by Alan Thornhill
Can we clear that congestion on our roads?
And what is the best way to do it?
The Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, has welcomed the release of a report today, that attempts to answer those questions.
The First National Audit on Infrastructure confirms that the congestion we see every day is not just annoying.
It is also expensive.
Indeed Mr Abbott notes:” ….road congestion in Australia is currently costing some $13.7 billion per year.
And he adds:”If we don’t take action, the cost will be $53 billion a year by 2031.”
So what is happening?
The Prime Minister says:” The Government has already taken significant steps to address our nation’s infrastructure backlog, after years of under-funding by previous governments.
“Last year, the Commonwealth Government embarked upon the biggest infrastructure investment programme in our nation’s history, with a $50 billion infrastructure package that is improving road and rail links in every state.
“Investing in the right infrastructure will support Australia’s economic growth and unlock our economic potential.”
And he added: “Our Asset Recycling Initiative is freeing up states to invest in a range of productive infrastructure.”
Mr Abbott also made a plea for co-operation.
“All levels of government need to work with the private sector to build more and plan to deliver innovative congestion-busting projects that eliminate traffic gridlock and transform our cities,” he said.
“The Commonwealth Government has delivered on our election commitment to rebuild Infrastructure Australia into a more robust and independent authority to facilitate smarter infrastructure investment and delivery by governments and the private sector.
“Later this year, we will release Infrastructure Australia’s 15 year plan which will outline our infrastructure priorities to ensure we build a stronger and more prosperous future.
“The Commonwealth invites the states and territories to support the development of this 15 year plan, because Australians want governments to work together to make their lives and their transport systems better,” Mr Abbott said.
A copy of the audit is available at:http://www.infrastructureaustralia.gov.au/
by Alan Thornhill
Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey have been blitzing radio and television today, to sell their second budget to the public.
The Prime Minister told the Seven Network that the government wanted small business operators to get out and spend – responsibly – to take advantage of the tax breaks the government is now offering those who do.
He was asked about that by his interviewer, David Koch.
Koch said:Ok, a couple of things – you want small business to go out and spend.
Mr Abbott replied: “Responsibly.”
Koch persisted, asking:”Yeah – responsibly, of course. Go out and spend from today, anything under $20,000, you get an immediate write off?”
Mr Abbott replied:”That’s correct.”
Meanwhile the Treasurer told the ABC:”We want to grow the economy, grow jobs, provide incentives for small business and for families to get out there and have a go.”
He said:”…. there are new growth opportunities for small business.
Some of the biggest companies in the world today started as a small business only a few years ago.
“If you look at the Facebooks or Uber or Airbnb or AliBaba, they were tiny businesses a few years ago,” Mr Hockey said.
by Alan Thornhill
There can be no room now for doubt about the importance of national myths.
Not after the huge turn-outs we saw, on ANZAC Day, marking the centenary of our invasion of Gallipoli.
Yes, it was ill-judged.
A military disaster.
But it has become an occasion for reflection, too.
The most eloquent, perhaps, dates back to 1934.
It was the work of Mustafa Kemal, now better known as Atatürk.
In a tribute to the ANZAC troops who died at Gallipoli in 1915, he wrote:-
“Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives … You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side here in this country of ours … You, the mothers who sent their sons from faraway countries, wipe away your tears; your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well.”
These words are inscribed in the Kemal Atatürk Memorial, on Anzac Parade, Canberra.
Very few of the estimated 120,000 Australians who turned out in Canberra for the Dawn service on ANZAC day, would have seen that inscription.
Not in that stormy weather last Saturday,
Those words are particularly poignant now, though, with fresh contingents of ANZAC troops being sent to the Middle east.
Not to fight this time.
But to train the “Mehmets” – in Atatürk’s words – to fight each other.
There has to be a better way.
One analyst was asked, in an ABC interview last week, if anything good ever came of war.
His reply was both unhesitating and surprising.
“Big government,” he said.
That was certainly true, in Turkey’s case.
Mustafa Kemal was born Salonika, which is now Thessalonika, Greece.
He pursued a military career with the Turkish Army in Syria.
As a member of the Young Turk revolutionary movement which deposed the Sultan in 1909, he took part in the war of 1911–1912 against Italy in Libya.
He returned to Gallipoli in 1915 as commander of the 19th Division, the main reserve of the Turkish Fifth Army, and opposed the Anzac landing in April 1915.
Kemal was to be Turkey’s first president, when that country became a republic in 1923.
His vision of Turkey, as a modern nation, was realised.
During Kemal’s 15-year rule, many sweeping political, legal and socio-economic changes were made.
Modern Turkey had been born.
In 1933, Kemal said:”I look to the world with an open heart full of pure feelings and friendship”.
In 1934, he accepted the title “Atatürk,” which means “father of Turkey,”
Last week, the Prime Ministers of Australia and Turkey announced that they will unite in the fight against terrorism.
Tony Abbott, was in Turkey to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the landing of Australian soldiers at Gallipoli, when that announcement was made.
The Australian PM said he – and his Turkish counterpart – Ahmet Davutolu had agreed to enhance bilateral cooperation to counter terrorism, tackle terrorist financing and mitigate threats from foreign fighters.
“Turkey is on the front-line in the fight against DAESH and plays a crucial role in these efforts,” Mr Abbott said.
He said, too, that Australia welcomed Turkey’s renewed efforts to prevent young people from using Turkey’s border as the entry point to joining DAESH and other terrorist organizations through tougher border controls and increased information sharing.
“Both parties underlined the importance of identifying and stopping foreign terrorist fighters travelling to conflict zones, at their country of departure,” he added.
Perhaps big government has its uses, after all.
Especially as the current alternatives, in the Middle East, are far from enticing.
by Alan Thornhill
Joe Hockey wants Australia’s financial services sector to become a major exporter.
The Treasurer made that clear while opening the Australian Stock Exchange’s Customer Support Centre in Sydney today.
He said the financial services industry is already the second-largest industry in Australia after health.
“I have absolute confidence that the financial services industry in Australia could become a great exporter, delivering financial security, financial advice, financial services more generally, to the growing consumer class of Asia.
“We’ve got the skill set, we’ve certainly got the sophistication, we’ve got the right regulatory regime and, looking around us, we have the tools.”
In GDP terms, it is bigger than minerals and resources, Mr Hockey said.
Yet it represents only a fraction of our exports.
“And as I’m going to point out in the Budget speech in a couple of weeks’ time, Australia is on the cusp of its greatest ever opportunity.”
“Services represent 70 per cent of our economy but only 17 per cent of our exports,” he said.
“We’re privileged to bear witness to the greatest transformation of the most number of people in the history of humanity in our region.
“And because the world is now divided into three time zones, and we are in the fastest-ever growing region,” Mr Hockey said.
He said 2 billion people in Asia would enter the middle class in Asia over the next 30 years.
by Alan Thornhill
“These people arrested today are not people of faith, they don’t represent any culture,” the Victorian Premier, Daniel Andrews, said.
A fascinating observation.
And on a case that promises to become even more intriguing, in the weeks and months ahead.
The reference, of course, is to the weekend arrests of five men, including two 18 year olds, said to be planning a violent attack on ANZAC Day celebrations in Melbourne, next Saturday, to disrupt those ceremonies.
Assuming that all is as it seems to be, this poses very deep questions.
If not faith – however misguided – what is it that drives young men like Sevdet Besim to involve themselves in plots like that?
Besim is the only person, so far, to be charged over this alleged plot, although police are also holding another teenager in custody, without charge.
Obviously, there is much more of this story yet to be told.
But that question is not easily dismissed.
The two central figures in this affair are only 18.
Still a year short of the age of the Vietnam war soldier at the heart of the 1983 Redgum hit, “God help me, I was only 19.”
That soldier, at least, had a reason for going to Vietnam.
He had been conscripted by a government, which had made the second worst military decision it is possible to make.
That is getting involved in a land war in Asia.*
Those on both sides of the Crusades – and the present Middle East wars that have descended from them – know – only too well – that religion can be a very powerful motivation for armed – and other – conflict.
Despite Mark Twain’s cynical comment that “faith is believing what you know ain’t so.”
But what if the erudite Victorian premier is right – and our young plotters aren’t “men of faith.”
A sense of alienation?
A lack of acceptance into Australia’s less than perfect multi-cultural society?
There is, of course, another possible back-story to all this.
The two young men – at the heart of this alleged plot -are said to have been followers of Abdul Numan Haider, at the Al Furqan Islamic study centre in South Springvale.
Haider was shot and killed by counter- terrorism police last September.
None of these things, though, would come close to justifying plans anything like those said to have been involved here.
Even if we add the powerful natural passions, that so often arise in our teenage years.
However, the trials, over coming weeks and months, will – nevertheless – be well worth watching.
They might, after all, teach us lessons about ourselves that we have, so far, been unwilling to face.
So keep watching.
* Foot note (The worst, according to the late Kim Beazley senior, is “to invade Russia in winter.”That’s a fascinating story. Remind me to tell it, some time).
by Alan Thornhill
This coming week is likely to be uncomfortable for some of Australia’s top executives.
They will be facing the Senate Economics Committee, at hearings in Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne.
The Committee – one of the toughest in the business – will be conducting “an inquiry into tax avoidance and aggressive minimisation” by companies registered in Australia or just trading here.
The hearings follow weekend reports that just 10 companies channeled more than $30 billion out of this country last financial year, mostly to tax havens overseas.
These executives do have friends in the Federal Treasury, where senior economists believe Australia’s corporate tax rate – at 30 per cent – is both uncompetitively high and expensive to collect.
Some have even been talking – in public – of cutting that rate to zero.
They would prefer to see the necessary revenue collected through a higher goods and services tax, instead.
But that idea is not wildly popular.
However the Tax Office – which will be watching this week’s Committee proceedings very closely – is having none of it.
It noted, in a submission to the Committee, that “while most corporates pay the tax they are required to under Australian law,” others do not.
The ATO identified these as “Some private groups linked to complex group structures.”
It said they:” display more aggressive tax behaviours and characteristics.”
And it added: “Some multinational enterprises engage in complex profit shifting structures.”
The ATO then said:” These present tax avoidance risks threaten the level playing field of business.”
The tax man has a message for all who travel down that path.
It might be summarised as: “We’re watching you.”
Those listed to appear before the Committee, on its first day of this week’s hearings, on Wednesday in Sydney include Ms Maile Carnegie, the Managing Director of Google in Australia and New Zealand, Bill Sample, Microsoft’s Corporate Vice-President (Worldwide Tax) and Tony King, the Managing Director of Apple Pty. Ltd. in Australia and New Zealand.
Steam is already escaping.
Google, for example, has been a favourite target of the Treasurer, Joe Hockey, when he is talking of tax minimisation, through profit shifting.
He has, reportedly, been considering a “diverted profits tax” to tackle international profit shifting.
Even though the independent Parliamentary Budget Office has warned that such a tax – which some are already calling “a Google tax” – risks breaking Australia’s international tax treaties.
Google has clearly been stung, by this kind of talk.
It’s submission, to the Committee, strikes a distinctively defensive note.
It says many countries, including advanced economies, compete for investment adding:-
“Google is exactly the kind of innovative, risk-taking company that many governments are seeking to incentivise, through their tax regimes.”
That includes Australia.
“Australia incentivises investment through its R&D tax credits,” the IT giant said.
Google doesn’t, exactly, add:” So no more snitchy comments, then!”
But some will – undoubtedly – read something very like that into its submission.
Rupert Murdoch’s global conglomerate, News Limited, is also keen to be seen to be pulling its weight, tax-wise.
It has presented a table to the Committee showing that its “actual tax paid – including withholding tax” amounted to an impressive $417.3 million over its past five income years.
But doubts persist.
One broadly based organisation, United Voice, for example declared in its submission to the Committee that:” well known brands such as Apple, Google, IKEA and Chevron have become the public face of corporate tax avoidance.”
It said this had prompted a number of positive responses, including the formation of the Committee’s inquiry.
And, of course, Joe Hockey’s announcement of an audits into ten foreign multinationals operating in Australia.
This should be an interesting week.
by Alan Thornhill
The Federal government is seeking submissions on Australia’s next greenhouse gas emissions reduction target after 2020.
In a statement today, the Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, said:” we are determined to reduce emissions – but without a carbon tax and without destroying jobs.”
He said all countries have agreed to propose their national post-2020 emissions reduction target before the United Nations climate change conference in Paris in December 2015.
“This government is committed to tackling climate change through direct action measures and will announce Australia’s post-2020 emission reduction target in mid-2015,” Mr Abbott said.
“Today, the Government has released an issues paper inviting views on the post-2020 target.
“The issues paper provides the context for setting Australia’s post-2020 target and the key considerations that will inform the Government’s decision-making process.
“We recognise the importance of consulting widely on this issue, and the views of the Australian community will be considered in setting the next target,” he added.
Mr Abbott said the issues paper and further information on the submissions process can be found at www.dpmc.gov.au.
by Alan Thornhill
The Federal government sought to reassure Australians today that there will be no repetition of the Germanwings air disaster in this country.
The Deputy Prime Minister, Warren Truss, said:” “As a government, we have pulled together our aviation agencies, including the Office of Transport Security within my Department and the Civil Aviation Safety Authority, to immediately review security regulations and procedures.”
He said, in a statement today: “Some Australian airlines already have in place procedures for two people to be on the flight deck at all times.
“In Australia, airline pilots are psychologically tested as part of their recruitment process.
“Pilots must also undergo at least annual medical, including mental health, checks under Civil Aviation Safety Authority licence requirements.
“We are in close discussions with the airlines about the practicalities of what more can be done to safeguard passengers from those who would seek to do harm.
“Australia’s aviation safety regulations already take a preventative, layered approach to security,” Mr Truss said.
” We are now reviewing those protocols to see if they can be enhanced further.
“It is vital to be sure that any proposed new procedures do not create new safety risks.
“Together, I am certain the Australian Government and industry can respond in a measured and practical way to protect the travelling public,” Mr Truss added.”
German prosecutors say the co-pilot suspected of deliberately crashing a Germanwings airliner into the French Alps last week hid details of an illness.
Torn-up sick notes were found in the homes of Andreas Lubitz, they say, including one for the day of the crash, which killed 150 passengers and crew.
Weathercoast by Alan Thornhill
A novel on the murder of seven young Anglican Christian Brothers in the Solomon Islands.
Available now on the iTunes store.
Alan Thornhill is a parliamentary press gallery journalist.
Private Briefing is updated daily with Australian personal finance news, analysis, and commentary.
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