Is News Ltd bringing discussion about cities to a standstill?

If the world's 6.9 billion people lived in a single city, how large would it be if it were as dense as.................................... (from Per Square Mile)

One of the more bizarre examples of ‘story manufacturing’ in the media I’ve seen for a while  – and we regularly have some doozies – went down in News Ltd papers right across Australia on Friday.

Sydney’s Daily Telegraph ran a front-page story headlined Congestion road tax on drivers is highway robbery. The lead para told us: “workers struggling with a carbon tax are about to be hit with a second wave of Greens-inspired tax pain”. This story was repeated in News Ltd papers across the country. Melbourne’s Herald-Sun was so concerned at this imminent threat it even published an editorial on the matter, No to a new Tax – “Australians do not need another new tax”, it thundered.

And what exactly is this new tax workers are about to be hit with? Well, there’s a clue in the rest of the Herald-Sun’s (short) editorial:

Even the idea of a congestion tax, put forward by the Federal Government yesterday for discussion at the tax forum, will have taxpayers shaking their heads. Fortunately, the Gillard Government will not be able to impose this tax on top of the carbon tax, and all the other taxes Labor has brought in, because it needs the agreement of the states. A congestion tax on cars was suggested by former Treasury secretary Ken Henry to help cut petrol excise, but the taxpayers can take only so much. No, no, no.

Even the idea”?! The incontrovertible fact is there is no new tax. All this supposed angst is manufactured from a handful of words in the Government’s new 36 page Discussion Paper released on Thursday in advance of October’s Tax Forum. The Forum is one of the conditions the independents set for their support of the Government.

The Discussion Paper canvasses a wide range of tax issues participants at the Forum might wish to discuss. These relate to personal tax, transfer payments, business tax, State taxes, environmental and social taxes, and tax system governance. At page 30, it notes the Henry Review recommended governments consider the introduction of variable congestion pricing and therefore poses the following question as a prompt for discussion:

Is there a case to more closely link road charging to the impact users have on the level of congestion on particular roads?

That’s it. It’s just a question. Moreover it’s one of 34 proposed for discussion. And so it should be – I’d be very upset if the most important prospective policy for improving the way we manage our cities wasn’t at least on the table. Read the rest of this entry »


The VFT and Green’s preferences

This blog has devoted a fair bit of attention to the proposed Very Fast Train between Sydney-Canberra-Melbourne (here, here and here), wondering what warrant there is to replace one form of public transport with another.

More attention in fact than any of the mainstream papers or denizens of the blogosphere have mustered, as far as I can tell.

So readers might be interested in this article by Gary Johns published in The Australian last week. It’s notable because he conjectures that the VFT might be the price the Government has to pay to secure Green preferences in this year’s Federal election.

Don’t think I agree with his analysis of the Greens mind (this is the former Special Minister of State in the Keating Government, isn’t it?) but I think his sources on the economics of the VFT are impeccable. Here nevertheless is a less-than-complimentary take on Johns. Read the rest of this entry »