Tax settings and inequality

Co-authored with Terri Butler, Member for Griffith. 

It is time to recognise that taxes are more than simply the price of civilisation: they profoundly shape our economy and society.

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Our Cities Must Keep Up If We're To Remain Globally Competitive

When Malcolm Turnbull talks about what distinguishes his government from that led by Tony Abbott, he often talks about cities.

This is a good thing. In the world's most urbanised nation it was damaging nonsense that we spent two years with a government blind to the concerns of four in five Australians, and to 80 percent of our economic activity.

Of course, Labor has long made urban policy a national priority. Gough Whitlam from opposition put the state of our suburbs at the centre of political debate, and this lead was followed in successive governments by reforming ministers like Tom Uren, Brian Howe and Anthony Albanese.

Since losing government in 2013 we have not just sat on our hands. We've set the agenda in this area -- putting the future productivity, liveability and sustainability of our cities at the centre of the responsibility of national government. And we now have the necessary bipartisanship when it comes to our cities.

The new Prime Minister, who seems pretty keen on the sharing economy, is welcome to share our plans for innovation in infrastructure provision, for boosting jobs which are more accessible to people's homes and for coordination around urban planning.

Labor has been looking to the evidence, identifying best practice around the world. The U.S. is discussing a 'metropolitan revolution'; Cities policy has been at the heart of policy debate in Britain and urbanisation more generally is perhaps the phenomenon of the times in which we live.

I've just spent a few days in Singapore -- Asia's greenest city, and a place offering useful lessons to inform policy making in Australia.

The peculiar challenges imposed on Singapore by its geography have driven important innovations which have led to this year's Sustainable Singapore Blueprint 2015.

This plan includes decentralising work opportunities, boosting public transport, and advancing community and public space. These are similar themes to those set out by Anthony Albanese in his address to the National Press Club last year, but works in actual progress.

In Singapore today we see the benefits of taking a long view, of looking beyond the electoral cycle, of setting ambitious plans, and of underpinning these with targets.

All of which rests on the foundations of a strong institutional framework, with a whole of government approach to urban policy. This has extended beyond the public sector, with the quality of consultation and engagement with the private sector and the community a hallmark.

Of course, this isn't to suggest that Singapore offers a template to simply reproduce in Australia. There are obvious differences in terms of political culture and structure. It is perhaps the most expensive city in the world to live in, with housing and transport costs of particular concern.

But as we grapple with the vital challenge of making the places where most Australians live and work more productive, liveable and sustainable, let's make sure we look around us. Let's not assume the answer to every problem can be found within.

And it's more pointed than this.

When it comes to Singapore, it's at our own risk if we don't take on board its lessons. Sydney and Melbourne need to be at least as attractive a place to locate as Singapore if we are to remain globally competitive.

We saw the farce in Question Time in October of the new Minister for Cities, Jamie Briggs, being denied the chance to answer a question on cities infrastructure. If we are going to face the challenges of the future of infrastructure head on, the first step is fixing the jumbled ministerial arrangements in the area.

Once the Minister for Cities is allowed to start answering Labor's questions on cities we can really start a proper bipartisan dialogue on what we can do to get our urban environment really working for the people that use it.

This post originally appeared on the Huffington Post Australia

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Climate skeptics and cheap sophistry – is this the new deal for the environment?

Is the new Prime Minister placing his ambition above the future of Australia? Scullin MP Andrew Giles explains that Turnbull’s flip flops on climate change may just be disastrous for our economic – and environmental – future.

John Maynard Keynes famously said, ‘When the facts change, I change my mind’.

It’s now clear that the new Prime Minister of Australia Malcolm Turnbull adheres to a very different aphorism.

He changes his mind according to political calculation. And so his government is, in reality, driven to the lowest common denominator – its most conservative members.

Almost all of whom are climate skeptics.

At least they are honest in expressing their genuinely held views.

Not so our PM. The tragedy is that Malcolm Turnbull knows better.

In his first press conference as Prime Minister, he stated his commitment to continue former Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s damaging and costly Direct Action policy: “The policy on climate change that Greg Hunt and Julie [Bishop] prepared is one that I supported as a minister in the Abbott government and it’s one that I support today.”

With the Turnbull government we have come a long way from his 2009 statement that this policy was a ‘farce’.

And further from the courage he showed then when he said: “I will not lead a party that is not as committed to effective action on climate change as I am.”

So, don’t believe the hype around the change of leadership. Just as Mr Turnbull’s commitment to equality proved to be a marriage of convenience, the only shift onclimate change is one of style. We have moved from the cheap sophistry of Tony Abbott to the expansive, self-indulgent sophistry of Malcolm Turnbull.

Direct Action: wasteful and weaselly

He knows that Direct Action is economically wasteful and environmentally inadequate and he dances around this with weasel words. He treats climate policy like a game.

Its centrepiece, the Emissions Reduction Fund, costs taxpayers $2.5 billion. That’s a lot of money to spend on a policy that doesn’t work. Minister Hunt claims that it bought 47 million tonnes of emissions abatement. What he is not as keen to publicise is that three quarters of that was from projects that existed before the auction.

The policies of the previous Labor government – scrapped by Tony Abbott – were actually working. They were driving down emissions. When we left office in 2013, emissions were 8 per cent lower than in 2007 when we were elected.

The Department of the Environment’s latest official projections show that emissions will have risen by 20 per cent by 2020 from the time of the Abbott government’s election. This is a catastrophic failure.

The Coalition attack on the climate doesn’t end there. Bucking a global trend toward investment in renewables, under the Liberal government renewables investment has dropped a staggering 88 per cent.

Labor’s policy is for 50 per cent of all electricity generated done so by renewable technology by 2030. Labor isn’t playing politics with Australia’s future. We have sought a bipartisan approach. It is about protecting our environment and supporting an emergent industry of the future.

The damage done to the renewables industry is currently still reversible. It becomes less and less so with each day of government inaction. Minister Hunt, the new Prime Minister’s role model, is choosing cheap politics over policy when it comes to climate. He still plans to appoint a ‘scientific’ committee on wind. We already know the Prime Minister’s real views on the issue, maybe it is time he imitated his predecessor in another way and made a captain’s pick.

Or maybe Mr Turnbull has simply adopted the views of his former cabinet colleague Joe Hockey that wind farms are too “ugly”?

The Abbott-Turnbull government’s assault on the environment and sensible, fact-based policy sadly doesn’t end there.

Mr Turnbull’s confused attitude to the successful Clean Energy Finance Corporationwas demonstrated this week, showing the extent to which he’s sacrificed his views to seize the prime ministership. In Question Time on Tuesday, Turnbull refused to back the CEFC saying it was an ‘open question’.

We are at a critical juncture with the December Paris climate conference fast approaching.

The ball is in the Prime Minister’s court – he can back the science, the economics, and his own better judgment. Or he can continue to place his ambition above Australia’s future, and playing our role in effective global action.

The stakes are so high: our future can’t be mortgaged to Mr Turnbull’s ego. If the policies don’t change we might as well send a cardboard cut-out of Tony Abbott to Paris in his place.

This article originally appeared on the Labor Herald.

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Melbourne, most liveable but a tale of two cities

Melbourne, most liveable but a tale of two cities. By Andrew Giles MP.

Published in the Herald Sun on 21 August 2015.

THIS week the Economist Intelligence Unit - again crowned Melbourne as the world's most liveable city.

Like most Melburnians, I took some time to soak in this triumph; in particular, to make sure my colleagues from Sydney were aware of it.

But then, I reflected on what this really means. And for whom.

Let's remember The Economist's report is aimed at wealthy expats, who may well have very different expectations of what matters than working families, for example.

I'm deeply concerned that my home town is becoming two distinct urban communities.

A prosperous core, filled with jobs and social amenity, and a residual outer ring where people just don't get a fair share of Melbourne's opportunities.

And, while I'm excited by the possibilities of Melbourne's rapid growth, this also raises the risk of compounding this divide.

Especially as jobs are increasingly located in and around the CBD and affordable housing for first-home buyers is further and further away from there.

Australia's fastest-growing suburb, South Morang, is in the Scullin electorate.

The Andrews Government's extension of the train line will make a real difference here, but state and local governments can't do all the lifting to make Australia's major cities all that they should be.

A baby born this year in South Morang should grow up enjoying the same quality of life as one born next to the CBD.

But I'm not confident this will be the case.

And this isn't good enough. It's not fair.

If we are to meet this challenge we need a co-ordinated, national approach. Councils like the City of Whittlesea appreciate the sorts of infrastructure investment that are required to support growing communities, to ensure that they thrive.

And we have a State Government that appreciates the need to tackle head-on the choking congestion that hurts both productivity and the quality of family life.

But there's a missing piece in this puzzle. We live in the world's most urbanised nation, yet Australia under Tony Abbott has no national plan for our cities. He abolished the Major Cities Unit and refuses to fund public transport. He has nothing to say about the places in which four in five of us live, and where 80 per cent of our GDP is generated.

If Melbourne is to stay liveable, this must change.

On this issue, as on so many others, the Prime Minister is isolated. Elsewhere in the world, conservative leaders like David Cameron take cities seriously.

Here, our business leaders are crying out for national leadership, just like so many of the people I represent.

These calls aren't falling on deaf ears. Labor has a vision for the future of our cities.

A plan to support suburban jobs, to fund public transport as well as roads and to address housing affordability.

A plan to harness the opportunities of growth, to unlock productivity and release the pressures on busy lives in "drive-in, drive-out" suburbs.

In a Shorten Labor government, Anthony Albanese would be minister for cities - a strong voice for urban and suburban Australia at the Cabinet table.

And, because Anthony's a friend of mine, I can say this: in time, he might even be able to get Sydney into second place on the liveability rankings.


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Labor Party Conference...dealing with unfinished business

Labor Party Conference...dealing with unfinished business. By Andrew Giles MP.

This Saturday Labor members will come together at Moonee Valley.

This ALP state conference will take place in a celebratory context: 100 days into the Andrews Government, and with Federal Labor taking up the fight in Canberra.

But it will have to deal with unfinished business.

This conference must grapple with Labor Party reform, and must produce a vision of a party that is fit for purpose.

It's this 'vision thing' that's most important. When we talk about changing the way Labor works eyes glaze over quickly, as the debate becomes arcane and alienating - all about the world of the party insider.

Lists of proposals are talked up, and down. Sometimes in terms of terms of their revolutionary impact, more often in terms of who benefits.

How power is distributed within parties is of course vitally important. For members, and anyone concerned for democracy.

But this can't be the whole story. It denies the prospect of radical change.

Which is what is needed.

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The Elephant in the IGR - Australian Cities

The Elephant in the IGR - Australian Cities. By Andrew Giles MP.

Published by the Chifley Research Centre online on 20 March 2015.

There’s much not to like about Joe Hockey’s Inter-Generational Report. It is a profoundly backwards-looking, as well as deeply political document, anchored in the failures of last year’s budget – not the challenges of the next 40 years.

In particular, it confirms the malign neglect by the Abbott Government of our cities. And that they are blind to the consequences of this.

The jobs of the future and population growth will continue to be located in our major cities – but where are policies to manage and facilitate this? The Abbott Government is in denial about these trends and what to do about them.

Under Labor, the previous IGR was mindful of the role cities play in our present, and will play in our future.

Yet cities barely rate a mention in this Treasurer’s report, despite 80 per cent of our national GDP being generated, and four out of five people living, in our cities.

Getting cities policy right can ensure our living standards are maintained. We can boost productivity through getting our urban policy settings right. This is a surer, and fairer, path than the Tories’ tired ideological canards around workplace ‘reform’ – making people work harder, for longer.

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Prospects for a Progressive Agenda

Prospects for a Progressive Agenda by Andrew Giles MP and Terri Butler MP.

Published by the Chifley Research Institute online on 16 January 2015.

20 years ago, Blur’s Damon Albarn sang: ‘I’m a professional cynic, but my heart’s not in it.’ He was singing about a retreat from the world of commerce to a bucolic, gilded cage, trading one set of anxieties for another.

Albarn’s character tried to defeat cynicism with denial. In 2015, progressives in public life can’t afford to make the same mistake.

There’s plenty of cynicism about politics and the value of democracy. The Lowy Institute, releasing the findings of its 2014 survey, said:

“…only 60% of Australian adults, and just 42% of 18-29 year-olds, say ‘democracy is preferable to any other kind of government’. …”

Many have tried to explain Australians’ cynicism: politics is just becoming irrelevant; tactics are making politics seem more trivial; media cycles and social media have disrupted communication; governments have less power than previously, but voters haven’t adjusted their expectations accordingly; Oppositions have learned the electoral value of strongly negative campaigns.

And the Lowy institute found that those who didn’t see democracy as preferable thought there’s no difference between Labor and the Coalition, or that ‘democracy only serves the interests of a few and not the majority of society’.

It’s tempting to surrender to the idea that cynicism is natural and inevitable. To go with it.

But that’s a surrender our nation can’t afford. Because it still takes politics to make change. Sectional interests know the importance of politics. To serve the national interest, it’s important that everyone else does, too.


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The Liberals' Review of Workplace Relations is Critical to Unmaking Australia's Social Democracy

The Liberals' Review of Workplace Relations is critical to unmaking Australia's social democracy by Terri Butler MP and Andrew Giles MP.

Published on The Guardian online on 22 December 2014.

What the Liberals really want for Christmas is a labour market overhaul, though they dare not say so aloud.

Since the Your Rights at Work campaign, most Liberals stay silent about how they’d like to reconstruct industrial relations laws. The mention of WorkChoices sends shivers down their spines.

That’s where the Productivity Commission comes in. To give themselves cover, the Liberals said that if elected they would ask the commission to review our workplace laws.

On Friday, Joe Hockey finally delivered his terms of reference for the review. They are so wide that everything that matters for everyone who works for a living is up for grabs.

The review is critical to the Liberals’ scheme to remake Australia’s social compact. Alongside the Commission of Audit, the trade unions Royal Commission, the tax white paper, and the reform of Federation white paper, it forms part of their blueprint to unravel our social democracy.

Our present industrial relations laws and institutions promote collective ahead of individual bargaining (which is consistent with our international obligations), provide for freedom of association, and help resolve disputes. It’s a better system than the Liberals’ last attempt, as well as a fairer one.

Though you won’t hear the Liberals acknowledge it, labour productivity has been rising faster under our Fair Work system than it did under WorkChoices.

Conservatives have done nothing about industrial relations in the past 20 years save to try to reduce unions’ power, undermine collective bargaining, and erode its companion, the right to strike.

These are not abstract issues. Questions of power at work, job security, and wages and conditions, affect governments, and they affect households.

These questions affect governments in obvious ways. Income tax revenue is related to incomes, and, as Myefo showed this week, bracket creep (or the lack of it) affects family tax benefits and other income-based transfers as well.

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Achieving Health Outcomes San Intergenerational Inequity

Achieving Health Outcomes Sans Intergenerational Inequity by Andrew Giles MP.

Published by the Chifley Research Centre online on December 17, 2014.

Over the past couple of weeks, the Coalition’s shambolic and dishonest position on the GP Tax has underlined the uncertainty around the proposed Medical Research Future Fund.

A number of prominent Australians who previously advocated for the Fund are now voicing their concerns about its fate.

I share their concerns, and I suspect their annoyance, that the Abbott Government cynically sought to tie the Fund to its unpopular GP Tax.

Support for the Fund, to the extent that it represents making the case for increased funding for our world-class medical researchers, is to be welcomed.

But support for this vital cause, and support for the proposal Minister Dutton has put forward are two very different things.

One fundamental question makes this point: precisely what is the Fund?

The fact is no-one, including the Minister for Health, knows anything about this ‘signature policy’ – other than it would principally be funded by the GP Tax.

It’s not just Labor MPs who are in the dark.

Along with my colleague Anna Burke MP, I’ve been hearing from experts in the field. They’ve made clear their uncertainty as to exactly what is proposed.

All welcome increased investment.

But they raise the obvious questions: how does this fund relate to the present NHMRC? What governance arrangements would be put in place?

And given recent debates within the Coalition Party Room: what’s left of the Government’s vision for the Fund, or any agenda to support medical research?

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Happy Anniversary to the Racial Discrimination Act

Happy Anniversary to the Racial Discrimination Act by Andrew Giles MP.

Published by the Chifley Research Centre online on 31 October 2014.

For me, the iconic, optimistic representation of modern Australia is that famous photo of Gough Whitlam and Vincent Lingiari. It captures a moment of great practical significance, especially to the Gurindji people.

It is also a powerful and enduring symbol of how, as the Tanya Plibersek said last week, ‘Gough Whitlam made room for all of us in our nation’. So too, the Racial Discrimination Act, a significant achievement, a signature achievement of his government.

Its 39th anniversary is today. In passing this law, the Australian parliament made clear the standards by which we should treat one another. Forty years ago Senator Murphy, in his second reading speech, said:

‘The purpose of this bill is to make racial discrimination unlawful and to provide an effective means of combatting racial prejudice in this country.’

Forty years on this should be celebrated, this should be supported and this should be reinforced. There is work to be done and leadership required to be shown.

While the impact of the Racial Discrimination Act has been transformative and enduring, significant challenges remain. In acknowledging the anniversary and especially in the shadow of Gough Whitlam’s passing we would do his legacy a great disservice by resting on our, or rather his, laurels.

Of course, only a few months ago this government was planning on removing vital protections from the act. Forty years on we are not yet a racially equal society and this is not good enough.

A few days ago a young woman was assaulted in Lalor, in my electorate. It appears she was attacked by reason of how she chose to dress. Many Muslim Australians are feeling victimised at the moment.

Of course they should not be victimised and marginalised in this way or at all. This week, research released by the Scanlon Foundation highlighted this and other challenges to multiculturalism, while containing many positive findings, it should be noted.

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