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Category Archives: Government responses

 Michelle Grattan

April 20, 2012

 THE government has seized on shadow treasurer Joe Hockey’s provocative attack on ”entitlements” to claim a Coalition government would make widespread cutbacks that would hit families.

In a major speech in London, Mr Hockey condemned systems of ”universal entitlement” in Western democracies, contrasting this with the concept of ”filial piety” thriving across Asia, where people get what they work for and families look after their own. Although Mr Hockey was more qualified about the Australian situation, when pressed later about whether the Coalition would look at the whole range of entitlements, he said: ”Yes.”

Prime Minister Julia Gillard said Australian families should be deeply concerned about Mr Hockey’s remarks.

She said he was talking about cuts ”to things like family payments to help people with the costs of raising the kids, things like pensions that older Australians rely on, all of the benefits and services that help families along, like relief on childcare fees, let alone of course the great benefits of things like Medicare and free public hospitals”.

The message of Mr Hockey and Opposition Leader Tony Abbott to families was ”you’re in for cutbacks and if you can’t cope, well, just try fending for yourself and if you can’t fend for yourself well, unfortunately that’s too bad”, she said.

But Mr Abbott said Mr Hockey was making the obvious point that governments had to live within their means. Australia’s situation had not got to the level of some other countries but ”there is a danger that we ourselves could ultimately go down an unsustainable path … it’s the job of the Coalition to ensure that we never do”. Greens leader Christine Milne said the logical conclusion of what Mr Hockey was saying ”is no universal healthcare, no universal access to public education”.

Ann Nevile of the Crawford school of public policy at the Australian National University said it was unlikely that the policies of Asian countries could be successfully transplanted to Australia because those countries’ social conditions were different to Australia’s.

 Read more: http://www.theage.com.au/opinion/political-news/hockey-attack-on-benefits-blasted-20120419-1xa39.html#ixzz1sYtiIbBP

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Daniel Flitton
July 3, 2009

Paul Keating has challenged a central tenet of Kevin Rudd’s multibillion-dollar, 20-year military blueprint, warning the Government has taken too defensive a stance in response to China’s rise in the Asia-Pacific region.

Returning to his “big picture” theme of Australia’s place in the world, the former Labor prime minister said last night the effects of the global financial crisis had matched the radical transformation of global affairs following the Cold War.

“I think we can safely say that the pendulum point of world economic activity has shifted and settled upon East Asia,” Mr Keating told a Perth audience.

The US – having in the past seven years gone from the world’s largest creditor country to largest debtor – was beset by uncertainty, he said – “Its financial mendicancy, its economic structure and its social and demographic problems.”

He said the US must turn away “from the mindless fizz of ever more consumption” and bring back to life manufacturing in American cities.

Mr Keating acknowledged the countries in East Asia confronted profound strategic problems – whether China’s one-party political system could maintain economic growth, for example, how Japan would cope with a rapidly ageing population and the prospect of unification on the Korean peninsula.

But China might eventually eclipse US power in the region and the major shifts in world power offered huge opportunities for Australia.

“With all that has happened and is happening, it will make absolutely no sense for us to think of our security in isolationist and defensive terms,” Mr Keating said. “The notion of Australia’s security being found outside Asia is as absurd now as it has always been . . .”

He said Australia’s international outlook must always remain outgoing and positive.

“For these reasons, I found myself at odds with some of the text of the Government’s 2009 defence white paper,” he said.

“Much of it is unexceptional . . . but it goes on to discuss what it describes as ‘the remote but plausible potential of confrontation’ between us and ‘a major power adversary’, not suggesting who that power might be.

“Obviously, it will not be the United States. You are then left to take your pick of China, Japan, India or Indonesia.”

Mr Keating said the tone of the paper was too ambivalent and failed to state clearly whether China’s military advance posed a threat to Australia or was a natural and legitimate aspiration for a rising economic power.

Released in May, the paper pledged a doubling of Australia’s submarine fleet from six to 12, extra warships, cruise missiles and advanced jets.

The paper took a swipe at Beijing for a lack of transparency in its own military build-up and warned that “shows of force by rising powers are likely to become more common as their military capabilities expand”.

Delivering the annual John Curtin Prime Ministerial Lecture, Mr Keating said Australia could not predict what sort of new order might spring up in the face of relative American decline.

“A region of this kind might turn out to be as peaceful and as prosperous for Australia as the one we have had since the end of the Vietnam War,” he said.

Accepting the need for defence readiness, he warned: “Too often, Australia has created problems for itself when its defence policy has gotten ahead of its foreign policy. Vietnam and Iraq are prime examples.”

He praised China’s huge economic leap forward in recent decades – “This great state, with its profound sense of self and the wherewithal to make a better life for its citizens, has eased itself into a major role” – a development, he said, that would be altogether positive for the region and the world at large.

“We do know China will be a power in its own right and a big player,” Mr Keating said.

http://www.theage.com.au/national/keating-queries-stance-on-china-20090702-d6l5.html

Print Patricia Karvelas, Political correspondent | June 10, 2009
Article from: The Australian

TRADE unions are demanding that Julia Gillard step in and ensure Fair Work Australia reviews wage deals that impose a non-union collective agreement and that have been deliberately rushed in before Labor’s workplace laws take effect next month.

The call comes amid union complaints that several employers across the country are asking workers to sign up to new deals before the July 1 changes.

CFMEU secretary John Sutton said Ms Gillard should ask Fair Work Australia to investigate the cases. “We believe that anything that is rushed through at the last minute warrants examination. If there’s no deficiencies, then the employer would have nothing to hide from,” he said.

“We are seeing across all our sectors employers that are rushing forward with hasty agreements and wanting to get them executed before the July 1 cut-off.

“Inevitably, things get through the net and Julia Gillard said Labor’s about restoring a strong safety net, so I’ve got no doubt that some employers will be standing over their workers in the next couple of weeks with threats and promises and inducements and I think it makes a lot of sense for her to ask the commission to examine those documents.”

Mr Sutton said there had been several examples in the mining industry, including one involving the labour hire company ResCo, which last month had a hasty agreement rejected.

ACTU secretary Jeff Lawrence said the rush to last-minute deals was of major concern.

“We are concerned that unscrupulous employers are using the final days of Work Choices to put their workforce on to contracts that will lock them into inferior pay and conditions for up to five years,” he said.

In a submission to the government, the ACTU said it was concerned that in the period to June 30, unscrupulous employers “will rush to make employee collective agreements … with their low-paid employees in order to ensure they cannot ever be subject to a special low-paid bargaining determination. In order to deal with this problem, we submit that FWA should have a discretion to ignore the effect of agreements initiated by employers with the intention of avoiding the low-paid bargaining stream.”

But a spokeswoman for Ms Gillard said agreements could no longer strip away basic terms and conditions without compensation. “If any person feels that their employer is not acting in compliance with their obligations under the legislation, for example, by forcing employees to vote without having proper access to the proposed agreement, then they should contact the Workplace Ombudsman,” she said.

http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/business/story/0,,25613588-36418,00.html

Jacob Saulwick
June 11, 2009

THE average first-home loan in NSW has risen more than $50,000 in just over a year, climbing to $300,000 on the back of low interest rates and generous government grants.

The success of the boosted first-home owner grant in stimulating the market has drawn applause from the Government, but experts warned of the potential danger of a housing bubble as young couples take on loans they will struggle to maintain.

First-home buyers are taking out a record 28 per cent of the value of all home loans, Bureau of Statistics figures released yesterday showed.

But the surge in borrowing runs the risk of overinflating the lower end of the housing market. “We have just got to make sure that we don’t get a recovery on the back of over-extended young couples,” said Julian Disney, an affordable housing expert from the University of NSW.

The Reserve Bank Governor, Glenn Stevens, cited similar concerns last week, saying it would be counterproductive if low interest rates encouraged marginal borrowers to take on large debts. Yesterday’s release came alongside a rise in consumer confidence, attributed to the resilience of the economy amid global recession.

When the Government doubled the first-home owner grant in October as part of its response to the financial crisis, the average loan to new buyers was lower than that taken out by non-first-home buyers.

Since then, the average loan for first-home buyers across the country has increased $50,000 to $283,000 – about $25,000 more than loans to buyers who already have a foothold in the market.

For NSW home buyers, the average first mortgage is $299,000, against $276,000 for existing home owners. Before October, there had been little increase in the average first mortgage for about four years.

Asked if the the market had been inflated by grants, the Treasurer, Wayne Swan, said yesterday’s figures showed the benefits of the Government’s economic stimulus packages.

“It has played a very important role in supporting employment in the Australian housing and construction industry.”

Professor Disney, the director of the social justice project at the University of NSW, supported the supersized grant as an economic emergency measure. But he said the Government should consider winding back the original $7000 grant to prevent a new housing bubble.

“Every month the risk of inveigling people into a dangerous situation increases,” he said.

Loans to owner-occupiers increased for the seventh consecutive month in April, after falling in each of the eight months before the grant was doubled. Overall, the value of housing finance rose 0.9 per cent in April.

Banks have already responded to a crush of demand from first-home buyers by making it more difficult to get a loan. The big banks are only writing loans up to 90 per cent of the value of the property, and insisting on at least 5 per cent genuine savings for a deposit. Borrowers are complaining of waiting up to a month to get a loan approved from the big banks.

But Mark Haron, the principal at the mortgage broker aggregation group Connective, said the market had quietened in the past couple of weeks.

There remained plenty of enthusiasm among first-home buyers, Mr Haron said, but they were having to spend longer looking for houses because prices kept going up.

In October, the $14,000 grant for existing homes will fall to $10,500, before dropping to $7000 in January. The $21,000 grant for new properties will drop to $14,000 in October, and $7000 next year.

Bill Evans, the chief economist at Westpac, which published the consumer confidence index, called this month’s increase a “truly remarkable result”.

“It is the second largest recorded increase in the index since the survey began in 1974,” said Mr Evans, adding it was likely due to the small increase in economic growth figures released last week.

Unemployment figures released today are expected to show an increase in the jobless rate.

http://business.smh.com.au/business/housing-fears-as-loans-hit-new-high-20090610-c3mh.html?sssdmh=dm16.381331

Third state signs on for national IR laws

Ewin Hannan | June 10, 2009

Article from: The Australian

TASMANIA has joined South Australia and Victoria in handing over its industrial relations powers to the commonwealth but NSW and Queensland remain non-committal about embracing uniform national workplace laws.

Ahead of a meeting between Julia Gillard and state ministers tomorrow, the Tasmanian cabinet yesterday gave in-principle approval for the state to refer the balance of its private sector industrial relations powers to the Rudd government.

Tasmania’s Workplace Relations Minister, Lisa Singh, said the cabinet decision was a vote of confidence in federal Labor’s Fair Work Act.

“The Howard government, under Work Choices, took all constitutional corporations into the federal industrial relations system,” she said. “However, sole traders and partnerships continued to be covered by state-and territory-based jurisdictions, causing confusion for workers and employers. These changes remedy that.”

The referral applies only to the private sector, and the Tasmanian public service will not be affected by the decision.

“For workers, access to modern awards means simpler, nationally consistent wages, loadings and penalty payments that will be revised on a regular basis,” Ms Singh said.

“For employers, participation in the national system will also slash red tape as well as simplifying and streamlining compliance measures.”

The South Australian government earlier announced it had joined Victoria in referring its industrial relations powers to the commonwealth. Queensland and NSW are yet to declare their positions, while Western Australia appears unlikely to refer its powers, having set up its own review of state workplace laws.

Queensland Industrial Relations Minister Cameron Dick said a national industrial relations system would be a key agenda item at tomorrow’s meeting.

“The commonwealth government is pursuing a clear national agenda, and each jurisdiction must consider what model will deliver the fairest and most efficient system for both workers and businesses in their jurisdiction,” he said. “Queensland is committed to working co-operatively with the federal government, within the context of the Fair Work legislation passed by the federal parliament, to ensure that we achieve the best outcome possible for Queensland workers and the Queensland community as a whole.”

A spokesman for NSW Industrial Relations Minister John Hatzistergos said the state government would not finalise its position until all of the Fair Work legislation had been passed by the Senate.

http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,,25613591-5013404,00.html

ANDREW DOWDELL, ADELAIDENOW REPORTER
June 10, 2009 12:01am

BATTLE lines have been drawn between unions and the Federal Government amid threats of a national strike over the prosecution of an Adelaide rigger.

Ark Tribe, 47, faces being the first Australian worker jailed for failing to attend an industrial commission set up by the Howard government.

Tribe was charged under federal laws with failing to attend a hearing in October last year before the Australian Building and Construction Commission, set up by the former federal government to target union activities within the buildingindustry.

Yesterday, about 200 union members gave the Construction Forestry Mining Energy Union member a raucous welcome to Elizabeth Magistrates Court.

“This is one of the most historic days in industrial relations in Australia ever,” CFMEU secretary Martin O’Malley said. He added Prime Minister Kevin Rudd had gone back on an election promise to dismantle the ABCC.

“You can kill people on building sites. Bosses kill workers left right and centre; if it’s them they get fined. But if a worker doesn’t turn up to a hearing they can get jailed for up to six months.”

Mr O’Malley said if Tribe eventually was convicted and fined or jailed, a national strike was likely.

“We are not going to stand back and let our members be jailed without repercussions,” he said. “The ACTU last week have passed a motion relating to taking industrial action and it’s just not going to go away.

“This is going to be sorted out and it will be sorted out until these laws are gone.”

Defence lawyer Steven Dolphin said Tribe would fight the charges to the end.

“The Federal Government today has made a historic decision to charge an ordinary Australian worker under the old Howard industrial relations laws,” Mr Dolphin said.

“We are instructed to pursue every defence possible under the law to help Mr Tribe overcome the situation.”

Tribe was not required to enter a plea during yesterday’s brief court hearing and the case was adjourned until August, to allow defence lawyers time to formulate their case.

AAP
May 27, 2009 09:50am

MOST of the MPs in the Coalition don’t think an emissions trading scheme will deliver reductions in carbon pollution, veteran Liberal MP Wilson Tuckey says, despite a scheme still being Coalition policy.

The Coalition parties yesterday opted to defer until early next year a Parliamentary vote on Government legislation setting up emissions trading. It wants the Government to wait until after global climate change talks in Copenhagen and for the results of a Productivity Commission inquiry.

But whether it will support a trading scheme after that is not yet certain.

“I, and the majority of the Coalition party room, say it will not work, it will not deliver carbon emission reduction,” Mr Tuckey says.

The $23 billion the Government spent on cash handouts in its second stimulus package would have been better spent renewable energy projects, he said.

Opposition frontbencher Andrew Robb said the Coalition believed an emissions trading scheme should be introduced “when we get it right”.

“This issue is too important to have a rushed, ill-conceived approach,” he said, adding it was the biggest single, structural change in history.

26 May 2009 Liberal backbencher Stuart Robert said it was still Coalition policy to have an emissions trading scheme up and running by 2012.

However, Labor MP Jason Clare said Liberal Party MPs were the laggards when it came to climate change.

“What we have in America now is we’ve got Republicans who are more progressive than the Liberal Party,” Mr Clare told Sky News.

Liberal backbencher Scott Morrison dismissed that argument as “nonsense”, saying the Coalition was holding out an “olive branch” to the Government on emissions targets.

Labor MP Jim Turnour said the Coalition’s call for a Productivity Commission inquiry into an emissions trading scheme was a delaying tactic which would deny business certainty.

“There are billions of dollars in our scheme to support … trade-exposed businesses,” he said.

Mr Turnour denied reports the Government would withhold compensation if the emissions trading scheme was delayed.

http://www.news.com.au/story/0,27574,25545205-29277,00.html

Katharine Murphy
May 25, 2009

A SENIOR left-wing cabinet minister says the Federal Government will not cop an “old-fashioned” protectionist policy, but remains focused on preserving and creating Australian jobs.

Infrastructure Minister Anthony Albanese has called for a sensible approach ahead of an embarrassing brawl at the ALP’s national conference over a push by right and left-wing unions to impose a Buy Australian policy.

Unions want the Government to give preference to Australian-made goods in big contracts and purchasing and in its huge infrastructure program.

But Mr Albanese says the Government can’t breach its international trade obligations by insisting explicitly that only Australian-produced materials be used in projects.

He says the Government is using its “nation-building” program to create jobs and projects that where possible will use Australian materials, such as the concrete sleepers now being used on rail upgrades around the country.

“No one is advocating a return to old-fashioned protectionism,” he told The Age.

“There are limits imposed by our international obligations and they need to be recognised.

“But this has to be balanced with support for Australian job creation. Australian job creation has been at the forefront of the Government’s thinking.”

Mr Albanese’s nuanced comments reflect the Government’s desire for a compromise to head off the union push.

The preconference campaign is proving a headache for the Government because it enjoys cross-factional support, and pits the party’s industrial base against the political wing.

In a wide-ranging interview about the Government’s infrastructure program, Mr Albanese predicted private investment would begin to flow, including from superannuation funds, now that the Government had established its priorities.

He said the Government did not need to guarantee private borrowing, or assume more risk; a combination of economic recovery and clear process would mean private funds would flow to infrastructure projects.

“We’ve had a considered approach. By doing that, we’ve created the certainty which is an important component of economic confidence,” he said.

Mr Albanese conceded that the Government did not slavishly follow Infrastructure Australia’s advice in the projects it unveiled at the May budget.

Two projects recommended for immediate funding — a road upgrade in the ACT and a rail freight project in South Australia — were rejected in favour of port upgrades and metropolitan public transport projects in Perth, Sydney and Brisbane.

He said the Government was not obliged to always follow the recommendations of its policy adviser.

“It was always the case that Infrastructure Australia would give us the advice and we would make our determinations,” Mr Albanese said.

http://www.theage.com.au/national/minister-backs-local-jobs-in-bid-to-head-off-union-brawl-20090524-bjij.html?page=-1

Josh Gordon and Michelle Grattan
May 23, 2009

The Rudd Government’s emissions trading scheme could trigger an investment surge worth more than $6 billion a year, according to secret economic modelling revealed as Parliament gears up to determine the fate of controversial climate change laws.

An internal report by the National Australia Bank obtained by The Sunday Age suggests the emissions trading debate has focused on short-term costs and ignored new investment opportunities.

“The average year-on-year investment created by the (Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme) could be up to 60 per cent greater than that committed for infrastructure in this year’s budget,” the report says.

It says there has been “little consideration of the investment stimulus” that would be created as the economy becomes less greenhouse intensive.

The report comes as a national poll conducted on behalf of the Climate Institute has found more than three out of four Australians believe the Liberal Party should support the Government’s emissions trading scheme legislation.

The sharply divided Coalition will go the party room within the next week to consider the legislation before the House of Representatives debates it next week. The legislation will go to the Senate next month.

The Coalition, which is considering a bipartisan position on targets for the world climate conference in Copenhagen in December, wants the legislation delayed until after that conference.

But an Auspoll survey of 1120 people has found 77 per cent believe the Liberals should back the legislation now. Only 23 per cent think they should oppose it.

The online poll taken from May 15 to 19 found women were more likely than men to say the Liberals should support it (83-71 per cent), and younger people more likely than those older (82 per cent of 18-29 year olds compared with 71 per cent of those 50 and over).

Greens sources said yesterday that while they were opposed to the legislation they were “not inclined” to vote for delay. So the Opposition would probably need the votes of Family First senator Steve Fielding and independent Nick Xenophon if it wanted to defer the legislation until after the December conference.

But Senator Xenophon told The Sunday Age yesterday: “My strong inclination is that we need to deal with this legislation, in terms of the architecture and design of the scheme, before Copenhagen.”

Certainly the NAB report will give the Government added traction to argue for the legislation to be passed. The modelling work traces the impact of the three possible emissions reduction targets announced by Government. It assumes that the price of emissions will rise from $20 a tonne of carbon dioxide to $100 a tonne as the Government cuts the number of permits. It also assumes that 30 per cent of Australia’s investment efforts to cut emissions will leak to foreign countries.

Under the least onerous scenario — a cut of 5 per cent below 2000 levels by 2020 — investment would soar by $5.8 billion a year by 2020 and by $10.8 billion by 2050, or an average of $6.2 billion a year.

A 25 per cent cut will become Government policy if there is a strong agreement at Copenhagen.

The Age
http://www.watoday.com.au/national/carbon-scheme-may-generate-6bn-a-year-20090524-bj6j.html?page=-1

May 22, 2009 – 6:34AM
The government’s emissions trading scheme will cost more than 23,000 jobs across the mining sector by 2010 and almost triple that number by 2030, the Minerals Council says.

Half of those jobs would be in Queensland alone, the Minerals Council of Australia says in a study released on Friday.

Council chief executive Mitchell Hooke says this showed the government’s proposed carbon pollution reduction scheme (CPRS) was out of step with global efforts to reduce emissions, with other international trading schemes and with the development of the low emissions technologies needed to reduce emissions.

“It will impose the highest carbon costs in the world on Australia’s mineral exporters,” he said in a statement.

“We share the government’s commitment to reducing emissions but this modelling shows the CPRS is fundamentally flawed. By imposing the highest carbon costs in the world on Australia’s mineral exporters, it will eliminate jobs while failing to materially reduce global greenhouse gas levels.”

Mr Hooke said recent changes to the CPRS including a year’s delay in introduction would not fix its fundamental flaws.

“The simple message of this report is that the CPRS as it is currently designed will result in a transfer of exports from Australia to our international competitors,” he said.

The study was produced by economic consultant group Concept Economics and conducted by Dr Brian Fisher, former executive director of the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics.

It doesn’t cover the natural gas and oil industries.

The study points to 23,510 job losses by 2020 with 11,440 in Queensland, 4,260 in NSW, 3,410 in Western Australia, 1,990 in South Australia, 1,050 in Tasmania, 1,210 in Victoria and 150 in the Northern Territory.

By 2030 job losses will have risen to a total of 66,480 – 34,090 in Queensland, 14,600 in NSW, 5,750 in WA, 3,150 in SA, 2,520 in Tasmania, 5,830 in Victoria and 540 in NT.

In the long term most jobs would go from the smelting and refining sector with 8,570 jobs lost by 2020 and 33,670 by 2030, followed by the coal industry with 9,040 by 2020 and 15,610 by 2030.

Mr Hooke said a simple change to the CPRS would deliver a cap and trade emissions reduction scheme without the job destroying impact of the current design.

He said it should include a phased approach to emissions trading with the number of carbon permits auctioned increasing over time.

“Such a simple change would deliver a scheme with good outcomes for the environment and save thousands of jobs,” he said.

“Other schemes around the world have adopted a phased approach. It is hard to understand why it has been ruled out in Australia.”

Meanwhile, Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard has defended the government’s emissions trading scheme, amid reports it will cost more than 23,000 jobs across the mining sector by 2020.

Ms Gillard says the government has worked with the business community to get the best design for the scheme.

“I know that there are going to be a variety of views on this and as we close out for vote on the legislation in the Senate, I think we’re going to see some very big ambit claims made in the newspaper,” she told Macquarie Radio on Friday.

“But we believe the scheme gets the balance right, we believe this scheme will work with our economy but will also work to tackle the challenge of climate change.”