Sunday, April 1, 2012

Liveable cities

How liveable is Adelaide?
Recently the Sunday mail trumpeted that Adelaide was regarded as the most liveable city in Australia.
Fortunately we do not need to worry about that accolade for the government has a plan - the 30 year plan no less.
The 30 year plan is designed to ensure that Adelaide is not to be left behind in the growth stakes.
The objective is to grow the population - every one knows the more people you can cram into the driest state on the driest continent the better off we all will be.
Adelaideans can visit our future today - just go to any of the big cities of the world. Take a deep breath and suck in the smog - that is progress in your nostrils!
Visit as rush hour and watch as the traffic inches along at a snail's pace - see the blank faces of the people on the busses and trains as they spend 2 hours a day or more getting too and from work.
Watch the aircraft disgorge their daily cargo of fresh food and vegetables - see the trucks in their endless quest to keep supermarket shelves fully stocked.
See farm land turned into housing estates.
That is the future that Adelaideans will have and no doubt we will still be saying that we are living in our most liveable city.
I guess it is a life of sorts - the sort of life that a terminally ill patient has on life support - all that is required for a careless cleaner to unplug the machine to plug in the vacuum cleaner and we will shrivel up and die.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Mayo Campaign

One of the reasons I have been silent for the past few days is because I have been up to my eyeballs in working on the Mayo Campaign.
Bill Spragg is well known in the Adelaide Hills but as an independent standing on a policy of Stopping Population Growth he still faces an uphill battle getting enough people to make the switch from one of the major parties to an independent candidate.
We have string team of locals who are keen to make sure he makes a splash. Firstly there are those people who are directly affected by population growth - people in the Mount Barker Council area who will be asked to pick up the costs for increasing their population by about 30,000 - they can see at first hand the price of population growth. Even if there were no financial implications a few have done their sums and realised that the extra pressure on the free way will mean that they will need leave earlier home and get back later to try and avoid the rush hour.
Then there are the Hills growers - they apparently have lost the battle to stop the importation of Chinese apples and pears but decisions can be reversed. A strong showing by Bill in those areas that traditionally vote Liberal will set alarm bells ringing in party headquarters.
Our real challenge is to get people to understand that voting for Bill is a good strategic move.
Australians really do not fully understand the preference system. (It would help if it was taught at school but sadly many teachers do not understand it either!)
It really is quite simple. Under a preferential system your vote is never wasted - if your first choice does not win then your second choice will be considered.
On election night the objective is to end up with two piles of votes - one for the successful candidate and the other for the runner up.
So as there are a total of eight candidates standing in Mayo what will happen in the count that two of these candidates will end up with all the votes cast.
Closer to the election I will try and describe in greater detail how the voting system works.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

skill shortages

As usual Richard Dennis hits the nail on the head - before we blindly accept the need to promote skilled migration consider what he has to say on the subject...

Wouldn't it be great if rising demand on the health system led to an automatic increase in the health budget? Wouldn't it be great if an increase in demand for peak-hour trains led directly to governments providing more of them? Wouldn't it be great if governments responded to citizens need for services in the same way they respond to employers demands for more immigration.

Australia has, we are told, a skills shortage. Presumably developing countries have much better education systems than ours as they, it seems, have a skills surplus. Does it seem a little bit weird that so many people from the rest of the world want to come to Australia for an education but, at the same time, so many Australian employers would prefer to employ people with skills obtained overseas?

Does it seem strange that developing countries are better able to train doctors than a country like Australia? This does not mean that doctors from other countries should not be free to come to Australia if they wish to, but the idea that we have a shortage of doctors and other countries have a surplus is just absurd. The reality is that Australian governments have decided it is cheaper to let other countries invest in training and for us to poach them.

There is another way to describe a skills shortage. It's a bit old fashioned but it is time someone dug up the old chestnut. A skills shortage can also be called a pay shortage. When demand for waterfront properties rises so too does the price. When demand for hotels increases during school holidays so too does the price. But when demand for skilled labour rises don't mention the price of that labour.

There are, of course, exceptions to this rule. High paid executives, for example, have had to suffer from quite a bit of wage inflation in recent years. Their talents are, we are told, in short supply. And who can forget the mining boom in which workers' pay has risen steadily - but you don't hear many people arguing that high wages have killed the mining boom. On the contrary, high wages are the main benefit Australians are said to have received from the boom.

Employers will no doubt be appalled at the suggestion that the response to the 'skills shortage' might be for them to pay higher wages or, god forbid, invest in some training of their own. "It will cause inflation," they will say, or "it will make us uncompetitive". There is of course something they won't say: "it will reduce my profits".

Profits have been rising steadily in Australia for decades. Indeed, the share of GDP that goes to corporate profits has risen from 16 per cent to 24 per cent since the mid 1970s. At the same time, the share of national income going into the pockets of employees has fallen from 58 per cent to 48 per cent.

The incessant calls for an increase in skilled migration have drowned out genuine debate about the causes of any so-called 'skills shortages' and the range of policy options available to address them. Employers could do what they used to do and invest directly in the training of young apprentices. Governments could once again employ and train tens of thousands of apprentices themselves and then release them into the labour market. Or higher wages for skills that are in short supply could be used to encourage more young people to invest their own time and money in acquiring the skills that are paying a high return.

But rather than have a genuine debate about whether industry or government could be doing more to invest in the training of our young we are simply told there is no alternative but to import those skills from overseas. Rather than have a debate about whether the wages we pay for aged care workers and nurses is high enough we are simply told that it would be uncompetitive to pay them more.

Australia is a country of immigrants. We have always been, and should always be open to new citizens. We should be particularly welcoming of those who seek to enter our country because they have been forced to flee their own. But support for openness to immigration should not come at the price of having to remain silent about the size of our population.

Unlike the demands for more immigration from big business, Australian governments, state and federal, have found it easy to resist the demands for more hospitals, more nursing homes and more public transport.

Big business loves rapid population growth for the simple reason that they profit from having more potential customers. Governments seem to love rapid population growth because they benefit from having more taxpayers. But neither big business nor government wants to invest in the essential infrastructure that all those extra customers and taxpayers require. While the 'benefits' of a big population accrue in the form of profits and budget surpluses, the costs are borne by those stuck waiting in traffic, waiting for a hospital bed or waiting for a seat on the train.

The fans of rapid population growth are effectively saying that if lots of people come then we can build the infrastructure after they get here. I would take them more seriously if they said that they were so keen to have more people come that they were willing to build the infrastructure first.

Dr Richard Denniss is Executive Director of The Australia Institute, a Canberra-based think tank.

food security

Could Australia lose control of its food resources?

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Australian Broadcasting Corporation

Broadcast: 26/07/2010

Reporter: Andrew Robertson

There are fears that Australia's ability to feed itself and export to other countries is at risk to foreign investors buying prime land.


TICKY FULLERTON, PRESENTER: Australia is a country that easily feeds itself and, through our food exports, tens of millions of people in other countries as well.

It's something which we take for granted, but there are those who believe that as the world's population increases, Australia risks losing control of its food resources.

Already foreign interests are increasingly looking to Australia to expand their food production capabilities through the purchase of prime agricultural assets and it seems at this stage there's little that can be done to stop it.

As part of a multimedia special involving ABC's News Online and Radio National's Background Briefing, Andrew Robertson has prepared this report.

ANDREW ROBERTSON, REPORTER: In a country as steeped in farming as Australia, food security is not a hot-button topic, but according to experts who've studied the issue, such as University of Technology's Professor Julian Cribb, the clock is ticking.

JULIAN CRIBB, UNI. OF TECHNOLOGY, SYDNEY: It is more important in my view than the global financial crisis, because you can do without money at a pinch, you can't do without food. It's probably more urgent than the global climatic issues, because they're gonna take a long time to build up in the background. This is something that is gonna happen within a generation.

ANDREW ROBERTSON: In his new book, The Coming Famine, Professor Cribb paints a bleak future of a planet where food is in very short supply. The world's population is tipped to hit nine billion by 2050 and 11 billion just 10 years later.

Food production will need to double, but many countries will be left behind, particularly those like China, which is already feeling the strain of feeding its current inhabitants.

JULIAN CRIBB: Well I once asked that question to some Chinese academics, I asked them what the carrying capacity of China was in the long term, and they said they thought about 640 million people. And this is against a peak population in China of the order of 1.6, 1.8 billion people. So for a period of time, China is going to have to feed probably around about three times as many people as it can carry in the long run.

ANDREW ROBERTSON: According to Professor Cribb this shortage of food is going to have serious implications for countries like Australia.

JULIAN CRIBB: Australia has always had foreign ownership of some of its food assets, but in time to come, as countries become more and more nervous about their own food security, we will see much increasing emphasis on trying to acquire Australian food assets.

ANDREW ROBERTSON: The evidence suggests that process is already underway. Just this month, Singapore-based Wilmar outbid China's Bright Foods to buy CSR's Sucrogen sugar division. At $1.6 billion, that deal is being heavily scrutinised by the Foreign Investment Review Board, but others are not.

An increasing number of prime Australian farms are being purchased by overseas companies. For example, Victoria's largest land sale this year was the transfer of the Mount Elephant station in the west of the state to a company in Sweden.

The Packer family has sold 17 properties to a British private equity firm. The American pastoral giant Westchester has played $40 million for properties at properties in Moree in New South Wales and Glenfine in Victoria, whilst a company registered in Bahrain is running its eye over the vast Cubbie Station in south-east Queensland.

Bill Heffernan is the chairman of the Senate inquiry into food production. He shares Professor Julian Cribb's concerns about the surge in foreign investment in Australian agricultural assets.

BILL HEFFERNAN, CHAIRMAN, INQUIRY INTO FOOD PRODUCTION: We're asleep in Australia to the fact that a lot of places round the world such as China, India and the Arab states are looking at where they're gonna be in 40 or 50 years' time and they're making provision now for their food task in the future.

ANDREW ROBERTSON: Which according to Bill Heffernan eventually could see Australian farmers becoming tenants in their own country.

BILL HEFFERNAN: Because we are an attractive destination for safe capital investment, we will lose control of our destiny to outsiders and the worst of that will be government outsiders.

ANDREW ROBERTSON: A look at the Tasmanian dairy industry provides some salutary insights.

JIM HURSEY, DAIRY FARMER: It's actually costing us to go to work. We're actually going to work, doing our job and at the end of the day, we're getting a bill for doing our job! How many people do you know that do that? No one.

ANDREW ROBERTSON: In the Apple Isle, dairy farmers have had enough. Their industry is dominated by two foreign-owned companies - New Zealand's Fonterra and Japan's Kirin. Milk prices at the farm gate have been slashed to the point where farmers say they can no longer make a profit.

GLENYS FURZE, DAIRY FARMER: We've been milking 25 years and our farm is really our super fund, like a lotta farmers. And we're just seeing that going down the drain.

ANDREW ROBERTSON: For Bill Heffernan, it's a classic case of how Australians can be the big losers when foreign investment is allowed to go unchecked.

BILL HEFFERNAN: I chaired the milk inquiry in Tasmania as well, you see? Took evidence down there, and like 26 cents a litre. Can I tell you your viewers that this is a con job on farmers?

ANDREW ROBERTSON: The irony is that although foreign investment has contributed to the plight of Tasmanian dairy farmers, for many of them, foreign investment could also be the only hope of escape.

With no Australian buyers coming forward for their farms, estate agents are hawking them overseas. One agent alone has 40 farms she's trying to sell in China.

GLENYS FURZE: No-one wants to see our farms sold out to another country. There's not one of us wanna see that. But what do we do? Do we sit back with our hands tied and go broke and lose everything?

ANDREW ROBERTSON: The answer for many people connected with agricultural industries is for Australia's foreign investment laws to be tightened.

TICKY FULLERTON: And in the second part of our investigation tomorrow night, we'll be examining the New Zealand model, which could provide the answer to this growing problem.

For more detailed coverage on the battle for control of Australian farmland, you can visit ABC News Online at

Monday, July 26, 2010

Population and Farming Coalition to Challenge in Mayo

A meeting of Mayo electors unanimously agreed to nominate Bill Spragg as the independent candidate for Mayo to provide electors an opportunity to register their concern about population growth and food security.

“The revised population policy announced by Prime Minister Gillard spells disaster for Mount Barker. “ said Bill Spragg.

“Essentially that policy falls into line with both the Greens and the Coalition in arguing that the real concern with population growth is the provision of adequate infrastructure.”

“There is not one party that has a coherent policy on food security as evidenced by the decision to allow the importation of Chinese Apples and Pears and thus threaten the viability of Adelaide Hills Growers.

“We are witnessing the product of over thirty years of neglect – Paul Keating argued that he aimed to allow cheap imports to give urban dwellers access to a wide range of cheap consumer items.

“This policy has continued unabated under both the Liberal and the Rudd/Gillard Labor government.

“It is important not just to reserve land for agriculture but to ensure that the opportunity for farmers to make a living is not put in jeopardy by government policies.

The voters in Mayo will have a unique opportunity to send an unambiguous message to both the Labor and Liberal Party. They are in effect invited to participate in a referendum on population growth and food security. By voting 1 Bills Spragg and then allocating their second preference to either Labor or Liberal they will be sending a powerful message to both the Coalition and Labor.

Written and Authorised By John Tons Lot 10 Edwards Hill Rd Lenswood 5240

Friday, July 23, 2010

population SA

Good news in todays press. At last the Advertiser has decided to highlight the fact that South Australia's forward planning is driven by the need to meet the interests of the developers.
The Labor Party has benefitted from the more generous donations made by the developers and now it is payback time.
The government by releasseing more land for development will enable the developers to increase their profits - never mind that the benefits to developers will be funded by additional costs to the community as a whole. Never mind that the rush to promote population growth will in fact have a negative impact on our economy.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Hanson and migration

All sides of politics appear to be agreed that:
  1. A big Australia is not a good thing
  2. Stopping or reducing migration is not a good thing
  3. Filling up regional centres (ie anywhere other than the East Coast conurbations) is a good thing.
Good politics bad policy.
To win government you need to win the majority of seats in the major cities - the areas that are already bursting to capacity. So you adopt a not in my back yard (nimby) approach. Nimby politics makes sense - it creates a win/win situation in the big cities - they do not want more people so they are opposed to population growth - you have catered for their needs.
Then there is the concern that stopping migration might be racist - so you allow migration but put them in regional Australia - you can now oppose population growth in part of Australia without having to explain why stopping or limiting migration is not necessarily racist.
The other benefit is that by no means all people in the regional centres are opposed to population growth - there are many small communities that would love to have more people so that they have the critical mass to keep their local bank, school, doctor and post office.
So it is easy to see why all three parties are rushing to embrace the soft option and advocate population growth in regional centres.
Good Politics bad Policy.
Why is it bad policy?
  1. Some regional centres (by no means all) can do with a greater population but perhaps it is time to make hard decisions. Which communities are genuinely viable? If they are potentially viable then there is the need to develop programmes that encourage internal migration.
  2. We need to bury the idea that stopping migration is necessarily racist. Hanson was not opposed to migration but opposed to the sort of people who were coming in. Until we have some real idea of how many people can live on this continent we should be calling a halt to all migration other than asylum seekers.
  3. Not one of the parties has joined the dots between depletion of natural resources (eg peak oil), climate change, growth economics and population. Good policy demands that we develop a strategy for making the transition to a low carbon , renewable economy. That strategy will dictate what sort of population numbers are genuinely sustainable.