Celebrating the Australian Way of Diversity, The Chronicle, 2 April 2013
If you’ve ever seen a Bollywood movie, you probably know about the Indian festival of Holi, in which people shower one another with colourful powder. Indian society is typically quite respectful of social boundaries, but on Holi, it’s alright for anyone to throw powder at anyone else.
On the ABC Capital Hill program, I spoke with host Lyndal Curtis and Liberal MP Russell Broadbent about the opportunity for the new Victorian Liberal Government to reverse its savage cuts, and about the importance of treating asylum-seekers with dignity in our public debates.
On Sky Lunchtime Agenda, I spoke with host David Lipson and Liberal Senator Scott Ryan about the importance of treating asylum-seekers with dignity and compassion, and the value of making sure we have more and better-trained workers in the aged care sector.
I spoke in parliament last night about a Greens private member’s motion that would effectively shut down Enterprise Migration Agreements (EMAs).
Private Member’s Bill – Enterprise Migration Agreements, 12 February 2013
The former New Zealand politician and head of the World Trade Organisation Michael Moore once had a terrific analogy to describe those who would argue for more foreign aid but also argue for less trade and less migration. He said that attitude was the like the attitude of someone who puts money in the collection plate on Sundays but then behaves badly to the disadvantaged for the rest of the week. It is with the same concern that I rise to speak on this bill today. The attitude that says that we ought to increase our foreign aid, that we ought to increase our refugee intake, but that when workers in our region want to come to Australia to improve their skills and send some remittances back we ought to slam the door in their face. That is not an attitude that is consistent with the values that I hold dear.
In the United States, if you want to insult a right-winger, call them a ‘liberal’. In Australia, if you want to insult a left-winger, call them a ‘Liberal’. In both countries, liberalism has become detached from its original meaning.
It’s time to bring Australian liberalism back to its traditional roots. Small-L liberalism involves a willingness to protect minority rights (even when they’re unpopular) and a recognition that open markets are the best way to boost prosperity.
I spoke in parliament twice yesterday about asylum seekers, and the importance of reducing drownings at sea and treating refugees with dignity.
Migration Amendment (Unauthorised Maritime Arrivals and Other Measures), 27 November 2012
The issue of migration and of refugees is one that is particularly close to my heart. I spoke in my first speech in this place about my mother’s parents, a boilermaker and a teacher, who lived by the credo that if there was a spare room in the house it ought to be used by someone who needed the space. I remember as a little kid, eating at my grandparents’ place and spending time speaking to migrants, some of them refugees—from Hong Kong, Papua New Guinea, Chile, Cambodia and Sri Lanka.
I also told a story that still brings a lump to my throat about an art competition run as part of Refugee Week, where the first prize went to a Karen Burmese woman who had woven a traditional crimson tunic. She was missing her homeland so much that she had made a loom by taking the mattress of the wooden bed base and using the slats as a loom to weave a traditional Karen tunic. That story for me sums up the extraordinary courage and ability of Australia’s refugees. It is why you will never hear me referring to refugees as ‘illegals’. It is why you will never hear me using phrases like ‘boatpeople’.
It was of course Australia’s own Doc Evatt who was a key drafter of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, which says in Article 14(1): ‘Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.’ And that is why there is nothing illegal about seeking asylum from persecution.
I spoke in parliament last night about one of the central questions in the refugee debate – why have many countries in our region chosen not to sign the refugee convention?
Dealing with Non-Signatories to the Refugee Convention, 11 September 2012
In recent months much of the debate in Australia over refugees has centred around whether countries with which we deal have signed the 1951 United Nations Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 protocol. For the coalition I think this is largely just another excuse to say no. Let us face it, refugee policy in the Howard years was hardly characterised by a great deference to international law. But there are many people of goodwill who I meet at my community forums and mobile offices who ask me, quite reasonably, why the government wants to deal with a non-signatory country. I wish to use the chance this evening to answer that question.
Broadly, there are three sets of countries. There are rich countries that are able to enforce their border protection—for example, OECD nations are almost entirely signatories. Then there are poor countries to which many refugees would not wish to go. Somalia is one country that comes to mind. Again, they are happy to sign the convention. Then there is a third group of countries—those poorer countries situated close to refugee sending nations. In many cases these countries are not signatories. As a branch member in the ACT, Barbara Phi, has pointed out to me, countries like India, Pakistan, Malaysia and Indonesia are non-signatories, and they are non-signatories for various reasons. Chief among those reasons is that they do not wish to attract refugees from neighbouring countries.
I have an opinion piece in today’s National Times on immigration and the mining boom: two of the intersecting challenges that Australia is going to be wrestling with over coming decades.
Boom times need not be a bust, National Times, 9 August 2012
Australia’s resource boom is such a colossal shock that it can be hard to get your head around its many impacts. Try these facts, for example. In Moranbah (Qld), the average house price over the past year has risen from $459,000 to $730,000. Hundreds of Australians now work as fly-in, fly-out workers, including some who have chosen to commute from Bali. The cost of developing the Gorgon gas project will be $43 billion – about the GDP of Lebanon. Historically, Western Australia has had a similar level of inequality to other states. Now, it’s the most unequal jurisdiction in the nation.
With some of my Labor colleagues, I’ve been spending time recently working to better understand the diverse impacts of the mining boom, and thinking about how best to spread the benefits across society. We’ve spoken with mining firms and construction companies, unions and social welfare groups, discussing both the upsides and the challenges.
I spoke in parliament this morning about the ACT Welcome to Australia Day.
Welcome to Australia Day
27 June 2012
Last Saturday, it was my pleasure to join a significant group of Canberrans on the Welcome to Australia walk. Welcome to Australia walks were organised throughout Australia on Saturday. They recognise that there are thousands of Australians who do not care much for politics and do not know a great deal about immigration policy but do know that they care about people. Welcome to Australia began as a conversation between a number of individuals and not-for-profit organisations who believed that there needed to be a positive voice in the conversation around multiculturalism. Last Saturday was certainly a positive experience. The speakers included Henry Sherrell, the tireless organiser; MLA Joy Burch; Mark Kulasingham; Claire Doube; Dr Kim Huynh, from ANU, who told a wonderful story in which he used the analogy of tomato soup, salads and stir fries to describe the three alternative visions of multiculturalism; and Greens MLA Amanda Bresnan. Chris Bourke and Katy Gallagher from the ACT Legislative Assembly were also there.
In the SMH News Review section today, I’ve done ‘The Essay’ – a shorter version of my McKell Institute speech.
Dumb Luck – Smart Future, Sydney Morning Herald, 9 June 2012
In the Pacific Ocean, off the west coast of South America, sit the Galapagos Islands. Although they straddle the equator, the pattern of ocean currents has a cooling effect, making them an ideal breeding ground.
The islands are volcanic – so all animal life on the Galapagos Islands came originally by flying or floating nearly 1000 kilometres from Ecuador. And yet for the species that survived, life on the Galapagos Islands was perfect. Migrating birds lucky enough to be blown off course found an environment with few natural predators. Tortoises that floated here found beaches perfectly suited to their breeding environments. Life flourished.
Looking back across Australian economic history, I am often struck by the extent to which luck has similarly played a part in our success. Politicians are sometimes reluctant to talk about luck – preferring to focus on the things we can control than those we can’t. But I think it’s still worth talking about the role that fortune has played, if only to help understand what preparations we should be making. If we don’t do that, we’re like the Galapagos tortoise, which must have thought itself the luckiest species on earth, until British sailors discovered the islands in the late-eighteenth century, and ate them in their thousands.
The Australian Women’s Coalition will be running a series of workshops for young women aged 18-30, who live or work in the ACT region.
The workshops are designed to provide young women with the opportunity to develop transformation projects focusing issues that they most care about. The workshops are particularly aimed at reaching young women from migrant and refugee communities.
Funded by the Australian Government Department of Immigration and Citizenship, the SHOUT! workshops are free and will run from April 2012 to March 2013.
Malaysia Trade Deal: In Praise of Openness, The Drum, 29 May 2012
The rise of Asia is often seen as the rise of Asia’s big nations, like India and China. But even taking these two giants out of the equation, Asia’s share of middle class consumption is expected to outstrip that of the United States and the European Union combined by the middle of this century. A growing Asian middle class means a massive increase in consumption and spending on imported goods and services. Those goods and services include the kind of things that Australians produce and expect: a wide range of yummy food; high-quality education; and elaborately transformed manufactures.
As well as providing a market for our exports, the rise of Asia has also benefited Australian consumers. The past 20 years have seen real prices for imported furniture, handbags, clothes, shoes and medical products roughly halved. Real prices of computers, telephones and other electrical goods have fallen by about two-thirds.
I held one of my regular community forums at lunchtime today at the Belconnen Community Services theaterette (‘theatre@bcs’). I started off speaking about the mining tax package, which has just passed the parliament, and will provide for a cut to the company tax rate, an increase in superannuation, and more investment (particularly in the mining regions).
There were a wide variety of questions, covering the Gonski review of school funding, local arts facilities, the National Disability Insurance Scheme, refugee policy, the purchase of submarines, the lack of a letterbox at the Kangara Waters community, defence force and public service pension indexation, the adequacy of footpaths in the city centre, the merits of taking on debt to pay for fiscal stimulus, the frequency of grass cutting, household assistance in the carbon pricing plan, and the effect of federal pension increases on ACT public housing costs.
I enjoy the interplay of ideas at these forums, and welcome anyone who lives or works on the northside of Canberra to come along to a future community forum.
This forum was held on a weekday lunchtime, but there’s no perfect time of the day for a community forum, so I aim to vary the dates and times to allow as many people as possible to attend. For details of upcoming forums, click here.
I spoke in parliament tonight about Asia-literacy, Ken Henry’s Asian Century report, refugees, and the Canberra Multicultural Festival. The speech is below (and if you’re at the Festival this coming Saturday, please come over to the Andrew Leigh stall and say g’day).
In a relatively short Sky AM Agenda discussion with Mitch Fifield, we discussed the latest asylum-seeker tragedy and the consular assistance being provided to Julian Assange (I also drew on Michael Fullilove’s comparison between News of the World and Wikileaks).
I’ve written an article for the journal Challenge about the Australia of 2032. Full text over the fold.
Party Like It’s 2032
Challenge, Summer 2011-12
Physicist Niels Bohr once said that prediction is very difficult, especially about the future. In writing about the Australia of 2032, I can feel around me the ghosts of economist Irving Fisher (in 1929: ‘Stocks have reached what looks like a permanently high plateau.’), IBM chair Thomas Watson (in 1943: ‘I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.’), and Variety magazine (in 1955: ‘[Rock and roll] will be gone by June.’). Talk show pundits and crystal ball gazers will always be popular, but we should take any predictions with a handful of salt. Technological change moves in unexpected ways. Similarly, as Harold Macmillan famously noted, the biggest challenge for any political leader is ‘Events, my dear boy, events’.
I spoke today on the government’s amendments to the Migration Act.
Migration Legislation Amendment (Offshore Processing)
22 September 2011
On 18 October 2001 an Indonesian fishing boat left the port of Bandar Lampung. There were 421 people on board, including at least 70 children. The boat was just 20 metres long and four metres wide, so people were tightly packed on board. The next day, about 70 kilometres south of Indonesia, the boat encountered heavy seas, took on water, listed violently to the side, capsized and sank within an hour. There were life jackets on board but none of them worked.
As a Senate committee, chaired by the late, great, Senator Peter Cook concluded, there were at least 70 children aboard when SIEV X sank. Only three survived. Two hundred adults also lost their lives. As the International Organisation for Migration pointed out, the tragedy was due to ‘the way the people smugglers pack these boats’.
The last parliamentary fortnight wrapped up with a debate over a motion moved by the Liberal Party about Australia’s ‘forgotten families’. I spoke in the debate, and used it as a chance to discuss the government’s achievements and agenda, and contrast them with the relentless negativity of the Opposition Leader.
I was proud tonight to launch Jemma Purdey’s fine biography of the late Herb Feith. We had around 120 people in the Main Committee Room at Parliament House, which was testament to the number of people Herb’s life touched.
Book Launch of Jemma Purdey, From Vienna to Yogyakarta: The Life of Herb Feith
Andrew Leigh MP
6 July 2011
I begin by acknowledging the traditional owners of the lands on which we meet today, and thanking those who have worked hard to organise today, particularly Louise Crossman and Nik Feith Tan.
Jemmy Purdey, family and friends of Herb, internationalists all – thank you for coming today to celebrate Herb’s life and Jemma’s fine book.
I spoke in parliament yesterday about the contribution that refugees have made to Australia.
World Refugee Day
20 June 2011
What do all these great Australians—researcher Gustav Nossal, entrepreneur Frank Lowy, scientist Karl Kruszelnicki, academic Eva Cox, commentator Les Murray, comedian Ahn Do; sportsman Majak Daw, television presenter Yalda Hakim, the late businessman Richard Pratt and Justice James Spiegelman—have in common? They were all refugees. World Refugee Day is a day to reflect on the generosity of Australia. We are a big country with a big heart This is something we should be proud of. Since 1945, over three-quarters of a million people have resettled in Australia. Those who have sought refuge in our country have made significant social, economic and cultural contributions to the nation we are today and to the nation we will be tomorrow.
I spoke last night on legislation that deals with ‘complementary protection’. Its effect is to update our 1950s-era refugee legislation so that it expands the existing categories to include asylum-seekers who would face persecution based on their sexuality, or who would face domestic violence. Astonishingly, the opposition are opposing it.
Migration Amendment (Complementary Protection) Bill 2011
11 May 2011
As a child, four years of my childhood were spent in Malaysia and Indonesia, including attending primary school in Banda Aceh. I was there because my father was working on an AusAID project to improve education in Indonesia. As the only white child in my class, I came to appreciate perspectives and cultures quite different from my own. It also does not hurt to have the experience of being the outsider.
Australia is a modern nation. Our humanitarian ethos has advanced considerably since 1951, when the Refugee Convention was originally drafted. Our moral attitudes towards asylum applicants can no longer be bottlenecked by a convention written in the context of post-war Europe. Those who require humanitarian refuge but fall outside the 1951 convention include individuals who are at risk of being subjected to the death penalty, such as a woman at risk of an ‘honour killing’ or domestic abuse, or a person who would be prosecuted on the basis of their sexuality. These are all people of whom the vast majority of Australians would feel that the federal government has a duty to protect. Does the coalition really believe that someone who would be jailed for being gay in their home country does not deserve our protection? Is a woman who is at risk of an honour killing really a woman who is making a vexatious refugee claim?
I spoke in parliament yesterday in response to the opposition’s latest tub-thumping on migration.
Refugees and Asylum Seekers – The Big Picture
10 May 2011
The issue of refugees and asylum seekers is a global challenge. According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, in 2009 there were 43.3 million forcibly displaced people throughout the globe and, of those, 15.2 million were refugees. These are vast numbers for the international community to deal with and there are also huge numbers around the world who are affected by the challenge of asylum seekers. Just to give you a sense of the scale of the number of internally displaced people and refugees, Mr Deputy Speaker, I want to quote a couple of statistics from a Parliamentary Library paper by Janet Phillips. She points out that, in 2006, over 72,000 people arrived by boat on the coasts of Italy, Spain, Greece and Malta alone. In 2007, that number was 51,000.
I spoke in parliament tonight against a private members’ motion moved by shadow immigration spokesperson Scott Morrison.
‘A Line in the Sand’, 21 February 2011
In 1983, I was attending Sutherland Primary School, in the electorate of the member for Cook. One day, a person from the computer company Microbee came and set up a computer in the back of the room. It was the first computer most of us had ever seen. The program was a database of the First Fleet, and each of us took it in turns to search the name records to see if our ancestors were on the ship. In that classroom, every eleven year old child wanted to answer the same question: could I possibly be descended from a boat person?