Government has a role to play in reducing inequality... a role it has largely abandoned over the last few decades, working on the assumption that it is 'not their job'.
There is a large body or research and academic writing that points to our growing inequality and the role it plays in stagnating economies, as well as leading to adverse social outcomes around health as well as Law and Order. If it isn't the government's job to support a thriving economy and to ensure the delivery of a good level of social services to ensure everyone has the same opportunity to flourish, then what is its job? And if it is the government's job, then why aren't they doing more to address inequality?
An excellent example of where the government has failed in addressing (or failing to address) need - as outlined by the Gonski recommendations. It is uncontested that higher levels and higher quality education generally lead to higher income and better health outcomes. By not implementing the Gonski reforms as recommended (not as conceived by Labor or the Coalition), we are ensuring poorer health outcomes for disadvantaged groups.
This is the essence of the last of this year's Boyer lectures - addressing issues of fairness and equity at every opportunity. Professor Marmot refers to the principle as 'make every contact count'.
In the fourth Boyer lecture Sir Michael suggests that we need government action as well as action by communities. He insists we should be seeking to create the conditions for individuals to take control over their lives with the aim of creating a more just society that enables social flourishing of all its members.
This touches on issues such as a fairer taxation system, the better funding and targeting of services, but also the refusal of people to look at a problem and say 'not my job'.
Professor Marmot's fourth lecture is well worth a listen and you'll find it here.
Donations to politicians and political parties still seem to be on the radar, and that’s a good thing. The truth is that donations do affect the political process, they do damage our democracy and they do sway policy and political decisions.
What's the evidence for this... let’s start by looking at the international experience – recently released court documents from an investigation into Wisconsin governor Scott Walker don’t just reveal the indiscretions of one person, they reveal how widespread the influence of corporate cash is… on politicians, lobbyists and judges.
There is the incredibly complex story of political corruption in Nauru as revealed recently on 7.30 – and the dance that continues between senior members of government, money being provided an Australian company and the Australian government’s complex relationship with the nation as a result of our asylum seeker policy. The democratic fallout affects the citizens of both Nauru and Australia and the root cause of this problem is money and a lack of transparency.
It would be naïve to believe that these issues are isolated ones.
We only need look at our own political history for signs of problems. Donations disclosures are available online.
In 2014-15 (a non-election year when they were not in government) the ALP received $153, 000 in donations from a combination of Clubs NSW, the Australian Hotels Association, and Woolworths (the nation’s biggest owners of poker machines).
In 2011 (an election year when the ALP was in government) the same group donated $156,600 while simultaneously launching a multi-million dollar ad campaign focusing on marginal seats held by Labor.
At the same time the Liberal party received (from the same donors) – in 2011 - $121,000 and in 2014-15 no reported donations. It would be fair to say that the Abbott opposition was already opposing proposed changes vigorously before the clubs and hotels joined the debate because it saw relative political advantage.
Over the same periods The Greens received no donations from any of these groups.
Currently, The Greens are one of the few parties with a prominent pokies harm reduction policy while neither of the major parties are currently showing any interest in addressing the issue.
In 2011 there was a lot of heat on pubs and clubs in relation to poker machine regulation. In 2016 there is none despite ongoing issues with gambling addiction and ongoing community concerns about the pervasiveness of poker machines. Did money and a massive political scare campaign buy a political outcome that suited donors who have a lot of skin in the poker machines game? It would appear so. This is significant because perceptions are as important as reality when we are discussing public confidence in the political process.
These concerns are a likely factor in the declining confidence in democracy in Australia.
Foreign donations add another layer of concern and complexity (as seen in the case of Nauru), so concerns surrounding state owned enterprises in China are both understandable and completely valid.
Ideally we want to see a more level playing field that gives parties, policies and ideas an equal chance of being heard. We don’t want to see voices drowned out by big money advertising campaigns, and we don’t want to amplify individuals or interest groups based solely on their financial resources rather than the quality of their argument.
And that is what we are currently getting.
A more appropriate arrangement would cap donations and election campaign expenditure, ban foreign donations, improve transparency and disclosure, as well as provide a more level playing field through more equitable public funding.
How that might look in practice would be a great basis for the debate we are not currently having in this area.
by Mark Enders
The Greens have long understood the interconnectedness of things. Our previous blog post pointed to how one policy area affects another, from Education, to Health, to Social Issues, to the Economy.
Beyond the internet, people are all inter-connected and inter-dependent, and are in fact mostly much closer than the popular myth of 7 Degrees of separation.
Equally we are not just a product of our environment, we are a part of it, we are dependent on it, and increasingly it is dependent on us. It is good to have beliefs supported by research and evidence. Green cities are not just healthier and happier cities, they are safer cities and the Greening of cities has been an important of urban regeneration and transformation.
J. Morgan Grove and Michelle Kondo from the US Forestry Service have published some compelling results from the projects they have been involved in. The results are published on The Coversation website. They have been republished below with permission.
In the 1953 short story The Man Who Planted Trees, a lone shepherd plants thousands of trees, transforming a desolate valley into a vibrant forest with pleasant villages and unspoiled wilderness. The moral of this story is a simple one: that perseverance and planting trees can make places more desirable to live.
Across the United States, the US Forest Service is proving this, neighbourhood by neighbourhood.
Within some neighbourhoods, scientists are documenting a connection between trees and a specific social improvement: a reduction in crime. These studies combine modern mapping technology with spatial and economic statistics to compare crime levels between similar urban neighbourhoods in the same city.
This research is becoming increasingly widespread and sophisticated. According to Kathleen Wolf, a research social scientist with the University of Washington and the US Forest Service, this is “part of a movement to understand the role of nature in public health”. Wolf observes:
Now that we’re in the era of Big Data, we’re seeing an acceleration of crime-related research in a wide variety of disciplines and fields. We’re also incorporating data on things like disparities of green in urban communities.
Not only do healthy, well-maintained trees provide shade and benefit the ecosystem, they can have a social meaning: that people in that neighbourhood look out for each other.
One of the places we are conducting this type of research is Baltimore. One of the oldest cities in US, Baltimore has more than 600,000 residents. It is known for its rich historical heritage, a picturesque inner harbour, crab cakes … and for having some of the worst crime and poverty levels in the nation.
According to recent estimates, 25% of Baltimore residents and 37% of Baltimore children live in poverty.
Faced with one of the highest homicide rates in the country, the city implemented a youth curfew law in 2014 to keep unaccompanied children off the streets at night.
Baltimore also has an extensive team of urban research scientists, affiliated with both the US Forest Service Baltimore Field Station and the Baltimore Ecosystem Study, and a proactive non-profit organisation, The Parks & People Foundation. These entities are working together to demonstrate a connection between adding trees and reducing crime in under-served neighbourhoods.
We worked in a research collaboration to look at the relationship between urban tree cover and rates of robbery, burglary, theft and shooting in under-served neighbourhoods in Baltimore. After controlling for income, population density, block-scale tree canopy and housing type, we found that a 10% increase in tree canopy corresponded to a roughly 12% decrease in crime.
According to Valerie Rupp, director of community greening for The Parks & People Foundation in Baltimore, people are taking back their neighbourhoods. “While crime still exists, there’s been a shift to more minor, less violent crimes,” she says.
Less than 150 kilometres northwest of Baltimore is the city of Philadelphia, another historic metropolis. With a population of more than 1.5 million, Philadelphia also has its share of big-city problems.
Although Philadelphia’s homicide rate is lower than Baltimore’s, the city has one of the highest homicide rates of the country’s ten most populous cities.
The US Forest Service Philadelphia Field Station is working with city groups such as the Parks and Recreation Department and the Philadelphia Water Department to establish the “triple bottom line”, meaning improvements in three broad areas of impact – environmental, social and economic.
In terms of crime reduction, our studies have found that “green” stormwater infrastructure improvements resulted in significant reductions in narcotics possession and theft. According to Philadelphia police detective Hugh Davis, one can feel neighbourhoods changing and becoming safer over time. Davis says:
It often starts out as a grant program to make landscape improvements, and then residents start to take ownership. It improves neighbourhood pride and goodwill toward the city.
Developing ‘green courage’ in the inner city
The theory behind urban greening and reduced crime levels is that when under-served neighbourhoods are made more pleasant, it can result in a healthier sense of community. In turn, it makes those neighbourhoods less hospitable to criminal activity.
In places like Baltimore and Philadelphia, city departments are working with communities to give people what some urban sociologists call “green courage”. This occurs when residents become more willing to work together after seeing improvements in their neighbourhood.
At the end of the day, urban greening is not simply about planting trees. It’s about people working together to make neighbourhoods better places to live.
We are working alongside these efforts, helping to document and provide a scientific basis for the work to spread and continue. For those of us who are working toward these goals, we sometimes wonder: are we planting trees to organise people or are we organising people to plant trees?
The best answer is probably “yes” to both.
The Conversation website contains considered discussion on issues of importance. One of the key issues for this region is a sustainable and secure water supply, and Barry Hart from Monash University, and Avril Horne and Erin O'Donnell from the University of Melbourne have addressed the issue in detail. An important conversation to be had before election day.
Their piece is reprinted with permission below.
Ahead of the election, the major parties have released different visions for developing northern Australia. The Coalition has committed to dam projects across Queensland; Labor has pledged to support the tourism industry.
These pledges build on the Coalition’s A$5 billion Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility, a fund to support large projects, starting on July 1.
The Coalition has pledged A$20 million to support 14 new or existing dams across Queensland should the government be returned to power, as part of a A$2.5 billion plan for dams across northern Australia.
Labor, meanwhile, will redirect A$1 billion from the fund towards tourism, including eco-tourism, indigenous tourism ventures and transport infrastructure (airports, trains, and ports).
It is well recognised that the development of northern Australia will depend on harnessing the north’s abundant water resources. However, it’s also well recognised that the ongoing use of water resources to support industry and agriculture hinges on the health and sustainability of those water resources.
Northern Australia is home to diverse ecosystems, which support a range of ecosystem services and cultural values, and these must be adequately considered in the planning stages.
Sustainability comes secondThe white paper for northern Australia focuses almost solely on driving growth and development. Current water resource management policy in Australia, however, emphasises integrated water resource planning and sustainable water use that protects key ecosystem functions.
Our concern is that the commitment to sustainability embedded in the National Water Initiative (NWI), as well as Queensland’s water policies, may become secondary in the rush to “fast track” these water infrastructure projects.
Lessons from the past show that the long-term success of large water infrastructure projects requires due process, including time for consultation, environmental assessments and investigation of alternative solutions.
What is on the table?The Coalition proposes providing funds to investigate the feasibility of a range of projects, including upgrading existing dams and investigating new dams. The majority of these appear to be focused on increasing the reliability of water supplies in regional urban centres. Few target improved agricultural productivity.
These commitments add to the already proposed feasibility study (A$10 million) of the Ord irrigation scheme in the Northern Territory and the construction of the Nullinga Dam in Queensland. And the A$15 million northern Australia water resources assessment being undertaken by CSIRO, which is focused on the Fitzroy river basin in Western Australia, the Darwin river basins in Northern Territory and the Mitchell river basin in Queensland.
Rethinking damsNew water infrastructure in the north should be part of an integrated investment program to limit overall environmental impacts. Focusing on new dams applies 19th-century thinking to a 21st-century problem, and we have three major concerns about the rush to build dams in northern Australia.
First, the process to establish infrastructure priorities for federal investment is unclear. For instance, it’s uncertain how the projects are connected to Queensland’s State Infrastructure Plan.
Investment in new water infrastructure across northern Australia needs to be part of a long-term water resource plan. This requires clearly articulated objectives for the development of northern Australia, along with assessment criteria that relate to economic, social and environmental outcomes, such as those used in the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.
Second, the federal government emphasises on-stream dams. Dams built across the main river in this way have many well-recognised problems, including:
As a minimum, new dams should be built away from major waterways (such as on small, tributary streams) and designed to minimise environmental impacts. This requires planning in the early stages, as such alternatives are extremely difficult to retrofit to an existing system.
Finally, the federal government proposals make no mention of climate change impacts. Irrigation and intensive manufacturing industries demand highly reliable water supplies.
While high-value use of water should be encouraged, new industries need to be able to adapt for the increased frequency of low flows; as well as increased intensity of flood events. Government investment needs to build resilience as well as high-value use.
Detailed planning, not press releasesIn place of the rather ad hoc approach to improvements in water infrastructure, such as the projects announced by the federal government in advance of the election, we need a more holistic and considered approach.
The A$20 million investment for 14 feasibility studies and business cases in Queensland represents a relatively small amount of money for each project, and runs the risk of having them undertaken in isolation. The feasibility studies should be part of the entirety of the government’s plan for A$2.5 billion in new dams for northern Australia.
Water resource planning is too important and too expensive to cut corners on planning. Investment proposals for Queensland need to be integrated with water resource planning across the state, and across northern Australia, and with appropriate consideration of climate change impacts.
Fast tracking dams without considering ecosystem impacts, future variability in water supplies, and resilience in local communities merely sets the scene for future problems that will likely demand another round of intervention and reform.
It is difficult making good health choices for many reasons. And one of the key issues is hidden sugar.
While Mary Poppins told us a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down, too many spoons of sugar make us very sick. And our modern diet has more sugar in it than it ever did.
In the last 20 years, the amount of sugar each person consumes yearly in the United States has soared from 12 kgs per person to more than 61 kgs per person, with similar changes all over the world. Since 1983, sugar consumption has been steadily increasing every year by an average of 28%, fueling an epidemic of obesity, dental disease, diabetes and other health problems.
An analysis of 175 countries over the past decade showed that when you look for the cause of type 2 (non-insulin dependent) diabetes, the total number of calories you consume is irrelevant. It’s the specific calories that count. When people ate 150 calories more every day, the rate of diabetes went up 0.1 per cent. But if those 150 calories came from a can of fizzy drink, the rate went up 1.1 per cent. Added sugar is 11 times more potent at causing diabetes than general calories
The American Heart foundation when exploring the relationship between dietary sugar intake and heart disease recommends that high sugar intake should be avoided
The World Health Organisation has recommended that people significantly reduce their sugar intake.
Leader of the Australian Greens Dr Richard Di Natale has announced a new tax on sugary sweetened beverages to help tackle Australia's obesity epidemic.
Added sugar is very bad for your health, and puts an enormous strain on our health system. We have a major health crisis on our hands with over a quarter of Australian adults and children overweight or obese. 30% of the added sugar kids consume comes from sweetened drinks, which are a major contributor to increasing rates of childhood obesity. If this trend continues our children may be the first generation to have a shorter life expectancy than their parents.
Earlier this year, Jamie Oliver laid down a challenge to Australia and called on us to follow the UK and introduce a tax of sugary soft drinks. The Australian Greens have accepted that challenge, and will push for the introduction of a 20 percent tax on sugary drinks which the evidence shows will reduce uptake by at least 12 percent. Every cent of the expected $500 million per year raised by the tax on sweetened drinks will be reinvested back into positive health initiatives for Australians.
Over four years $2 billion could be raised by ensuring that sugary sweetened drink manufacturers contribute to the harms their product causes. This tax is part of a broader prevention strategy for obesity, including clear food labeling; restricting junk food advertising to children; and encouraging physical activity through active transport.
The sweetest part of this policy will be the longer term benefits to Australians by reducing chronic disease and achieving better health outcomes,
This is another great primary health initiative from the Greens
by Wendy Tubman
Accessible, affordable, quality childcare is a real issue at the moment. Working families all around the country are feeling the financial pressure of childcare costs and the government has responded by delaying their announced changes by 12 months.
It’s not good enough.
Families under significant pressures are expected to just hold tight for another year so the government can make the books look better for the election. But again it is not good social or economic policy.
The Greens know that affordable and quality childcare is important. It’s important for the economy as it takes pressure off disposable income, makes room for increases in discretionary spending, and so supports an array of jobs and businesses.
It’s an important part of ensuring healthy workforce participation rates for women. This is especially true for lower income earners, and this in turn will impact their superannuation and retirement savings. The government’s short term thinking will have longer term ramifications.
It’s important for kids and their education as it provides an opportunity to set them up for greater academic achievement. It is well established that the early years are an important phase of their learning. To make quality childcare unaffordable is a form of generational theft that this government sanctions.
In response the Australian Greens have announced a policy of ‘Universal Access’ childcare, with a guaranteed minimum of 24 hours of subsidised care offered to every Australian family each week.
The Greens policy creates a single, means tested payment model with access guaranteed for all Australian families. Whoever wins government will need to get their proposed childcare legislation through the Senate. The Greens would push for this policy to be implemented from the 1st of July 2017.
Families earning under $65,000 per year would have 85% of the cost of their care covered, with that amount tapering off until families who earn over $340,000 have 20% of their costs covered.
The Greens have also announced that they will create a $200 million ‘Reducing Waiting Lists Fund’, that centres could apply to access for either capital works, increasing staff or the expansion of specific programs to free up more places in high need areas.
Implementing the Greens’ policy of ‘Universal Access’ would add $370 million per year to the cost of the government’s proposed childcare overhaul. This would be funded through the Greens fully costed platform.
Again the Greens are offering a real point of difference. All the details on the policy are available here.
by Wendy Tubman
Water is an issue for the nation (one of the driest continents on Earth), as well as for Townsville, a large regional city in the dry tropics. The choices we make about water security underpin cost of living pressures, liveability and the ability of the city to grow and support jobs and industry.
Water is a simple supply and demand relationship. We can’t expect an unlimited supply and we can’t expect to have unrestrained demand.
We need a reasonable balance.
On the supply side - Townsville has an excellent water supply system, with highly treated and very safe water sourced from the Ross, Paluma and Burdekin dams.
While the Ross is our main supply dam, it is highly variable, with a limited catchment and low rainfall. The Paluma dam is situated in the wet tropics and is much more reliable, but can only supply 30 ML per day. The Burdekin dam is a huge system, with over 1 000 000 ML per year of water allocations, some of which is not committed. Townsville has 120 000 ML of allocation from the Burdekin.
In 2014, the Department of Energy and Water Supply (DEWS) undertook an assessment of Townsville’s water security. It found that at current consumption levels of 60 000 ML per year, we would have to be on Level 4 water restriction on average once every 160 years. It’s almost certain that we will have level 4 water restrictions this year (and perhaps next year). But that doesn’t mean we have a chronic water shortage problem.
It should be noted that the DEWS report used historical data in its modelling and did not consider the impacts of climate change on rainfall and catchment flows. However CSIRO have found that climate change is not likely to result in significant changes to rainfall patterns in North Queensland.
It is however worth considering that with population and economic growth we would expect to see demand grow to around 75,000 ML/a by 2026 (if current usage patterns remain the same). Even with that level of consumption, DEWS found that we would have to impose Level 4 water restrictions only once every 100 years.
Nevertheless, people are concerned about the city’s water supply, so it is worth some discussion now.
There have been a number of supply side solutions floated: Haughton pipeline duplication ($250M), Hells Gate Dam ($2-3B), Desalination (over $5B), but all these proposals have logistical challenges (and costs) as well as significant environmental impacts.
This begs the question… What about the demand side?
Townsville discharges 40 ML per day of treated water into the sea. There is an opportunity for reuse of this water, either in a third pipe system for irrigation or returned to the Ross Dam for additional treatment as part of the potable water supply. Reuse of treated wastewater directly into the water supply dam is not only safe, but common in many parts of the world, including Europe.
Many of us have travelled to places like London, drunk the water without hesitation, without ‘taste’ issues and without any ill-effects. The time will come when water management of this kind will be common in Australian cities, but until then there are other water saving options.
The reuse of treated wastewater for irrigation (whether for food production or for maintaining public facilities like sporting fields) is already common place in Australia and is a viable solution for Townsville. It will come at an additional infrastructure cost, but a much smaller cost than the supply side solutions. It will also be more reliable as it will not depend on rainfall
Alternatively, we can maintain our water demand to 60 000 ML/a and these works wills not be required. If we are factoring in population growth, to reduce our total city demand means we need to reduce our per capita consumption by 20%. If, as some are predicting, Townsville grows to 300,000 these reductions would need to be around 50%. The good news is both targets are achievable.
The average Townsville household uses 1,700 litres of water per day, while in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne households use around 210 to 285 litres per day. More than 70% of Townsville's water supply is currently being used on residential lawns and gardens
This needs to be addressed by applying targeted and effective price signals on usage, but also through a range of strategies that give us more benefit per drop of water (more efficient showers and toilets, better grey water reuse systems, less thirsty gardens or less wasteful gardeners)
It is time to have a healthy discussion about Townville’s water use. People need to understand their options along with the pros and cons of every choice. They need to know what are the most cost-effective and responsible courses of action, but they are being badly let down by the media and the major parties. But through forums like this blog the Greens are happy to lead the conversation.
The Greens propose policies which are economically, socially and environmentally responsible. And our approach to a sustainable water supply for Townsville is consistent with this approach.
The same can’t be said for the current election campaign, with the haphazard, expensive and unsustainable solutions being proposed by the major parties and their unfunded and poorly researched proposals.
by Wendy Tubman
Tertiary health care might be the most reactive form of treatment we have, but it is still very important.
It is our last line of defence against injury and disease, but it is equally important that we are spending wisely and driving great outcomes. We do need to only direct funds only towards best practice treatment, as mentioned in the previous blog. But we also need to know when to stop spending and treating.
Just one example of poor health spending that sadly leads to poor mental and physical health outcomes for patients was revealed on 4 Corners on Monday night – in the IVF industry. In part through poor regulation and loose Medicare funding guidelines, and in part as a result of the manipulation of desperate patients for financial gain, an insidious anti-health industry has sprung up where we should have had health care.
Cutting off inappropriate funding, will bring an end to unethical and unproductive practices. And we should make moves in this direction as soon as possible.
Better end- of- life options are also an important factor in ensuring we are more able to stop treatment appropriately. Properly resourced Palliative care is an essential part of good health care as it provides people with more choice and more certainty, alleviating mental anguish for patients and their families.
Beyond Palliative care we need to give people the surety and the security that comes with maintaining control and personal dignity at the end of life. Voluntary euthanasia is a difficult area to manage legally, but there are many international examples of countries who that have taken steps ahead of us. We can learn from their efforts and move forward in this issue in a safe and a sensitive way.
But the first step is to start a national conversation discussion about how we want to proceed, because doing nothing is inhumane.
The impact that climate change will have on human health is well documented. The effects will be significant. Any health policy that doesn't address climate change is both narrow and misguided.
It is important to recognise the essential role protecting the environment plays in good health outcomes. As the coal industry continues to decline we will see fewer respiratory disorders, reducing the load on tertiary health care.
By fast tracking an end to burning coal there will be fewer particulates in the air (less health impact), and we will see a limit to extreme weather events (also fewer health impacts). We will see a halt to the spread of tropical diseases like malaria, ross river fever, and zika virus into the sub-tropics.
By avoiding dangerous climate change we will have a greater chance of maintaining environmental biodiversity… which is a critical resource for medical science and research.
Many of our new and innovative medications and treatment regimes come from studying plants, and in particular the Rreef. There are a great many new treatments, as yet undiscovered, that we may never see if we don’t preserve our biodiversity. Developing these treatments takes time, and when it comes to preserving biodiversity it is a race against time.
The Greens are driven to provide better health outcomes for Australians (our leader is a Medical Doctor), and all our policies… whether they be social, environmental, economic, or sector specific (like in health and education) have at their core an interest in caring for all Australians and ensuring they have the best chance possible to achieve good health outcomes in their lives.
The Greens understand the need to have integrated policy that provides transformational leadership on important issues, and there are few more important issues than health.
As the saying goes… if you don’t have your health, what do you have?
by Wendy Tubman
Wendy Tubman, the Greens candidate for Herbert is passionate about the local community and is working hard to connect with locals and discuss what matters to them. This campaign is not solely about getting elected, it is about giving voice to local people and how they see our shared future in the region.
Wendy is talking with her colleagues in the party about what matters to Townsville, but also what is important for Queensland's and Australia's future. Although this is a Federal election campaign, local, state and federal issues are impacting on us all, and Wendy believes good governance is about bringing all our representatives together to work on a shared vision for a great future.
Wendy has been at the markets talking to anyone who is interested in stopping to chat. She'd encourage more people to take the opportunity... it's our democracy and by getting involved at any level means not only do we get to keep it, but it reflects our needs, our hopes and our desires.
But Wendy says don't just stop and talk to her, talk to the other candidates, let them know what you care about, and make sure they are as focused on representing you as Wendy is.
Wendy was out during the May day marches talking with locals. The issues at QNI are a topic of concern for us all.
Regardless of how things play out at Yabulu, our region needs new jobs and new industries. Wendy stands for looking after workers who have lost their jobs (especially in circumstances like those surrounding QNI), in supporting the transition to new jobs and in creating opportunities for all people who want to work, but especially for youth and new workers in our region. Everyone deserves the opportunity to contribute.
People are cynical about politics and politicians... with good reason. Thankfully our cartoonists have the ability to combine those feelings with a good laugh.
But Wendy reminds you all... all candidates are not the same. It is a long election campaign... but don't switch off. Be well informed and choose wisely on July 2nd.
The take home message from the recent budget was jobs and growth. We know this because Scott Morrison repeated this mantra 13 times in a 30 minute speech. He also repeated the word plan 21 times, as if to reinforce the idea that economic thought bubbles (like giving States taxing powers) were a thing of the past. And following the speech, Liberal MPs dutifully followed their talking points and repeated key words Ad Nauseum, without actually saying very much.
The only plan the government seems to have is to cut tax for small business and the wealthy, and, over the next 10 years, cut tax to bigger and bigger businesses.
But where is the evidence that this approach leads to more jobs?
And, setting aside for a moment the significant problems of advocating for never-ending growth on a resource-constrained planet, where is the evidence that it leads to growth?
Mike Seccombe pulls the ‘tax cuts leads to more jobs and growth’ approach apart in The Saturday Paper.
In 2012, the US Congressional Research Service looked at the effect of reducing income tax rates since 1945.
It found that, in 1945 the top marginal tax rate was 90% but by 2012 it was 35%, and stated: “Analysis of such data suggests the reduction in the top tax rates have had little association with saving, investment or productivity growth.”
It also found that “the top tax rate reductions appear to be associated with the increasing concentration of income at the top of the income distribution”.
The Research Service also found that the approach increased growth in inequality (an issue we touched on in a previous blog).
But what about the Australian experience?
Investment - Bureau of Statistics data show that, since 1960, private business investment in Australia has trended slowly down as a share of GDP. Before the late 1980s, corporate tax rates averaged well above 40%. Since then, have been progressively reduced to 30%. But there has been no increase in investment as a result.
Economic growth - Up to 1988, the economy grew, on average, by 3.8% a year. Following reductions in corporate tax rates, growth dropped to 3% and is currently forecast at 2.5%.
Employment and Wages - The data show unemployment rates were lower when corporate taxes were higher, and that, since company tax rates have been lowered, the share of GDP going to wages has declined.
This government has asked as a part of its re-election pitch… who do you trust on the economy?
A sane person certainly wouldn’t trust the Coalition, given the deterioration we have seen since they took charge.
I would suggest putting more faith in a Nobel prize-winning economist such as Joseph Stiglitz who says it is “Those at the top spend far less than those at the bottom, so that as money moves up, demand goes down.”
Numerous Coalition policies are shifting wealth towards the top… to those who won’t spend. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist (or a Nobel Prize winning economist) to tell you that their plans will have disastrous economic outcomes for most Australians.
It’s a recipe for more job losses, less growth, more inequality and social problems, growing deficits, and even more tax cuts for the wealthy.
Who can we trust on the economy… not Scott Morrison for one. And although you wouldn't know it if your only news was from the mainstream media... the Greens do have an economic plan.
by Wendy Tubman
The government has been making one amateurish error after another this year as they nervously watch their approval and support fall among voters.
No one believes the impending Double Dissolution is about the importance of re-establishing the ABCC, rather it is an excuse to try and 'clean out' the Senate of dissenting voices, and a chance to rush to an election before government support and the PM's approval slips too much further.
The much anticipated Budget has for some time been used as an excuse to not answer questions, and to avoid repeated gaffes. Everything was to be answered on Tuesday night. But the strange thing was that it left us with no real answers... perhaps an indication that the government doesn't have any.
One commentator after another has been suggesting the real plan is for budget talk to disappear as quickly as possible, and not hang around like Joe Hockey's 2014 stinker.
But as much as it was designed to fly under the radar, there is still plenty to criticise.
The Greens spokesperson for transport and infrastructure Senator Janet Rice said
“Turnbull’s much-trumpeted $50 billion infrastructure spend is just smoke and mirrors, mostly just reannouncing Abbott-era projects. Less than 10% is going to public transport, continuing the chronic underinvestment in our trains, trams and buses. We’re not going to ease congestion by continuing Tony Abbott’s addiction to great big polluting toll roads. Trying to fix congestion by building more roads is like loosening your belt to cure obesity – car use will inevitably expand to fill the space. A better budget would have prioritised trains, trams and buses, freeing up our roads for people who need them most."
Senator Scott Ludlam said:
"We will see thousands of wealthy retirees switch their investments from superannuation to property. That will squeeze lower income earners and first home buyers even further out of the market. Negative gearing already costs the community $4 billion a year, a cost that will no doubt rise further as people move their wealth out of superannuation and into property, forcing ordinary taxpayers to subsidise their investments. The capital gains tax discount costs closer to $7 billion annually. The government ran away from tackling these handouts, for fear of upsetting the property sector. More and more Australians are locked out of the housing market, and Mr Turnbull and Mr Morrison seem determined to make it worse. This budget confirms more than $110 million of annual funding to homelessness services comes to an end next year. They've locked in Tony Abbott's appalling $600 million cuts to affordable rental and housing programs."
Senator Larissa Waters said:
“Our Reef is suffering record coral bleaching driven by global warming but the Liberals are ripping out a billion dollars from clean energy, and funding for work on Reef water quality comes from cutting Landcare. True to its anti-science agenda, the Turnbull Government has locked in the Abbott Government’s cuts to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority and the Australian Institute of Marine Science. While environment funding is cut, the mining industry get another $100 million for exploration to dig up more fossil fuels to further cook the Reef’s corals. A better budget would have invested in clean energy, not dirty energy, to help save the 69 000 jobs the Reef provides. While the fossil fuel industry continues to get over $20 billion in subsidies, the Turnbull Government’s budget locks in the $1.3 billion slashed from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency."
But the Budget is perhaps best summed up by Greens Leader Senator Richard Di Natale:
"This Budget is a massive let-down, just like Malcolm Turnbull has turned out to be. The government is pretending it can afford unsustainable and unfair tax cuts for the big end of town by claiming fanciful levels of economic growth. While champagne will be flowing in board rooms across the country, these irresponsible cuts come at the expense of long-term funding for schools, hospitals and public services. Rather than reducing inequality the government has chosen to make it worse by cutting social support, university funding and health services. The government doesn't see the jobs of the 21st century in building wind turbines and public transport, they see them in building military hardware. The much-trumpeted $50 billion investment in infrastructure turns out to be a case of smoke and mirrors. It's just a repackaging of existing funding."
As always with the Abbott/Turnbull government... we are promised so much and offered so little. This budget is just par for the course.
Never has there been a more important time not to settle for 'more of the same' from tired old major parties who have either run out of ideas or else are beholden to their support base.. selling out the rest of us in the process.
It is now clear that the only real hope for change is to vote Green at the upcoming election.
by Wendy Tubman
While the biggest story around the world is tax havens run by a Panamanian law firm, our major parties are silent on changing the status quo.
Less than 12 months ago Joe Hockey was famously saying: the rich pay too much tax, and poor people don't pay much fuel excise. And Hockey himself felt his greatest contributions were his preference for lifters over leaners, and ending the age of entitlement.
Hockey was wrong time and time again, and when he was pointing the finger at who he thought the leaners were... he was clearly pointing at the wrong end of town.
Our current treasurer is focused on spending cuts because we must live within our means and we can't afford a strong social safety net, the best health care for all Australians, a decent education which targets resources to the neediest, and we certainly can't afford real action on climate change.
Labor's Andrew Leigh is someone whose writing and research I have admired for some time. Not so long ago he was deeply concerned about the growing gap between the rich and poor, publishing Battlers and Billionaires. He put forward a compelling argument for more effective wealth distribution. But now he is willing to do little more than “carefully consider proposals for making information regarding all companies available on a public register”
But responses to the most wealthy avoiding their share of the tax burden are bad all over. David Cameron had suggested that he was serious about multi-nationals' tax avoidance, and then he revealed he profited from dodging tax himself.
The Chinese are censoring information that relates to their families' tax dodging activities.
Iceland's Prime Minister was forced to step down over his activities.
Our biggest companies are doing it. BHP-Billiton - as revealed by 4 Corners loans money to itself from an off shore shell company. The interest payments it makes to itself are tax deductable, the interest the shell company receives disappear into a tax haven.
News Corp received a $882M tax refund in 2014 by shuffling papers.
The scale of the problem is alarming, not just for Australia but for the planet. The ABC reveals that Tax havens account for 50% of all world trade.
According to the data gathered by Andrew Leigh, the rich spend their money on: sports cars, private air transport, bottles of Penfolds Grange Hermitage, first class airfares or perhaps Virgin Galactic Space flights, private treatments, private resorts, memberships at exclusive private clubs... all while keeping their tax affairs exceedingly private.
What makes this kind of behaviour completely abhorrent is that these taxes foregone by governments means less can be spent on: alleviating poverty, addressing the fallout from natural disasters (which are becoming more frequent), real action on climate change, fast tracking innovation and our transition to the new economy and a clean energy future, building infrastructure like public transport (which is a great social equaliser), adequately funding schools and universities, and better health outcomes all over our planet.
And this growing inequality is driving conflict, which in turn drives refugees, which we respond to by attacking the victims in all this.
And although all this activity is mostly legal (but shouldn't be), the somewhat ironic thing is that the same loopholes the very wealthy are using (legally) to hide their wealth are being used by criminals to hide their ill-gotten gains. It has to stop... we can't afford it.
So what to do?
Get angry. Stay angry. And let the decision makers know that rather than there being no other option than to cut services (or increase debt)... there is no other option than ensuring EVERYONE pays their fair share of taxes.
It's time to turn the world's leaners back into lifters again.
by Mark Enders
Sometimes a series of events don't really require any commentary... all you need to do is to draw the key events together so that their meaning becomes clearer than if the events are looked at in isolation.
The Safe Schools debate (if you can call it that) has been very emotive so perhaps the best place to start is with some very funny commentary on the changes to the program as agreed to by Simon Birmingham and Malcolm Turnbull .
It is worth examining the events that shaped the Coalition's attitude to the Safe Schools program and the irresistible drive for seemingly urgent and significant change.Those events are outlined below in what approximates the order in which they occurred.
In November last year the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) slammed the Safe Schools Program.
In early February Cory Bernardi labels the program a 'gay manual' and calls its supporters 'hetero-phobic'
On the 10th of February the ACL continues its attacks on the program.
In mid February, Family First Senator Bob Day echoes Bernardi's calls for defunding of the program, calling it 'Gay Lifestyle promotion' rather than an anti-bullying program.
In late February George Christiansen likens the program to Paedophilic grooming.
Turnbull orders a review of the program after concerted right wing pressure.
On February 29th Lyle Shelton, managing director of the Australian Christian Lobby, appears on ABC's Q&A further pressing the case to shut down the Safe Schools Program
Turnbull faces another backbench revolt, this time over the results of the review he had authorised into the program. George Christiansen hands Turnbull a petition signed by more than half of the government's backbenchers asking that the program be suspended until a full parliamentary inquiry in conducted.
Tony Abbott is a signatory to Christiansen's petition despite having launched it.
Turnbull defends letting the debate on Safe Schools run so long and acts as an apologist for some very unsavoury remarks by attacking the opposition for their criticisms of the tone of the debate.
The government makes significant changes to the Safe Schools program which please far right conservative George Christensen who welcomes the 'gutting' of the program.
Protests against the changes are currently being organised.
70,000 signatures are collected by Senator Simms from The Greens in support of the Safe Schools program. Cory Bernardi's petition to defund the program collected only 9500 signatures.
Writer Daniel Swain sums up the actions of Christensen and Bernardi beautifully in this article and opens the article powerfully with:
The Safe Schools debate in Parliament takes us back to the playground. Cory Bernardi, George Christensen and their supporters claim to be motivated by belief in traditional gender roles and family choice.
Cory Bernardi underlines the point being made by Daniel Swain with an aggressive and dismissive email to a concerned parent.
You can make you own mind up about the reasons behind Malcolm Turnbull's decisions and actions, and who the key influencers were... the ACL, government back benchers, particular Senators or MPs. You can also make up your own mind as to whether Bernardi and Christiansen (as apparent intolerant bullies) would benefit from participating in the program.
At the end of the day it probably doesn't matter too much... Christiansen and Bernardi are unlikely to ever change, and the decision to alter the program has been made and likely tucked away out of sight until after the election.
What it is worth being clear about is... what the Safe Schools program is actually about and what are its merits and weaknesses. You can also decide that for your self by reading the program... in my opinion it is well structured, easy to read and its intent seems very clear.
What is less clear is what the all fuss has been about. We could ask George and Cory to explain but I'd say most of us feel we've heard more than enough from them
by Mark Enders
We have been told for many years that the Coalition are better economic managers, without being provided with any evidence to support this bold claim.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing, and distance gives you the perspective and the ability to take a more dispassionate assessment of many things, but that is especially true of government performance. The Howard government is now far enough behind us to take a look at their economic record and that of the former Treasurer Peter Costello. And in recent months a great many experts and commentators have been doing this
According to Crispin Hull in the Canberra Times the structural deficit we currently have in the budget belongs wholly to Peter Costello and his hopeless performance as Treasurer. An excellent article by Mike Seccombe highlights the fact that a number of very wealthy Australians essentially pay no tax – surely that’s revenue problem (as well as a problem of equity). Mike also goes on to outline how many Howard-era policies shifted the tax burden from the big end of town to those at the bottom of the economic pile… the exact template Abbott spectacularly failed to implement in 2014.
Despite the assertions of Scott Morrison, our latest non-performing Coalition Treasurer, that the only problem we have is a spending problem, analysis by the ABC suggests we have a revenue problem also. And despite recent claims by the budget office that we do have a spending problem, Greg Jericho demonstrates things are more complex than that.
Howard himself was treasurer, appointed following the removal of Phillip Lynch for dodgy land deals while in the Fraser government. During this stint many consider Howard to have been inept. In 1982-83 Howard personally oversaw the worst recession since the Great Depression.
All damning stuff, and a long history of blunders and ineptitude.
In addition to all the poor report cards on so many Howard and Costello policies, it is worth looking at additional spending (the baby bonus) and revenue (fuel excise) initiatives.
The Baby bonus was largesse at the height of the mining boom, introduced by Costello, but poorly targeted and always completely unsustainable. It took a Labor government to pare it back and better target it to actual need rather than middle and upper class pork barrelling. The change introduced in 2013 by the Gillard government is projected to save $2.4B over 4 years. Given that the bonus was introduced in 2002, and based on these numbers the wastage as a result of poor Coalition policy and loose economic management around this issue alone is likely over $6B.
Fuel excise was cut and frozen in March 2001 – at a time (in an election year) when the Howard govt was deeply unpopular. As Bernard Keane explains it worked a treat politically by turning Howard’s political fortunes around, but has been something of an economic disaster. The Australia institute found that up to June 2015, this desperate move by Howard cost $46B in lost revenue. Keeping Howard and Costello in their jobs was very expensive for us all.
Malcolm Turnbull came to the top job by promising better economic leadership. At the time anyone looked better than Hockey and Abbott. Things moved slowly because everything was on the table and was being considered carefully by the government.
But that was a lie. Malcolm Turnbull had already decided to keep the baby bonus unchanged (in order to get the National’s support for his Coup) -this will cost $1.4B over the next 10 years.. Clearly a spending problem.
When negative gearing and superannuation entered the public conversation Turnbull insisted he wanted to have, Malcolm and the Coalition tried to shut it down by suggesting house prices would both rise and fall in the same 24 hour period as well as rents going through the roof. Economist Saul Eslake believes there is no evidence to support the claims of those running the scare campaign.
It seems yet again that the Coalition is willing to sacrifice economic improvement for political gain.
Further evidence of the Coalition’s economic credentials - there has in fact been a turnaround since the Coalition took charge of the Treasury benches. Australia has gone from the stand-out economy through the global financial crisis (GFC) to the worst performer in terms of growth trajectories among the world’s wealthiest nations, according to new OECD data from the last quarter of 2015.
The Turnbull government is currently sinking like a stone for many reasons – infighting and division, poor leadership and communication, a continued haphazard approach to government, and significantly… economic mismanagement.
But to be fair the Turnbull government is no different than the Abbott, Howard and Fraser governments… they were all terrible economic managers.
by Mark Enders
You know how the saying goes.
Today's post is a number of images from which you can draw your own conclusions
Our economy is transitioning... even Scott Morrison is saying so. But it is not transitioning in a way that he and the Turnbull government have foreseen, or even supported.
It is transitioning toward the new economy, powered by renewable energy.
It is difficult to say what was the tipping point for dirty power sources like coal (which is undoubtedly in structural decline).
Solar panels have become both more efficient and cheaper to produce. This in large part due to the large scale production that has been occurring in China. But it seems future efficiency gains are around the corner with Australian companies like Dyesol making huge leaps forward with its Perovskite product coming in at just over 21% efficiency late last year, and French company Sunpower's product recently coming in at 22.8% efficiency.
Solar-thermal is also reportedly coming to our shores with US company SolarReserve reportedly planning a 110MW facility near Port Augusta which can supply power over a 24 hr period... essentially baseload power which completely negates the final argument as to why we 'need coal'.
Battery storage is fast becoming the technology that will smooth out the lumpiness of generation from wind and solar. The big name in this space has been Elon Musk and Tesla, with batteries already being sold and installed in Australia and with reportedly many more lining up.
One of the great Australian energy storage stories comes from AllGrid energy - an indigenous Australian owned company which is using older technology (lead acid batteries) to provide cheaper battery storage to remote communities where power from diesel generators is expensive, dirty and can be unreliable. The answer for remote communities will be solar and battery, and an Indigenous corporation will be doing its bit to close the gap for people in those areas.
Wind is moving ahead in leaps and bounds. In addition to the high penetration in places like South Australia, the technology is changing and improving rapidly - with larger blades (meaning more capacity to generate power at low wind speeds), as well as blades that fold in high winds (for greater safety in stormy and cyclonic conditions).
Proactive governments like the ACT are fast-tracking battery capacity building, and South Australia has set a path towards 100% renewables. Sadly there is no leadership Federally despite us having the World's Best Minister in this space.
Luckily ARENA is an independent body and is doing the investment heavy lifting in this area.
Interesting new technology projects include - Solar air turbine systems (a project between CSIRO and Mitsubishi), Wave energy projects (in WA and Victoria), and the Kidston Pumped storage project near Ingham, and more.
It's hard not to agree with Malcolm Turnbull - these are exciting times - but not for major sponsors of the Liberal party.
by Mark Enders
The Townsville Greens will publish blogs considered to be of merit. The opinions expressed are those of the Author.