Monday, November 16, 2020

Calls for 'class quotas' in Young Labor to bolster party's blue-collar ranks

What an air-headed proposal! How would it work? Are they going to get working class kids by the collar and drag them along to Labor party meetings?

That most young Labor members are kids from affluent families going to elite universities, means that it is hard to see how anything could change. The plain fact is that conservative parties now have most appeal to the workers. That is particularly seen in the USA where Trump mopped up most of the working class vote

Youthful inexperience still does ensure that most young people do vote Leftist but it is unlikely that that tendency will flow through to party membership. The cultural climate in meetings dominated by rich kids would leave most working class kids very uncomfortable

Labor must fill its ranks with more working-class young Australians and TAFE students to help it reconnect with suburban and blue-collar voters, the head of an ALP-aligned think-tank says, proposing a major overhaul of the party's youth wing ahead of the next election.

The federal opposition has been plagued by infighting during the past 18 months over attempts to turn around its electoral fortunes following three successive poll defeats and to balance its climate change credentials with attempts to win back its traditional base.

Nick Dyrenfurth - executive director of the John Curtin Research Centre - says the party should introduce new quotas for Young Labor (representing ALP members aged between 15 and 26) to recruit and retain more non-university students into its ranks.

Dr Dyrenfurth, who was the ALP's national policy forum secretary between 2016 and 2019, said there had been no effort to recruit "actual working people" such as tradies, assembly-line workers, train drivers, cleaners, retail employees or plumbers into the party's membership.

He said the narrowness of the party's membership had contributed to the cultural problems and electoral weakness at the federal level.

"Labor was once a working-class party that needed middle-class votes to win elections; it has since become a university-educated, socially-liberal, white-collar party that needs blue-collar, non-tertiary educated, precariously employed votes to win," Dr Dyrenfurth writes in The Tocsin, the centre's quarterly publication.

Young Labor draw upwards of 95 per cent of its members from university campuses, mainly from the top-ranking institutions he writes, and not from the 72 per cent of non-tertiary degree holding Australians.

Dr Dyrenfurth wants a Young Labor membership ratio of one-third university students, one-third TAFE and vocational students and one-third young workers not studying by 2022.

"Such an approach would bolster the role of Labor's affiliated trade unions, which currently shoulder the load in keeping the party connected to its working-class base but find themselves all too often ignored by an arrogant parliamentary wing," he writes.

"Too many Labor MPs and especially its young activists look and sound the same as their ostensible Greens rivals: university-educated, socially liberal and likely non-religious or atheist, and destined for white-collar, higher-income secure work, living in the inner-cities."

Former Labor minister Craig Emerson, who now chairs the ALP-aligned McKell Institute, backed Dr Dyrenfurth's idea but with some reservations.

"The idea of getting more young people from working class backgrounds is fine and quotas have been effective in the past, especially in relation to getting more women into Parliament," he said.

"But I don't think that it's a good idea to tell university students they are [worth less] ... A lot of university students come from working class backgrounds. There are a lot of first-in-family university graduates and I wouldn't want to be signalling to working-class kids who want to go to university they are less valuable [to Labor] for doing so."

Emma Dawson, executive director of progressive think tank Per Capita, said she agreed with the aim of broadening the party's membership but quotas were not the way to get there.

"It's really important the Labor Party remains a labour party, but you can't coerce people into joining a political party," she said.

"The key thing is to devolve some of that decision making and some of that gatekeeping and listen more responsively to what people need, and that's different in different parts of the country."

Long-time frontbench MP Joel Fitzgibbon quit shadow cabinet this week after 18 months of disagreement over climate and energy policy, which he said had alienated its blue-collar constituency and cost it millions of votes outside capital cities.

He said the party had provided too much focus on progressive issues while ignoring its traditional base and the policies that working people need to "help them meet their aspirations and the aspirations for their families".

Labor's post election review found the party had moved to address political grievances of a vast and disparate constituency during its time in opposition and warned working people experiencing economic dislocation would lose faith if they do not believe the party was responding to their needs.

Low-income workers swung against Labor at the May 2019 election with the review finding its ambiguous language on the Adani Carmichael coal mine in central Queensland, combined with anti-coal rhetoric, devastated its support in the coal mining communities of regional Queensland and the Hunter Valley.

But it found higher-income urban Australians concerned about climate change swung to Labor, despite the effect Labor’s tax policies on negative gearing and franking credits might have had on them.

Labor's assistant climate change spokesman Pat Conroy said on Friday the party could only govern when it unites it two bases of working class Australians university educated, progressive voters. "We're at our best when we represent both of those groups," he said.

An Australian miner's woman visits him onsite

It's wonderful how much happiness males and females can bring to one-another. Can homosexual couples have such joy? Rarely, I imagine. Males and females are born to be attractive to one another. Male/male couples are not

Running on empty: Oil refineries at breaking point as world grinds to a halt

From the dawn of the lockdowns, Australia's biggest cities virtually shuddered to a stop. Busy streets were all but deserted, the roar of traffic dulled to a whisper.

Few scenes drove home the scale of the disruption more than silent freeways and empty skies, so the fuel slump that followed was destined to be severe. Petrol usage in the June quarter fell 26 per cent. Aviation fuel crashed 80 per cent.

It's been a temporary breath of fresh air for the environment, with transport emissions down sharply as a result. But for Australia's oil refineries – plants that process crude oil into fuel products – this is a moment of reckoning. The deepest and fastest demand crash in decades is reverberating through the industry, pushing oil refineries to financial breaking point. One has already announced it is closing down for good - BP's Perth refinery, the country's largest. The three that are left are at risk of closing too. Thousands of well-paid jobs are hanging in the balance.

"We are losing one refinery. We do not want to lose a second or a third," says Ben Davis, Victorian branch secretary of the Australian Workers Union. "The announcement at BP … sent a shudder down our collective spines."

Across the nation, mobility restrictions are gradually easing and cars are returning to roads, even in the worst-hit state of Victoria where a hard, second-wave lockdown lasted 111 days. But the crisis for oil refineries is far from over.

The three plants remaining – Viva Energy's Geelong refinery, ExxonMobil's in Altona and Ampol in Brisbane – have all dramatically slowed their fuel output in the face of severe oversupply. All three are bleeding multimillion-dollar losses, with their refining margins under enormous strain. Viva Energy, for instance, reported a third-quarter margin of $US2.30 a barrel, down from $US2.90 in the first half and $US6.60 a barrel on average in 2019.

While some petrol demand is returning, it is tipped to stay below pre-pandemic levels for much of the foreseeable future. Jet fuel, meanwhile, is recovering far slower than previously expected as planes remain grounded and borders shut. And there is a growing realisation across the industry that less air travel could be here to stay.

Viva is conducting a review of its 65-year-old Geelong refinery, weighing options including its permanent closure, after losses spiralled to nearly $80 million. At the Brisbane refinery, the situation is even worse, with losses blowing out to $141 million. Ampol has told investors it is also considering closing down its Brisbane refinery and converting the site into a fuel-import terminal.

"Frankly, it’s a very challenged industry, full-stop," says Mark Samter, an energy analyst with MST Marquee.

"These are not idle threats by companies … These are wildly, wildly unsustainable numbers. If you leave these to the free markets, none of them survives."

The pressure on oil refiners is being felt around the world, but Australia's plants are considered at an even greater risk, Samter explains, because facilities here are much smaller and the costs to run them generally far higher. Three Australian oil refineries have closed in the past decade, as the local sector's dwindling fleet of ageing, smaller facilities has proved unable to compete with newer, cheaper mega-refineries being built in Asia.

The significance of a country's ability to continue making its own transport fuels, and the desire to keep its sizeable manufacturing workforce employed, has not been lost on legislators.

The Morrison government has been leading discussions with refiners for months, working to develop a rescue package including a 1.15¢-a-litre payment for locally made fuel in a bid to keep refineries open "wherever commercial possible". The federal budget also contained measures to buffer Australia against potential supply shocks caused by global events such as wars or pandemics, including a $200 million-plus investment in a competitive grants program to develop new onshore diesel storage and increase stocks by 40 per cent.

In Victoria, the Andrews government is mulling ways to support the state’s two refineries, and is in talks over a potential co-investment in an expansion of the Geelong site, according to government and industry sources, who asked not to be identified as the discussions were confidential. The proposal is to expand the 65-year-old refinery site into an energy hub with LNG import capability alongside refining.

Angus Taylor, the federal Energy Minister, says maintaining local oil refining capability offers Australia significant fuel-security benefits and must not be overlooked. "Stockholding plays a role and will continue to play a role, but refining has the added advantage of much longer-term fuel security in the worst possible scenarios," he tells The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.

Union representatives for refining workers agree. "Australia's capacity to make its own fuel cuts to the heart of our viability as a sovereign nation," AWU national secretary Daniel Walton said following BP's closure. "If we can't independently fuel our trucks, our farmers, and our defence industry then we leave ourselves incredibly vulnerable."

The biggest concern inside the industry now is when the support package will start being delivered. "Timing is of the essence," says Samter, as it has become plainly clear the initially proposed six-month time-frame may be too long to avoid plant closures and job losses.

While the discussions are continuing, the federal government and refiners are working towards rolling out the production payment early in the new year. "We are committed to fuel security, doing everything we can to protect those important jobs," says Taylor.

"We know how challenging a time it is for the refineries. We understand the urgency."

Australia accused of discouraging electric vehicles

Australia could become a parking lot for the world's petrol vehicles unless drivers are encouraged to buy more electric vehicles, industry and experts say, as prices for the cheapest electric models here can be double what they are overseas.

This year an estimated 4400 electric vehicles were sold in Australia, a mere 0.6 per cent of total car sales in that time.

University of Queensland research fellow Jake Whitehead said Australia had become a "pariah" in the eyes of manufacturers of electric vehicles because there were no major incentives to encourage consumer uptake, while other countries set ambitious goals and generous incentives to drive the switch from petrol and diesel engines.

"We are down the path to becoming a dumping ground and my fear is it will become worse," Dr Whitehead said.

The US and EU and other markets set a quota for the volume of carbon dioxide that can collectively be emitted across the fleet of a manufacturer's internal combustion engine cars. This is not the case in Australia, meaning manufacturers could choose to run out their end-of-line petrol models here while they ramp up sales of electric vehicles in more attractive markets.

"Manufacturers are in a situation where they have to make a choice where around the world they send their limited production. Australia is a risky choice compared to the US and UK, where the vehicle is sold before it hits the dock," Dr Whitehead said.

The five cheapest electric models available in Australia cost between $44,000 and $64,000 and are expensive compared to the cheapest petrol models – which start at less than $15,000. The cheapest EVs in the UK and US sell for about $30,000.

The federal government is working on an electric cars policy that will focus on infrastructure like charging stations and support for research and development into new technology.

"We are backing a range of technologies, not picking one winner. This follows our 'technology not taxes' approach to reducing emissions," Energy and Emissions Reduction Minister Angus Taylor said.

Many major manufacturers are planning to phase out petrol and diesel engines, and major markets including the UK, Japan, France and Germany will ban their sale between 2025 and 2030 – while the USA offers a $7500 tax rebate for electric vehicles.

The Electric Vehicle Council said running costs are low compared to petrol cars with virtually no engine maintenance and electricity costs equivalent to less than 40 cents a litre of fuel.

South Australia this week said it would target electric vehicle owners with a road user charge to make up for the loss of fuel excise revenue, which contributes to road infrastructure. NSW Treasurer Dominic Perrotet said he was considering bringing in a similar tax next year.

The Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries, which represents manufacturers of all vehicle types imported into Australia, "condemned" road user charges for only electric cars and called for a "sophisticated discussion" on long-term tax reform.

The chamber's chief executive Tony Weber said a new tax system to evenly distribute charges across all vehicle types could be based on road user and congestion charges.

"This seems to be a reactionary move by state government that focuses on revenue, where it needs to focus on all the costs and benefits of policies," Mr Weber said.

"(Electric vehicles) offer economy wide benefits, including improved health outcomes, and will make a major contribution to improving our environmental scorecard for the benefit of future generations."

Mega free-trade deal a lifeline for Australia-China relations

Australian businesses, universities and healthcare providers will be given access to 14 countries in the largest free-trade deal ever signed, as the federal government attempts to turn the new trading bloc into a circuit-breaker in its spiralling trade dispute with China.

Following eight years of highly secretive negotiations, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership will be signed on Sunday after agreements were reached across the $30-trillion market by Australia, China, Japan, Korea, New Zealand and 10 members of the Association of South-East Asian Nations including Indonesia and Vietnam.

The Australian government will use the European Union-style trade bloc in the Indo-Pacific to pull China back into multilateral negotiations and end trade disputes that have hit a dozen Australian industries and threatened $20 billion of exports.

"The ball is very much in China's court to come to the table for that dialogue," Trade Minister Simon Birmingham said.

The Australian government will use the trade pact to meet with Chinese ministers once in-person meetings resume next year. The Chinese Communist Party has frozen contact with Australian ministers since the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak after multiple disputes over an independent inquiry into the origins of the pandemic, Hong Kong and the South China Sea.

Senator Birmingham said the RCEP was the world's largest free-trade deal, representing 30 per cent of global GDP and 30 per cent of the world's population. It is the first time major trading partners China, South Korea, Japan and Australia have joined together in one agreement, reducing the reliance on a patchwork of bilateral deals.

"It's a hugely symbolically significant agreement, coming at a time of global trade uncertainty," Senator Birmingham told The Sun-Herald and The Sunday Age. "It says in a really powerful and tangible way that our region, which has been the driver of global economic growth, is still committed to the principles of trade, openness and ambition."

Senator Birmingham called on China to honour the spirit of the new trade pact. "It is crucial that partners like China, as they enter into new agreements like this, deliver not only on the detail of such agreements, but act true to the spirit of them," he said.

He said Australian businesses in the services sector would benefit most from the deal, which will recognise qualifications and licensing practices, while allowing them to operate remotely and set up offices throughout the RCEP region.

The sector includes education, healthcare, accountants, engineering and legal service providers, and employs four out of five Australians while accounting for up to 70 per cent of Australia's GDP.

"It will make it much easier for what is a huge part of Australia's economy, to trade overseas," Senator Birmingham said. "Given the rise of the middle-income groups across many RCEP countries, there is a rising demand for more of those safe, high-quality health, education and other services that Australia is well placed to deliver."

The deal will also strengthen supply chains with common rules of origin and establish new e-commerce rules across the region.

The RCEP has been marred by years of bitter disagreement over tariffs and market access. It has missed five deadlines since discussions began in 2012.

Trade negotiators have been frustrated by India's reluctance to let go of agricultural subsidies for its highly protected and politically influential farmers and manufacturers, which fear an influx of Chinese products. Tariff changes have largely been left out of the deal as a result, leaving little benefit for Australian agriculture producers.

The 15 nations decided to sign the deal on Sunday without India, inserting a clause instead that will allow it to join at a later date.

The Australian Council of Trade Unions has raised concerns about the secrecy of the deal and warned foreign labour market access could cost local jobs.

Trade expert Jeffrey Wilson, from the Perth USAsia centre, said given the global protectionist headwinds, including trade disputes between China and Australia, "RCEP will be the most important regional trade agreement ever signed". "It will remake the economic and strategic map of the region," Dr Wilson said.

Australia’s relationship with China has deteriorated this year after multiple trade strikes rattled the seafood, timber, resources and agricultural industries. Senator Birmingham said the ongoing series of disruptions were "deeply troubling".

He said Australia would not "trade away its values" and called on China to make the first move to repair ties, after Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said last week that it was up to Australia to "face up to the root cause" of the dispute.

Mr Wang said Canberra had stigmatised China by accusing Beijing of political infiltration, “blatantly interfering in its internal affairs” in Hong Kong, Xinjiang and Taiwan, and "putting wanton restrictions on normal co-operation".

Senator Birmingham said RCEP would provide a platform to bring countries together. "I think these are times of tension between the two great powers and the more we can use the existing architectures for dialogue be at an economic or security level, the better," he said.

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said on Friday that the signing of RCEP would send "a clear, strong, positive signal for advancing regional integration and economic globalisation".

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has spoken with regional counterparts for the ASEAN-Australia Summit and revealed a host of multimillion-dollar aid packages and initiatives. They include a new office in Myanmar's capital Naypyitaw, an expansion of the defence network across all countries within ASEAN and $104 million towards the region's security needs, including military education.

Mr Morrison committed $21 million to help fund a new public health emergency centre as part of Australia's $500 million three-year commitment to ensure coronavirus vaccines are available across the Pacific and south-east Asia.

Another $24 million was pledged to help with AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria, while $232 million was announced to support development along the Mekong River.

"Australia and ASEAN are partners in the challenges we face, with south-east Asia’s economic and health recovery critical to our own," Mr Morrison said.




No comments: