Stop selling off our country

Year after year, more and more Australian land is being sold off to foreign owners.

Not only are we losing ownership over our land, but the economic prosperity that eventuates goes overseas too.

Take the Ord River for example. It’s 320 kilometres long, situated in the Kimberley region of Western Australia. In the late 1930s, work began on a massive irrigation project, which included the construction of Australia’s largest artificial lake by volume, Lake Argyle, in 1971.

The Ord River project has the potential to be a major agriculture precinct, with its proximity to Kunanurra and Wyndham providing access to airport and port facilities respectively.

By 2009 more than 60 different crops were being grown in the Ord catchment area, and the Rudd Government and WA Premier Colin Barnett announced a development plan for the area, with plans to develop the community and infrastructure including upgrading Kununurra Airport and the port at Wyndham.

What happens next is very sad indeed. Just late last year, Chinese company Shanghai Zhongfu won the bid for 15,000 hectares of prized Ord River agricultural land.

So now the Chinese will come in, grow food and ship it back to their country. Obviously, there is no problem with China feeding it’s people. But why don’t we have an Australian owned agricultural company exporting to China instead?

That’s 150 million square metres of prime agricultural land that Australia no longer owns. And another lost opportunity to grow exports and strengthen our economy.

But it’s not just in the north.

In Australia’s south-western Wheatbelt region, the Chinese are buying up land there too.

Heilongjiang Feng Agricultural is said to want to buy and lease over 100,000 hectares to grow grain for export to China, according to a report in The West Australian in November last year.

The company already spent over $52 million acquiring farmland in the Great Southern and Wheatbelt regions in October-November last year.

Farmers in the eastern states will tell you the same story, of foreign companies buying up prime agricultural land in those areas too.

How is Australia ever going to grow, flourish, and develop if our leaders can’t do much more but sell off our country?

This brings me the the Democratic Labour Party’s policy on foreign ownership. The DLP believes that:

“no majority foreign owned entity or individual may own more than 2 hectares of Australian land”

It may sound extreme. But it’s a policy Australia desperately needs.

Oh, and if you thought it’s just prime agricultural land being bought up, you’re wrong. More and more residential property is being bought by overseas investors, making it harder for Australians to own their first home…

You can read the DLP’s statement on foreign ownership here. 

 

 

By Vince Stefano

To invest in universities is to invest in our future

Earlier this year, the Federal Government announced cuts of $2.8 billion to the expected funding for student support and universities, already on top of a $1 billion in cuts announced late last year.

 

I don’t know about you, but to me it really makes no sense.

 

According to OECD figures, our public investment in universities ranks just 25th out of 29 advanced economies. Meanwhile, the strongest nations in our region are investing more and more in universities to drive skills, science and research.

 

That is, nations in our region are investing into their best resource – their minds – while we are going in the opposite direction.

 

As a student at RMIT University where I recently completed an undergraduate degree, I became well aware of the financial situation. RMIT’s primary analysis suggested that the funding cuts would cost the University more than $25 million over the next four years.

 

Even with the government’s promise to maintain indexation, the massive reductions have made the framing of future budgets increasingly difficult, as RMIT is still carrying the effects of cuts imposed on higher and vocational education in 2012.

 

Australians have the potential to transform our economy and indeed the world.  Despite having less than 0.3% of the world’s population, we account for over three per cent of the world’s scientific research output.

 

The Bionic Ear, Black Box Flight Recorders, spray-on skin for burns victims and WiFi are just some Australian innovations that come to mind.

 

Who do you think drives the innovation behind such products and services and industries? Our universities.

 

Furthermore, the Australian Workforce Productivity Agency found that each extra one dollar invested in tertiary education grows the economy by $26 and grows tax revenue by $8. I really can’t think of any public funded investment which pays itself off better than investment in tertiary education.

 

To invest in universities is to invest in our future.

 

I don’t understand politicians. I don’t think most people do. But to me it’s clear: the Federal Government needs to stop cutting and start investing more into our tertiary education.

 

 

 

By Vince Stefano

Full time carers are ending up in poverty – it’s about time we fix this

There are over 500,000 unpaid primary carers in Australia.

These primary carers are often people caring full time for a family member such as an elderly parent or disabled child.

I cannot think of a commitment that could be more commendable. It is in a sense a giving up of one’s life for the service of another, a great act of love and generosity that is indeed a prime example of the beauty found in selfless humanity.

Acts of great generosity have a power that touches and moves us, I’m sure you’ve felt it before.

While caring is an experience which deepens friendships and relationships, it can also be very physically and emotionally demanding. It can be very hard work. The more hours spent caring, the greater the decline in carer health, because carers end up having less time to maintain their own health.

What I find very concerning is this: their role as a full time carer prevents them from obtaining full time employment and receiving compulsory superannuation payments available to employees.

Because of this, most will reach retirement age with little or no means of financial support.

Sure, full time primary carers are eligible for welfare benefits. But these are only enough to get you by a day at a time. As soon as these welfare payments stop, you are on your own. Full time primary carers have been retiring into poverty, because decades without paid employment means decades without superannuation.

In my opinion, this is simply not acceptable. These people do not deserve to finish up in poverty the way they do after years and often decades of full time service to not just a person in need of great care, but also service to the community and indeed the nation.

As these carers provide a major contribution to society and a massive saving to Government expenditure, they are should be entitled to receive a government funded contribution based on 9% of average weekly earnings.

The Democratic Labour Party believes that the government should fund superannuation contributions for full time primary carers. 

I find it an absolute disgrace that such an initiative has not been sought after by successive governments on both sides of politics.

The DLP are likely to hold the balance of power in the Senate after this year’s federal election but as always, it comes down to votes.

 

 

By Vince Stefano

Where’s the commitment to help our tortured and oppressed West Papuan neighbours?

In the previous West Papua post, I provided an overview of the history of West Papua and the atrocities that have been inflicted upon Papuans by the Indonesians. In this post I will talk more about why Australia has been ignoring the issue, and who in our Parliament has been taking a stand.

 

Diggers will tell stories of Papuans running under heavy Japanese fire during World War II to pick up wounded Aussie solders bringing them to safety.

 

But for over 40 years, Australia has been ignoring the plea for help of the very people who risked their lives with outstanding bravery to save our own.

 

Australia’s position solidified in 2006, when the Howard government signed the Lombok Treaty with Indonesia, reaffirming the recognition of Indonesian sovereignty over West Papua, a position held by successive Australian governments to this day. Indeed, this was reiterated by Kevin Rudd in a meeting with the Indonesian president in July 2013.

 

When it comes to West Papua, all we have done over the years is express ‘concern for human rights in the region of Irian Jaya’ (West Papua), but not once has it been taken as a serious issue.

 

But let me be crystal clear: Australia has moral and legal obligations to pursue, through its close relationship with Indonesia, an end to the atrocious human rights abuses happening there.

 

Australians want action on this. A Newspoll survey in 2006 found support for West Papuan self-determination to be over 75%.

 

Thankfully, there are some members of our Parliament who doing what they can to help our abused, oppressed and forsaken Papuan neighbours.

 

Two minor parties in Parliament have found in each other unlikely allies: the Greens and the Democratic Labour Party (DLP).

 

Last year, DLP Senator John Madigan moved a motion that the Senate expresses its condolence at the death of Ms Vikki Riley, a campaigner who dedicated her life to helping refugees and the people of West Papua and East Timor. The government and opposition failed to support the motion, because Ms Riley’s involvement with West Papua was “in conflict” with Australia’s foreign policy.

 

And because the motion contained the name “West Papua”, instead of the Indonesian name “Irian Jaya”.

 

The DLP and the Greens have continuously been questioning the Foreign Minister on Australia’s involvement in promoting and encouraging human rights in West Papua. The usual responses have been less than satisfactory, no surprise there.

 

Unfortunately, one of these two parties has been playing politics and not the issue.

 

In November 2011, DLP Senator Madigan supported a Greens motion in support of West Papua, which was knocked down by the house, but the Greens did not return the favour when Madigan put up a similar motion only moments later. See Hansard pages 9502-9504.

 

While the Greens website outlines a general commitment to human rights and justice, the DLP website clearly shows the Party’s commitment to West Papua, with practical steps that can be taken. You can read the DLP policy here.

 

 

 

By Vince Stefano

Which party really understands small business?

There’s not a drop of doubt that small business is underrepresented in Australia, as highlighted in the previous small business post. With the Federal election near at hand, let’s take a look at some of the small business policy platforms being proposed by some of the main political parties.

 

 

Australian Labor Party (ALP)

The ALP website highlights what the party has already done for small business, but nothing new is being proposed. It gives mention to the following:

  • the establishment of a Minister for Small Business (Unfortunately, the Minister the Hon. Gary Gray has no experience in small business what-so-ever)
  • the establishment of Enterprise Connect
  • certain financial entitlements

 

With nothing new being proposed, one can’t help but wonder how the current situation for small business could be improved if the ALP retains government.

 

Interestingly, the ALP has no separate ‘small business’ policy, but places it into an ‘Australian Business’ page on their website, together with big business plans like the NBN and Tourism 2020. It begs the question: does the ALP really understand how small business is different to big business?

 

 

Liberal Party of Australia

The Liberals are proposing a lot of changes for small business, and these can be found in their policy document Our Plan: real solutions for all Australians. The Liberal Party’s policy is intended to:

  • lowering taxes and business costs
  • cutting red and green tape
  • double the annual rate of small business growth
  • relieving competition laws and policy
  • extending unfair contract protection to small business

 

Cutting bureaucratic tape and conducting a review of competition laws would be greatly welcomed by small business. However, there are some pretty big ‘ifs’ with the other policies.

 

The Liberals’ plan for lowering taxes and cutting business costs hinge on their intention of abolishing the carbon tax and funding from savings in the budget.

 

Will the next parliament pass legislation to abolish the carbon tax? Will there be a slice of the pie for small business made from savings in budget cuts, when the Liberals are desperate to deliver a budget surplus? These are arguments for another day; for now I’ll leave it for you to decide.

 

And doubling small business growth by adding more than 30,000 new small businesses every year? If they have a master plan, you’d think we’d know of it by now.

 

 

 

The Greens

The Greens don’t have a small business policy. Don’t believe it? Take a look at their 2013 election website to see for yourself.

 

 

Democratic Labour Party (DLP)

The DLP are likely to hold the ‘balance of power’ in the Senate following this year’s federal election, so let’s see what this resurgent party has to say on small business. Their policies seek to stop big business making life hard for small business, increase cash flow, cut back bureaucratic tape and make it easier to get a new small business up and running. The policies are:

 

  • stopping big businesses’ and government’s unfair practice of lengthy delays on payments for goods and services provided by small business by introducing a maximum of 30 days standard trade for such payments;
  • deferring small business company tax for one year for the first seven years followed by a generous catch up period;
  • having superannuation and WorkCover costs covered by Federal Government for the first year of a small business employing its first full-time employee, covering a wage of up to $48,000 per annum;
  • establishing local small business mentoring programs comprised of both retired and current small business owners;
  • opposing undue and excessive Federal and State Government and local council bureaucracy for small business operators.

 

It is worth mentioning that not only does DLP Senator John Madigan have over 25 years of small business experience under his belt, but if this year’s DLP Victorian senate candidate Mark Farrell joins him, you can add an extra 16 years on top of that.

 

That would mean the DLP would be holding the balance of power in the Senate, with a combined total of over 41 years of experience in owning and operating a small business. Indeed, this would create refreshingly new dynamics to Australian politics.

 

Voting for a minor party might prove a lot more effective than some may think.

 

 

By Vince Stefano

Do we need a bigger defence force?

Choosing the Australian Defence Force (ADF) we want is like choosing an insurance company – if we pay too high a premium, we may be wasting money on what is not needed; yet, if we pay too low of a premium, we mightn’t get the payout required when needed.

It’s for this reason that the cornerstone of investment in the ADF should be based on ensuring that it is self-reliant and capable of defeating any credible threat to Australia’s geographic security as well as insuring regional stability.

Australia’s defence should be based on three critical elements: being Australian, being a credible defence to Australia, and having a strong forceful capability. In order to develop an effective, robust and resilient ADF, we must recognise how these three elements support the other.

 

Being Australian

Being Australian is not simply about having Australian front-line personnel; it’s about the whole supply chain. It’s the idea that the boots the military marches on and the food that it eats are produced in Australia by Australian firms which recognise their contribution to Australia’s defense force by providing a quality product.

It’s the idea that the ships we sail, the vehicles we drive and the guns we fire are produced in Australia and only in exceptional circumstances are built overseas with Australian components – such as fighter aircraft.

 

A credible Defence to Australia

Determining the credibility of Australia’s defence ability should be done from an exterior perspective. While how we communicate our defence capability has psychological influence to potential foes, the credibility is more based on hard fact – on its actual capability. This is heavily linked with operational equipment, the ability to procure through an Australian reliable supply chain, advanced training of personnel, and appropriate geographical positioning of our forces.

 

A Strong Forceful Capability

The forceful aspect of our military enables us to offer deterrence from any potential adversaries. The pointy end can be expressed through the quantity and quality of our ‘blue water’ navy, our fighter aircraft, coupled with our AEW&Cs and aerial refuelling capability, as well as the interoperability of our army with the other two branches of our defence force.

Although on paper Australia has a strong forceful capability, the capacity has been neglected by successive Governments, leaving submarines to be unreliable, the bulk of our fighter aircraft to be out-dated and our forces not being remunerably supported as they should be

 

The DLP Difference

The ADF currently needs the Government’s support to address all three elements of what makes up our supposed military middle power status.

This can only be done by ensuring as a minimum, that the defence budget is kept at 2% of GDP, not including those costs required when on operations overseas. This forms the foundation of the DLP’s defence policy, which you can read by clicking this link.

We need to bring forward vital procurement projects. In my opinion, this means projects such as constructing of 12 new conventional submarines and purchasing three squadrons of the F-22 to operate in conjunction with 100 F-35s beyond 2020.

Self-reliance is good for Australia, it is good for our allies and it is good for the region. For other countries to know that Australia has the capability and the credibility to alone hold its own and support the region in times of need will provide a certainty and bedrock for other nations to peg their own concerns about the balance of power in our region.

Australia must value its existing military alliances, but must not sell out the defence of Australia to the United States, as this will simply be seen in the region as a power imbalance and provide potential adversaries with reason to believe that Australia’s motives are not peaceful.

 

 

By Matt Restall

The asylum seeker issue: it’s time for our politicians to grow up

The failure of the major parties in relation to illegal immigration reform is nothing short of astounding.

 

On one side you have the Australian Labor Party who promised to create a more humane system which would better balance the rights of boat people and the Australian population. While they undoubtedly meant well, the reality is that under their leadership more boats have arrived then ever before, more asylum seekers have died at sea than ever before and conditions for refugees in detention have not improved dramatically from the Howard years.

 

Their attempts to fix the problem have stunk of political necessity rather than a genuine want to resolve the issue.

 

Now Kevin Rudd has come out and tried to claim that turning back the boats could cause war with Indonesia in an attempt to gain back ground from Indonesia, yet again proving that he is more interested in scoring political points than actually coming up with a workable solution.

 

On the other side of the aisle you have Tony Abbott who has simplified one of the most complex issues facing Australia today down into three words: “STOP THE BOATS”. I mean, honestly, how can he expect us to take him seriously when a catchy campaign slogan is all he wants to ever say on the issue.

 

It is an insult to those who have died, to those in detention and to all Australians when he takes such a pivotal issue for our nation and pretends he can fix it as if by magic. The policies he is willing to talk about often lack detail and again reek of political opportunism.

 

While turning back boats may not be about to cause us to go to war with Indonesia, it certainly isn’t as simple or as straightforward as the opposition would have you believe.

 

Finally, you have the Greens who’s irresponsible policy of getting rid of mandatory detention all together clouds the issue and makes finding a bi-partisan solution much harder. Not only are their policies politically unworkable, they are not practical in the real world. Obviously we cannot allow just anyone who comes on a boat strait into the Australian community, security checks and the like need to be done.

 

By taking a holier-than-thou attitude, what they are actually doing is making a resolution harder to come to and the lives of boat people harder.

 

Everyone needs to stop using the asylum seeker issue as a political play thing. There is no easy answer. There is no quick fix and the reality is that while everyone treats this as a partisan issue it will never be resolved.

 

We are talking about peoples lives here, it’s time Australian politicians grew up and gave the problem the respect it deserves.

 

By James Leach

Atrocities in West Papua, but our government continues to turn a blind eye

Any decent Australian would be shocked if they knew what was happening on our country’s doorstep.

 

Massacres, tortures, the burning of villages, rapes, economic and political marginalisation, cultural suppression. All being inflicted upon people in a land situated only 250km from Australian soil. But I bet you don’t hear about it. That is partly because the Indonesian government doesn’t allow human rights monitors or journalists access into this region.

 

The land I am talking about is West Papua, the Indonesian western half of the Island of New Guinea.

 

West Papua is a land rich in many different natural resources and species of wildlife. Unlike the rest of Indonesia, the ethnic roots of indigenous West Papuans are Melanesian.

There are stories of Papuans running under heavy Japanese fire during World War II to pick up wounded Aussie solders and bring them to safety.

 

But for over 40 years, Australia has been ignoring the plea for help of the very people who risked their lives with outstanding bravery to save our own.

 

It shames me to be an Australian. It really does.  Let me paint the picture for you.

 

Once part of the Dutch East Indies, West Papua was not handed over to the Republic of Indonesia in 1949 with the other territories. The Dutch claimed it did not belong to Indonesia due to its cultural and historical differences.

 

The Dutch were preparing West Papua for independence. A national legislature was formed, the first Papuan Congress was held, and “West-Papua” was adopted as the name of the country along with a national anthem, the Morning Star as the national flag and a Constitution of 129 articles.

 

Conflict followed. The Indonesians would not rest until they had this resource-rich land.

 

The United Nations intervened and declared that West Papua was to be under Indonesian control on the proviso that within six years, Indonesia would give West Papuans the “opportunity to exercise freedom of choice” through a referendum.

 

“All adults, male and female” were to be eligible to participate in a vote of self-determination, in which West Papuans would determine whether to be independent or become a part of Indonesia.

 

In 1969, Indonesia conducted a referendum, “the Act of Free Choice.” Only 1026 Papuans, representing a population of one million, were picked to vote. Under severe duress, including threats from Indonesian military officials to cut their tongues out and kill their families, they voted to remain part of Indonesia.

 

Ever since, the West Papuans have just wanted to be free: “Papua Merdeka”.

 

The atrocities that have taken place since then have been horrifying. Indeed, some claim it has been nothing less of genocide.

 

West Papua was meant to be an independent nation. It may be a far-fetched ideal for now, but what West Papuans rightfully want and need today is freedom.

 

Freedom from Indonesian oppression: freedom of association, freedom of movement, freedom of speech, equal economic and political rights, peace and security.

 

But it gets worse. Indonesian Detachment 88 was trained and funded by Australia as a counter-terrorism unit, as part of our military relations with the neighbour. This detachment ended up being sent to West Papua where it tortured and killed innocent Papuan people.

 

Yep, Australia’s hands are dripping with blood.

 

Why has our government been so quiet? I will delve into the ‘why’ in the next West Papua blog post.

 

 

By Vince Stefano

Small Business is shockingly underrepresented. The DLP is the antidote.

There are more than 2.4 million small businesses in Australia which collectively employ around 7 million people. That is over half of the Australian workforce.

 

Small business is one of the greatest contributors to Commonwealth and State revenue. Yet, consecutive federal governments have made life harder and harder for Australian small business people.

 

The Council of Small Businesses Australia states that political parties and most bureaucrats “acknowledge the role played by small business in the economy but over the last twenty years they have not shown that they understand that a small business is different from big business and must have different policy responses and different process and rules.”

 

A look at the current make-up of our federal parliament is not very encouraging. In the House of Representatives, only a dozen out of the 150 members have experience in owning/operating a small business (5/71 ALP, 4/59 Liberals, 2/11 Nationals, 1/5 Independents).

 

The Senate is not much different. Out of 76 senators, such experience is only found in 7. One of them is a particular highlight – DLP Senator John Madigan stands out with over 25 years’ experience in operating a small business. And if this year’s DLP Victorian senate candidate Mark Farrell joins him, you can add an extra 16 years on top of that.

 

That would mean the DLP would be holding the balance of power in the Senate, with a combined total of over 41 years of experience in owning and operating a small business. Indeed, this would create refreshingly new dynamics to Australian politics.

 

The ALP government should be commended for establishing a Minister for Small Business portfolio, the first in a decade. Unfortunately, the Minister the Hon. Gary Gray has no experience in small business what-so-ever. Ludicrous? You betcha.

 

Looking to this year’s federal election, I must say that the prospects for small business aren’t great. The ALP aren’t offering anything new, the Liberals sound great but in reality are not convincing. The Greens don’t even have a small business policy. Don’t believe it? Take a look at their 2013 election website to see for yourself. The DLP have some really good ideas, but they need to gain the balance of power first.

 

Who’s going to be flying the flag for small business after this year’s federal election?

 

I will go through a more detailed overview of these parties’ small business policies in the next small business blog post.

 

 

By Vince Stefano

‘Balance of Power’ … what is that again?

The ‘balance of power’ is a term we often hear in politics. But while many of us may be familiar with the term, we may not be as familiar with its definition or implications.

In this post I will discuss three things. First, I will provide a simple explanation of what the ‘balance of power’ is. Second, I will provide examples of the balance of power occurring in Australian politics. And third, I will discuss the likelihood of who will be holding the balance of power following this year’s federal election and what implications that will have for Australian politics until at least the next election.

 

Definition
The ‘balance of power’ is the position held by a minor party, group or individual when their vote is necessary for bills or motions to be passed.

Consider this basic scenario. There are 76 seats in the Australian Senate. Let’s say there are 36 reds (the government), 30 blues (the opposition) and 10 yellows (minor party).

Now, anything that is voted on in parliament requires a majority in of total votes in order to pass. In this case, that would be 39 votes (76/2+1).

Therefore, if a bill is introduced by red, and not supported by blue, it will require the votes from yellow in order to pass with a majority of total votes. Yellow holds the balance of power – any bill or motion can’t pass without yellow’s approval.

 

History
The scenario of balance or power occurs often in the Australian Senate (upper house), but is very unlikely in the House of Representatives (lower house). That is because government is formed in the lower house, and in order to attain government, a party must secure a majority of seats in that house.

We experienced the rare case of a hung parliament following the 2010 federal election, when neither the ALP nor the Liberal/National Coalition won more than half the seats in the lower house.

There were 5 independents and 1 Greens, and the ALP managed to gain the support of 4 of them, giving the ALP the numbers to form a minority government. In this case, the 5 independents and the Greens MP held the balance of power.

A minor party holding the balance of power in the Senate has occurred several times over the years in Australian politics.

Between 1955 and 1974, the Democratic Labor Party (DLP), a minor party formed by a number of anti-communists who split from the Australian Labor Party, held the balance of power in the Senate, having between one and five seats in the Senate during that period.

In 1981, the balance of power in the Senate was secured by the Australian Democrats, which they managed to hold until 2008 when their 4 Senators failed to be re-elected at the 2007 election.

In 2010, the Greens won a Senate seat in each of the six states at the election, bringing them a total of 9 senators and giving them an outright balance of power in the Senate, similar to the red-blue-yellow scenario painted above.

 

2013 Federal Election
It is very likely that a minor party or group of individuals will be holding the balance of power in the Senate following this year’s federal election.

The political pundits are tipping DLP Senator John Madigan to be holding the balance of power in the Senate, either in his own right or together with another Senator like Independent Nick Xenophon, depending on how things go on polling day.

However, it is worth noting that if the DLP gain another senator at this year’s election, then it would be the DLP holding the balance of power in the Senate, without a doubt.

Senator Madigan has already gone on record saying, “what we will be doing if we find ourselves in this position is encouraging transparent discussion on issues and the Senate operating as a true house of review and scrutiny.”

You will often hear Senator Madigan say, “play the issue, not the person.”

 

 

By Vince Stefano