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Category Archives: infrastructure

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.

Rebecca Smith
May 13, 2009

Rebecca Smith: ”To invest in research is to invest in society’s long-term well-being.”
In the last quarter of 2008, a significant group of Australians was living below the poverty line. For a single person, this meant living on less than $415.06 a week. These people were working full time — 40 hours a week, and probably much more. They received no employer superannuation and weren’t entitled to concessions or pensions.

Who were they? Illegal migrant workers? Sweatshop employees unaware of their rights? No — they were some of Australia’s best and brightest minds: PhD students.

A PhD is a long-term research project. PhD students take up these projects after undergraduate studies. They work for about four years to train as independent researchers with the aim of making a significant contribution to knowledge. If successful, a PhD student is awarded a doctorate (D) of philosophy (Ph) and can begin a research career.

Research into the fundamental questions of science and the humanities is what drives a society forward. The application of the resultant knowledge makes a society healthier, wealthier, happier and more productive. To invest in research is to invest in a society’s long-term well-being.

Four reports into research and higher education were delivered to the Government in 2008, and each recommended increasing the nation’s investment in research and development.

In response, the 2009-10 budget increased funding to science and innovation by 25 per cent. For the basic research administered by the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation, the CSIRO, the Australian Institute of Marine Science and the Australian Research Council, funds were increased by 8 per cent overall.

These increases will go some way to improving Australia’s gross expenditure on research and development, which was last measured at 2.01 per cent of GDP, below the 2.26 per cent OECD average.

But the budget was another disappointment to PhD students. Their stipends will increase 10 per cent from $20,427 in 2009 to $22,500 in 2010. This is an improvement relative to the 2 per cent increase between 2008 ($20,007) and 2009, but nowhere near what is needed.

The 2008 Parliamentary Inquiry into Research Training and Research Workforce Issues recommended increasing PhD scholarships by 50 per cent to $30,000 a year, and to extend support from 3½ years to 4½ years.

The Cutler and Bradley reviews recommended more modest increases to $25,000 and four years. The Australia 2020 Summit report also suggested formalising research as a career path, like teaching or medicine, and giving researchers the recognition they are due.

The 10 per cent increase is, as Innovation Minister Kim Carr hinted, “as budget permitted”. It’s a reflection of the times and a nod to the advice given to the Government by the reviews of 2008. But it doesn’t acknowledge the true worth of Australia’s researchers to our future prosperity.

Doubling the number of places for PhD students, as the 2008-09 budget allowed, was only half the solution to fulfilling Australia’s future demand for highly skilled workers.

The other half of the solution was to increase PhD stipends. PhD students and the research community were hoping this year’s budget would deliver. It didn’t, and we are still paying our next generation of researchers a relative pittance.

An annual $20,000 or $22,500 PhD stipend (tax-free) is not an adequate financial inducement for talented students who could earn double that amount, and more, by entering the workforce directly after their bachelor’s degree.

If money is what motivates, the result will be that Australia has fewer and fewer researchers in training.

But it is not financial rewards that drive bright, idealistic students into the long and challenging route to their research licences. Those who choose a research career would probably do so regardless of money.

And so we have to ask, is this systematised exploitation of Australia’s young researchers? An out-of-date training model stressed by the economic crisis? A reflection of the entrenched short-sightedness of three-year governments, focused not on building intellectual infrastructure but patching holes? Or an expression of Australia’s sad tendency to shun scholarly achievement and tall poppies? That PhD stipends have remained so low for so long, even in our recent boom, suggests the answer to that.

We could also suggest that a 10 per cent increase to stipends helps students but it helps our politicians more, because, most of all, it helps avoid the embarrassing situation of another financial quarter in which Australia’s future leaders are living below the poverty line.

Dr Rebecca Smith is the founding director of Science Hub Australia, a new organisation for the advancement of Australian scientists and science.

Kate Hannon
May 10, 2009 – 6:59PM
Labor’s Left faction will push the Rudd government to develop renewable energy sources as a way of creating “green” jobs.

It will also press for further changes to industrial relations laws at the next Australian Labor Party (ALP) national conference, to be held in Sydney at the end of July.

It will be the first national party conference in more than two years, and the first since Labor returned to government federally in 2007.

The party’s National Left faction met in Canberra on Saturday and Sunday to discuss a range of policy areas, including the fallout of the global financial crisis.

A National Left convenor, NSW Senator Doug Cameron, said the meeting endorsed the government’s revamped climate change policy announced on Monday by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.

The government decided to delay by 12 months the start of its carbon pollution reduction scheme to July 1, 2011, and extended its reduction targets from five per cent to 25 per cent below 2000 levels by 2020, depending on the outcome of the UN climate change summit in Copenhagen in December.

But Senator Cameron said the Left believed more should be done to develop renewable energy and carbon capture and storage as a way to create green jobs.

“There’s employment available in a whole range of areas: tidal power, wind power, geothermal, solar and we believe there must be an even more focused approach,” Senator Cameron told AAP.

“We’re not arguing for closing the coal industry by any stretch of the imagination.”

The meeting also discussed a number of issues to do with the new Fair Work industrial relations system, most of which will begin operating on January 1, 2010.

As expected, the Left expressed its unhappiness with the continued existence until 2010 of the industry watchdog the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) and the plan to transfer much of its powers to the new industrial body Fair Work Australia.

Senator Cameron said there was also concern about the new good faith bargaining rules, due to begin on July 1 along with new unfair dismissal rules.

“The range of changes introduced by the government are a good start but there may be other areas we will want to look at in terms of bargaining,” he said.

These included concerns that if an employer breaches an agreement the only means to deal with it is conciliation.

“There was quite a range of views that workers should be entitled, if there’s a clear breach of a contract, they should be able to take industrial action to force the employer to ensure the contract is fulfilled,” Senator Cameron said.

While Labor abolished Australian Workplace Agreements (AWAs) and will bring enterprise level bargaining back as the mainstay of industrial relations, many unions felt the legislation did not go far enough.

© 2009 AAP

April 29, 2009 12:01am

SOUTH Australia has the country’s worst record for the amount of money spent on infrastructure over the past 20 years, an engineering report card has found.

Engineers Australia’s analysis of roads, bridges, harbours, electricity and gas pipelines, water, sewerage and telecommunications has found the inferior investment is making the state uncompetitive.

“SA has grown the least of all the states and territories,” Engineers Australia (SA) president Doug Gillott said.

“These figures do look over a 20-year period and the trend is quite consistent, so this is a concern that over a time we are falling behind the rest of the country.”

The report found that for every $100 spent in 1988-89, SA is now spending $140 per head of population. But Australia is spending $230.

So, in 2007-08 Australia spent 1.6 times more than SA per head of population on infrastructure.

The gap between SA and the rest of Australia has widened in the past nine years, even though construction activity increased within the state.

While the report does not blame any governments, it shows from 1999- 2000, after the Labor Government came to power in SA, spending on infrastructure lagged further behind the nation and “there is now the widest ever gap between the two trends”.

“If we consistently under-invest, then as a community we’ll become less efficient and it becomes less attractive for projects to go ahead and also for people to live here because they have less amenity,” Mr Gillott said.

Western Australia and Queensland were the shining lights when it came to infrastructure spending.

But the one area where SA approached the national trend was in the construction of electricity and gas pipeline facilities.,22606,25400810-2682,00.html

April 21, 2009 11:30pm

TWO South Australian geothermal energy projects have won $7 million each in Federal Government funding.

Petratherm and its joint venture partners Beach Petroleum and TRUenergy received $7 million for their Paralana project in the northern Flinders Ranges.

Panax Geothermal plans to spend its $7 million drilling for a geothermal heat resource near Penola, in the state’s South-East.

Federal Energy Minister Martin Ferguson said yesterday geothermal energy had extraordinary potential and could provide baseload power.

“Geoscience Australia estimates that if just one per cent of our geothermal energy was extracted it would equate to 26,000 times Australia’s total annual energy consumption,” he said.

“In addition to being a low-carbon energy source, geothermal energy also has the potential to add baseload power to the Australian energy grid.

“This would diversify Australia’s energy supply and add to our overall energy security.”

Mr Ferguson said a second round of applications for funding would open around the middle of the year. The money comes from the Government’s $500 million renewable energy fund.,22606,25370943-5016955,00.html