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Territory Govt leads the way, working with the ACNC to benefit charities – Press conference transcript



SUBJECT/S: ACT Government working with the Australian Charities and Not for Profits Commission to help charities.

FEDERAL ASSISTANT SHADOW TREASURER, ANDREW LEIGH: Thank you everyone for coming along. I’m Andrew Leigh, the Shadow Assistant Treasurer, and I’m here with ACT Treasurer Andrew Barr, Mike Zissler from Lifeline, and Lyn Harwood from Communities@Work. We are here at [Lifeline shopfront] Hipsley Lane to talk about the importance of Canberra charities and the importance of reducing the paper work burden. When Labor was in government we put in place in 2012 the Australian Charities and Not for Profits Commission. One of the aims of that Commission was to reduce reporting duplication that charities face; to allow those charities to spend less time doing paperwork and more time helping the vulnerable. We’ve now found that as a result of the ACT ceding its reporting requirements to the ACNC, Canberra charities could save $2 million dollars. So, I’m calling on the Abbott Government to back the ACNC, to support Canberra charities and to get out of the way and reduce the paper work on our great Canberra charities. I’ll hand over to Andrew [Barr].

Continue reading ‘Territory Govt leads the way, working with the ACNC to benefit charities – Press conference transcript’ »

Opening up the Labor Party – 666 Canberra interview – Tuesday, 8 April 2014

In the wake of the WA senate election re-run, this morning I joined ABC 666 Breakfast presenter, Philip Clark, for a discussion about the democratisation of the Australian Labor Party and the important contribution of an increasingly diverse and modern union movement. I argue that the ALP should be more attractive to small-l liberals and that it should be easier for people across the community to join. Here’s the podcast.

National Press Club address – Australian Egalitarianism Under Threat – Thursday, 27 March 2014

Addressing the National Press Club, I talked about a generation of rising inequality, how the Abbott Government’s policies will affect inequality and the importance of maintaining Australia’s egalitarian ethos (download audio; iTunes podcast):


Battlers and Billionaires: Australian Egalitarianism Under Threat*

National Press Club Address



In 2002, two bombs exploded in Bali nightclubs, killing and injuring hundreds of people. At the local hospital, there was a shortage of painkillers. Graeme Southwick, an Australian doctor on duty, asked patients to assess their own pain levels. He kept being told by patients in the ‘Australian’ ward that they were okay – the person next to them was suffering more.

Coming across this account, historian John Hirst was reminded of the description of injured Australians in Gallipoli nearly a century earlier. He quotes the official war historian Charles Bean, who describes the suffering and then says, ‘Yet the men never showed better than in these difficulties. The lightly hurt were full of thought for the severely wounded.’

Even in the midst of their own pain, the first instinct of many Australians was to think of those worse off than themselves.

Continue reading ‘National Press Club address – Australian Egalitarianism Under Threat – Thursday, 27 March 2014’ »

MEDIA RELEASE – Bradbury to lead international tax policy division – 25 March 2014

This morning I issued a release congratulating Federal Labor’s former Assistant Treasurer David Bradbury for his new strategic leadership role with the OECD.







Shadow Assistant Treasurer, Andrew Leigh, has warmly congratulated former Assistant Treasurer David Bradbury on his appointment to a strategic role with the  Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

The OECD undertook a competitive and global selection process to choose Mr Bradbury as the new head of the Tax Policy and Statistics Division based in Paris.

From next month Mr Bradbury will be in charge of raising the profile of tax policy analysis work at the OECD.

“David has an international reputation for his strong leadership and understanding of the taxation of multinational enterprises. He and Wayne Swan led the Australian debate on Base Erosion and Profit Shifting and modernising Australia’s transfer pricing laws.”

Mr Bradbury, a former tax lawyer, was Assistant Treasurer under the previous Labor Government, with responsibilities in including taxation reforms. He was instrumental in establishing Australia’s first and vital national regulator of the not-for-profit sector.

“I congratulate David and wish him well in his new and important role,” added Dr Leigh.


TRANSCRIPT – Breaking Politics – Monday, 24 March 2014







SUBJECT/S: Manus Island detention centre riot inquiries and Regional Resettlement Program; Labor minority government in South Australia; Paul Howes’ career; Australia becoming a Republic.

CHRIS HAMMER: The Papua New Guinean Government is looking to stymie a human rights into conditions at the Manus Island detention centre. This follows a tour of the centre last Friday by journalists led by the head of the inquiry. The Immigration Minister, Scott Morrison, has defended the decision, saying it is a matter for the PNG Government. Well joining me to discuss this and other issues is Andrew Laming, Liberal Member for Bowman in Queensland and Andrew Leigh, the Labor Member for Fraser in the ACT, also Shadow Assistant Treasurer.

Andrew Leigh, to you first, Scott Morrison is right isn’t he, this is purely a matter for the PNG Government?

ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: It’s important that the Australian Government works constructively with the PNG Government and part of the refugee resettlement agreement was always that resettlement would occur as speedily as possible. What I’m concerned about is Minister Morrison’s slowness to engage with Papua New Guinea; the fact that we know that he only spoke face to face with his PNG counterpart less than a month ago and the Government hasn’t put resettlement at the top of its agenda. The events in the detention centre with the tragic death of an asylum seeker have led Labor to call for an independent inquiry and for a senate inquiry, both of which are now underway and it’s really incumbent on the Government to begin that resettlement process as quickly as possible.

Continue reading ‘TRANSCRIPT – Breaking Politics – Monday, 24 March 2014’ »

MEDIA RELEASE – Labor will continue to fight for charities commission – Wednesday, 19 March 2014

This morning I issued a media release arguing that the axing of the the Australian Charities and Not for Profits Commission would be a mistake. The Government’s repeal package is now before the parliament with a lot at stake for donors, consumers and charities. Today some of Australia’s best-known charities signed an open letter urging Tony Abbott to abandon plans to scrap the national regulator.







Federal Labor will continue to support the charity and not for profit sector and oppose any government attempts to repeal the Australian Charities and Not For Profit Commission (ACNC).

Today, in an open letter to the Prime Minister, 40 organisations say if the ACNC is shut down and the ATO is reinstated to determine who is and isn’t a charity, “red tape will continue to grow, the size of bureaucracy will grow. Services to the public will be reduced. Services to the sector will be reduced.” Signatories include Save the Children, St. John Ambulance Australia, The Ted Noffs Foundation, RSPCA, the Myer Family Company, Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education, Volunteering Australia, Lifeline and many others.

The Abbott Government will sneakily include the ACNC in its so called ”repeal day” package.

In the week that the Government claims to be cutting red tape, it’s looking to kill an agency that does reduce red tape.

Continue reading ‘MEDIA RELEASE – Labor will continue to fight for charities commission – Wednesday, 19 March 2014’ »

Labor’s Legacy on Taxation, Superannuation & Healthcare

I spoke in parliament on a bill relating to tax, superannuation and health, and took the opportunity to talk about Labor’s legacy in these areas.

Tax and Superannuation Laws Amendment (2014 Measures No. 1) Bill 2014, 4 March 2014

That all the words after “That” be omitted with a view to substituting the following words:

“whilst not declining to give the bill a second reading the House is of the opinion:

(1) that the government has made clear its intentions of creating a two tiered system of health care by hitting vulnerable Australians with extra out-of-pocket costs while considering further cuts to payments and support;

(2) that savings generated under this Bill must be reinvested to enhance health care affordability and universally accessible health care for all Australians; and

(3) that it was an Australian Labor Government that revolutionised health care in 1983 with the establishment of Medicare and will always defend the right of every Australian to universal, affordable and high quality health care.”

The Tax and Superannuation Laws Amendment (2014 Measures No. 1) Bill 2014 before the House goes to matters of taxation, superannuation and health care. They are matters with which Labor are strongly familiar, as the party that laid down many of the key foundations for our tax, superannuation and health-care system. We think typically of John Curtin as being the Prime Minister who brought the troops home to save Australia against the opposition of conservatives of the day. But as John Edwards’s splendid book Curtin’s gift also points out, one of the great enduring legacies of John Curtin was uniform income tax, a centre of Commonwealth power that is the substance of its fiscal policy effectiveness and which gives the Australian Commonwealth a unity of purpose through the taxation system. Labor is also the party that created universal superannuation and expanded universal superannuation – again, over the objections of conservatives of the day. Labor therefore support schedules 1 and 2 in the bill, which go to penalties for promoters of schemes that result in the illegal early release of superannuation funds and penalties for contraventions relating to self-managed superannuation funds.

Continue reading ‘Labor’s Legacy on Taxation, Superannuation & Healthcare’ »

Liberalism vs Communitarianism

In a couple of speeches and articles, I’ve argued that Labor should be the party of both egalitarianism and social liberalism. Blue Labour fan Nick Dyrenfurth takes a different view, so Tim Watts MP organised a Google Hangout to explore the issue further. Here’s a video of the event.

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’ »

Eureka Lecture, Ballarat – Tuesday 3 December 2013

This evening I delivered the 2013 Eureka Lecture arguing the Eureka Stockade is Australia’s greatest story and deserves far greater prominence.


‘A victory won by a lost battle’: What Eureka Means to Australians Today



Delivered at the Museum of Australian Democracy, Eureka, Ballarat East

Exactly 159 years ago, in the dirt upon which we are gathered, a man called ‘Happy Jack’ fought and perished. We know little about him – not even his real name. But he was described in one nineteenth century newspaper account as ‘a big black fellow… one of the pluckiest fighters in the Stockade’. Without the Eureka Stockade, Happy Jack might have made his fortune on the goldfields – or, as was more common – scrabbled to eke out a living. But he would likely have had a family. A handful of children. A classroom’s worth of grandchildren. He might have lived to see the dawn of the twentieth century. To be there at the moment of Federation.

Happy Jack was fighting for a cause larger than himself. So too were those who stood alongside him. They came from around the globe. From Canada, Württemberg, England, Nova Scotia, Petersburg, Wales, Scotland, Elberfeldt, Prussia and Rome. Eleven of the dead miners came from Ireland.

The killing was brutal. After perhaps a 15 minute exchange of bullets, the soldiers were within the stockade. Most of the dead were slain after this point. Troopers, hot with victory, killing in cold blood, stormed through the mining encampment, setting fire to occupied tents, cutting at the injured and fleeing or riding them down beneath the hooves of their horses.

Llewellyn Rowlands was hacked to death by troopers over 800m from the stockade. A woman, her name unrecorded, was murdered pleading for the life of her wounded husband. Eyewitness accounts mention Captain Wise bravely leading his men over the wall, ignoring a bullet hole in his leg. The same accounts describe Captain Ross, a Canadian miner, being killed after the action was finished. He died at the foot of a flagpole that held aloft a flag called the Southern Cross.

Continue reading ‘Eureka Lecture, Ballarat – Tuesday 3 December 2013’ »

Strong reasons to keep MRRT – 19 November 2013

I spoke in parliament today about the need to retain the Mineral Resource Rent Tax (MRRT) as Labor is committed to spreading the benefits of the mining boom. I look back at the history of taxing resources and its broad support across many and perhaps surprising quarters.

It is my pleasure to rise on the Minerals Resource Rent Tax Repeal and Other Measures Bill 2013, which repeals a profits based mining tax in Australia. It is useful to step through some of the history as to how Australia came to this point. In the late 1980s a profits based petroleum resource rent tax was put in place. It was criticised by many of the same voices that criticise this mining tax on the grounds that it did not raise very much revenue in the early years, but the petroleum resource rent tax has now raised billions of dollars and is an established part of the Australian taxation system.

When the Henry review called for submissions it was the Minerals Council of Australia that put forward a submission to the Henry review arguing in favour of a profits based mining tax. The Minerals Council of Australia did so because profits based taxation is just a more efficient way of taxing resources. If we compare the early part to the late part of the mining boom—say, 2000 to 2007—we will see that the Australian taxpayer in the early period was getting one dollar in three in taxes from mining and in the late period was getting one dollar in seven. That is because, under a royalties regime, when the world price goes up taxpayers get none of that benefit. They get the volume effect but not the price effect. If the increase in that world price was somehow due to the ingenuity of Australia’s miners then that might be defensible, but it turns out that world prices are out of the hands of our miners. They are ingenious in many ways but they do not control the world price.

Continue reading ‘Strong reasons to keep MRRT – 19 November 2013’ »

Labor’s legacy & broken Coalition promises

I delivered a speech in the House of Representatives today – what’s called an ‘Address in Reply’ in response to the Government’s opening speech – exploring Labor’s strong economic and policy legacy. I  urged the ALP to remain the party of big  ideas and one underpinned by key principles of fairness, inclusion and equality and I lamented the Abbott Government’s early and disappointing broken promises. Here’s the full text thanks to Hansard.

Can I congratulate the members for Bass and Corangamite on the passion with which they have delivered their first speeches and hope that they will serve their constituencies with the same energy and passion as their predecessors did.

I want to begin my remarks today with the stories of two constituents of mine: Carol and Denise. Denise has a 21-year-old son, Tim, with Down syndrome. She regularly has to prove his eligibility for a modest Centrelink payment and work within a system that has not been working for her and has not been working for Tim. Tim’s chromosomes are not going to change, but the old system required her to prove that. DisabilityCare will change that.

Then there is 48-year-old Carol, who works as a cleaner. Despite working on Sundays to earn some overtime she still earns less than $37,000 a year. Carol is not alone. A lot of low-income workers in cleaning, aged care, retail and hospitality are not full time and they are predominantly women. The removal of the low-income superannuation contribution will affect 3.6 million Australians and two-thirds of them are women. All of them, like Carol, work hard to make ends meet. They are the mothers who work part time because they are looking after young children. For them, saving for later in life is not a tax strategy.

DisabilityCare and the low-income superannuation contribution demonstrate how Labor take the initiative to defend those who are doing it tough. Labor are the party of ideas and we are the party of reform, the party with the courage to make the big decisions when they are needed. As the opposition leader said at this year’s Fraser lecture:

‘We’re the dreamers, doers and fighters.

‘We have ideas, and … we’re prepared to fight to make them a reality.’

I agree. Only the Labor Party is prepared to fight for a fair go for all and shoulder the responsibility for reform. Only Labor knows that reform must balance economic imperatives with social need and hope. I am sorry to say that that is in stark contrast to the approach of the Abbott government. We have already seen how quick they are to protect sympathetic vested interests and how much quicker they are to slug those doing it tough.

The Treasurer would have you believe that drastic action has to be taken because of the economic legacy left by Labor. Over the next few weeks we are doubtless going to hear, time and time again, what a terrible state the economy is in. Before the Treasurer attempts to airbrush recent history, let’s take a sober and sensible look at the economy that the government have inherited and what they have done with it so far. That look has to recognise the simple, fundamental truth. The government have inherited economic statistics and public finances that are better than those of almost any country in the developed world.

Continue reading ‘Labor’s legacy & broken Coalition promises’ »

Discussing Labor’s renewal – ABC RN Breakfast – 30 October 2013

This morning I spoke with Radio National Breakfast’s Political Editor, Alison Carabine, about my contributing essay in the revised and expanded version of Mark Latham’s Not Dead Yet: What Future for Labor? The book published by Black Inc. hits bookshops today and sets out areas for continued reform and renewal.  Here’s the podcast. The transcript is below.




TOPIC: Labor future

FRAN KELLY: It’s nearly two months since the ALP’s heavy loss federally and the ideological battle for the future of the party is underway. A new book out today titled Not Dead Yet is a collection of essays by some of Labor’s best and brightest thinkers. And that includes the Shadow Assistant Treasurer, Andrew Leigh. The Canberra-based MP makes a strong pitch to his colleagues to reject Tony Abbott’s style of negativity when it comes to Opposition. And, in a bid to democratise Labor he also proposes large scale plebiscites to select candidates and other important party positions. Andrew Leigh is in our Parliament House studios and he’s speaking with our political editor, Alison Carabine.

ALISON CARIBINE: Andrew Leigh, good morning.

ANDREW LEIGH: Good morning Alison.

CARABINE: There is a certain arrogance that underpins your essay. You open with the bold deceleration that Labor Governments do more, Labor is the party of ideas and reform, but by contrast the Coalition is the defender of the status quo. Considering the election result it would appear that voters embraced the status quo much than they do ideas and reform.

LEIGH: I think Alison that’s to confuse electoral success with policy achievement. Fundamentally the broad contours of the Australian story, over the last century or so, are those of a succession of Labor achievements. And whether that’s putting in place the Snowy Hydro Scheme, whether it’s opening up the economy, whether it’s indeed bringing the troops back in World War Two to defend Australia, or the achievements of DisabilityCare and finally solving the Murray Darling Basin mess, those too were Labor reforms. I think that reflects the fact that ours is a party which is founded on the notion that government has an important role to play in improving the country. Conservatives are far more often comfortable just defending the status quo.

Continue reading ‘Discussing Labor’s renewal – ABC RN Breakfast – 30 October 2013’ »

Three Labor Futures – Chapter in “Not Dead Yet”

I have a chapter in a new Black Inc book on the future of the ALP. Here’s an extract, plus the endnotes (for anyone who’s interested in that sort of thing).

Labor must continue to follow road of openness, The Australian, 30 October 2013

Labor must never forget that our brand is not interchangeable with that of the Coalition. The two parties play fundamentally different roles in the Australian political system. Labor’s role is to take the initiative, to defend those whom life has treated unfairly, to carve out an activist role on the global stage. By contrast, the Coalition parties are defenders of the status quo, more likely to be heard supporting vested interests than those on the margins of society, and largely untroubled if people turn off politics entirely. Australian politics isn’t Coke versus Pepsi. To become a Labor version of Mr Abbott’s Opposition would be to repudiate the essence of what our party stands for. Labor must continue to be the party of ideas and reform.

Continue reading ‘Three Labor Futures – Chapter in “Not Dead Yet”’ »

Why Australia Prospered

In the latest issue of the Journal of Economic Literature, I review Ian McLean’s terrific book on Australian economic history.

Review of Ian McLean, Why Australia Prospered: The Shifting Sources of Economic Growth
Journal of Economic Literature, 2013

In the 1990s, Polish journalist Ryszard Kapuściński was asked by his fellow citizens: ‘You’ve been all over the world. Isn’t there a country somewhere that has found a middle way – where market forces rule, but where the government looks after the kids and the old and the sick and the poor? Somewhere where the bosses give the workers a reasonable deal? Somewhere where people help each other instead of just looking after themselves?’ And Kapuściński told them: ‘Yes, it’s called Australia.’ (quoted in Knightley, 2001, 31)

In the scheme of things, Australia has fared pretty well. In the late-nineteenth century, it had the highest per-capita incomes in the world. In the early-twentieth century, it was the first country to allow women to both stand for office and vote (and can on this basis lay claim to have been the world’s first democracy). In recent years, it has defied the global slump, keeping unemployment below 6 percent and growing 14 percent since the end of 2007. In 2013, the OECD’s Better Life Index gave Australia top spot for the third year in a row.

Continue reading ‘Why Australia Prospered’ »

Breaking Politics – 16 September 2013

This morning I spoke to Tim Lester of Fairfax Media about the healthy contest underway for the Labor leadership and the incoming Abbott Government’s cabinet which, unfortunately, looks set to promote only one woman.  Here’s the transcript:




Subjects: Labor leadership, Coalition cabinet and ministry, gender


TIM LESTER: A regular on Breaking Politics on Monday is the Labor MP for Fraser in the ACT, Andrew Leigh. He’s actually in Sydney and he joins us via Skype. What takes you to Sydney today? What’s on the agenda?

ANDREW LEIGH: Spending some time with family. One of the things about the election is, you end up drawing a lot on your family to help out and it’s nice to be able to be able to give a little bit back and spend a couple of days with my parents this week.

LESTER: What do you think of the process Labor is now in to select the leader, for the first time is going to go the rank and ask for a vote on the issue.

LEIGH: I think it’s enormously healthy that we go to our party membership on this. Looking from afar, I really enjoyed watching the contest of the British Labor leadership in 2010. I thought it was one that saw leaders talk very much of the direction they wanted British Labor to go. Theirs was a party that had been riven between the Gordon Brown and Tony Blair camps for quite a long time and all of the candidates spoke about wanting to move beyond those divisions and about the kind of party they wanted to craft. I expect we’ll have a similar conversation over the next month, conducted respectfully between two outstanding candidates, who will talk about their visions for modern Labor.

Continue reading ‘Breaking Politics – 16 September 2013’ »

13th Fraser Lecture – Delivered by Bill Shorten MP

On 26 August 2013, Bill Shorten delivered the 13th Fraser Lecture on the topic “The Battle of Ideas and the Good Society”. The video begins with an introduction from me, and concludes with Bill taking questions. A full transcript of the speech is over the fold.

Continue reading ‘13th Fraser Lecture – Delivered by Bill Shorten MP’ »

ABC702 with Malcolm Turnbull & David Smith – 19 Aug 2013

On last night’s ABC702 Political Forum, I joined Liberal MP Malcolm Turnbull and David Smith from the US Studies Centre in a congenial conversation with host Richard Glover about the philosophical differences between the parties (I argued Labor is the party of egalitarianism and liberalism), the Coalition’s uncosted paid parental leave scheme, negative advertising, and the situation in Egypt. Here’s a podcast.

Liberalism and Egalitarianism, Conservatism and Communitarianism

Mark Latham’s Quarterly Essay discussed the opportunities and challenges facing modern Labor. Here’s my response, published in Australian Policy Online.

Response to Mark Latham’s Quarterly Essay

It’s occasionally been forgotten since he left the Labor leadership nearly a decade ago, but when he chooses to engage in policy, Mark Latham has a lot to say. He is optimistic about the intellectual and organisational future of the Labor Party, and appropriately proud of the role we have played in opening up the Australian economy in the 1980s and 1990s and dealing with climate change today.

One big question Labor thinkers are always willing to wrestle with is how the party’s guiding philosophy should evolve. Political parties invariably adapt as society changes, but Labor’s options have particularly opened up as the Coalition has shrunk into what Anthony Albanese has tagged ‘the noalition’. When Tony Abbott calls for a ‘people’s revolt’ against a market-based mechanism for dealing with climate change, it’s hard to know whether to criticise him for abandoning conservatism or trashing liberalism.

Continue reading ‘Liberalism and Egalitarianism, Conservatism and Communitarianism’ »

Liberalism & Egalitarianism

I have an opinion piece in the Australian today, continuing to prosecute the case that Labor is the true party of small-L liberalism in Australia (on the same theme, see also my first speech, this Global Mail article and this speech to Per Capita).

Liberals are conservatives while Labor is the true party of Alfred Deakin, The Australian, 10 January 2013

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.

Continue reading ‘Liberalism & Egalitarianism’ »

On Labor and Liberalism

  • I spoke at the thinktank Per Capita today, arguing that Labor is a party of both egalitarianism and liberalism

    On Labor and Liberalism

    Andrew Leigh MP
    Federal Member for Fraser

    Per Capita Reform Agenda Series
    ‘The Future of the Left in Australia:
    Embracing Social Liberalism?’

    Corrs Chambers Westgarth

    5 December 2012

    Exiled in the Polish town of Poronin in 1913, Vladimir Ilyich Lenin had plenty of time on his hands. Having already spent three years in a Siberian jail, he was biding his time to return to Russia. And so the man who would soon serve as Russia’s first Communist leader turned his attention to the antipodes.

    Like many around the world, Lenin was struck by the way that the Australian Labor Party had swept into parliament. Just a few months after the party’s formation in 1891, Labor won 36 out of 141 seats in the NSW Legislative Assembly. In 1899, Labor won government in Queensland (it lasted a week). In Australia’s first national elections, Labor won 14 out of 75 seats in the House of Representatives. In 1903, Labor’s share of the vote doubled. In 1904, Chris Watson became Labor’s first Prime Minister. Other parties were struck by the strength of Labor’s support, and the energy and youth of their leaders.

    And yet Lenin was puzzled. In 1913, he wrote:

    ‘What sort of peculiar capitalist country is this, in which the workers’ representatives predominate in the Upper house and, till recently, did so in the Lower House as well, and yet the capitalist system is in no danger? … The Australian Labor Party does not even call itself a socialist party. Actually it is a liberal-bourgeois party, while the so-called Liberals in Australia are really conservatives. … Continue reading ‘On Labor and Liberalism’ »

    Liberalism and Labor

    I’m speaking at Per Capita in Melbourne next Wednesday, on the topic of liberalism and the ALP. Details here, and below.

    Reform Agenda Series: The Future of the Left in Australia: Embracing social liberalism?, with Andrew Leigh MP, 5 December 2012
    Please join us in Melbourne for this Reform Agenda Series event featuring guest speaker Andrew Leigh MP, Member for Fraser.

    Prior to entering Parliament, Andrew was a Professor of Economics at the Australian National University. Has has a PhD in Public Policy from Harvard, and has written extensively on economics and social policy. At this forum, he will be discussing why the ALP should embrace the legacy of liberalism – egalitarianism, minority rights and open markets; with a response by Dennis Glover, Per Capita Fellow, speechwriter and political columnist. This will be followed by an open Q & A session.

    Venue: Corrs Chambers Westgarth – Level 36, 600 Bourke Street, Melbourne
    Date: Wednesday 5 December 2012
    Time: Light refreshment served from 10.30am. Forum 11.00am – 12.00pm
    Cost: This is a free event

    To RSVP for this event, please email Allison Orr on a.orr<AT> or call 02 9310 5000.

    Government as Risk Manager

    In the latest Quarterly Essay, I’ve penned a response to Laura Tingle’s discussion of the role of government, social spending, and whether Australians are congenitally cross.

    Response to Laura Tingle’s Quarterly Essay ‘Great Expectations’
    Published in Quarterly Essay #47 (2012)

    In 2002, David Moss described the role of government as being the ultimate “risk manager.”[1] Governments, Moss believed, ought to act as a backstop for things that might go wrong in our lives. Just as we buy private insurance to pool our risk with other customers, so governments allow us to pool social risk across other citizens. You can think of your taxes partly as an insurance premium.

    The notion of government as risk manager doesn’t cover the full gamut of what governments do, but it does encapsulate many of their important roles. For example, governments help guard against overseas threats and keep our streets safe. Managing risk explains why we have a social safety net to guard against the risk of poverty, a public health care system to deal with the risk of illness, and a public education system to remove the risk that a poor family might not be able to afford to educate their child.

    Continue reading ‘Government as Risk Manager’ »

    Egalitarianism & Liberalism

    In the Global Mail today, I have an article that expands on the argument kicked off in my first speech: that Labor is the natural party of both egalitarianism and liberalism. I’m an economist, not an historian, so thanks to a raft of people, including Dennis Glover, Emily Murray, Tim Soutphommasane, Macgregor Duncan, Louise Crossman, Troy Bramston, Dennis Altman, Damien Hickman, Nick Terrell, John Hirst, Nick Dyrenfurth, Judith Brett, David Lowe, Michael Jones, Barbara Leigh and Michael Leigh for valuable comments on earlier drafts. Note that several of these people strongly disagreed with my conclusions, so responsibility for errors of fact and argument are mine alone.

    And yes, I haven’t missed the irony of praising the Global Mail for not raising the opinion/news ratio, and then writing a essay for them. In my defence, editor Lauren Martin does an excellent line in arm-twisting.

    (Comments on the Global Mail website, please.)

    Labor’s Best Strategy: Become A Party For True Liberals

    By Andrew Leigh

    The Global Mail, August 27, 2012

    In December 2007, there were 445 Labor representatives in lower houses across federal, state and territory parliaments. Before the August 23 NT election, there were 305. In less than five years, 140 Labor parliamentarians — one in three — have lost office.

    At the same time, Labor is shedding members. In the 1950s, more than one in 100 adults were ALP members — now it is less than one in 300. The trend is common to other Australian political parties, and to political parties around the globe. Across the developed world, mass parties are under threat.

    Continue reading ‘Egalitarianism & Liberalism’ »

    Labor’s Best Strategy: Become A Party For True Liberals

    In the Global Mail, I argue that Labor should combine both egalitarianism and social liberalism.

    Labor’s Best Strategy: Become A Party For True Liberals
    The Global Mail
    , August 27, 2012

    The Liberal Party under John Howard and Tony Abbott has abandoned the mantle of social liberalism — and Labor should grasp it with both hands.

    In December 2007, there were 445 Labor representatives in lower houses across federal, state and territory parliaments. Before the August 23 NT election, there were 305. In less than five years, 140 Labor parliamentarians — one in three — have lost office.

    At the same time, Labor is shedding members. In the 1950s, more than one in 100 adults were ALP members — now it is less than one in 300. The trend is common to other Australian political parties, and to political parties around the globe. Across the developed world, mass parties are under threat.

    Liberalism, Deakin said, meant a government that acted in the interests of the majority, with particular regard to the poorest in the community.

    Continue reading ‘Labor’s Best Strategy: Become A Party For True Liberals’ »

    Six Score Years On

    In the ACT ALP journal Lobby, I have a piece with Will Isdale about the party’s achievements since 1891.

    Andrew Leigh & William Isdale, ‘Labor’s Proud History’, Lobby, July 2012

    There is no unambiguous birth certificate for the ALP, but the most common account is that during a bitter pastoral strike in 1891, some 3000 shearers came together and formed the party under the speckled shade of a gum tree that came to be known with affection as the ‘Tree of Knowledge’, in Barcaldine in rural Queensland.  On other accounts, the party sprung to life in bustling Balmain in the same year – an area known for its shipbuilding and boilermaking.

    Continue reading ‘Six Score Years On’ »

    Frank Walker

    I spoke in parliament last night about the late Frank Walker.

    Frank Walker
    19 June 2012

    Frank Walker did more in public life than many of us can ever hope to do. During his time he suffered more than any of us probably ever will. He lost his two sons, Michael and Sean, to suicide. Both died at age 33, and he found both of them. But he contributed an extraordinary amount to our public life. He spent his first years in a Coogee housing commission home. His family moved to New Guinea in 1948 after his father, Jack Walker—a brickworks dragger and a member of the Communist Party of Australia—was black-listed. He was a campaigner for the underdog, and perhaps part of that was formed by those early years in Papua New Guinea, sitting alongside indigenous children in coastal villages.

    Continue reading ‘Frank Walker’ »

    Helen Fraser

    I spoke in parliament today about the passing of Helen Fraser.

    Helen Fraser
    13 March 2012

    On 4 March 2012 Helen Whitton Fraser passed away, aged 91. Helen Fraser was the wife of the late Jim Fraser, after whom my seat is named. At the memorial service for Helen Fraser her son, Andrew Fraser, said that hers was a life of ‘strength, love and fun’. She met her husband to be on a tennis court when she was aged 16 and he 29. They did not get married for another 22 years. By that time Jim Fraser was already the local member for the ACT. This was well before self-government, so he was the only political representative for the ACT and looked after more electors than anyone else in the parliament.

    Continue reading ‘Helen Fraser’ »

    ALP National Conference – Day 1

    What I’m Reading

    A few articles that have caught my fancy over recent weeks.