Federal issues

I would hope that everyone is actually considering what issues matter to them, and deciding how to vote on that basis, rather than just blindly voting for one side or the other.

Of course, it’s not just a matter of chosing Labor or Coalition, particularly in the upper house. It may well be that The Greens get close to having the balance of power in the Senate.

Here are some quick and not-necessarily very well thought out notes on a few Federal election issues.

The economy, the budget and the GFC

Seems to me that the Australian economy didn’t suffer as much in the GFC due to the management of past governments of both sides, going back a decade or more.

The relatively well-regulated banking sector (compared to places like the US), put in by Hawke/Keating and maintained by Howard ensured the financial institutions didn’t collapse as they did in some countries. Howard handed over a healthy surplus to Rudd.

Yes, the government’s in debt now, due to stimulus spending which appeared to work in terms of keeping unemployment levels down.

The schools stimulus? People are complaining, and there were definitely problems with the implementation, but my kids’ current and past schools both benefited from new buildings, so it’s not like it didn’t have its plusses… and only 2.7% of schools complained. Ditto the home insulation scheme (see below).

To draw a possibly shaky analogy, the stimulus spending is a bit like Y2K — people complained that the effort expended wasn’t worth it because they didn’t see big problems eventuate. When Y2K happened, I saw small problems, and it was pretty obvious to me that if the work hadn’t been done, there would have been HUGE problems.

To quote Joseph Stiglitz (some guy who’s won a Nobel Prize for economics):

If you hadn’t spent the money, there would have been waste. The waste would have been the fact that the economy would have been weak, there would have been a gap between what the economy could have produced and what it actually produced – that’s waste. You would have had high unemployment, you would have had capital assets not fully utilised – that’s waste. So your choice was one form of waste verses another form of waste. And so it’s a judgment of what is the way to minimise the waste. No perfection here. And what your government did was exactly right. So, Australia had the shortest and shallowest of the downturns of the advanced industrial countries.

Both sides claim they’ll get the budget back into surplus within a few years, so I don’t see a major problem here. Again, it’s not like we’re in the deep hole the US or Greece or plenty of others are in. I don’t at all have a problem with borrowing to make worthwhile investments. Heck, most of us do it.

As for claims the coalition are better economic managers, it seems Joe Hockey keeps making mistakes in his statements on the matter.

Emissions and environment

This is my major problem with both major parties: they don’t have a coherent plan to cut emissions; just vague and/or not-very-impressive goals.

Labor’s insultation insulation scheme was a great idea — it hit the buttons of stimulus spending to help employment, and real action to reduce energy use and emissions. (Someone should publish a study on how much energy it’s saving this winter.) But it was terribly badly implemented, with cowboy operators taking advantage, resulting in unsafe work, numerous fires and the tragic deaths of installers.

The Coalition say they’ll meet their emissions reduction target. But their target of 5% reduction (from 1990 levels) by 2020 is pathetic.

Population and immigration

Demographer Peter McDonald warns that we are blaming migrants for our failure to plan cities properly. I couldn’t agree more.

If we choose to do it and manage it well, Melbourne could become bigger in population, without PT becoming unusable, and without sacrificing livability. Other cities have managed it. Whether that’s what we want is the question; not where the people come from.

Given such a tiny proportion of immigration is refugees arriving by boat, neither party is really addressing the real issues here. And any promise to cut migration is pretty empty, given it’s already dropping rapidly.

National Broadband Network

The distorted, out of sync video of Julia Gillard’s press conference via a broadband connection from Cairns shown on ABC News 24 on the 4th of August was evidence that some parts of the country are missing out on the biggest benefits of high-speed broadband.

Gillard live from Cairns via dodgy broadband

Maybe it’s not a problem if the Real Julia is out-of-sync and suffering from MPEG compression artefacts, or if the kids in the outback can’t watch HD Youtube of someone’s cat. It might be a problem if it were a connection set up between a patient and a medical specialist though. And it may well hold back development of high-tech industry (and more importantly, high-tech assisting other industries) in some parts of the country.

But while I’m convinced of the benefits of a high-quality high-speed broadband network, I’m in two minds about whether $43 billion of public money should be paying for it, since in the next decade, wouldn’t the major telecommunications companies be able and willing to provide the type of service proposed, at least in urban areas where it’s likely to be profitable?

Perhaps the point is to leapfrog anything what could be provided by the private sector, and trigger high-tech economic growth, as well as essentially replace the current (degrading) copper network. Evidently the implementation study shows it would be worthwhile.

I suppose (at first glance) the Coalition are proposing something a lot less impressive, aimed at getting more of the country up to the current standards (ADSL2+ and similar), rather than a bold new super-fast Fibre-To-The-Premises-type future. Certainly it seems to be getting flak for proposing too much reliance on wireless, as well as older technology including copper wire, and not providing fast enough speeds.

The Net filter

I think the whole idea of the filter is flawed, like some kind of luddites destroying looms. And the proposed implementation — with a secret list — wasn’t going to work.

The emphasis should be on providing opt-in tools and education (such as: parents not placing computers in kids’ bedrooms, but in public parts of the house), and taking down the publishers of dodgy material.

As such, the Coalition announcing they wouldn’t implement it is a positive move, and credit to them for it.

High-speed rail

If Melbourne to Sydney is the 4th (or 3rd, depending on who you ask) busiest air-corridor in the world, there must be an opportunity here. Get the trip to less than 4 hours (but preferably closer to 3), and it’d be competitive with air. (The poster-boy for this is, of course, London to Paris.)

Of course, it should go via Canberra — in fact Sydney to Canberra should probably be the first stage, to relieve Sydney airport. (In fact maybe if trains between the two ran every 15 minutes and the trip was about an hour, Canberra should become Sydney’s second airport?). But Canberra to Melbourne presents big problems (a lot of extra cost) with mountains getting in the way, unless you take a big detour.

Interesting that after a push from the Greens, Labor has announced they’ll do a feasibility study if elected. But they appear to be talking about Sydney to Canberra in 2.5 hours, not one. And Sydney to Melbourne in 6 hours, not 4. Hmmmmm.

(If I ran the world, airlines would be convinced to invest in high-speed rail so they could keep moving people and making money but avoid emissions taxes.)

Other PT funding

Labor announced they would fund Brisbane’s Petrie to Redcliffe railway; the Coalition matched it.

Things have obviously changed since the days when the Coalition refused to fund urban public transport, which is good to see. The Rudd government funded most of Victoria’s Regional Rail Link. Whether either side will pledge more projects remains to be seen. Doing so in a targetted manner might well provide them with the kind of direct action against climate change that they seem to want to fund.

Update 7:55am. Labor have just announced they will fund Sydney’s Parramatta to Epping rail link.

Other stuff

Check this great piece by Annabel Crabb on how the campaigning works.

That’s all I have so far. Thoughts?

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12 Replies to “Federal issues”

  1. Daniel, I was highly amused by your reference to “Laborโ€™s insultation scheme” – or was this just a serendipitous typo?

  2. yeah agree with everything you say. A couple of points:
    * there can never be a meaningful emissions scheme as no party would dare to propose a “great big new tax”. Those who supported such a tax (Malcolm Turnbull and Kevin Rudd) lost their jobs.
    * national broadband. If it’s such a needed thing, why don’t households and businesses pay for it themselves? Why does the government need to? I’m not clear on this!
    * Melb-Syd rail link – Viability (even getting to 50% viability) is the big issue. The Channel Tunnel authority still can’t pay its interest bills. Hopefully, the rail link will go ahead, but with (mostly) private money but some sweetners from govt.

  3. I don’t think the Internet filter will ever become a reality, it’s a way for polies to say to lazy parents “we will protect your kids when online” but we all know the net reflects humanity, the good and bad, get over it, children will be exposed to nasty things. Let’s hope they have skills to deal with it.

    I think the media plays a far bigger role in how Australians view politics than they should, they are not concerned with the best interests of the nation, only in making profits (except for Auntie) and the sanitised campaigns are a reflection of this.

    I’d love to see a concerted effort to address the impacts we are having on the climate but in a capitalist society that will never happen, there are too many people and groups with vested interests in doing nothing, so we may as well adapt.

  4. Brace yourselves!

    I agree and disagree with you on the various topics. I agree with you that it was previous governments (Hawke, Keating, Howard) who implemented the economic reforms that made our economy strong- Hawke/Keating by deregulating markets and floating the dollar, Howard by paying off debt and giving us money in the Treasury, so when the economy did tank 2 years ago, we were one of the few countries without public debt going in. I disagree with you though that Rudd’s stimulus saved us- every other Western country tried the same thing, to no avail. Look at the US- nearly $1 trillion, half not even spent, and the unemployment rate has gone up to nearly 10%, with fears of a double-dip recession looming! We survived PRIMARILY because we had no debt going in, plus the reforms of the previous two decades! If the economy had to be stimulated, wouldn’t it have been more stimulative to have offered tax cuts instead? Instead of the $900 patronising checks, what if we’d been allowed to keep more of our own money, or companies had been allowed to keep more money as an incentive to invest or hire, then they could have spent that money as they saw best. This video is a great example:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QG4jhlPLVVs&feature=player_embedded

    I’m not necessarily against government spending, but make it worthwhile at least! Rudd pissed away billions for no real practical value. Here’s where I will disagree strongly with you- we have gotten a lot of waste with it. With regards to the insulation scheme- I knew it would be a disaster from day one. What business is it of the government’s to put insulation in people’s roofs? If you want it, go get it yourself. The insulation industry wasn’t a very big one, which was artificially inflated by Rudd. In the rush to get it across, there was no fiscal accountability, and indeed no professional accountability, with hundreds of thousands of houses at risk of fire, four people dead, and an industry destroyed. Forget about them? Those installers are all out of work until a scheme to fix that problem is implemented. Value for money- $1.5 billion spent endangering houses, and another $1 billion to fix the problem. That’s economic stimulus? I think a lot of unemployed insulation workers would beg to differ!

    Then there’s the BER. You say that there were only 2.7% of complaints and use that to justify it- well, if someone bought me a car, even if it wasn’t so great, I don’t think I’d be complaining, as it didn’t come out of my pocket. But this did, and even though schools may like what they got, many paid up to THREE times more than what they cost. Again, say you bought a car, one you liked, but you found out that the dealer scammed you, and charged you three times more than the actual cost? Would you say, ah, I got what I want? No, you be pissed off about it- many of these buildings are in the same category! It is estimated up to $5 billion was wasted in such rorts- that’s a third of the scheme! You wouldn’t be so flippant with your own money, yet taxpayer money, OUR money, we don’t hold the same accountability?

    I know I’ve crapped on numerous times about climate change and energy, so I won’t tread on trodden ground, but consider this- if we go down the Labor/Greens path of “renewables” and taxing carbon, what do you think will happen? Andrew S did an excellent graph, which hopefully he might provide info on here, where he showed how if we implement all the renewable projects planned for Victoria, we can only phase out about 10% of coal based electricity. Bear in mind that is only if we maintain our present needs- as our population grows, our needs will grow. You may not like that “dirty, filthy Hazelwood”, but it provides us with a quarter of our electricity. What fills that gap? Nothing on the renewable side- only nuclear can provide such CO2-free baseload. And a carbon tax? Like that your electricity costs have gone up 20% in recent times? Imagine if we tax 80% of our electricity! If indeed we are to look for “viable” energy sources, shouldn’t we use the source of energy that is cheapest for us, in order to free up resources to innovate? Mind you, Gillard’s idea is brilliant- take 150 people randomly off the electoral roll, regardless of knowledge, and get them to solve our energy problems. While we’re at it, why don’t we get the same mob to run our national security, or Treasury, or any other government institution!

    I agree with you on population- we could have a larger population, but it involes things like urban sprawl, infrastructure, urbanising regional centres, indeed even building new cities, by turning inwards. Much of the US’s history was based on moving westward- maybe we could do the same here, but inwards? On the topic of boats, even if only 1.5% of immigrants are from boats, and insignificant (incidentally, Australia only contributes 1.7% of CO2 emissions, that insignificant too?), we still need an effective form of border control. These boats flooding in are putting undue strees on the Navy and ASIO, and our detention services. We can only look at legal immigration when we secure our borders.

    On the NBN, I think we probably agree- $43 billion is WAY too much for something which will be obsolete when up, and indeed wouldn’t it be more beneficial for private companies to battle it out, and indeed put the onus on them, rather than we the taxpayer. Indeed, there should be some flexibility, as technologies change, and indeed while wireless now doesn’t fill all the roles that cable does, that may indeed change in a few years.

    I’ve gone on enough, and have more to say, but will stop there (do I hear cheers?). This election is indeed close, and while we do differ on many things, we do agree on some, and we can discuss them in a civil and productive manner. Kudos Daniel, it will be an interesting week and a half!

  5. Thats what they want you to believe, Daniel. The GFC has done enormous damage to anyone who was an investor in any product of the racketeering “financial services industry”.

    For a concrete example, look at the property trust industry. Investors in those lost about 98% of their money, on average. Now look around and see how many empty, boarded-up shopping centres you see. Or empty office buildings. Or abandonned commercial building projects, which were everywhere in the early 1990’s. So where did the 98% of the money go ? The answer is, into the crooked pockets of the financial services industry.

  6. >> On the NBN, I think we probably agree- $43 billion is WAY too much for something which will be obsolete when up, and indeed wouldnโ€™t it be more beneficial for private companies to battle it out, and indeed put the onus on them, rather than we the taxpayer. Indeed, there should be some flexibility, as technologies change, and indeed while wireless now doesnโ€™t fill all the roles that cable does, that may indeed change in a few years.

    I must say I’m rather fed up with the use of the word “obsolete” in regards to fibre. Exactly how will fibre suddenly be obsolete in a few years time? It’s been around for quite some time now and there’s nothing better coming along – there’s no need, you can simply replace the equipment either end of it and transmitting your mythical new protocols down it. Heck even if we pretend that some magical new cable is coming out, that still doesn’t “instantly” mean that fibre optic becomes “out of date” and “unused” – and even if we pretend that it actually did, after all these years, instantly became that… what does that make the rotting copper we have at present?

    As for wireless somehow “changing” in future, what the? You do realise the entire concept of wireless transmission is like people shouting to one another across a hall full of hundreds of people all talking shouting at each other as well? You can make it more and more faster, but by the very nature of radio transmission it will never be anything like what you can get with direct physical one to one signals.

    Many of us are in massive chunks of the the country, normal suburban areas, that are on pair gain/RIM wired infrastructure capable of nothing more than dialup – or if lucky 1.5Mb ADSL at best. Wireless is starting to step into those areas and providing relief, but obviously temporary at best – as everyone madly starts jumping onto that only viable alternative (by the very nature of wireless transmission) it starts slowing right down.

    And of course in the business world while we can get high-speed 4Mb and higher Ethernet connections between offices, at the end of the day your provider still has to string that together using the piece of crap rotting copper that Telstra owns and connects whenever the hell they want. It boggles me that multiple appointments have to be made with long wait times and then Telstra doesn’t show up anyway and/or only does part of the work they were meant to and just fob off. We’re at the mercy of a network and company that is not up to the task and we’ve been suffering a bloody long time.

    Yet somehow putting in a completely new state of the art fibre infrastructure that all providers will have equal access to and can be adapted and scaled in the future is somehow something that will be “obsolete”… because, what, a few people here and there have ultra-fast access and sit back claiming that crappy wireless is the future and that we should instead spend billions putting more and more band-aids everywhere that will barely deliver what we need now let alone for the future…

  7. What is wrong with the taxpayer owning pipes and other infrastructure, with private companies managing the repairs and use by the public? Why can’t we own water and drainage pipes and have private companies manage the repair of the supply grid and the use of the water? Why can’t we own the rail lines and have a private company look after the maintenance and rolling stock using it? Why can’t we own the roads and have private companies pay for the trucks that roll on it as well as supply the fuel used by those trucks? Oh, that’s right, we can. So why can’t we own a fibre network and have private companies manage the internet use?
    Having the infrastructure in public hands means everyone having access to it, despite some living in a non-profitable region, or where the cost of provision of the road/pipe/fibre to the door is more than the income from that household’s individual use of it.
    Communication is an essential service like water and electricity that is too important to be in private hands.

  8. I’m with Chris Till on this one. Telstra has had ample opportunity to install good infrastructure, but they have not done it.

    When I hear people 30min drive from Ballarat can’t get broadband I’m not too interested, but when people in Footscray/Werribee/etc (and even an IT services company in Cairns) complain, then I know there’s something really wrong. And there’s a bunch of people in Springvale who have broadband … at 5-10kBytes/sec.

    I’m not entirely sure what’s gone wrong in Australia, because Telecom NZ have quietly got on with the job of providing fibre to most parts of New Zealand, so the Government have only had to do rural areas.

    Private ownership of infrastructure can work (and it does, in NZ), but Telstra’s lack of action leaves no choice: either Government does broadband, or you don’t get broadband.

    The other thing is that wireless might be OK, if it weren’t so buggy. My usual experience is about 120ms ping, but sometimes it goes up to 7000ms, and it cuts off for 20-60 seconds. It’s extraordinarily bouncy. Do you think it would be better if I used Abbott’s ears as a aerial?

    Nick.

  9. My piece on immigration: when we count up the boat people, they add up to stuff-all. But what people forget is that if we aren’t tough on boat people, we’ll have half a million people floating here a year (like the European countries at the moment).

    I say welcome the genuine people, but if anyone uses the services of a people-smuggler, they should be sent back (no mercy). The government should also be looking to open embassies and consulates in various source countries, perhaps jointly with other countries, so people can seek asylum there.

    Make it as easy as possible to do the right thing; make it as hard as possible to do the wrong thing.

  10. I’m surprised you haven’t made a comment on the financial state of DFO South Wharf. You made a comment on it in a previous post, but that’s closed to further comments. The shopping centre was built on the assumption that if constructed with a free car park, customers and will come. DFO probably paid far too much for the land, outbidding potential rivals who could have built high-rise apartments. Instead, the developers built a single-story shopping centre with a huge free car park. The same has no doubt occurred at Harbour Town – lots of shops, but few shoppers. Both shopping areas could have worked financially if there had been a good population living in high-rise above the shopping centre. The high-rise would provide a core population of perhaps 10,000 to sustain the shopping centre. This form of shopping centre would take longer to organise finance and construct, but the end result would be far better for both urban consolidation and the developers pockets.

    Hopefully, this is a lesson for developers not to pay too much for scarce inner-city land to build something like an outer suburban shopping centre.

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