse emissions by 26-28 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030 falls a long way short of what is needed to effectively tackle extreme weather events.

Its claim to be comparable with the United States is utterly misleading. The US plan is indeed for 26-28 per cent reductions, but by 2025, not 2030. How on earth can we claim to be going as fast as the United States when it will take us 5 years longer to get there?

Moreover the Liberal target is way short of the recommendation of Australia's Climate Change Authority. The Climate Change Authority was charged with taking into account not only climate science and current and future climate change impacts, it was also tasked with examining what other countries are doing, and the economic and social impacts of climate action. Its investigation was comprehensive and its recommendations deserve to be treated with the utmost seriousness.

The Climate Change Authority recommended that we get 15 per cent below our 2000 level by 2020, 30 per cent by 2025, and 40 to 60 per cent below our 2000 level by 2030. Our 2000 level was 560.78 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (Mt CO2-e). Therefore the Climate Change Authority has recommended that we get to 476.66 Mt CO2-e by 2020 and at least 336.47 Mt CO2-e by 2030. So we need to get well under 350 million tonnes of greenhouse gases by 2030.

But the 26 per cent below 2005 levels which the government says is acceptable is a 26 per cent reduction on 611.93 Mt CO2-e, the 2005 figure, that is 452.82 Mt CO2-e. So by 2030 instead of being under 350 million tonnes of greenhouse gases, we would be over 450 million tonnes!

The Climate Change Authority worked out its recommendations taking into account the agreement by all countries, including Australia, that we need to stop global temperatures from rising by more than 2 degrees Celsius, and working out an Australian carbon budget which tried to make things fair both between us and future generations, and between Australia and other countries.

The bottom line is that 450 million tonnes is not fair between us and future generations, is not fair between Australia and the rest of the world and will not be accepted as fair, and that it will not stop global temperatures rising beyond 2 degrees Celsius, which climate scientists have made clear will usher in an era of chaotic and uncertain weather for the planet. The recommendations of the Climate Change Authority deserve more respect.

Thursday, July 16, 2015


I've read plenty of silly articles in my time, but the naive nonsense from the President of the Australian Population Institute (wonder who funds it?) just about takes the cake.

Ms Jane Nathan says in today's Age 16 July 2015 that Melbourne is headed for eight million by 2050, and goes on to describe what it will be like in the most wildly optimistic tones imaginable. She says "our social harmony, kaleidoscopic culture, clean food, innovative education systems and greatly reduced crime rates are the envy of the world. Our neighbourhoods are artistic, green and pristine".

Sounds like paradise. The problem is, there is no evidence to support it. Indeed all the evidence points in the opposite direction. Rapid population growth in Melbourne has produced higher crime rates, with domestic violence and the ice epidemic blighting our city. Education for our young people has more costly and less valuable, with increasing graduate unemployment and alarming reports of dodgy private training colleges and cheating at universities. The risk of terrorist attack is higher. And as for green and pristine, just this week it was reported that even common Australian birds, like the Willy Wagtail and the Kookaburra, were being sighted much less frequently. The reason for this is that the streets of mature gardens that used to give our birds food and shelter have been replaced by multi-unit developments and high rise. The vegetation has been destroyed, and the birds have died out.

And the evidence from cities overseas which have got to eight million and more is pretty clear too. Terrible traffic congestion, lousy housing affordability, poor quality open space, big gaps between rich and poor, and an underclass of poverty, drugs and crime. Ms Nathan can endeavour to talk up eight million and sell it as an exciting future all she likes, but there is absolutely no evidence to warrant this "she'll be right" approach to rapid population growth.

Kelvin Thomson MP

Monday, July 13, 2015

More criticism of Trans Pacific Partnership Investor State Dispute Settlement provisions

More criticism of Trans Pacific Partnership Investor State Dispute Settlement provisions.

There is mounting criticism of the proposed provisions in the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) which would give foreign corporations the right to sue Australian taxpayers over Australian government decisions that affect their business interests.

A week ago Reserve Bank Board member Heather Ridout said Australia would rue the day it lost control of its ability to make legitimate public policy decisions that might affect the way firms in Australia operated. She said "Mark my words, we will regret it, if we sign away our rights".

Ms Ridout joins a long line of critics of the investor state dispute settlement, or ISDS, provisions. The Chief Justice of the High Court of Australia, Robert French, the Productivity Commission, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), and the Harper Competition Inquiry have all criticised the proposed provisions.

The Australian Government needs to be focused on the best interests of all Australians, and focused on the best interests of future generations, rather than the immediate financial interests of its corporate backers, when it engages in trade negotiations.

Kelvin Thomson

Federal Member for Wills

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Emissions Reduction Targets

News that our electricity sector carbon greenhouse gas emissions are again on the rise underline that this problem is not going to take care of itself, and that we need to adopt serious and scientifically based emission reduction targets to take to the Paris Climate Change Conference later this year.

I support the recommendations of the Climate Change Authority, which proposes that we reduce our emissions below 2000 levels by 30 per cent by 2025 and by 40 to 60 per cent by 2030. Authority Chairman Bernie Fraser says such a target would constitute a credible package to take to the Paris Conference.

For over 5 years I have advocated that we should have stabilised our emissions in 2010 and cut them by 2 per cent each year, that is 20 per cent each decade, after that. This would have given us a 20 per cent cut by 2020, a 40 per cent cut by 2030, a 60 per cent cut by 2040, an 80 per cent cut by 2050, and a completely decarbonised economy by 2060.

The Climate Change Authority proposals are entirely consistent with that timetable. It also fits well with the action being taken by other countries – for example Canada has said it will aim to reduce its emissions by 30 per cent from 2005 levels by 2030, Japan has proposed a 2030 cut of 26 per cent below 2013 levels, and the United States is proposing a 26 to 28 per cent below 2005 levels by 2025.

We will obviously need to transition to renewable energy big time to achieve this, and the Federal Government's undermining of the renewable energy industry has been most unhelpful. But hopefully that has now stopped. And the news about renewable energy technology is encouraging – for example the developments in battery storage which will enable people to use their solar panels to power electric vehicles, or to use their solar power at all times of the day and night.


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?