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.
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.
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.
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
2013 EUREKA LECTURE
TUESDAY, 3 DECEMBER
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.
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.
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.
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.
ABC RADIO NATIONAL BREAKFAST
WEDNESDAY 30 OCTOBER 2013
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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’ »
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>percapita.org.au or call 02 9310 5000.
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.” 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.
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.
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.
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.
I spoke in parliament last night about the late 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.
I spoke in parliament today about the passing of 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.
I spoke in parliament yesterday about the passing of left-wing activist and Newtown bookseller Bob Gould.
Bob Gould, 30 May 2011
I rise to pay tribute to Newtown bookseller Bob Gould, who passed away on 22 May 2011 aged 74. Bob was part of the progressive left in Australia for the better part of the post-war era. From the Vietnam War to asylum seekers, he has marched and argued for what he believed in. As former New South Wales MLC Meredith Burgmann noted, ‘He was involved in most of the great political protest movements of the time.’
With the release of the ALP National Review, there has been some commentary recently about how the Labor Party can improve its membership base and engagement with the community. I think it’s critical that we do better, but we also shouldn’t forget the good work that’s currently occurring. So I spoke in parliament this week about some of that activity.
Constituency Statements, 22 February 2011
Australian Labor Party
There has been some public discussion recently about the role the Labor Party plays in the local community. This is an important debate, and I am glad we are having it. Australia’s oldest and greatest political party has a long tradition of being enmeshed in the local community. Sports clubs were a feature of party life in the 1930s, as were camps and excursions in the 1940s. In recent years the Labor Party has struggled to retain members. In this we are no different from hundreds of other mass membership organisations. As I documented in a book last year, Australians are less likely to join the Scouts and the RSL, to attend a religious service and to know their friends and their neighbours well.
I put out a press release today on the beaut ‘Shake Your Family Tree’ events that the National Archives are running. In the process, I couldn’t resist mentioning one member of the family you mightn’t expect – my great-great-uncle Robert Beckett (pictured), who served as a non-Labor MLC in the Victorian Parliament 1913-17.