Connected communities: how Australia’s social capital declined, and what we can do to rebuild it - Speech
Connected communities: how Australia’s social capital declined, and what we can do to rebuild it
Address delivered to the Municipal Association of Victoria’s ‘Future of Communities: Power to the People’ National Conference
Manal Kassem had chosen the inner city of Sydney for her wedding photoshoot, but she was a little hesitant. It was Saturday 20 December 2014, and during the week a lonely gunman, brandishing an Islamic flag, had taken eighteen people hostage in a nearby café. After a lengthy standoff and a final gunfight, two were left dead.
In the wake of the Martin Place siege, Manal Kassem feared she would be judged. A Muslim bride from Punchbowl in Sydney’s West, she would be wearing a white hijab at her wedding and inner city photoshoot.
Rather than cancelling or relocating the big day, she chose to offer a gesture of respect to the country in which she hoped to raise her children.
As soon as the wedding ceremony finished, she and her groom ventured to the Martin Place memorial, where she laid her wedding bouquet alongside the other floral tributes.
As the onlooking crowd applauded, Martin Place – not long earlier the site of one of Sydney’s greatest tragedies – seemed to transform into a symbol of our connectedness. A multicultural Australia was united to collectively mourn the loss of lives in Martin Place.
But was this scene unusual? Are we always this connected? Our sense of community spirit is strengthened in moments of tragedy or triumph, but does it also exist in the trivial?
MATTER OF PUBLIC IMPORTANCE
HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES,CANBERRA
THURSDAY, 20 AUGUST 2015
Recently scientists have been exploring a creature known as the sea squirt. It is a fascinating creature. It is a simple creature whose job in life is to try and locate a place on the sea floor, where it will sit and feed for the remainder of its life. It takes a little while to discover that place, but once it does, it begins absorbing parts of its body. It absorbs its tail, its eye, its spine and, finally, it eats its brain. That’s right, the sea squirt gets to where it wants to be and then eats its own brain.
I am sure I not the only one in this House who, when I hear about the sea squirt, starts to think about the history of the Abbott government. They had a brain that was devoted to getting where they needed to be and, once they gained power, they just ate their own brain.
SPEECH TO THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY’S NATIONAL CONFERENCE
MELBOURNE EXHIBITION AND CONVENTION CENTRE, MELBOURNE
SUNDAY, 26 JULY 2015
Friends, in the past year we have seen the strongest possible demonstration of Labor’s enduring values in action.
In their first Budget, the Abbott Liberals attempted to cut pensions by $23 billion over the coming decade. They attempted a cut that would have left 3.2 million Australian pensioners worse off. They attempted to shut older Australians out from sharing in the growing prosperity of this country in the years ahead.
What did we do? We stood as one and said no. We stood as one to protect the pension, just as we have since the Fisher Labor Government first wove this enduring safety net for our old in 1909.
Labor people – men and women – joined with communities across Australia to say no to these cuts and no the Abbott Government’s mean and meagre vision for retirement.
DIGITAL CANBERRA iAWARDS
SKILLS FOR THE FUTURE WE CAN’T PREDICT
Thank you to Suzanne Campbell from the Australian Information Industry Association for inviting me to be with you tonight, and to iAwards team for putting together such a great event. I’ve just come from a day up on the Hill with my parliamentary friends and foes, trying to find solutions to the very concrete and prosaic challenges that are right in front of us. Because of that, it’s very exciting and energising to be amongst a group of people who have their eyes lifted instead to the digital and technological horizon.
Predicting what lies ahead in that future is a notoriously risky business. William Preece from the British Post Office proved that back in 1876 when he confidently asserted: ‘the Americans have need of the telephone, but in England we do not. We have plenty of messenger boys.” I might try telling my sons that when they get to the age where they start asking for iPhones.
LAUNCH OF THE FINANCIAL SERVICES COUNCIL NATIVE TITLE STANDARD
PARLIAMENT HOUSE, CANBERRA
Thank you to Aunty Matilda House for that very fitting welcome to country, and thanks to Sally Loane and the Financial Services Council for inviting me to share in today’s launch. I acknowledge the Minister for Indigenous Affairs Nigel Scullion, and also my counterpart and occasional sparring partner, Assistant Treasurer Josh Frydenberg. All political sparring gets put aside when we come together to mark worthwhile initiatives like the one the Financial Services Council is launching today, and particularly when we do so during National Reconciliation Week.
A little while ago I was reading some research done by the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies, on the experience of Indigenous communities managing their native title rights once these have been recognised in Australian law.
With taxes, we build society
Speech to the Deloitte Tax Symposium
Eight score years ago, about 45 kilometres south-west of where we meet today, people gathered for a conversation about tax. Many of the features of that conversation would be familiar to us here today. Fairness was a key theme, passions were running hot and the debate was political at its core. Not everything was the same though, at the end of my remarks we’ll conduct a civil question session, and have a chat over pastries and coffee. The earlier conversation ended quite differently, with gunfire, bayonets and the death of at least 27 people.
I’m talking of course of the Eureka Rebellion of 1854, the ground zero of Australian tax debate. The source of the anger that led to the Eureka Rebellion was the taxation of miners through a licence, levied regardless of the profitability of a claim. The licence fees were collected by an often corrupt and brutal police force, representing a government that in the view of the miners was failing to provide the infrastructure to support a booming population.
So while I’m sure that Deloitte probably had the boutique spas, fine restaurants and local wines more at the top of mind when they chose Daylesford for this conference, it is apt that we’re meeting here in the heart of the Victorian goldfields for the Deloitte tax symposium.
We’re often tempted into lazy nostalgia for an era of easy reform in Australia that never was—a wonk arcadia where tax policy is made with bipartisan support and electoral glee. It’s good to remind ourselves that tax has always been controversial and that while the dispassionate practitioners in this room might wish it were different, tax is political.
I’d like to speak briefly today about where I think tax reform is up to currently in Australia, my views on ways forward and finally an update on the opposition’s tax policy process. I’m going to keep my remarks relatively free of political commentary, but tax is inherently political. I trust you’ll understand if at times I sound a little less like the economics professor I once was, and a little more like Labor’s Shadow Assistant Treasurer.
Remarks to the 2015 NATSEM Post-Budget Forum
Parliament House, Canberra
It's a real pleasure to be here with some of my favourite economics thinkers – Michelle Grattan, Saul Eslake, Ben Phillips and Arthur Sinodinos - and at an event organised by NATSEM at the University of Canberra. Some of you may know that last year, perhaps due to an unfortunate printing error, the Family Impact Statement was left out of the Budget. That meant that we couldn't observe some of the analysis that had been possible going back to Peter Costello’s era. Fortunately, Australia had NATSEM and they were able to conduct some vital analysis on the distributional impacts of last year's budget which made up for the accidental printing error, and helped spark a national debate around fairness.
I wanted to speak firstly today about the things I like in the Budget. Given that there's no person I like more on the Coalition side than Arthur Sinodinos, it seems churlish to start a conversation about the Budget without talking about the things that I think are good in the package. There is the National Disability Insurance Scheme IT upgrade. There’s investment in the Australian Bureau of Statistics which will be going towards an IT upgrade there as well. So long as that isn't accompanied with cuts to the bureau's surveys, that will be important too. I also like the instant asset write-off. It's a policy that aims to encourage investment, recognising that what you want to do with tax cut that change behaviour is to work on the margin. We had an instant asset write-off under the previous government which was scrapped for by this government. My only concern about the new one is that it's only there for two years. What will happen when it suddenly finishes?
Why should we care about inequality?
The 2015 Economic and Social Policy Public Lecture
University of Wollongong
Dutch economist Jan Pen once suggested a simple way of visualising the extent of inequality in a society. Imagine, he suggested, a parade, in which each person’s resources were represented by their height.
Suppose we were to conduct such a parade in Australia. People of average wealth would be average height. Those with half the average wealth would be half the average height. Those with twice the average wealth would be twice the average height.
Let’s suppose the parade took an hour to pass you. What would you see?
For the first half a minute, people would be literally underground. These are the people with more debts than assets. Perhaps they are homeless, but have credit card debts. Or they are a business owner about to go bankrupt.
Then would come the little people. For the first few minutes, they are no bigger than lego figures. They might have some clothing and a television, but little else. By the ten minute mark, people are the size of a child’s doll. They might own an old car.
Twenty minutes have gone by, but still the marchers are no taller than a newborn baby. Most probably don’t have regular work – they might have odd jobs, or be reliant on the pension. Few would dream about them – or their children – breaking into the central Sydney property market.
It’s now half an hour. The watchers are getting bored. Heights aren’t rising much. Are we really only halfway through the parade?
Getting off Struggle Street - how we can tackle Australian inequality
Speech to the Financial Counselling Australia Annual Conference
Thank you to Lauren Levin, Fiona Guthrie and all the friends at Financial Counselling Australia for inviting me to share in your conversation today. Lauren was the one who first made contact with me about this conference, and her email really grabbed me from the opening line. Never before have I received an email that began: ‘It is most unusual to be de-funded and still continue with a major conference.’ So when I received that email from Lauren, of course I couldn’t resist saying yes to speaking today.
I understand that only today there has been some good news, and FCA has now secured funding to cover your work for the next two years. The Abbott Government has made quite a habit of changing its mind recently, but I’m very glad that in this case it has had such a good outcome. I’m sure that this reversal was in no small part due to the powerful advocacy of Carmel Franklin from CARE Financial Counselling in the ACT. Those of you who know Carmel will know that she’s a strong and consistent voice speaking on behalf of your sector and the Australians you work with.
An 'app-ier' future for our cities?
Speech to Urban Taskforce Australia
You might not be familiar with the names Michael Nuciforo and Robert Crocitti, but they’re the kind of blokes you want to have around when you’re trying to solve a tricky problem. They’re the creators of ParkHound, an app that lets you find and hire private parking spaces in busy metropolitan areas. They decided to start the company after circling around East Melbourne on the hunt for parking near the MCG before an AFL game.
As they tell it: “We drove past parked car after parked car, after….empty space that required a parking permit. There were dozens of empty garages and driveways right near the ground. It then hit us. Wouldn't it be great if we could just knock on someone’s door and ask to park at their place for a small fee? The more we thought about it, the more it made sense. We don’t need more parking spaces, we just need to utilise the parking spaces we already have.”
ParkHound is just one of dozens of new app-based services that have sprung up recently in the so-called sharing economy. While the kinds of services offered differ, fundamentally they all link people who have surplus goods to those who can make use of them.
As the father of three young boys, the word “share!” comes out of my mouth pretty frequently. Unlike the kind of sharing I’m trying to teach them, money usually changes hands in the sharing economy. But the transaction happens directly between the provider and the consumer, with the companies themselves simply offering a platform for connecting people and collecting payments.
In thinking about the rise of services like ParkHound, AirBNB, and yes – the controversial Uber – it strikes me that the sharing economy has great potential to help us address some of the big challenges our cities face. As Australia’s cities continue to grow, issues like congestion and the use of space are becoming increasingly urgent. The mounting pressure on our built environment puts the people who live in it under pressure too – as all of you Sydneysiders would well know.