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Capital still an ideas leader

My Chronicle column this week is on innovation.

Capital still an ideas leader, The Chronicle, 1 April 2014

Ask a non-Canberran what words they associate with ‘Canberra’, and it’s likely they’ll come back with ‘politics’ or ‘government’. Yet as those of us who live here know, ours is a city that’s considerably more than the seat of government. If I had to devise a single notion that sums up smart bureaucrats, connected academics and innovative start-ups, it would be that Canberra is an ‘ideas city’.

Recently, I had the pleasure of launching a new book by Peter Dawson, titled Creative Capital. It tells the tale of a city that is informed, modest and connected. Peter Dawson discusses the Australian National University’s role in dating rocks from Apollo 11, Vikram Sharma’s work on quantum cryptography and Alex Zelinsky’s machines that prevent drivers from falling asleep. He reminds us of about Chris Parish’s cancer research, Peter Gage’s HIV research, Charmaine Simeonovic’s work on diabetes and Tim Hirst’s breakthroughs on influenza. And he describes Canberra scientists who’ve delivered environmental breakthroughs: Andrew Blakers on solar photovoltaic cells; Stephen Kaneff, Peter Carden and others on concentrating solar.

Continue reading ‘Capital still an ideas leader’ »

MEDIA RELEASE – Abbott needs to get on with the job of reviewing competition laws – Friday, 14 March 2014

This morning I issued a media release pointing out the Abbott Government’s inaction since announcing its long anticipated ‘root and branch’ competition review in December.






101 days since Competition Review announced and still no action

The Prime Minister and the Minister for Small Business announced 101 days ago that a review panel would be announced “shortly” to conduct its root and branch competition review.

But since December 4, 2013, there’s been no action.

The Government stated last year that:

“The Federal Government has provided the states and territories with draft terms of reference for a competition review. The review panel will be established shortly so that we can have a final report within 12 months.” [Tony Abbott and Bruce Billson, Joint Media Release, 4 December, 2013]

More than three months later, there are no final terms of reference and no one has even been appointed to conduct the review.

“The delay calls into question the Government’s commitment to a thorough and independent review of competition policy,” Dr Andrew Leigh said.

“This is a critical policy area, which impacts on consumers and small and large businesses from supermarkets to service stations, but seems impacted by the Abbott Government’s ‘go-slow’ approach.

“The Prime Minister said his Government would contain no surprises or excuses. I suppose you can’t be surprised by something that moves at a glacial pace.

“Why the hold up? It appears this Government is too busy breaking its promises on the economy, healthcare and education to pursue long term, sensible economic reform through competition policy.”

“Competition is about good regulation. It underpins productivity and participation. I call on Minister Billson to stop procrastinating and get on with the job,” said Dr Leigh.

“If ‘shortly’ doesn’t mean ‘within 100 days’, perhaps Australians will soon be asking whether Mr Billson is engaged in ‘misleading and deceptive conduct’!”.

Friday, 14 March 2014

Breaking Politics – Monday, 3 March 2014

This morning I joined Fairfax Media host Chris Hammer and Liberal MP Andrew Laming for a wide-ranging discussion including the importance of keeping Qantas in Australian hands, protecting the Great Barrier Reef and concerns about the potential harm of winding back racial vilification laws.




SUBJECT/S: Qantas Sales Act and jobs; ‘Green Army’ and jobs; Great Barrier Reef and tourism jobs; Offshore processing of asylum seekers; Repeal of hate speech laws.

CHRIS HAMMER: Well, the big political story of the day is undoubtedly Qantas with Cabinet meeting to decide on what assistance if any the Government can give it. Joining me to discuss this issue and others in Andrew Laming, the Liberal Member for Bowman in Queensland and Andrew Leigh, Assistant Shadow Treasurer and Labor Member for Fraser in the ACT. Gentlemen, there seems to be a standoff here. You’ve got the Government saying it doesn’t want to give a debt guarantee for Qantas. You’ve got Labor saying it doesn’t want to relax the Qantas Sales Act at least as far as foreign ownership’s concerned. Andrew Laming, can you see any way through this impasse?

ANDREW LAMING: Well, these are options that are being considered today by Cabinet. I must admit that I sense that Qantas must be feeling positively manhandled by political commentators at the moment. We’ve had every imaginable recipe for their survival. But in the end the affairs rest in the hands of the company itself. They’ve got to find that balance to look after shareholders, staff and customers and I’m just hoping that can be done as seamlessly and painlessly as possible and those options are in the hands of Cabinet effectively.

HAMMER: Is there any qualitative difference between Qantas and the carmakers? With the car markers most Australians weren’t buying Fords and Holdens, they were buying imported Hyundais. It’s the same with holidays and going overseas. They’re just buying tickets on price. Should the Government be intervening to help Qantas?

LAMING: Well, certainly airlines are a more internationalised sector, so that means if we wish to retain some of sense of Australian identity, then we’re going to have to look at every competitive advantage for Qantas in an open market, not unfair support. But in the end these are decisions for the company. They have to look after their own affairs and the more we interfere, even if we think it’s benign, may just prolong the inevitable. We need the company making long term decisions for their survival.

HAMMER: What’s the inevitable?

LAMING: Well, the inevitable is increasing competition. The inevitable is getting rid of the carbon tax here in Australia which costs Qantas $106 million last year. These are things that we can do to improve things immediately for the immediate survival of Qantas as John Borghetti at Virgin pointed out just recently.

HAMMER: Andrew Leigh, Labor has suggested giving Qantas a debt guarantee but that seems to be off the table. Tony Abbott’s ruled that out. On the Qantas Sales Act is there room to move there from Labor’s point of view?

ANDREW LEIGH: Chris, we’re in this strange situation at the moment where Qantas has asked for a debt guarantee and the Government has now said no after having given very clear indications that it would provide such a guarantee with the four-part test laid out with Joe Hockey in December. Qantas hasn’t asked for a change to the Qantas Sale Act and yet the Government is pushing that as its number one solution. So, it really does seem to me that when it comes to saving the Flying Kangaroo the Government is flying chicken. It’s not doing what the company is asking for and is instead pursuing a route which, if it were successful, would see us lose our national carrier. We would effectively see Qantas become a foreign owned airline.

Continue reading ‘Breaking Politics – Monday, 3 March 2014’ »

Investment, Education and Fairness

I spoke in parliament on the government’s failure to turn a G20 growth aspiration into a clear plan for prosperity.

MPI – G20, 26 February 2014

I congratulate the Assistant Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Development on his decade-old diggings, but I am happy to assure the House that I, like all members on this side, do not support a GP tax. The aspiration set by the Treasurer for an additional 0.4 per cent growth per year over the next five years is a perfectly reasonable aspiration, and nobody in this parliament would disagree with it, but an aspiration is not a plan.

There are two very clear plans for growth on offer in this parliament. This side of the parliament believes that growth is driven by investment, by education and by fairness. That side of the parliament believes it is driven by cuts, cuts and cuts—cutting infrastructure, cutting services and cutting wages.

Continue reading ‘Investment, Education and Fairness’ »

Creative Capital – A Foreword

I wrote the foreword to Peter Dawson’s terrific new book on innovation in Canberra. If you’d like to buy a copy, contact

Foreword to Peter Dawson, Creative Capital: Bureaucrats, Boffins, Businessmen, Haldstead Press, 2014
Andrew Leigh

Ask a non-Canberran what words they associate with ‘Canberra’, and it’s London to a brick that they’ll come back with ‘politics’ or ‘government’. Yet as those of us who live here know, this is a city that’s considerably more than the seat of government. If I had to devise a single notion that sums up smart bureaucrats, connected academics and innovative start-ups, it would be that Canberra is an ‘ideas city’.

Peter Dawson’s account of creativity in Canberra is informed, modest and connected – a little like the city itself. You’ll read about the Australian National University’s role in dating rocks from Apollo 11, Vikram Sharma’s work on quantum cryptography and Alex Zelinsky’s machines that prevent drivers from falling asleep. You’ll learn about Chris Parish’s cancer research, Peter Gage’s HIV research, Charmaine Simeonovic’s work on diabetes and Tim Hirst’s breakthroughs on influenza. And you’ll find out about environmental breakthroughs: Andrew Blakers on solar photovoltaic cells; Stephen Kaneff, Peter Carden and others on concentrating solar.

Continue reading ‘Creative Capital – A Foreword’ »

Ideas and Engagement: The Western Australian Economic Story

I’m speaking today to a business breakfast in Perth, on the theme of innovation in the Western Australian economic story.

Ideas and Engagement: The Western Australian Economic Story*

Andrew Leigh MP
Shadow Assistant Treasurer

Business Breakfast, Perth
21 February 2014

I acknowledge the Whadjuk Nyoongar people, the traditional owners of the lands on which we meet, my federal colleague Alannah MacTiernan, Western Australian Shadow Treasurer Ben Wyatt and Shadow Minister for Planning and Finance Rita Saffioti. My thanks to the Perth Writers’ Festival for flying me over to the left coast.

It’s a pleasure to have the chance to speak with you today.

When I was in my mid-twenties, I had the chance to work for the late Western Australian Senator Peter Cook. He was then the Shadow Minister for Trade – a perfect portfolio for a Western Australian.

Peter taught me a great deal about politics, and about Western Australia. I enjoyed travelling with him through places like Kalgoorlie, Karratha and Carnarvon, talking with mine workers and farmers, local business leaders and politicians.

Peter was an instinctive internationalist. He took the view that you couldn’t be a social democrat without believing in an open Australia – and you couldn’t believe in openness without a proper social safety net. He was a yachtsman, with a yen for open waters.

Continue reading ‘Ideas and Engagement: The Western Australian Economic Story’ »

Radio National Drive interview – Tuesday, 11 February 2014

This evening, I joined host Waleed Aly and NSW Senator Arthur Sinodinos for a discussion about the implications of the death of car manufacturing in Australia and the Assistant Treasurer’s attempt to windback Labor’s consumer-centred Future of Financial Advice (FOFA) reforms. Here’s a podcast.

Breaking Politics – Transcript – Monday, 10 February

This morning I joined Fairfax Media host Chris Hammer and Brisbane-based Liberal MP Andrew Laming to congratulate Terri Butler on her bi-election win in Griffith against a high profile rival.







MONDAY, 10 February

SUBJECT/S: Terri Butler’s win in Griffith; Building industry corruption; Federal Budget.

CHRIS HAMMER: Tony Abbott’s Government has faced its first electoral test on the weekend with the Griffith by-election. It seems Labor has retained the seat, Kevin Rudd’s old seat but that there has been a slight swing towards the Coalition. So that’s left both sides of politics claiming vindication. We’re joined in the studio now by Andrew Laming who has a seat nearby in Brisbane and Andrew Leigh who’s from Canberra. Andrew Laming can I start with you? Give us your spill. Why is this a vindication for the Coalition?

ANDREW LAMING: Well it’s remarkable that the two results, last year and the by-election are so close. I think what commentators is that we’ve seen a departing Prime Minister and with him goes a certain personal vote and I think that’s simply compensated for what would have been a swing to an opposition during a by-election. It’s hard to quantify Kevin Rudd’s impact on that seat over the decade or so that he was there. But certainly replacing him was a great challenge for the Labor Party. They’ve managed to do that. They’ve managed to hold as close as they could to their vote last year. I think they’re the main factors; the departure of an ex-Prime Minister and of course, the typical by-election swing that should run against a government.

HAMMER: So are you saying this is a good result for Labor?

LAMING: Well yes. Actually, I am. I’m saying both parties campaigned very hard. This became the Somme, a World War One battle front. The fact that we got an almost identical front just shows that both parties through everything at it and I think, if you’ve got a departing Prime Minister, it’s usually pretty hard to hold your vote and Labor’s almost managed to do that.

HAMMER: Okay, Andrew Leigh, well Andrew Laming has been a bit counter-intuitive here and said it’s a good result for Labor. Your turn, is it a good result for the Coalition?

ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: I think Andrew Laming has been appropriately generous to Terri Butler who won on the weekend, as I think we always ought to do after an election. It leaves Andrew now as the only doctor in the House, the only person with medical qualifications in the House of Representatives. Terri will be a great addition to the team – two young kids and a lawyer in a national law firm – somebody who is keen to work with people of different ideological views, which is I think what you really want in a parliamentarian, somebody who doesn’t just come in wanting to knock heads together, but actually build a better country for everyone.

Continue reading ‘Breaking Politics – Transcript – Monday, 10 February’ »

ABC NEWS 24 Interview – Thursday 6 February 2014

This afternoon I joined ABC News 24 host, Greg Jennett, to discuss a speech at the Lowy Institute delivered by Treasurer Joe Hockey today. Mr Hockey used the occassion to again trot out platitudes about the end of  ‘age of entitlement’ but showed he had no economic plan except cuts that will disproportionately hurt low and middle income Australians. Here’s the transcript:




SUBJECT/S: Ford jobs; Entitlements; G20.

GREG JENNETT: Shadow Assistant Treasurer, Andrew Leigh, has been listening to that [Joe Hockey’s] speech. He joins me now.


JENNETT: Thanks for coming in. Let’s start first of all with the issue of Ford. Closures were announced or an intention of them last year. This will come as an extra blow to workers there?

LEIGH: As I understand it, we haven’t had a formal announcement yet but certainly we’ve had some pretty dark days for jobs under this government, whether they’re Holden jobs that the Government goaded to leave or some of the other manufacturing jobs we’ve seen put in jeopardy by the Government’s decisions around SPC. So, it would be a concern and I think adds to uncertainty about Australia’s employment position at a time where clearly the Government is going to struggle to meet its own jobs target.

JENNETT: Was there enough flexibility within the package that the negotiated around that time last year to roll with these sort of developments and make sure that the workers are retrained and protected in some way?

Continue reading ‘ABC NEWS 24 Interview – Thursday 6 February 2014’ »

Media Release – Coalition Helps Big Businesses Keep Taxes Secret



Coalition Helps Big Businesses Keep Taxes Secret

Australians should be very concerned about the Abbott Government’s plans to allow big business to hide their tax affairs, Shadow Assistant Treasurer Andrew Leigh said today.

In today’s Australian Financial Review, Assistant Treasurer Arthur Sinodinos said: “We don’t want to get into a situation where we’re putting more and more information out there.”

“While in office, Labor put in place measures that required 200 of Australia’s largest firms to disclose their total income, taxable income and tax paid,” said Dr Leigh.

“We did this to make sure that big firms paid their fair share of tax.

Continue reading ‘Media Release – Coalition Helps Big Businesses Keep Taxes Secret’ »

Making Multinationals Pay Their Share

My op-ed in today’s Herald Sun is on the Coalition’s decision to go soft on multinational profit-shifting, letting $700 million of revenue slip through their fingers.

We’re Cheating Ourselves if Multinationals Don’t Pay Up, Herald Sun, 2 January 2014

New York Governor Mario Cuomo once said that parties campaign in poetry, but govern in prose. In the same spirit, one Australian political party seem to think it can campaign for the middle, but govern for its base.

With the change of government, we’ve seen Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s pre-election poetry turn into prose of a quite different character. Apparently, the secret to solving a “budget emergency” is to lower the tax burden on carbon emitters and remove a profits-based mining tax – measures that were anticipated to raise $17 billion over the next four years.

It’s lucky we didn’t have a ‘budget catastrophe’, or the government would have had to solve it by getting rid of income taxes and company taxes too.

Continue reading ‘Making Multinationals Pay Their Share’ »

Monday Political Forum – ABC Sydney 702

I joined erudite Drive host Richard Glover, Reserve Bank board member Heather Ridout and former Liberal leader John Hewson for a wide-ranging discussion about government suport for Qantas and General-Motors Holden, climate policy, the 30th anniversary of the floating of the dollar, remembering Nelson Mandela and the importance of tenacity. Here’s the ABC 702 audio to listen to. The transcript is below.

Glover: Monday’s political forum Heather Ridout, Reserve Bank board member and former head of the Australian Industry Group, Dr John Hewson former Liberal leader of course and economist and Andrew Leigh, the Labor member for Fraser and the Shadow Assistant Treasurer is also a former professor of economics at the ANU. Andrew welcome to you in Canberra.

Leigh: Thank you Richard.

Glover: And Heather and John welcome to you here in Sydney. Now both QANTAS and General Motors Holden are in the sort of trouble that leaves them vulnerable if not given some sort of government help. So is it a case of the tax payer to the rescue yet again, or do we let such icons sink or swim? Heather Ridout.

Ridout: Thanks for that one.

Glover: Just a hot-ball-pass straight to you.

Ridout: Look, I think both QANTAS and Holden are in similar but different places. Both operating in, their Global players in a Global economy, playing in a global economy with high cost structures and that makes it very hard. But that’s where the similarity ends. I mean I think QANTAS wants to be very careful people don’t get the wrong impression. It’s a very strong company with a very strong asset base with a very strong balance sheet.

Continue reading ‘Monday Political Forum – ABC Sydney 702’ »

Monday Breaking Politics – Future of the Car Industry

This morning I had the pleasure of debating the Liberal’s Andrew Laming in my regular slot on Breaking Politics with host Tim Lester. One of the topics was whether the government should intervene to save Australia’s car industry.





SUBJECT/S: Car manufacturing, QANTAS, carbon policy, debt limit

TIM LESTER: Imagine Australia as a country that does not build cars, Mazdas, Hyundais or BMWs but for that locally built Holden’s, Fords and Toyota’s they’d be gone. Well it may be government and car maker decisions in coming weeks set us up for that future. On Monday, Breaking Politics is proud to have the two Andrews in the studio, Andrew Laming the Liberal MP in the Queensland electorate of Bowman and here in Fraser in the ACT, Labour’s Andrew Leigh. Welcome to you both. Andrew Laming one person in Labor who really ought to know, Kim Carr, says that for less than $150 million a year, according to one estimate government could keep Holden in Australia. Would that be money well spent?

ANDREW LAMING: Well this has been a tantalizing proposition for every government right up to today and here we are Groundhog Day again wondering whether or not we can save our vehicle manufacturers. It’s not too much the quantum of money but it’s the social impact of not having vehicle manufacturing and all of the support industry continuing so governments of both sides of the political fence work very hard to keep our manufacturing here in Australia. And I never ever forget the social benefits of keeping that industry here and the employment it provides.

LESTER: So you think this Government needs to work pretty hard to keep the car industry in Australia?

LAMING: Oh there’s nothing new. All governments up until today have worked extraordinarily hard – some would say too hard – to keep vehicle manufacturing here. We need to make sure if we are providing some assistance to keep it happening in Australia, that at an employment level we are also getting factories and manufacturing that is as efficient as possible and competitive.

LESTER: What’s your sense, have governments spent too much in the past to keep vehicle makers in this country, or do you think we’ve got it pretty right?

LAMING: Well self-evidently how much we’ve invested has simply led to the same question being raised again today, and we will have this on-going negotiation with overseas owners about how to keep manufacturing here.

LESTER: Andrew Leigh, $150 million well spent or would it be a waste of money?

ANDREW LEIGH: Tim, I share Andrew’s views about the importance of high-tech manufacturing to Australia. The typical car has a couple of hundred microchips, Kim Carr tells me. So its high-tech manufacturing. What I worry about though is the amount of time Mr Abbott has spent over the last few years focussing on the impact of the carbon price which is a very small impact on motor manufacturing, but then very little emphasis on the targeted assistance which is being provided to vehicle manufacturers which is a much larger component of their decision to locate in Australia.

Continue reading ‘Monday Breaking Politics – Future of the Car Industry’ »

From Coalition debt trucks to no debt limit – Monday, 9 December 2013

This morning I spoke to reporters about the Government’s deal with the minor party Greens to scrap the debt ceiling – due to pass the Senate this week. Here’s the doostop transcript:





SUBJECT/S: Debt cap, carbon policy and emissions, Holden.

Andrew Leigh: Today, the House of Representatives is going to vote on removing the Australian debt cap, and it’s worth just reminding ourselves of some of the things that Prime Minister Abbott has been saying over recent months. He said during the election that the Greens were the only party that didn’t believe in economic growth. He said that they were more extreme than any other political party running in the election. He said that if debt is the problem, more debt isn’t the solution. He promised to release a budget update within a hundred days. He’s done none of those things, and today he’s going to be striking a deal which, if people had known about it before the election might well have affected the way they voted. And let’s face it, this broken promise from Mr Abbott isn’t the first. Mr Abbott has broken promises over school funding, over his promise that no superannuants would be left worse off, and he’s broken his promise over the boat buy-back. I think that Mr Abbott might have thought that if he just kept his fingers crossed behind his back all the way through the last three years perhaps he could get away with all this promise-breaking. Frankly, I think the Australian people are beginning to think that the only promise you can believe from Mr Abbott is his pledge that if he hasn’t written it down, you probably shouldn’t take it too seriously. I’m happy to take questions.

Continue reading ‘From Coalition debt trucks to no debt limit – Monday, 9 December 2013’ »

Abbott’s axe to hurt small business at the worst possible time – 1 December 2013






Abbott’s axe to hurt small business at the worst possible time

Business is unhappy with the Abbott Government’s plans to cut the loss carry-back scheme and the instant asset write-off.

This week the Abbott Government will vote to axe tax breaks for Australian small businesses introduced by Labor.

“Mr Abbott is taking an axe to a tax break for small business,” said Shadow Assistant Treasurer, Dr Andrew Leigh.

“By reducing the thresholds available under the small business asset write-off regime from $6500 to $1000, Mr Abbott is adding complexity and compliance costs for small businesses.”

Under Labor’s plan companies can carry a tax loss back and receive a refund by claiming a tax offset against the tax they had previously paid – known as a loss carry-back tax offset.

“The Government needs to explain why it is increasing costs and red-tape for small business,” said Shadow Minister Assisting the Leader for Small Business, Bernie Ripoll.

”How can they promise to reduce $1billion of red tape, then makes cuts that increase red tape and compliance costs for small business?”

“This is just another example of the Government’s rhetoric not matching up with its actions.”

“Australians running small businesses are quickly learning that they did not get the government that they were promised.”

The Australian Industry Group (AiGroup) and the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI) told a Senate Inquiry that scrapping nearly $4 billion in tax concessions will increase compliance costs and reduce investment returns at a time when small business needs all the help it can get.

“We do not support the repeal of the loss carry-back provisions and we do not support the proposal to reduce the small business asset write-off threshold.”

“The proposal to remove the instant write-off facility for small business will have a material impact on them and will decrease investment at the time it is needed most.” – Dr Peter Burn, AiGroup

And support retaining the Instant Asset Write-Off by saying:

“It relieves business of all the paperwork, it reduces the costs they have to pay their accountants and gives them more time in their  businesses-less money to the accountants and more money for reinvestment” -  Dr Burn

“We do support the retention of the instant asset write-off provisions and the provisions relating to carry-back of losses, which are measures that support small business.”  - Mr Peter Anderson, ACCI

The Senate Economics Committee is due to release its report on the MRRT repeal bills on Monday.

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Breaking Politics – 8 October

This morning I spoke with Fairfax Media’s Tim Lester for Breaking Politics, exploring news of the day. I was asked about on-going revelations Coalition MPs, including Prime Minister Tony Abbott, have repaid  tax payer funded outings, the impact of the US Congress budget impasse and about the rights of West Papuans to express their concerns.  Here’s the full transcript:


TIM LESTER: When is it legitimate for an MP to claim his or her travel expenses on the taxpayer? Going to weddings for example. There are some numerous and now some notorious cases out there. To help us fathom this issues and others, our regular for Monday, joining us this week on a Tuesday because of holidays is Andrew Leigh, the MP for Fraser, Labor MP. Thank you for coming in Andrew.


LESTER: Tony Abbott attended weddings several years ago. Now, one of them was Peter Slipper’s several years ago now. He claimed the costs. The taxpayers paid for him. He’s now paid it back seven years later when the issue surfaces as contentious. Has he done the right thing or the wrong thing?

LEIGH: Mr Abbott’s seems to have a fairly expansive view of entitlements and you’re beginning to see a bit of a pattern here. Like the Howard Government which had seven ministers resign early on as a result of various scandals including travel expenses scandals. There are now four Coalition cabinet ministers, including the Prime Minister who are under investigation here. I guess what worries me is that if they’re taking that sort of approach to these cases that we know about, what approach do they take to public expenses more broadly? That plays into a broader question over schemes such as paid parental leave which I think demonstrate an even more cavalier approach to the public finances.

LESTER: So, the various cases of weddings that we’ve seen here where these MPs have gone along and claimed on the taxpayer, they should not have done that?

LEIGH: I certainly don’t believe so. I mean it’s great to see Coalition MPs going to weddings. They’re so excited by them, you wonder how they can be against same-sex marriage. But this strikes me as an entirely personal matter and I’m surprised they’ve claimed for it.

Continue reading ‘Breaking Politics – 8 October’ »

Community-Business Partnerships

My Chronicle column this month continues the community-building theme, with a discussion of community-business partnerships.

Community Help from Business and Government, The Chronicle, 3 September 2013

A few weeks ago, I attended the opening of MLC Advice Canberra, a new financial planning business run by 30 year-old Michael Miller. In my role as your federal MP, I go to a lot of office openings, but this one was different. Alongside the finance boffins were a veritable who’s who of Canberra community organisations.

Care Inc director Carmel Franklin came along because Michael serves on her board. Others came to recognise his donations. With each new client, Michael makes a donation to Diabetes ACT, Menslink, or the UC Foundation for regional and Indigenous youth. When I asked him about this, Michael smiled and replied ‘Well, I’m young and I don’t have kids. The business is doing well, so why shouldn’t I help others too?’

Government has an important role in reducing disadvantage, whether it’s through DisabilityCare, Indigenous employment programs, or uncapping university places so more children can be the first in their family to get a tertiary education. But we also need to unleash the potential of Australia’s charities. Partly, that’s about the new Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission, which will reduce the burden of regulation and reporting. But it’s also about encouraging collaborations between innovative businesses and great charities.

Continue reading ‘Community-Business Partnerships’ »

ABC RN Drive – 15 August 2013

I appeared on ABC RN Drive with Waleed Aly and Arthur Sinodinos last night, discussing special economic zones, Coalition costings, minority government, and Waleed turning 35. Here’s a podcast.

Boosting Entrepreneurship

I spoke in parliament today about the launch of Entry 29, Canberra’s newest place for start-ups.

Innovation in Canberra, 27 March 2013

Last Wednesday, I attended the launch of Entry 29, a co-working innovation space located just on the edge of the ANU campus in Acton. The name Entry 29 has a terrific connection to Canberra’s history. In the federal capital design competition to design Canberra, 137 entries were submitted and the winner was the 29th entrant. In memory of Canberra’s history and with an eye to Canberra’s future, the Canberra community decided to call this innovation space Entry 29.

Continue reading ‘Boosting Entrepreneurship’ »

Construction of the NBN begins in Civic

In about 12 months, people living in the shaded area will be able to connect to the NBN

Yesterday, I welcomed the release of detailed maps by NBN Co, showing where construction of the National Broadband Network (NBN) will start in Civic.

This is really exciting for local families and business in the Civic area. In around 12 months’ time, people in Civic will be able to start connecting to the National Broadband Network. The map shows that NBN fibre is being rolled out Civic, Acton and parts of Braddon which will allow more residents access to faster, affordable and more reliable broadband.

The map is another sign that construction of the National Broadband Network is continuing to accelerate, with work now having commenced or been completed to over 784,000 homes and businesses across Australia. The release of this map means that work is starting in this area and over the next few months, we’ll start to see NBN Co workers locally doing the detailed planning and inspection work, and then rolling out the fibre. Within around twelve months, construction of the NBN in Civic will be completed. This means that families and businesses will be able to connect to faster, more reliable broadband services. A standard NBN connection to the home or office is free – and NBN retail services are available for similar prices to what people are paying now, but for a much superior service.

The National Broadband Network is about preparing Australia for the future. It’s about ensuring that our local communities in places like Canberra are not left behind as the world and our local economy changes. From seeing your local doctor from home, to your kids being able to take a specialist class at another school – the NBN will change the way we live, work, and access services. It will lead to a new wave of innovation, and I’m delighted that people in Civic will be among the first to benefit.

Australia-China forum panel discussion

I recently attended the Australia-China forum in Beijing and was a part of a breakfast panel discussing various political issues. We covered off the Asian Century White Paper and optimism in Australian politics during the session. The audio from the panel is available below.

Australia-China Forum panel discussion by Andrewleighmp on Mixcloud

Supporting Consumers

I spoke in parliament yesterday about supermarket competition, the importance of standing on the side of consumers, and why I’m proud to be a practitioner of the ‘dismal science’.

Matter of Public Importance, 15 August 2012

I rise to speak on this matter of public importance relating to supermarket competition, with a particular focus on the importance of maintaining lower prices for consumers. Much of Australia’s economic history in the post-war decades is characterised by a somewhat unholy alliance across the major parties to protect producer interests at the expense of consumer interests. So much of the ‘protection all-round’ that prevailed in the 1950s and 1960s meant that Australians paid high prices and that there was less foreign investment. We were less exposed to trade. Our firms were less competitive and our consumers suffered for that. One of the great achievements of the last generation of economic policy makers, thanks to people on both sides of the House, is that we have put the consumer first.

Continue reading ‘Supporting Consumers’ »

Boosting Innovation

I spoke in parliament yesterday about a valuable roundtable on boosting innovation.

Innovation Roundtable, 14 August 2012

This morning it was my pleasure to attend a roundtable discussion at Government House on the topic ‘A National Conversation on Capturing the Benefits of Basic Research in Australia’. The event was organised by recent Nobel Laureate Brian Schmidt and moderated by Ken Henry. It operated under the Chatham House Rule so I will not list all 26 participants, but they included heads of research bodies, senior government officials, business leaders and the Governor-General herself. The very thoughtful Senator Arthur Sinodinos represented the coalition.

Continue reading ‘Boosting Innovation’ »

Go forth, and be unreasonable

Today’s Australian runs a version of my ANU graduation speech in the Higher Education section.

Progress rarely plane sailing but dare to do it anyway, The Australian, 25 July 2012

In 1931, the British air ministry decided to experiment by commissioning a new fighter aircraft. The bureaucrats wanted aviation engineers to abandon past orthodoxies and create something entirely new.

The initial prototypes were disappointing. But then a company called Supermarine approached the ministry with a radical new design. A public servant by the name of Henry Cave-Browne-Cave decided to bypass the regular process and order it. The new plane was the Supermarine Spitfire.

Continue reading ‘Go forth, and be unreasonable’ »

The Spirit Which is Not Too Sure It’s Right

I addressed graduating ANU students today, speaking about doubt and uncertainty, scepticism and risk-taking, experimenting and being prepared to make a mistake.

‘The Spirit Which is Not Too Sure It’s Right’
ANU Graduation Address
12 July 2012

In 1931, the British air ministry decided to experiment by commissioning a new fighter aircraft.[1] The bureaucrats wanted aviation engineers to abandon past orthodoxies and create something entirely new.

The initial prototypes were disappointing. But then a company called Supermarine approached the ministry with a radical new design. A public servant by the name of Henry Cave-Brown-Cave decided to bypass the regular process and order it. The new plane was the Supermarine Spitfire.

Continue reading ‘The Spirit Which is Not Too Sure It’s Right’ »’s Kindle Pricing Policies

I spoke in parliament yesterday about getting Australians a better deal on Kindle books.’s Kindle Pricing Policies
House of Representatives, 28 June 2012

Access to many and affordable books is an important component of a civilised society. It is through books that children are exposed to new ideas and it is through books that many of us as adults broaden our experience. Indeed, one of the last things I wrote while as an academic was a survey of the books that federal parliamentarians were then reading which turned into an article with my friend Macgregor Duncan. Reading opens new worlds and makes us better people. It is in that vein that I urge the House to place pressure on to provide better and cheaper access to books through the Amazon Kindle.

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Labor and Consumer Protection

I spoke today about payday lending, reverse mortgages, and Labor’s history of consumer protection.

Consumer Credit and Corporations Legislation Amendment (Enhancements) Bill 2011
26 June 2012

Not all debt is bad. Many of us here have a mortgage. Many of us have taken a loan to buy a car. My own calculations using data from the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia Survey suggest that 60 per cent of Australian adults live in a household that has some debt and that the average is $100,000 of property debt. On average, debt levels rise with household net worth: if a household increases their net worth by $10, they will typically take another dollar of debt. Thanks to home loans, Australians are now able to buy houses at a much younger age than was the case in my grandparents generation. So credit in that sense has made us better off. Business loans also make the corporate sector grow faster; they help productive firms grow more rapidly. Car loans allow young people to take a job that requires four wheels. And although too many Australians probably carry unpaid balances on own credit cards, they are a handy source of finance to carry us through a tight spot.

It is only when sources of credit are made available to people in circumstances contrary to their interests that it becomes a problem. Care Inc., a financial counselling service in the ACT, told me the story of a client of theirs on a disability support pension, supporting her low income by selling the Big Issue magazine. She had sought assistance for a payday loan she had been paying for well over a year, and that was despite the initial loan being for one month. The client was regularly short of money to pay for food and utilities but continued to take out payday loans. Often a new loan would be provided with the outstanding amount being rolled in. That client felt trapped in a cycle of debt and felt great anxiety. Care Inc. told me that her limited understanding of budgeting and dependence on payday loans significantly affected her quality of life. Having an intellectual disability and mental health issues only compounded the issue.

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Putting Facts Before Fear in Economic Debates

I moved a private member’s motion in the House of Representatives today on the strength of the Australian economy, and the need to approach economic debates with facts rather than fear (avoiding phobophobia).

A Strong Australian Economy
18 June 2012

I move: That this House:
(1) notes that:
(a) by historical standards, unemployment, inflation and interest rates are at very low levels;
(b) for the first time in Australian history, Australia has a AAA rating from all three major credit rating agencies;
(c) Australia’s debt levels, despite the hit to revenues from the global financial crisis, are around one tenth the level of major advanced economies;
(d) OECD Economic Outlook 91 confirms that the Australian economy will significantly outperform OECD economies as a whole over this year and next; and
(e) the IMF has said of Australia: ‘we welcome the authorities’ commitment to return to a budget surplus by 2012-13 to rebuild fiscal buffers, putting Commonwealth government finances in a stronger position’; and
(2) calls upon all Members to approach economic debates with facts rather than fear, and to put the national interest first when discussing the strong Australian economy.

Economic reform in Australia has never been easy. In the postwar decades, the conservatives built up a tariff wall that helped make Australian industry uncompetitive and kept consumer prices high. In 1973, Gough Whitlam began the long process of breaking down Australia’s tariff walls—the 25 per cent across-the-board tariff cuts.

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My SMH op-ed today is on the economic phobophobics.

Nothing to fear but merchants of gloom, Sydney Morning Herald, 7 June 2012

In the 1970s, psychologists uncovered an unusual phobia: patients who were scared of the possibility of having a panic attack. They called the condition phobophobia – a phobia of having a panic attack. It could be debilitating. One sufferer quit his job, and refused to leave his home.

Opening the business pages of the Australian press some days, it feels like some of the noisier voices in the land are suffering from phobophobia. This is despite the fact that unemployment, inflation and the RBA cash rate are below 5 percent (a rare thing in the post-war era). The prices of what we sell to the rest of the world – relative to the prices of what they buy from us – are at once-in-a-century highs. For the first time, Australia has a AAA rating from the three major credit agencies.

Continue reading ‘Phobophobia’ »

The Asian Century Beckons

Senator Lisa Singh and I have an opinion piece in today’s Canberra Times on the implications of the rise of Asia for Australia. The full text is over the fold. It’s based on our submission to Ken Henry’s Asian Century white paper.

The Asian Century Beckons, Canberra Times, 25 April 2012

In the 21st century, we can confidently predict two trends. First, Australia will become more ethnically diverse. And second, we will become more enmeshed with Asia. The next generation of Australians will be more likely to have been born in Asia, travelled to Asia, worked in Asia, or married someone from Asia.

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