Update, 19 August : 28 minute YouTube video embedded. 2 August 2023 : Four parliamentary speeches in support of Julian Assange and one weak defense of Government's weasel words from the ALP's Linda White. Thanks to the Office of Tasmanian Greens Senator Peter Whish-Wilson for helping to bring us up to date.
"It is important that we fight. The stakes are high. Urbanisation has become like tobacco and fossil fuels. A lot has been written about the dark arts employed by the tobacco companies and their lobbyists, and the fossil fuel companies and their lobbyists, to muddy the waters and prevent the public from understanding the damage their products do to public health and to the environment.
Putin: "Europe is about to throw its achievements in building up its manufacturing capability, the quality of life of its people and socioeconomic stability into the sanctions furnace, depleting its potential, as directed by Washington for the sake of the infamous Euro-Atlantic unity.
Filmed by James Sinnamon on 28 July 2022 at the Converge on Canberra Protest for Julian Assange.
Clare Daly is an Irish Member of the European Parliament (MEP). Here is a transcript and video of her speech of 6 April 2022.
(See Alex Christoforou's video commentary inside.) Why did Ukrainian President Zelensky appear before the Greek Parliament, with a Nazi soldier from Ukraine's Azov Batallion? Have Ukrainian Nazis grown tired of fighting a hopeless war in the background, while Zelenski is lionised, and now seek the limelight and recognition for their sacrifices? Zelensky described the soldiers appearing with him as courageous, noting the Greek origins of one of them.
In this video, on Friday 26 February 2021, John Shipton, Julian Assange's father, launches the Julian Assange road-show, with an interesting and moving speech on human rights, history, and current trends. The bus you can see behind Mr Shipton, will travel from Melbourne to Canberra, via Broadford, Castlemaine, Bendigo, Albury, Wogga - and other country towns, reaching Canberra within a few weeks, in time for opening of the second session of Parliament. There the road-show members will work with the Australian Parliamentary Friends of Julian Assange, to try to convince the Scott Morrison Australian government to bring Julian home.
Transcript of John Shipton's speech 26 Feb 2021
"This week, Anthony Albanese, the leader of the opposition, made a declaration that ten years is enough. Enough's enough, bring him home. He got it a bit wrong. It's eleven years going on twelve. But it's a great movement in the Australian body-politic when the leader of the opposition makes his position known.
We now have 24 strong members in the cross-party group in the Australian parliament. [Bring Julian Assange Home Parliamentary Group"] in the Australian parliament. (Parliamentary Julian Assange Group formally established)].
In the Bundestag, the parliament of Germany, we have a cross-party group. In the French parliament, we have a cross-party group. In the Spanish parliament, we have over 40 Podemas members supporting. In the UK parliament, we have a cross-party group. The Italian parliament is the first in the European parliaments - the Five Star group - to put before the Council of Europe, a declaration, which the Council of Europe adopted, that Julian was a protected journalist and should be let go.
The chair of the European Rights Council of the Council of Europe, declared that Julian was protected. Nils Melzer, as you know, the [UN Special] Rapporteur on torture, declared that Julian was a victim of torture. The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention declared that Julian was being arbitrarily detained. Every single Western and Russian journalist association have declared Julian a member, and that he ought to be free, and that this persecution must stop.
And, just briefly, a little bit of history: After the horror of the 1945 war, where many many people lost their lives, and many countries were destroyed, the people of the world - that's us - gathered together and established the United Nations. The first president of the United Nations was an Australian - one of us!  In 1948, that president organised the Declaration of Human Rights. The Chair of that was Eleanor Roosevelt. In 1958, the Conventions of Asylum were adopted by the United Nations. In 1973, Australia brought before the General Assembly of the United Nations, the conventions of Human Rights and the conventions of Asylum, which were passed by a huge majority. Then, the Council of Europe, which is solely a human rights organisation ... forty-seven nations - I think forty-two, sorry - forty-two nations adopted into their national legislation, the human rights legislation, integrated into the national legislation.
Now, these are the great achievements of the 20th century. I wish to remind you of that. These are the epoch-making achievements of the people of the world of the 20th century. That's us. When you read the phrase, "crimes against humanity," it's not them, over there, it's us, here, our children, mothers, fathers, uncles, grandfathers, brothers, sisters. The crime against us.
When you read the phrase, "war-crime," equally, that's a crime against us. A war-crime is the murder of a village - like Mỹ Lai, in Vietnam. Five hundred people slaughtered, before the gunner of the helicopter courageously said, "If you keep shooting these people, we'll shoot you." That brought an end to the slaughter. Five hundred people. So, crimes against humanity, and war-crimes, are crimes against us.
Julian's persecution for revealing those crimes is the collapse into barbarity of those nations, those western nations, that were instrumental in putting together the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and adopting it into, and embracing it in their national legislation.
So, it benefits us, as an emblem, of this decline into barbarity, to support Julian. And the benefits then come to us. It's clear. This is our duty. Our noble task is to free Julian. And, consequently, the political bodies that rule us, that supposedly are sovereign, and supposedly obey us, will understand that they cannot pursue, any longer, the crimes against humanity, the war-crimes, and to obey the legislation which is embraced in their national legislation.
Sorry to go on a little bit. It's a heavy subject. But - if I could just ... one more thing: I've travelled the world now - last was in America. And the support for Julian - from "us" - is a winner. The tide is flowing towards "us". And lifts us up, and lifts our needs up, and our needs are that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights be obeyed, and our governments stop sneaking around the place, murdering farmers in Afghanistan.
So, thank you, and God bless."
 In fact, Herbert Vere ('Doc') Evatt, was the third President of the United Nations and not the first President, However, "Australian politician ‘Doc’ Evatt was an important contributor in the early days of the UN’s existence. He helped to make sure that smaller nations like Australia had a say in the organisation, and was the President of the UN General Assembly from 1948 to 1949." See "Australia on the world stage -1945: Australia plays a leading role in founding the United Nations" | National Museum of Australia Digital Classroom. 'Doc' Evatt (1894-1965) was also Foreign Minister in the Labor Governments of John Curtin and Ben Chifley from 1941 until 1949.
In the two federal elections of 1949 and 1951, he faced Australian wartime heroine Nancy Wake, standing for the Liberal Party, and just narrowly defeated her on each occasion, the second time by only 243 votes out of 41,600 (0.6%). In 1951 'Doc' Evatt successfully campaigned against the Liberal Menzies government's referendum proposal to ban the Communist Party of Australia. 'Doc' Evatt remained Leader of the Labor Opposition from 1951 until 1960.
Trump made naked threats to invade Venezuela made on 19 February, in a speech truly evocative of Hitlers'. Instead of threatening Jews, Trump is threatening people he perceives as 'communists'. The unquestioning crowds, the dumbed-down US elite cheering war on, show the result of an American education system and press entirely given over to propaganda. US Congress, mostly robots under control by Neocon money, has to authorise any military action - but will they even try to stop it?
Trump's naked threat to Venezuelan soldiers
"You can choose to accept President Guaido's generous offer of amnesty to live your life in peace with your families and your countrymen or you can choose the second path, continuing to support Maduro.
If you choose this path, you will find no safe harbour, no easy exit, and no way out. You will lose everything."
Trump's naked threats to invade Venezuela made on 19 February, in a speech truly evocative of Hitlers'. Instead of threatening Jews, Trump is threatening people he perceives as 'communists'. The unquestioning crowds, the dumbed-down US elite cheering war on, show the result of an American education system and press entirely given over to propaganda.
Where is Antifa now that America and Venezuela face true Facism
Antifa - that joke - in the face of real fascism - has nothing to say. It is as if they are not even aware of what is going on.
Under US law, however, Congress must approve foreign military action and the president doesn’t have the power to act on his own. But Congress is weak on Venezuela's self-determination. Basically they don't criticise the propaganda: “I appreciate the need to squeeze Maduro,” said Eliot Engel (the Democratic chairman of the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee). “But the White House must think through the potential repercussions that these sanctions could have on the Venezuelan people if Maduro does not leave office in the coming weeks.” (Source)
Himself threatened by a neocon coup, Trump illegally, against international law, works ever more feverishly for the Neocon coup in Venezuela. What Trump and the EU are all going along with is totally illegal. They are supporting the crudest violation of international law and morality.
The main lies and how the mass media promotes them
Update 12 September 2018: All President Bashar al Assad's speeches on the Syrian Government channel have suddenly been removed from Youtube, in a manner that spreads darkness over the world.Speech by Bashar al-Assad on 21 August 2017 in English subtitled videos. The texts have also been transcribed by Sayed Hasan into English and French at http://sayed7asan.blogspot.fr. Assad notes that the west allows terrorists to advance in Syria, and when the Syrian Arab Army tries to fight the terrorists, the west tries to stop it, pretending that this is for humanitarian reasons. But the west's real objective is to allow the terrorists to regroup.
Speech by the President of the Syrian Arab Republic Bashar al-Assad on August 20th, 2017 to the Syrian Diplomatic Corps
Translation originally published at: http://sayed7asan.blogspot.fr
[...] The result of this resistance (of Syria) and the price we paid (for it) is (also) the shifts that have occurred recently in Western statements, which did not occur because their human conscience awoke and regained its health, or because they have (finally) felt that Syria is oppressed or anything like that. (The West) made this change because of the resistance of the people, of the state and of the armed forces (of Syria). And of course because of the support of our allies.
(The West) did not make this change because it has ethics or morality, because we have never seen any such thing, even before the war. But it is the reality on the ground in Syria, and the reality on the ground in their own countries (which imposed this turnaround on them). And today, a week or a month do not go by without an event (terrorist attack) occurring which is the direct result of their stupidity in their decision making and support for terrorism in the region. It is these realities that have forced them to change their positions, even partially, in a shy manner and without conviction,but these shifts were imposed on them.
This change of position does not mean a change of policy. The West, like the snake, changes its skin depending on the situation. At first they talked about supporting the popular movement, the popular movement that has never exceeded, in the best case, 200,000 people paid (by the West and the Gulf) throughout Syria, a country of 24 million inhabitants.
And after having tried their best, with weapons beings present on the stage but in a hidden way, to perpetrate massacres and foment sedition, they have failed, and passed to the open support to armed groups but they gave them the name of "opposition" as a cover, that is to say they presented them as political (factions), giving them a political color, and they were presented as "moderate", that is to say, as not extremists. Or the political denomination "opposition" was to (suggest) that they are not terrorists.
When this project failed and they were exposed for what they are (terrorists) in the eyes of the world public opinion, and in the eyes of the regional and local public opinion in their own countries, they switched to another version, the humanitarian pretext. We are currently at this stage. To summarize, it consists in keeping absolute silence as the terrorists advance or whatever, and perpetrate massacres and killings against civilians, but when it's the (Syrian) Army that is advancing at the expense of terrorists, then suddenly we begin to hear cries, lamentation and intercession to stop us, with the pretext of humanitarian slogans to stop the effusion of blood, to escort humanitarian aid, and other excuses that we Syrians know well. Their real goal is to provide an opportunity for armed groups to reform their ranks, to motivate, to bring equipment and to send reinforcements to help them, so they can continue their terrorist acts.
In truth, all these various tactics they employed during these stages could never deceive us in any case. From day one, we recognized terrorism, and on the first day, we hit terrorism, during the first stage, the second and third, and will continue to do so, as long as there is any terrorist anywhere in Syria. As for the media and the psychological war they conducted during the last several years, it could never, not a single moment, influence us to be distracted from this goal, namely combating terrorism,or to push us towards fear or hesitation. [...]
Bashar al-Assad thanks Iran, Russia and Hezbollah
[...] Ladies and gentlemen,
Despite more than 6 years of this ferocious war against Syria and despite the fact that the Syrian army, with at its side the popular forces and our allies, leads the fiercest battles against the most formidable terrorist groups, supported by the most powerful and richest countries in the world, despite this, these forces, our forces made achievements and victories, week by week and day by day, crushing terrorists and purifying areas contaminated by (their presence), and they go on on this path.
What has been achieved by the heroes of the Syrian Arab Army, the armed forces and popular and allied forces, indeed heroic acts and sacrifices during the past war years, shows an example in the History of wars throughout History. And what they have accomplished in terms of sacrifices is a beacon for future generations, in the sense of commitment to national dignity, patriotism and sacrifices for the homeland and for the people. And the truth... [Applause]
And the truth is that it is these achievements that were the real lever to the march of national reconciliation that began 3 years ago, and it is they who have pushed many undecided (among armed groups) to come back in the lap of the nation. That is to say, to speak clearly and far from any embellishment, these military achievements of our armed forces were the very war and the very policy. Alongside the Army exploits, were it not for the endurance of the Syrian people, every citizen in his place, the student, the teacher, the worker, the civil servant, the diplomat,the employee, and so on in all layers and components of Syrian society, it would not have been possible that Syria resists to this day.
As for our friends and allies, they were a very important part of these achievements and successes.
Hezbollah, which needs no introduction and who willingly evades recognition and thanks, his fighters were no less attached to (the defense of) Syrian land than their brothers in arms in heroism of the Syrian armed forces. And when we talk about them, we speak with great pride, exactly the same as when we speak of any Syrian who defended his homeland. The same goes for their martyrs, their wounded and their heroic families.
As for Iran, it has not wavered in its presence with us since day one. It supplied weapons and quantities (of money, equipment and men) without any limit. It sent military advisers and officers to help us plan (the defense and offensive). It supported us economically, through the extremely difficult conditions we experienced. It led the political battles with us in all international issues and proved in each instance that it is sovereign and sole master of its decisions,true to its principles and its commitments, in which one can have full confidence.
Likewise for Russia. She used her veto several times in succession in her policy, in defense of the unity and sovereignty of Syria,and in defense of the UN Charter and international law. China did the same. And Russia has not limited herself to support the Syrian Army and provide everything it needed for its anti-terrorist operations. She later sent its air force and was directly involved in the fight against terrorism, offering martyrs on Syrian soil.
Thus, if the successes on the field have been made thanks to the determination of the heroes of the armed forces, Army and popular forces, the direct support of our allies, political, economic and military has greatly strengthened our capabilities to gain ground in the field, and narrowed losses and burdens of war. And therefore, they are now our true allies in these achievements, in the way of striking and completely annihilating terrorism and restoring security and stability in Syria.
And if the Syrian Arab people and with it the armed forces today are writing a new history for Syria and the region in general, there will also be volumes that will be written about our friends. About Iran and Imam Khamenei. About Russia and President Putin. About Hezbollah and Sayed Hassan Nasrallah. [Applause] These volumes will be written about their principles, their ethics, their virtues, for future generations to read. [...]
"This is a nation which has been tested in adversity, which has survived physical destruction and catastrophic loss of life. I do not underestimate the ability of fanatical groups of terrorists to kill and destroy, but they do not threaten the life of the nation. Whether we would survive Hitler hung in the balance, but there is no doubt that we shall survive Al-Qaeda. The Spanish people have not said that what happened in Madrid, hideous crime as it was, threatened the life of their nation. Their legendary pride would not allow it. Terrorist violence, serious as it is, does not threaten our institutions of government or our existence as a civil community.
Published on Wednesday, 01 October 2014 10:44
... The real threat to the life of the nation, in the sense of a people living in accordance with its traditional laws and political values, comes not from terrorism but from laws such as these. That is the true measure of what terrorism may achieve. It is for Parliament to decide whether to give the terrorists such a victory."
Tony Abbott made a speech to the IPA in 2012 in which he referred to the Coalition as the "freedom party". However, as Prime Minister Mr Abbott now believes that "the delicate balance between freedom and security may have to shift" and that "there may be more restrictions on some so that there can be more protection for others."
I do not support a number of key elements in this Bill, and I am aware there are further even more controversial Bills coming before the parliament in the near future.
I question the premise of the government's general approach to this area of policy, which is essentially that freedoms must be constrained in response to terrorism; and that the introduction of greater obscurity and impunity in the exercise of government agency powers that contravene individual freedoms will both produce, and are justified in the name of, greater security.
So far the debate on this issue has occurred within a frame that posits a direct relationship between, on the one hand, safety and civility in our everyday lives and, on the other, the powers that impinge upon and make incursions into individual freedom.
If we want to continue our lives free from terrorism and orchestrated violence — so the argument goes — we have to accept shifting the balance between freedom and constraint away from the observance of basic rights and towards greater surveillance, more interference, deeper silence.
Let me say that no one should be fooled into believing it is as simple as that.
The truth is that the remarkable peace, harmony, and security we enjoy in Australia is in fact produced and sustained by our collective observance of freedoms and human rights, rather than existing in spite of such values and conditions. It is wrong to say that we have been complacent about security on two counts. First, because we have strong, well-resourced, and competent security agencies, and second because our commitment to a way of life that puts faith in freedom, respect and tolerance, that puts faith in democracy and the rule of law, is itself productive of peace and shared security.
These are the reasons we must be so careful when we legislate to constrain those freedoms — because contrary to the reductive argument that says we're making a straight trade of less freedom for more safety, the reality is likely to be, and indeed has proved to be many times in the past, that constraining our fundamental liberties achieves nothing more than making us less free and in fact does ourselves harm through licensing the abuse of powers.
In the wake of the past few weeks' delivery by government, assisted by many media outlets, of "existential threat" and "panic/don't panic" messages, many people in the Australian community feel understandably confused and anxious. Members of Australia's Muslim communities may fear that the PM's 'restrictions on some' message applies particularly to them. If that is the case, then surely it is an approach that can only foster fear, mistrust and division, the very opposite of what is needed in terms of investing in community harmony, safety and human security in its broadest sense.
[Speaker], I recognise the process by which this Bill has come forward – and of course I understand that it contains a number of amendments to the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation Act that represent unobjectionable adjustments put forward off the back of the Report of the Inquiry into Potential Reforms of Australia's National Security Legislation.
I am also grateful for the recent consideration of the draft Bill provided by the Joint Standing Committee on Intelligence and Security (JCSIS), and I believe the amendments the Committee has recommended represent improvements – but not, in my view, sufficient improvements.
One critical point to grasp is the fact that the proposed laws are not a response to recent events involving the emergence of Islamic State, and the existence of people with criminal intentions based on their adherence to an extreme and deranged world-view.
It was a surprise therefore to see the editorial in The Australian on Monday where, under the heading 'Homegrown terror threat needs new tools to fight it', it rushed to conclude, "The new counter-terrorism laws are not an attack on free speech; they are a protection against an evolving threat" before acknowledging that "Any new counter-terrorism laws should be scrutinised by the parliament" and that "There is also a role for the media and other non-government groups, to offer analysis of proposed laws alongside laws currently operating".
That analysis and commentary certainly should be occurring, but it's hard not to have the sense that there is too much fierce agreement in this space at the moment as a result of people believing that we currently face some completely new and unprecedented terror threat.
The reality is — as we have seen from very well publicised operations recently — that law enforcement agencies have clearly been able to operate effectively on the basis of existing laws and there has not been convincing evidence of inadequacies in the existing legal framework that warrant the broad extensions of powers we see here. I am particularly concerned that this Bill entrenches and amplifies the lack of protection for whistleblowers regarding intelligence information and penalise with up to 10 years jail the legitimate actions of journalists and others doing their jobs in holding the government to account in the public interest.
There have been numerous examples of governments, defence, intelligence and law enforcement agencies here in Australia and elsewhere abusing their powers that have only come to light via Wikileaks, Edward Snowden and other whistleblowers regarding for instance the improper mass surveillance of civilians, the misuse of our aid program, and spying on foreign governments, including for the commercial benefit of corporations.
There are concerns that the legislation does not make any distinction between someone acting to sabotage a security intelligence operation and potentially putting security officers' lives at risk, which should rightly attract significant penalties, and persons disclosing information in the public interest where no such danger is present, but which may for instance be politically embarrassing.
It is no comfort from the Explanatory Memorandum that there will be a prosecutorial discretion to consider the public interest when deciding whether to prosecute a person — this kind of consideration should attract a specific exemption in the legislation — otherwise there is a very real danger that the provisions will produce a chilling effect on the willingness of the media to report legitimate matters of public interest.
We are assured that the significant impunity for breaking the law that is granted to security officials engaged in SIOs only applies when the officers are carrying out their duties as authorised and is not a green light for corruption or abuse of power. It is unsatisfactory in my view that the external oversight of special intelligence operations is limited to the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security, rather than the more extensive oversight that applies to the AFP's controlled operations. The Member for Denison has highlighted the deficiencies in Australia's oversight of intelligence services relative to other countries such as the UK.
On the question of press freedom and media scrutiny, the editorial in The West Australian yesterday took issue with the new specific provisions, arguing that "they fail to strike a balance that does not unduly limit the ability of journalists to report on matters of national security. Any controls of this sort must be carefully considered and minimised. In this instance, there is a concern that the impetus to act on the terrorist threat may have led to the proposed laws being rushed and not considered as fully as they might have been."
And I would contrast the curious yet telling gulf between the nicely timed, neatly packaged and government facilitated media access to the recent AFP anti-terror operations and the utter silence, stonewalling and denial of access to operations that involve asylum seekers.
On this I agree with Mark Day, who wrote in Monday's Australian that,
"Last week we saw much commentary about how state and federal police provided on-the-spot video and still pictures of their raids against a terror group believed to be planning a random beheading in Australia.
How fortunate it was for the government that the raids came precisely as the parliament was considering new anti-terror powers — tougher laws to protect our freedoms by removing them. Raids of this nature involving 800 coppers for one arrest are obviously newsworthy. Police PRs were beside themselves with delight. You want pictures? How many? They fed the narrative of a government alert and anything but insouciant.
Now make the obvious comparison. For more than a year the government has refused to give any detail about any "on sea" activity related to people smuggling or asylum-seekers. This is because secrecy suits it. Secrecy is the government's starting point."
I understand that one of the legitimate bases for this Bill is the necessary adjustment to cover the kinds of technological change that have occurred over the last twenty years and I note the considered comments of the Shadow Attorney-General in this regard. I nevertheless have concerns about the scope of the provisions, especially in relation to computers and computer networks, including access to third-party hardware or communications. These provisions are the equivalent of a physical search warrant for a house that allows you to search an arbitrary number of other houses.
The JSCIS Report notes that public submissions were made by the Gilbert + Tobin Centre of Public Law calling for two categories of improvement in this area: the first being a 'minimal intrusion' test requiring other options for acquiring the required intelligence to have been used before ASIO has recourse to a computer network or third-party asset or communication; and the second being a further refinement in terms of scope so that a warrant would only access those parts of a target computer that are reasonably necessary for the acquisition of the relevant intelligence.
Unfortunately neither of these sensible proposals were taken up as recommendations. Instead the broad requirement that access must be 'reasonable in all the circumstances' was considered sufficient.
In my view, this is one of the clear areas where we may be licensing the potentially improper infringement of privacy and the possible misuse of personal information and communications without due consideration to the dangers involved, and without due care and restriction when it comes to those powers.
For an example of how this government regards the so-called balance between security and freedom, one can look to the proposed abolition of the Independent National Security Legislation Monitor. The Prime Minister announced the abolition of this critical office and function earlier this year as part of its 'war against red-tape'. Other casualties of this bizarre war of self-harm include environmental protections, financial services safeguards, and the framework to address climate change and encourage the development of renewable energy. In this way, the so-called war on red tape is unpicking the vital threads of our social fabric, our social compact.
With this Bill, the essential oversight of security legislation and powers is being undermined when it should be strengthened.
As others have noted, the Attorney-General was an active member of the Joint Standing Committee on Intelligence and Security when the Committee issued a report with respect to the very legislation we debate here, calling for the assessment of the draft bill by the Independent National Security Legislation Monitor. Of course, thanks to the government, that position has been vacant since April, and was to be scrapped.
I am glad that as a result of the outcry on this aspect of security oversight in particular, the government has reversed its position – though unfortunately not in time for this Bill to have been appropriately scrutinised.
I believe that at the very least this legislation should incorporate sunset clauses so that the provisions can be subject to review and discontinuance if not found to be necessary.
[Speaker], I want to conclude by returning to the point I made at the beginning about what is really at issue when we expand the capacity and power of state agencies to infringe upon the privacy and freedom of citizens, and at the same time constrain the ability of citizens to examine and discuss the use of those powers.
There is a lot of talk about the danger of complacency when it comes to security threats, including terrorism. I don't see evidence of that complacency, and none has been put forward. Australia is a remarkably secure and peaceful nation. Our law enforcement, intelligence, and defence agencies and personnel do excellent work on our behalf.
If there is any complacency, it is in relation to the very real dangers that lie in failing to recognise, value and speak up for our fundamental rights, values and freedoms. We have seen what happens when state agencies exercise improper power without effective safeguards; without effective oversight and accountability mechanisms.
We'd do well to reflect upon this now as we consider changes in this Bill and in others that seek to re-set our laws and values in ways that may not only be ill-designed to protect us from the dangers and horrors we seem inclined to over-state, but might in fact wear and fray the fabric of our freedom, trust, and faith in government.
Video and Transcript inside: Federal Labor Member for Wills, Kelvin Thomson, spoke in Parliament against the signing of contracts and the construction of the East West Link Road Tunnel, also known as the Royal Park Freeway. Before the election the Liberals were in favour of independent cost benefit analysis for major projects, yet now in government, they are avoiding undertaking one for the East-West Link in Melbourne, the freeway through Royal Park. Mr Thomson wrote to the Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Development, and his Parliamentary Secretary on 27th August, to seek appropriate and publicly transparent economic modelling, environmental assessment and community consultation before tens of billions of dollars are spent on a tunnel that makes no economic sense, will damage our environment and which will hurt local communities. (23/9/14). Note that Kelvin will be publicly debating Victoria's population growth policy with Melbourne Mayor Robert Doyle on 13 October in Melbourne at Deakin Edge in Federation Square from 5.30-7pm.
[Candobetter.net editor is responsible for the insertion of all headings and emphases ]
It is deeply ironic in this debate on the Infrastructure Australia Amendment (Cost Benefit Analysis and Other Measures) Bill 2014 that we should get a lecture from government members opposite about the virtues of independent cost-benefit analysis for major projects when in my own area they are running a mile from undertaking one for the East West Link in Melbourne—that is, the freeway through Royal Park.
I wrote to the Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Development and his parliamentary secretary on 27 August seeking appropriate and publicly transparent economic modelling, environmental assessment and community consultation before we get tens of billions of dollars spent on a tunnel that makes no economic sense, will damage our environment and will hurt local communities.
The coalition government has spent $1.5 billion for both stage 1 and stage 2 of the East West Link project to connect the Eastern Freeway to CityLink with the idea of connecting the link to Melbourne's western ring road and western suburbs. Both these stages are reported to cost between $8 billion and $10 billion.
Huge, unjustified cost to taxpayers
These are huge sums of taxpayers' money that ought to be carefully considered in the context of the need for governments to live within their means. We often hear from those opposite about the need for government to live within its means. We constantly get lectured about fiscal responsibility. One would expect that a carefully thought out economic analysis would have been undertaken and released to verify the need for the East West tunnel project and the need for large sums of taxpayers' money; however, this is not the case.
Illusory economic modeling
Media reports based on FOI and leaked information have indicated that such economic modelling that has been carried out has been based on false assumptions regarding petrol prices, incomes, car running costs and inner-city parking. Against that background, I welcome and congratulate the Victorian Labor opposition leader, Daniel Andrews, for his leadership on infrastructure issues. Back on 11 September he stated that the forthcoming election in November in Victoria will be a choice of either better public transport and local roads or the $8 billion dud East West Link road tunnel.
No certainty that any contracts for the East West Link are legally binding
Victorian Labor has obtained legal advice which states that any contract that is signed before an election for a project that is facing a Supreme Court challenge cannot be entered into safely. That legal advice was obtained by former Federal Court judge Ray Finkelstein, administrative law expert Richard Niall QC and contract law expert Siobhan Keating. Victorian Labor states that it will not be held responsible for a document that was recklessly devised in haste and error and that it does not believe that any contracts for the East West Link project can be validly entered into while a matter before the Supreme Court remains unresolved and there can be no certainty that any contracts for the East West Link are legally binding.
Victorian Labor has said if no legally binding contracts exist, then a Victorian Labor government will not proceed with the East West Link project.
Disgraceful haste to sign before elections
It is a disgrace that the Victorian Liberal Treasurer, Michael O'Brien, says the government is determined to sign the East West contracts before the onset of the pre-election caretaker period. I need to bring to the attention of the House that we need to recall that the Liberal Party said before the election that it would not build the East West Link. It did not take this issue to the voters. Now it is shamelessly trying to lock Victorian taxpayers into billions and billions of dollars on a freeway through Royal Park. This project is so big that it will eat up both Victoria's road budget and public transport budget for years. It kills off the legitimate aspirations of communities from all parts of Melbourne for improvements to their local roads, railway crossings and the like.
This fraud on the voters—trying to lock taxpayers into this lemon before an election can be held—comes from the same political party that talked up such a storm and became positively apoplectic over Julia Gillard's 'no carbon tax' pre-election statement. You have to wonder: where is that 'convoy of no confidence' when you need it? The East West tunnel project will cripple Victoria's finances for many years to come. It will crowd out the state's other core responsibilities in public transport, education and health. A proper, thorough and publicly transparent economic modelling case should be undertaken for this project. If we examine what is known in terms of economic analysis of the tunnel, then we can come to some understanding as to why this government is ducking and weaving to avoid undertaking one.
The government's business case relies totally on the assumption of what economists call an agglomeration effect in which population and economic clusters in cities lead to efficiencies and add to business productivity. The Linking Melbourne Authority, which provides information on road infrastructure projects conducted on behalf of the Victorian government, has referred to a book by the American writer Edward L Glaeser called Triumph of the City. Its main thesis is the agglomeration benefits that create cities. The Linking Melbourne Authority does not appear to have read the book, because the book does not argue that freeways are the path to create these benefits. In fact, it argues quite the opposite. Mr Glaeser argues that 'driving creates negative externalities that hamper urban economies' and he warns against highway building, calling it 'anti-urban'. He said For decades we have tried to solve the problem of too many cars on too few lanes by building more roads, but each new highway or bridge then attracts more traffic.
The Age commentator Kenneth Davidson has accurately pointed out in relation to the Royal Park freeway It will cripple the state's fiscal position for many years through massive payments to the public-private partnership consortium that will finance it.
The financial burden on the Victorian taxpayer will be so big that it will ''crowd out'' the state's core responsibilities for funding schools, hospitals, rail transport and even other roads for at least a generation.
Vic Gov Economic consultant says economic benefits wildly overstated
An email recently obtained through FOI illustrates that the Victorian government's own economic consultant, Chris Tehan of Evans and Peck, told the government that the business case 'had dramatically overestimated the wider economic benefits to get an artificial figure of a $1.40 return'. According to The Age … the methodology ''has not been used in any of [the Transport Department's] other public transport projects or program modelling to date''.
Financial case based on reverse of actual trends
The financial case for the East West Link hinges on a prediction that toll road use will jump over the next 30 years because of rising wealth and shrinking petrol and CBD parking price rises. The business case makes the controversial assumption that: first, a driver's willingness to use toll roads will increase by 1.4 per cent per annum due to rising incomes; second, the rate of increase in the cost of running a car will fall from the current two per cent per annum in real terms to half a per cent per annum by 2041; and, third, that the rate of increase in the cost of inner city parking, which is currently increasing at four per cent per annum in real terms, will fall to 0.5 per cent by 2041. I personally regard this as a remarkably heroic assumption given that the state government has decided to extend its congestion levy up from the City of Melbourne into the City of Moreland, up into my electorate, in recent times. This will of course lead to significant increases to the cost of inner city parking.
The Victorian government has been caught out manipulating modelling to produce a favourable result.
Why the public are cynical about "bigticket" infrastructure
The former Infrastructure Australia head Michael Deegan told a Senate committee that the government's unpublished business case provided an alternative estimate showing a cost-benefit ratio of just 0.8. Under this scenario, the project would return just 80c for every dollar spent, suggesting an economic loss if the stock standard analysis preferred by Infrastructure Australia is used. According to The Age, in a submission to a federal infrastructure inquiry, Infrastructure Australia outed Victoria for failing to submit a robust business case for the East West Link, singling out … the controversial $6 billion to $8 billion road as a key example of why the public are cynical about "bigticket"
Infrastructure Australia's 11-member council—which includes transport experts like Sir Rod Eddington and the former federal Treasury Secretary Martin Parkinson—is understood to broadly recommend only those projects with benefit-cost ratios of more than 1.5. And Michael Deegan warns that big-spending promises are being made without proper scrutiny. He said This is a particular problem during election periods where commitments are often made, although robust business cases have not been prepared, let alone independently reviewed … The freeway through Royal Park is a classic example of economic mutton dressed up as lamb.
According to traffic expert Stephen Pelosi, the traffic on the East West Link during the morning peak is expected to slow to 20 to 30 kilometres per hour by 2031 as worsening congestion pushes the road close to capacity just 12 years after it is due to open. The East West Link is forecast to carry 80,000 vehicles a day on opening in 2019, increasing to between 100,000 and 120,000 a day by 2031 according to this modelling.
Stephen Pelosi said If it's reaching 120,000 we're at a position where we're reaching capacity. Unless you intervene in some manner and manage the toll rate to influence demand, you get a situation where you're near capacity.
If it is good enough for the NBN, as the previous speaker suggested to the House, it should be good enough for this project too. Why is the government only too happy to undertake economic modelling on the NBN yet, when it comes to the largest infrastructure and transport project in Victoria's history—East West Link—it refuses to do so. If the age of entitlement is over, why isn't the private sector bankrolling East West Link? If we are in the midst of a budget emergency, why aren't the belts being tightened when it comes to major projects that do not make economic sense?
That is why the amendments to the bill which Labor has moved seek to assess projects first on their merits and fund them later, not the other way around. We also seek to strengthen transparency and public disclosure of project assessments. These are strong measures that will prevent money being wasted on potential white elephants like the East West Link. If this government were serious about fiscal responsibility, if it were serious about merit based infrastructure planning then the freeway through Royal Park in Melbourne would not proceed.
Lack of due diligence
Concern with the lack of due diligence behind the decision to proceed with this freeway is growing. It is acknowledged in the transport industry that adding road capacity through the freeway will bring in more vehicles more quickly and actually worsen congestion on Haddle Street, Flemington Road, Tullamarine Freeway and other roads that are currently at capacity.
Industry assessments are that the freeway will not fix congestion, because, as the 2008 Eddington report identified, less than 20 per cent of all vehicles travel through from the east to the west. What actually goes on is that 80 per cent of all vehicles exit to inner Melbourne to access jobs and services. They will continue to do that despite the Royal Park freeway and, with more vehicles reaching exits more quickly, the risk is that congestion will actually be worse.
There is no strategic justification for this project. This is a proposal which fails critical productivity tests and runs the risk of being negative for state product and GDP. When a poor public project is selected, the community loses twice. It loses because scarce capital is misapplied and because taxes and funds raised to finance that project distort behaviour in ways which have a significant cost.
For a profit, tolls would need to rise to $10.50 per return trip
Tolls on the planned freeway would have to be three times the current cost of an average trip on Citylink for the project's investors to make a profit, according to an international study led by University College London which analysed numerous transport megaprojects, including Australian road and rail projects. It found that, for investors to get a return on the freeway, motorists would have to be charged a minimum $10.50
Source: Speech by Mr KELVIN THOMSON (Wills) (19:34): Tuesday, 23 September 2014 HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES 78 CHAMBER