Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Sydney without an airport — welcome to the fantasy world of the Greens

By Anthony Albanese, Labor Party spokesman for infrastructure, transport, cities and tourism

One of the advantages of representing a minor political party is that because you aren’t trying to win government, you never have to deliver on your promises.

But that fact should not excuse politicians from minor parties from offering genuine, workable solutions to policy challenges facing the community.

Increasingly, minor parties in this country and overseas are crafting opportunist and negative election positions rather than proposing solutions.

So it is with the Greens and their approach to the commonwealth’s plan to build a second Sydney airport at Badgerys Creek. The NSW Greens oppose the development of the Badgerys Creek airport, but they also want to close the existing Kingsford Smith airport and build a new airport at an imaginary, unnamed site outside the Sydney basin, which they would connect to the city by high-speed rail. If this were put in place, Sydney would be the only global city without an airport. It’s the stuff of fantasy. It has no place in the world of serious policy debate. Yet this has been Greens policy for the whole of this century.

One on one, realistic Greens party members acknowledge this is not practical. Yet the policy remains and enables the party to campaign for zero impact of aviation activity anywhere, despite the fact modern aviation is a driver of economic activity.

The community has the right to expect that serious parties come to the table with ideas capable of implementation, not just complaints.

Regrettably, the Greens have given up serious participation in the decades-long debate about Sydney’s aviation needs.

They have not been prepared to step back from the local political ­angles, to consider the bigger picture and the broader economic and strategic national interest.

The Badgerys Creek airport will create thousands of jobs for the people of western Sydney. It will provide a huge boost not only for the economy of NSW but for the entire nation. The issues involved require ­serious consideration from ­politicians.

Before the Abbott government’s decision to proceed with construction of the Badgerys Creek airport, the former Labor government examined whether there were other options. The research identified the only possible alternative airport site at Wilton, but it was a higher cost and an inferior site to Badgerys Creek, where the Hawke Labor government had already purchased the land and put in place strict environmental controls.

The Greens opposed Wilton, too. In the light of this, their proposal to banish Sydney’s airport to an unnamed site and to link it to the city with a high-speed rail line cannot be taken seriously.

The comprehensive study into the plan to build a high-speed rail line from Brisbane to Melbourne via Sydney and Canberra found that 67km of tunnelling in Sydney would be necessary for it to operate. It’s a serious project worthy of support. But, like any major infrastructure project, high-speed rail would affect communities along the route. Tunnels require ­exhausts. Construction creates ­inconvenience.

Delivering high-speed rail, just like building the Badgerys Creek airport, will require explanation of the benefits and broad support across the political spectrum.

Indeed, it is likely that the challenges of high-speed rail construction will create issues over a far wider area than the second airport.

In short, it will require political representatives to act on principle rather than seek to exploit local communities’ fear of change for political gain. Given the Greens’ record on opposing a second Sydney airport, opposing the Moorebank Intermodal, which will take freight off trucks and on to rail, as well as ­opposing safety upgrades to the Pacific Highway, it would be remarkable if they did not confect reasons to oppose high-speed rail in practice.

When it comes to economic infrastructure, the Greens are political opportunists.


Labor fears it is losing urban strongholds is behind the push for homosexual marriage

THE battle for the inner city is on with Labor and the Greens engaged in a combat the Liberals can only sit back and watch — and enjoy.

This is this battle powering the coming debate over marriage equality at Labor’s national conference in July. The inner city troops want a bound vote in Federal Parliament; others want to keep the conscience vote.

The push for a binding vote on gay marriage is being led by shadow foreign minister and party deputy leader Tanya Plibersek, and in many quarters is being seen as part of a leadership bid.

It is being seen as an attempt to draw a clear demarcation line between herself and leader Bill Shorten. This interpretation is rejected by Labor MPs on both sides of the bound-vote debate.

Tanya Plibersek’s ambitions are not for the party leadership but for leadership by the party in what are called progressive issues. Most prominent is gay marriage.

She and others, usually of the left, believe Labor has retreated from that leadership and handed it over to the Greens, who have capitalised on the gift in federal and state elections.

In the March NSW elections the Greens took two inner Sydney seats — Balmain and Newtown — having been expected to lose the one seat it held, Balmain.

In the November Victorian elections the Greens won their first seats in the State Assembly — Melbourne and Prahran — and had a total of five in the Upper House, thanks to a 11.5 per cent primary vote.

Prahran was taken from the Liberals but it was the ALP which was most alarmed. It had already lost the federal seat of Melbourne to the Greens.

There is no suggestion Ms Plibersek will be watching the Greens’ inroads on her own vote in the federal seat of Sydney, as will left colleague and Labor front bencher Anthony Albanese in Grayndler. Both electorates have a significant gay constituency.

Sympathy for the Plibersek position tapers off the further out you get from the CBD. In western Sydney and country areas it all but disappears.

One slightly amused observer of the inner city battle would rather the ALP took what he considered to be a realistic view of its inner city holdings.  “You can’t outflank the Greens by going to the left. Labor might just have to give up on these seats,” said the veteran observer with ALP links.

The irony is that at least two Labor front benchers who previously voted against gay marriage have changed their positions and would support it in a vote. But only in a conscience vote.

A third former opponent to marriage equality is about to announce his switch, following Chris Bowen and Ed Husic. Both could help swing a marriage equality victory in Parliament, but are against being bound on it by the party platform.


Early Learning Association Australia  congratulates the Commonwealth on making the right call to support preschools

The Federal Government has made the right call in deciding to continue its funding contribution to 15 hours of quality early learning a week for all children in the year before school.

The Commonwealth has guaranteed that it will provide $840 million over two years to help meet the cost of providing 15 hour preschool programs in 2016 and 2017.

“ELAA congratulates the Prime Minister, Tony Abbott - and Ministers Christopher Pyne and Scott Morrison - on this decision, which has long been called for by parents, educators, service providers, academics, and peak bodies across the early childhood education and care sector,” said Mr Shane Lucas, CEO of ELAA.

“The Commonwealth provides around one-third of the money for 15 hours of preschool and this announcement gives parents and service providers certainty for the next two years, so that is great news.”

Since 2013, Federal funding has enabled the delivery of 15 hours of quality preschool programs for children in the year before school.

“The research is clear: a minimum of 15 hours of quality early learning per week in the year before school is critical to the development of young children,” Mr Lucas said.

“The Productivity Commission inquiry into childcare and early childhood learning also came to this conclusion - as have parents and service providers who see the real outcomes for children.

“This funding also provides families with a subsidised, affordable, quality early education and care option, which helps parents participate more actively in the workforce prior to children starting compulsory education.

“But we don’t think children and families should be stuck in a funding battle between Canberra and the States every year - or every two years.

“At least 15 hours of quality early learning is great for children, helps parents participate in work and study, and should be supported by all governments - now and into the future.”

Press release

‘This is a blatant rip-off of the taxpayer’: Training colleges facing audit of ‘predatory’ pricing

THE federal government says it is willing to consider a wide-scale audit of training providers to weed out rorting of the $1.6 billion VET FEE-HELP loans scheme with inflated course fees.

It comes as evidence emerges of massive pricing discrepancies between fee-for-service and VET FEE-HELP courses being offered by a number of registered training organisations (RTOs), with taxpayers forking out up to 400 per cent premiums to line the pockets of training companies with government loans, many of which will never be repaid.

The deregulation of the VET FEE-HELP scheme has led to a massive increase in for-profit, private education providers and an industry-wide decline in quality.

According to the Education Department, just over one quarter (26 per cent) of students who enrolled in VET FEE-HELP courses in 2011 finished within three years. Completion rates for online diplomas were abysmal, with just seven per cent of students completing their course.

The government bill for VET FEE-HELP loans blew out by $315 million last year to $1.615 billion, representing 189,000 students at 254 training providers.

Modelling by the Grattan Institute estimates 40 per cent of those loans will never be repaid as those students’ income will never rise above the repayment threshold of $53,000, meaning taxpayers will wear that cost.

According to a University of Sydney study, some of Australia’s largest RTOs are raking in profit margins of more than 50 per cent off of these loans.

Under the deregulated system, private training colleges are free to set their own fees. In effect, they have been handed a blank cheque from the Australian taxpayer.

In a perversion of a ‘pay what you want’ honour system, it’s become ‘charge whatever we can get away with’, critics argue. All the RTOs have to do is get students to sign up and keep them hanging around until the first census date, and the bulk of money goes straight into their pockets.

Under the Higher Education Support Act 2003, the government does not regulate tuition fees, but under the law a VET provider cannot charge different amounts for the same course based on whether the student pays upfront or through the VET FEE-HELP system.

However, a investigation has uncovered examples of RTOs apparently circumventing this restriction by operating under separate business names.

Two Cairns-based RTOs are both owned by the same man and operate out of the same business address. One, which is approved for VET FEE-HELP, charges $12,750 for a Diploma of Management. The other, which sells courses direct to students, charges just $3420 for the same diploma, for which much of the course material appears to be identical. A number of other diplomas are offered at different rates.

Asked to explain the pricing discrepancy, the owner told the “journey of study and learning” was “quite different” for students of the two RTOs.

“They are two separate Registered Training Organisations (RTOs). Some qualifications are offered by both, and descriptions will be similar as like most RTOs reference is made to the Training Packages for this information,” he said. “The journey of study and learning is quite different for students from each of these RTOs.”

He added that each RTO had a different learning management system and curriculum. “Students studying under the VET FEE-HELP loan scheme receive a more comprehensive and frequent support, mentoring and training service which are not available to the other students,” he said.

“These services are available to students upon access to the course they are enrolled into. It is also supported by a strong administration team, due to VET FEE-HELP procedures.”

In Sydney, a similar discrepancy exists between courses offered by two separate training providers owned by the same company, trading under the same RTO registration number.

One provider offers a Diploma of Business for an upfront fee of $7000. The other charges $14,800 for its Diploma of Business — delivered online — under the VET FEE-HELP scheme.

The company did not respond to requests for comment.

One industry insider, who did not wish to be named, said many RTO owners were “laughing in the government’s face”. “Back in 2013, these RTOs were all just starting to apply for the VET FEE-HELP program,” he said.

“I was talking to these directors, and they were all saying to me, ‘We’re going to be doing these VET FEE-HELP courses and we’re increasing our prices.’ I was thinking it’s just bloody unethical. This is just a blatant rip-off of the taxpayer and the government.

“The taxpayers have a right to know how much money has been wasted on this program and how much money has been paid to these RTOs and their brokers.”

While the industry regulator, the Australian Skills Quality Authority, has been given new powers to issue fines for a number of infringements, it does not have the power to regulate the fundamental issue of pricing.........

The regulator is currently investigating 23 private colleges — including six from Queensland, seven from NSW and six from Victoria — over allegations of unscrupulous sign-up activity. Businesses found to be in breach of fair trading laws face fines of up to $1.1 million and a cancellation of their registration.

An ASQA spokesman said the investigations were “underway and ongoing”. understands an outcome is expected in coming weeks.


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