In our last Summer Spoke for a while, I joined Ben Eltham to talk about the first parliamentary sitting week in Canberra. The tax reform debate keeps moving along (now without a white paper process), Labor affirms its intention to fully fund Gonski, the Chief Scientist stakes his reputation on a ‘zero emissions’ economy and the same-sex marriage debate heats up – should there be a plebiscite or a free vote in parliament?
Tag Archives: Labor
Whilst the Canberra press gallery and broader Australian media mindlessly waste ink and data postulating who “won” Tuesday’s political tussle, I’d suggest the only winner was politics itself.
What about Julia Gillard’s rousing speech effectively obliterating Tony Abbott in his chair with clear examples of his sexism and potential misogyny? That was no watershed feminist moment in Australian politics. It was an opportune time to score a big political point. No one likes a hypocrite so what better time to speak out than when Abbott cries sexist?
There have been a litany of moments in Julia Gillard’s Prime Ministership when she has effectively chosen to ignore Abbott’s overt displays of, and complicity with, sexism towards herself and Australian women in general. By expressing her unquestionably genuine offense now, only when her reputation and minority government is at stake, gives off hints of opportunism and sends the wrong message.
It signals to all Australians that calling out sexist remarks towards women is the last resort and socially unacceptable or god forbid, a bit awkward. “You’ve got to toughen up and move on, that’s just how it is. We’ll respect you more if you don’t complain and just take it on the chin”, right? Wrong. But that social fallacy is what keeps many people silent against gender discrimination.
If the woman who holds the highest office in this country won’t or feels she can’t speak out against the extreme sexism directed at her until nearly 2 years into her tenure and only when it’s related to the credibility of a parliamentary motion against the Speaker, how can other less powerful women do the same and with confidence?
In isolation, Prime Minister Gillard’s speech is a progressive light for Australian women and should be applauded, in reality the message, muddied by context and implicit political associations, changes nothing. It’s all just a load of politics.
Just wanted to provide a link here to the second article I wrote for The Drum which went up on April 29, 2011. It’s a longer article than usual, and I hope into goes into a good level of depth on the issues of economics and climate change. Full text below.
It draws from a previous post I published here called, Australia’s dubious and enduring political mantra, ‘Go For Growth’.
Aim High on Climate Change Action
Carbon tax. Climate Change. These are terms that now trigger a collective mind-numbing effect on the electorate.
It is unsurprisingly psychologically beneficial and much easier to just switch off. Australians have been patiently waiting for action on climate change for four years, but over that time, public mood and support for action has significantly fallen (you only have to look at the latest ACNielsen Poll). It seems that more and more Australians are willing to be complacent when it comes to taking action on climate change. How did we get to this state? And what is the real unacknowledged reason behind public disillusionment?
To jog your memory, when Kevin Rudd won the federal election in 2007, there was an intoxicating vigour of optimism and consensus alive in the Australian electorate, especially among those Labor and left-leaning voters who had been waiting 11 long (Howard) years to be inspired by a progressive reformist agenda (and I only mean progressive in contrast to Liberal conservative). Rudd’s 2007 election platform was a loud and confident pledge to deliver “New Leadership” and “Fresh Ideas”.
Kevin Rudd’s 2007 election victory speech was a declaration that his government would deliver their reform agenda and that the collective will of the people, as indicated by the decisive election outcome, would be implemented in a continued atmosphere of national unity:
“Today the Australian people have decided that we as a nation will move forward. To plan for the future, to prepare for the future, to embrace the future and together as Australians, to unite and write a new page in our nation’s history.” (Kevin Rudd on election night 2007)
Since that hopeful time we’ve witnessed various failed attempts by the Rudd and Gillard Labor governments to price carbon through an Emissions Trading Scheme, a Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme and now a carbon tax. Politicians, business leaders, organisations, regular citizens and lobby-groups have fought tooth and nail over the detail of each proposed scheme, not in the aim of achieving a greater reduction in carbon dioxide emissions but, essentially to further their own political and fiscal interests.
What makes this story a particularly sad one is that all of the political posturing which, frankly resembles an ostentatious fencing duel, has been played out in the public arena to no avail. We have (perhaps subconsciously) maintained Australia’s narrowly framed climate drama because at some level, we know that a carbon tax, an ETS or a CPRS just isn’t going to cut it, and if you accept that then you’re really setting yourself up for some tough decision-making. If the Government and the Opposition continue to deal with climate change in such a circumscribed way, our actions will end up as merely token gestures towards a vaguely-imagined carbon-less future.
Who wants to deal with the actual and potentially impossible climate reality we face? It’s certainly not surprising that people aren’t rushing forward with enthusiasm, because actually, looking forensically at the overall situation will mean having to question long-established economic structures and behavioural norms. So what is this deeply embedded and broader problem we haven’t yet faced up to? What is it that we have, perhaps, conveniently ignored?
Economist Tim Jackson says the problem is “the dilemma of growth” which he explores in a recorded lecture delivered at The 2010 Deakin Lecture series in Melbourne. Jackson demonstrates the inexorable link between “the dilemma of growth” and our open struggle to act on climate change in this lecture. He begins by asking the very poignant question: “How can our economy continually expand on a finite planet?” and if you come up trumps on that question then, “Does it (the growth-based model) not carry within it… the seeds of its own destruction?”
To explore these questions in real terms, Jackson constructs a thought exercise by engaging our present economic and environmental realities in a hypothetical scenario:
How hard would we need to try in order to have… a world in the middle of this century of 9 billion human beings, all aspiring to Western-levels of income, all expecting those incomes to grow at 2 per cent per annum (this is the growth-based model that we’re testing here) and yet still achieving stabilisation targets for carbon?
It’s a pretty simple thought exercise. We prize those things; global equity, the growth-based model, our ecological limits… How far and how fast would technology have to run to achieve these goals?
You have to get the carbon intensity of economic activity down from an average of 770 grams of carbon per dollar as it is at the moment, to less than 6 grams of carbon per dollar. [That’s] a 130-fold reduction. Have we ever achieved anything like it? The answer is no, not by an order of [that] magnitude.
And then, of course, if the economy is still growing, then by second half of the century you actually need an economy that is taking carbon out of the atmosphere. The CO2 per dollar goes negative [and] a negative number means what? It means instead of pumping carbon into the atmosphere relentlessly, we have a society that’s pulling carbon out of the atmosphere.
And… when you think about it, just for a moment, you realise we have no idea what this economy looks like. We don’t know what its resource base is. We don’t know what its technology is. We don’t know how its production is organised. We don’t know what its products and services are. We don’t know what life is like in such an economy and yet this is the logical conclusion for a scenario that says, yes we can grow indefinitely, we can achieve global equity and we can meet our carbon targets.
Now it seems to me that unless we want to find ourselves trapped in a form of magical thinking, this is a point at which we need to ask ourselves quite seriously, can this economy… can this society really deliver us that kind of goal? Or should we be thinking more profoundly about the underlying [economic] structures?”
This dilemma of growth is pertinent to Australia and most, if not all, developed countries of the world. Australia may have addressed concerns over economic growth in passing, but I have never once seen a public throw down over the concept of growth, and it almost seems laughable to even suggest this because growth has always been left unquestioned. Have we consciously considered what economic growth means to Australia? Have we asked how much growth is sustainable? What are the positive and negative consequences of growth? In which sectors of the economy and regions of Australia should growth be encouraged? Is there a healthy or unhealthy tension between our economic goals and our environmental ones? What once was a description rightly used decades ago, “growth is good for the economy” has become an economic and political prescription, “we must have growth, it’s always best”.
In the second part of his argument, Jackson engages the field of ‘system dynamics’ to find the crux of the growth-based model; specifically, that part of the model that relentlessly chews through material resources. And that part is business’s constant investment in new products:
The production of novelty [is] incentivised by the pursuit by the firm of expanding markets and achieving profits. [And] this production of novelty by firms… has a perfect counterpart in us, …in consumers… [because] it turns out we have something of an appetite for novelty. We love new stuff.
Investment in the production and consumption of novelty is the second cyclical engine of the growth-based economy. It utilises a socially-driven economic logic that has proved impossible and undesirable to counteract, as:
[The last few decades have seen] a story of us being encouraged, persuaded perhaps, to spend money we don’t have, on things we don’t need, to create impressions that won’t last, on people we don’t care about, or worse still, who don’t care about us. Now what was that about? When all we wanted to do was to create a decent place for ourselves in the social world.
Jackson contends that our pursuit of novelty does not only come from a materialistic desire but also from an anxiety to “live a life without shame” and a need to reinforce our genuine hope for a better future. It is the exploitation of this narrow conception of humanity, (that we are dominated by “self-regarding behaviours”) that will lead to our, and the planet’s, ultimate undoing. Jackson concludes that, “what we’ve done is we’ve created economies [and] we’ve created systems, which systematically privilege [and] encourage one narrow quadrant of the human soul”. But being such a multifaceted species, an economic system that appeals to both our “self-regarding behaviours” and our “other-regarding behaviours” (demonstrating altruism, valuing community and conservation), is possible and Jackson explores this de-carbonised and ecologically sustainable economy in his lecture and book, Prosperity Without Growth.
So why don’t we consider a change in our priorities for investment or even just discuss the growth questions raised in this piece? It’s very simple to answer, frustratingly so. There is a compelling trap in the growth-based model which almost guarantees a politicians unwavering support for the necessity of investment in novelty (thus causing the abuse of finite resources) as a fail-safe for growth and low unemployment:
[By] continually pursuing labour productivity [in a growth economy]… [you are] doing more next year with fewer people and driving people out of work, unless what? Unless your economy is growing [and that growth, as we have seen, is strongly aided by the production and consumption of novelty]. Now here is something that politicians understand. That growth equals jobs, that jobs equals votes and any government that doesn’t respond appropriately will find itself out of office.
The “dilemma of growth”, if left unaddressed by this country, will undermine our ability to effectively deal with climate change, to preserve our finite resources, to prevent further biodiversity loss and to construct the future Australia that Julia Gillard so often refers to.
So what are our options?
We can keep enforcing the narrow parameters of Australia’s climate change discourse, which will allow us to merrily continue arguing over carbon tax details and appropriate compensation. And if you accept that deal, we can also happily remain in denial over the fact that there will be climate change collateral no matter what we do. That some jobs will be lost, that many companies will have to adapt and that the majority of citizens will have to make a regular monetary sacrifice. But what this option essentially means is leaving climate change and environmental sustainability issues for future generations to deal with. And choosing this option means betting on the development of currently unimaginable technological advancements.
Or the other option is that we can face up to the reality that modern humanity has left us. We can be empowered and challenged by new ideas and we can have faith in our ability to innovate and advance technologically. This country can, if it so chooses, be a leader in the creation and production of renewable energy technology. There is great potential for Australia to develop a unique energy system tailored to suit this vast continent. And to do so we must break free of Australia’s inferiority complex and prove that we produce (and hopefully retain) some of the smartest scientists, business people and policy thinkers in the world. It requires a more than substantial boost in government support to relevant research projects and for all Australians to place a higher value on knowledge capital. This option essentially calls for all citizens to re-examine their moral position and consciously decide what their responsibility for acting on climate change should be.
So how can Gillard obtain public and consequently, increased political support for this option? Well, there is a reason why many Australians still have particularly fond sentiments for Gough Whitlam, and that is because Gough Whitlam aimed high. Even if he perhaps, aimed unrealistically high at times and made a few economic mistakes along the way, there is no doubt that Whitlam’s reforms landed just below where he had aimed. That is what Kevin Rudd tried to do in 2007 and during his prime ministership, and that is what Julia Gillard and Labor must do now in order to regain public support and garner consensus in order to act on climate change. It’s time to aim higher and land with effective reforms rather than aim low and land with ineffective political folly.
Note: All direct quotes transcribed from Tim Jackson’s 2010 Deakin Lecture, Prosperity Without Growth.
There are a few vital facts missing from the debate over the two broadband policies. In fact, there is some misinformation and scare-mongering going on. Shocking, I know. And it’s only too easy to be persuaded by these inaccuracies and hyperbole when few voters understand the technicalities of the two broadband infrastructure proposals. So let me clear up some mysteries for you and Mr. Abbott (who, we discovered from his 7.30 Report interview with Kerry O’Brien, is “no Bill Gates.”)
First of all, Tony Abbott questioned on the ABC1 Insiders program why Australians should have to pay more than other countries per household for an NBN:
BARRIE CASSIDY: But if we are one of the wealthiest countries in the world why can’t we have the best?
TONY ABBOTT: Well if you look at other countries which have got good broadband systems like Korea for instance, like Singapore for instance, they’ve spent nothing like $5,000 per household to create a government run monopoly which inevitably given the history of this Government is much more likely to be a white elephant than a screaming success.
Well, not to worry Mr Abbott. I can explain why Korea and Singapore have not had to spend $5,000 per household on their broadband network… because Australia’s has the sixth biggest area mass (7,741,220 sq km) in the world. South Korea has the 108th biggest area mass (99,720 sq km) and Singapore has 192nd biggest area mass (697 sq. km) – smaller than Hong Kong, and comparatively the same differences exist in land mass. Not to mention that South Korea has a larger population than Australia, 48,636,068 people to 21,515,754 people. So, if you have to lay cable to each household/dwelling in Australia, a lot more cable is required to connect everyone to the broadband network (reminder: we are the only country which is also a Continent in itself).
Mr Abbott is also concerned about putting money into just one technology, fibre optic cable:
TONY ABBOTT: Of course I do Barrie. Of course I appreciate the importance of these things. But let’s not assume that we should put all our eggs in the high fibre basket either.
and on the 7.30 Report he said,
TONY ABBOTT: Well, as I said, I think we can do something that will be good for a lot less price. Our system will give Australians national broadband, but it won’t be nationalised broadband and it won’t depend on just one fibre technology.
So, why should we put all of our eggs in the fibre basket? Because the signals that shoot down fibre cable travel at the speed of light. Last time I checked, you can’t get any faster than that. This is cutting-edge, top of the range broadband technology and the fibre cable itself can’t actually be improved upon in terms of speed, it is only the fibre optic (data) receivers that receive the signals from the cable that can be upgraded in the future. Thus, investing in fibre technology is a long-term, value-for-money solution.
But Mr Abbott asks, what about wireless?
TONY ABBOTT: …I mean all of the people who are making daily use of telecommunications services, increasingly they’re using wireless technology.
All those people who are sending messages from their iPhones and BlackBerries, all those people sitting in airport lounges using their computers, I mean they do not rely on fixed line services.
So why should the Government be so obsessive about fixed line services?
Well, that is also easily explained. Those who use wireless internet on their laptop computers (at home or in a public place like an airport or a café) nearly always rely on a fixed line service (a modem or a router) in the immediate vicinity to interact with, which then sends a signal (through the air or down a cable) to a local exchange point which then continues the signal on to its destination (local, Australia, international) which is usually a server or an end user. If a person is using wireless through their USB modem or their mobile phone, although the initial signal travels through the air to a tower, it is still reliant upon cable technology under the ground to send the data information to its destination and then back to the user. So basically, a strong cable network makes wireless much faster and that is how it will be a reliable technology for the future. And it is important to note that fibre optic cable (which transmits flashes of light) is faster than copper (which transmits electrical pulses) as there is lower signal degredation over long distances.
Later in his interview with Barrie Cassidy, Abbott professed his hope for wireless to greatly improve:
TONY ABBOTT: Well look there are a lot of claims around. I mean there are a lot of people claiming that wireless technology is going to give us very high speeds in the not too distant future.
Once again, wireless will never be the primary technology to deliver broadband because the more users at any one time, the slower the electromagnetic waves are sent and received. Shadow Communications Minister Tony Smith, basically affirmed this point in his vague and non-specific reply to Tony Jones on Lateline, 18th August, 2010:
TONY JONES: OK, well that covers your answer to the spectrum thing. Let me ask you this though: isn’t it true that the more people using wireless technology that use it, the slower the speeds. Isn’t that a simple mathematical equation?
TONY SMITH: Well, wireless is contended, but the speeds and the technology is getting better all the time, and we are not only promising wireless, Tony.
The potential problem with the Coalition’s broadband policy is that it relies heavily on private sector investment in fixed wireless broadband and a fibre optic broadband “backbone.” To lay any cable, fibre usually being the most expensive per metre, is a substantial investment risk, with a likelihood of it being unable to deliver fast enough returns. Will the private sector be enticed by this reality? It is a very expensive exercise which makes one think that perhaps it is better for the Federal Government to provide a strong and unified investment in quality infrastructure which will deliver significant outcomes for levels of productivity and quality of living in the future.
Don’t get me wrong, there are uncertainties with Labor’s National Broadband Network (NBN), such as the lack of a cost-benefit analysis of the NBN, a large expected cost of $43 billion, the potential for cost blow-outs and a characteristic inability of the government to spruik and sell the real, more vital and appealing benefits of the NBN. Instead we are being fed the e-health line (online medical consultations via video, subsidised by Medicare), an important outcome but not the central benefit of the NBN.
Ultimately there is a very simple decision to be made when comparing the two policies:
Do you believe that the government should primarily fund vital infrastructure like the NBN (with the risk of slow returns), which looks beyond our current needs and attempts to keep us in line with the rest of the world on broadband?
– Communications Minister Stephen Conroy: It’s not an argument about can we afford to build the National Broadband Network…; it’s whether or not we can afford not to build it. Our competitors are building fibre networks; we are falling further and further behind.
Or do you believe that the private sector (with incentives from the government) should (and will) build broadband infrastructure which will be more varied in its use of technologies, but will not provide a unified network/plan?
– Abbott: I would rather rely on a comparative market than depend upon a monopolistic government to provide us with decent services here.
…what we need is something which is affordable and deliverable and I think that’s what the Coalition is offering.
NBN Co Ltd Home Page – NOTE: further information on the NBN can be found on the Publications page of this site
Liberal Party website ‘The Coalition’s plan for real action on Broadband and Telecommunications’ – NOTE: this link will open a PDF document detailing the Coalition’s policy
Labor Blog – ‘Help Spread the Facts – National Broadband Network’, 14/8/2010
‘Abbott quizzed on broadband and economy’, The 7.30 Report, 10/8/2010
‘Conroy, Smith debate NBN’, Lateline, 18/8/2010
‘Abbott defends Coalition’s broadband plan’, Insiders, 15/8/2010
‘Gillard promises video doctors with NBN’, IT News, Liz Tay, 17/8/2010
Statistics from The CIA World Factbook
There’s a big difference between the Labor Party’s Paid Parental Leave (PPL) scheme and the Coalition’s Paid Parental Leave policy, in more than just the simple monetary figures. Have a scan over the policies and see if you can find the disparity:
The Coalition’s Paid Parental Leave scheme will:
1. provide mothers with 26 weeks paid parental leave, at full replacement wage (up to a maximum salary of $150,000 per annum) or the Federal Minimum Wage, whichever is greater;
2. include superannuation contributions at the mandatory rate of nine per cent;
3. allow two out of the 26 weeks to be dedicated paternity leave to be used simultaneously or separately to the mother’s leave, paid at the father’s replacement wage (up to a maximum of $150,000 per annum) or the Federal Minimum Wage, whichever is greater, plus superannuation.
4. use the same work test and eligibility conditions as the Government’s recently legislated scheme;
5. be funded by a 1.5 percent levy on companies with taxable incomes in excess of $5 million. The levy will apply only to taxable income in excess of $5 million.
6. be paid and administered by the Family Assistance Office and will not impose an unnecessary administrative burden on employers, unlike Labor’s scheme
Paid Parental Leave:
* is government funded
* is for eligible working parents of children born or adopted on or after 1 January 2011
* can be transferred to the other parent
* is paid at the National Minimum Wage – currently $570 a week before tax*
* is for up to 18 weeks
* can be taken any time within the first year after birth.
*The 2010 national minimum wage order has been set at $569.90 per week, calculated on the basis of a week of 38 ordinary hours, or $15 per hour. The PPL scheme payment is calculated at the hourly rate of $15.
You see, with the Coalition’s policy those in high-paying jobs (earning up to $150,000 P.A.) who become parents will receive their normal wage from the government, and those earning much less (eg. $40,000 P.A.) will receive their normal wage from the government for 6 and a half months (26 weeks). Now, if I were in the higher income bracket I would be pretty darn happy, whilst if I were in the lower income bracket I would be feeling pretty ripped off. This is because, essentially, the Coalition has put forth a policy that favours the (upper) middle to upper class over those in the so-called “working class” (I cringe to use such general terms, but they are necessary to make a clear point). In other words, the Coalition’s policy unintentionally sends a message that the relationship between a newborn child and its mother (and/or father) from Toorak is worth more money than the relationship between a newborn child and its mother (and/or father) from Dandenong. And the farce of it is that we will all, as consumers, be paying for the Coalition’s PPL policy when big businesses put up the price of their products to cover the 1.5 percent hike in company tax rates.
It will be paid for with a modest levy of 1.5 percent levy on companies with taxable incomes in excess of $5 million, which will be offset by a 1.5 percent cut in the company tax rate from 1 July 2013.
And as the SMH reports, “taxpayers will supplement the scheme to cover parental leave for Commonwealth public servants.”
One cannot deny the logic and practicalities of the situation: that businesses (who feel the pressure from their shareholders) will not allow their annual profits to reduce as the bottom-line is everything and instead we will all share the burden. So why then should the middle and upper classes profit more from this PPL policy, if we all have to pay for it? And even if the most staunch advocates of this policy deny that the burden will be passed on to consumers, why still should one family be paid more than another by the government?
The Coalition’s policy is in stark contrast to the Labor Party’s Scheme which pays every mother (or father) the same amount of money, the minimum wage of $569.90 per week, for 4 and a half months (18 weeks) – parents will be able choose to receive paid parental leave or the baby bonus when their child is born (same as the Coalition). Labor’s policy is fairer, more equitable and does not favour (monetarily) any family or parent-child relationship over another. This policy avoids discriminating between low, middle and high income earners, unlike the Coalition’s policy which, by providing different amounts to people in different income brackets, will reinforce pre-existing class barriers and the financial burden already felt by those earning a lower income. Now I’m not advocating for the reverse either (a Robin Hood-approach), I am merely advocating the position that monetary assistance from the government, especially when it relates to the relationship between any newborn child and its parent, should be given equally.
Paid Parental Leave is one of the most important policies to be put forth by both parties in this election and they should both be commended for bringing Australia into the 21st century on this issue as we are well behind many other countries like Italy, Canada, Austria, Belgium and France.
But when you are judging both policies, ask yourself these three questions:
1. Would you expect all consumers to (indirectly) fund a Paid Parental Leave scheme?
2. Do you then deduce that it is reasonable that these payments should foster and ensure that the rich maintain the lifestyle that they are accustomed to, whilst the poor continue to struggle with the costs of living?
and so, when it comes to a Paid Parental Leave scheme for all Australians
3. Should your parent-child relationship be worth more (or less) than someone else’s?
The Coalition – Real Action on Paid Parental Leave policy
Australian Labor Party (Australian Government, Family Assistance Office) – Paid Parental Leave scheme
SMH Online – ‘Abbott delays start of paid parental leave scheme, eases blow on business’, Phillip Coorey, 3 August 2010
Productivity Commission – Paid Maternity, Paternity and Parental Leave
Business Spectator – ‘Abbott’s MPs to fight parental leave plan’ 6 August 2010
The Greens MPs – ‘A Strong Paid Parental Leave Scheme’ 25 May 2010
Liberal Party – Full policy document on Paid Parental Leave – will open as a PDF file