Brian Howe on revisiting Henderson, poverty and basic income

February 12, 2018

How to increase wages and tackle inequality are live political and economic debates. Many Australians are feeling the cost-of-living squeeze.

Speaking ahead of a conference in Melbourne this week to revisit the landmark Henderson inquiry into poverty, conducted in the 1970s, former deputy prime minister Brian Howe says the targeted nature of Australia’s contemporary social security system goes hand-in-hand with stigmatising welfare recipients.

Howe, a minister in the Hawke and Keating governments, says a universal basic income scheme “topping up” the resources of unemployed and low-income workers would provide them with much-needed confidence and dignity. He is especially concerned about the difficulties and vulnerability of young people trying to get a start in the labour market.

Howe also urges a rethink on housing and home ownership, including more public housing and a combination of public subsidies and private investment for affordable housing and rental schemes.

“Access to housing becomes a major cause of poverty, that’s why Henderson had two poverty lines – one a general poverty line, and then a housing costs poverty line,” he says.

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Mark Dreyfus on refining foreign interference legislation

February 7, 2018

Introduced in the final hours of sitting last year, the government’s foreign interference legislation have been criticised for being too broad and draconian.

Shadow attorney-general Mark Dreyfus says Labor acknowledges the need to do more about espionage activity and foreign influence in Australia but argues changes need to be made to the “hastily” and broadly drafted bill.

On the security legislation, he says despite a narrow defence journalists risk being sent to jail for handling classified information. He also expresses concern about the bill prohibiting foreign based charities from doing advocacy work.

Dreyfus says the foreign register is “much needed” and the foreign donations ban is a step in the right direction but the threshold for disclosing political donations needs to be drastically lowered.

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Bill Ferris on Australia’s innovation mission

February 1, 2018

Innovation has been a buzzword of Malcolm Turnbull’s government, but the public reception of this message has been less than enthusiastic.

Innovation and Science Australia chair Bill Ferris launched a report this week setting out a plan over five key areas – education, industry, how government can be a catalyst for change, research and development, and culture and ambition – that seeks to put Australia into the top tier of innovation nations by 2030.

Ministerially, the innovation area has had much churn, with five ministers since Turnbull became prime minister. Ferris acknowledges this has meant losing some continuity but is pleased with the dramatic increase in venture capital supply under initiatives that have been launched.

Education, he says, is key to the blueprint – it’s a complex area requiring “a cocktail of things” to be tackled. This includes a change in the way that industry supports schools, and an urgent review of the VET sector, which has suffered from educational snobbery.

In industry policy, Ferris says there is a pressing need to rebalance business incentives to use more direct incentives to ensure Australia is competitive. He also says the government’s announcement to increase defence exports should focus on innovative products.

The blueprint also includes proposals to improve the commercialisation of research, a quest of successive governments.

Then there is the matter of moonshots – big ideas that would make Australia stand out – such as promoting genomics and precision medicine to help make “Australia the healthiest nation on Earth”.

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John Blaxland on new foreign interference laws

December 6, 2017

The government’s new foreign interference laws propose broad changes to political donations, counter-surveillance, and lobbying in Australia.

ANU professor John Blaxland has some real concerns about the unintended consequences of the legislation for academic debate. He says there’s a real chance that good people engaging intellectually with issues might get caught up in the broader crackdown.

On the controversy surrounding Sam Dastyari’s dealings with a Chinese businessman, Blaxland says its been a “sobering” lesson for politicians but we needn’t be overly worried about this particular instance. “When we expect a conspiracy it’s usually just a stuff up.”

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Matt Canavan on divorce in the LNP and discipline in the Coalition

November 30, 2017

The Liberal National Party's loss in the Queensland election has sparked demerger discussions, while at a federal level it has emboldened the Nationals to take a more independent line.

Nationals federal cabinet minister Matt Canavan, who is a Queenslander, doesn't agree that breaking up the LNP would solve any problems politically: "you can't unscramble the egg."

Despite being an opponent of a royal commission into the banks, Canavan says the government's change of tune to support it demonstrates the strong ability of National backbenchers to push their agenda.

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Greens Jordon Steele-John on being an ‘accidental’ senator

November 15, 2017

New Greens senator Jordon Steele-John is the youngest person ever to sit in the senate.

He was sworn in this week with two other 'accidental' senators who are the gainers from the citizenship crisis.

He talks to Michelle Grattan about coming to Canberra for the first time since he was a baby, his political passion, and his commitment to promote his causes - youth and disability issues.

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Swinging into the Sunshine State’s election

November 9, 2017

The pundits are reluctant to place bets on who will win Queensland's November 25 election, with Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk and Opposition leader Tim Nicholls both carrying a good deal of baggage. A lot of attention is focused on Pauline Hanson's One Nation, which has been polling strongly and might end up with the balance of power in the new parliament.

The Adani coal mine project has been centre stage early in the campaign, with the Labor government saying it would veto any financing from the federal Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility (NAIF) for the venture's rail line.

During two days in Brisbane Michelle Grattan spoke to Griffith University political scientist Anne Tiernan, Deputy Premier Jackie Trad, Shadow Treasurer Scott Emerson, Queensland One Nation leader Steve Dickson and The Courier Mail's national affairs editor Dennis Atkins.

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Kevin Rudd on avoiding Donald Trump

October 30, 2017

Not for the Faint-hearted, the first volume of Kevin Rudd’s massive autobiography is out, and the former prime minister is on the promotion circuit. Rudd now spends much of his time in America, where he is president of the Asia Society Policy Institute in New York, and keeps a close eye on the unfolding Trump presidency.

He argues Australia should minimise direct engagement with Donald Trump in favour of dealing with “sane people” in his administration. “Assume that this will be a passing phase in American politics, it may not be … sit and wait in terms of what happens in three years time.”

In the interim China is benefiting from the unorthodox presidency: “Take for example Trump’s appallingly irresponsible decision not to attend the East Asian summit in Manilla which is upcoming, instead conceding the ground totally to China.”

On matters closer to home, ‘Kevin from Queensland’ says the strength of One Nation in the Sunshine state is “formidable”, yet despite Pauline Hanson riding a populist wave she is “all criticism, all critique, with no solutions.

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Energy Security Board chair Kerry Schott on a national energy plan

October 26, 2017

The government’s long-awaited energy plan has rejected Chief Scientist Alan Finkel’s Clean Energy Target, which focused on subsidies for renewables, in favour of a National Energy Guarantee (NEG). The government has promised affordability and reliability, as well as compliance with Australia’s international climate obligations.

Energy Security Board chair Kerry Schott headed a group of energy experts charged with developing a scheme, the details of which are now being modelled.

She says the states and territories will have a degree of flexibility in how they legislate on emissions reduction targets. “Depending on where their emissions target, is that will dictate within their region what reliability they need.”

Schott, who is also a director of NBN Co, said she acknowledges it is “not 100% perfect”. But she is confident it is financially viable. On consumer unhappiness, she said: “We do take these complaints very seriously and are working on correcting it.”

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Tiernan Brady and Cory Bernardi reflect on the marriage postal ballot

October 19, 2017

There are still a few weeks left to run in the same-sex marriage postal ballot campaign, and millions of votes are yet to be returned – or not returned.

With 67.5% of ballots now in, Equality Campaign executive director Tiernan Brady says the high turnout shows the importance of a “yes” vote to people’s lives and dignity.

He says tyranny of distance in Australia has made campaigning difficult, compared to his experience during Ireland’s marriage referendum.

Despite criticism of what some saw as invasive tactics, Brady describes the efforts made by the “yes” campaign as largely positive and respectful. However, he admits there have been unfortunate incidents and “clowns” on both sides, but that they were largely “on the fringe”.

On the “no” side, Australian Conservatives senator Cory Bernardi is unwilling to concede defeat. He praises the “grassroots movement” and “rockstar” mums and dads.

On the Abbott factor, he says high-profile “no” voters have been “very effective”.

If the “yes” vote wins, Bernardi foresees a few contentious debates over protections for religious freedoms and freedom of speech. “If the government is serious … they won’t embrace the [Liberal senator Dean] Smith bill.”

Bernardi’s party has benefited somewhat from the same-sex marriage debate: he estimates his party now has the third-largest membership in Australia.

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