I spoke on the adjournment debate about how to have less crime and less punishment.
Crime and Punishment, 19 March 2013
The issue of reducing crime and incarceration is one that is close to my heart. Shayne Neumann, the member for Blair, and I moved a motion in 2011 in this House aimed at reducing crime and incarceration. The motion pointed out that over recent decades Australia has invested in prison building at an astonishing rate. The national imprisonment rate in 1991 was 117 prisoners per 100,000 adults. By 2007 it had risen to 167 prisoners per 100,000 adults. Over the same period, a period which began with the royal commission into black deaths in custody in 1991, the level of Indigenous incarceration went up from 1,739 prisoners per 100,000 adults to 2,248 prisoners out of every 100,000 Indigenous adults. In Western Australia, four per cent of all Indigenous adults are currently in jail. Even adjusting for the age structure of the Indigenous population, Indigenous Australians are still 14 times more likely to be jailed than non-Indigenous people. By their mid-20s, 40 per cent of Indigenous men have been charged by police with a crime.
I spoke in parliament today on a bill enabling the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.
Royal Commissions Amendment Bill, 13 March 2013
As previous speakers on the Royal Commissions Amendment Bill 2013 have noted, child sexual abuse is one of the hardest topics to speak about, particularly for those of us in this place who are parents. An account by Patricia Feenan titled Holy Hell gives some sense of the scale of the trauma. Ms Feenan writes about the abuse which occurred to her son Daniel which was perpetrated by their local parish priest, Father Fletcher. She writes:
‘Father Fletcher visited our family a lot and we were very active in his church. John’ — her husband— ‘did his accounts and I did everything from sewing the buttons onto his black shirts to taking communion to the elderly. He took a particular interest in Daniel, recruiting him as an altar server. People were always drawn to Daniel. He had a sweet nature, an angelic face and shining eyes.’
On Sky AM Agenda today, I spoke with host Kieran Gilbert and Liberal Senator Mitch Fifield about why a profits-based mining tax has volatile revenues, why Labor is committed to seeing low-income earners pay no tax on their superannuation contributions, and the importance of politicians not meddling in criminal investigations.
I spoke in parliament today about a bill to crack down on the illegal firearms market, and discussed the Australian experience with gun control.
Crimes Legislation Amendment (Organised Crime and Other Measures) Bill, 5 February 2013
Last year the Australian Crime Commission did a national intelligence audit of the illegal firearms market in Australia. That audit estimated that, while there were more than 2¾ million registered firearms in Australia, the illicit firearms market consisted of around a quarter of a million weapons—around 250,000 long arms and, perhaps more concerning, about 10,000 handguns. Illegal firearms sourced through theft from licensed owners and firearms dealers consist in part of weapons that were made illegal in the 1997 gun laws, about which I will say more later, and deactivated firearms that have been reactivated.
On 26 February, FARE will be hosting a lunchtime forum at Parliament House with UCLA’s Mark Kleiman, author of When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment. Mark is one of my favourite criminologists, and I’d recommend the event for anyone interested in crime and punishment.
Since the 1997 gun buyback, your chance of being a victim of gun violence has more than halved. Yet as yesterday’s Herald/Agepointed out, the number of guns in Australia has increased by nearly one-fifth over the same period. What’s going on?
The simplest answer is that Australia’s population is a fifth larger than it was in 1997. In reality, Australia has about as many guns per person as we did after the gun buyback. The only way you can conclude that the gun buyback has been undone is if to ignore a decade and a half of population growth.
Moreover, the figure that really matters is the share of gun-owning households. In 1997, many households used the chance to clean out the closet, and take a weapon to the local police station that hadn’t been used in years (the most common weapon handed in was a .22 calibre rifle). So the share of gun-owning households nearly halved, from 15 percent to 8 percent.
I did a doorstop interview this morning covering a range of current events leading into another Parliamentary sitting week. Among other things, I pointed out that the weekend violence does not represent the mainstream of peaceful Muslims in Australia, and argued that horserace polls are the fairy floss of modern politics – they’re rotting the teeth of the body politic.
Last Wednesday, I spoke with La Trobe University economist Jan Libich about some of my academic findings – from teacher pay & aptitude to child gender & divorce – and possible policy implications. If you want to read more, the research is available at my academic website: www.andrewleigh.org.
And if you’d like to watch Jan’s other interviews (including with Eric Leeper and Don Brash), they’re available on his YouTube channel.
I spoke in parliament about privacy reforms, and their tie-in with Labor’s tradition of consumer protection.
Privacy Amendment (Enhancing Privacy Protection) Bill, 23 August 2012
Personal information is becoming more sensitive and valuable in the expanding online world. Protecting the privacy of personal information is a real concern for consumers and business. On one estimate, identity theft and fraud affects half a million Australians every year. In 2007, my friend Joshua Gans wrote in his blog about his own experience of identity theft. He wrote that somebody had obtained his details using his birthdate, which was available on his CV. They then obtained a Medicare card and began to open bank accounts in his name. He discovered later that he was among the victims of a large scamming operation which has since been shut down by the authorities. He was pretty shocked by the experience. Joshua’s experience shows the importance of privacy protection and why we need strong legislative protection of personal information.
On behalf of Attorney-General Nicola Roxon, I addressed the Public Sector In-House Counsel Conference this morning.
Andrew Leigh MP on behalf of The Hon Nicola Roxon MP
8th Annual Public Sector In-House Counsel Conference 2012
30 July 2012
Ministerial Keynote Address:
In-house counsel: Delivering the benefits while avoiding the risks
First, may I acknowledge the traditional owners of the land we meet on – and pay my respects to their elders, both past and present.
It is a pleasure to join you here today for the 8th Public Sector In‑House Counsel Conference.
I regard myself as a lapsed lawyer, having practiced for only a short period in the mid-1990s, for Sydney law firms Coleman & Grieg and Minter Ellison. My last job in the legal profession was as Associate to former High Court Justice Michael Kirby.
I spoke in parliament today on the 20th anniversary of the Mabo judgment.
20th Anniversary of the Mabo Judgment
25 June 2012
Imagine the moment in 1974 when, talking with his friends, Eddie Koiki Mabo realised his land was owned by the Crown, not by him and his people. Noel Loos and Henry Reynolds recall: ‘Koiki was surprised and shocked’. He had kept saying, ‘No way, it’s not theirs. It’s ours.’ It would turn out to be one of the most significant moments in Australian history. From then to the historic High Court decision of 3 June 1992 Eddie Mabo showed us that a deeper appreciation of Indigenous Australia is the responsibility of all Australians and that the recognition of Indigenous history and culture and the challenges it faces is not an optional part of being Australian but is essential to who we are.
‘When I was young, I asked my grandmother what her view would be on having a gay grandchild. Her response was steadfast: “I could not support it,” she said. “It would be against God, and against everything I believe in.” Years later, I came out to my family before leaving home to move to university (an economics degree!). My grandmother was unsteady in the knowledge that she now had a gay grandchild, something that was seen as uncommon in North Queensland at the time.
I spoke in parliament about my latest community conversation on disadvantage, which focused on intergenerational poverty.
Fraser Community Summit, 31 May 2012
Every six months or so I hold a conversation to talk about disadvantage in the Fraser electorate. On Tuesday, 29 May I was pleased to welcome 10 representatives from local community sector groups up to Parliament House for an early breakfast conversation. I call it a community summit, but really it is more of an informal conversation with people I regard as my brains trust on poverty.
The focus of this conversation was on intergenerational disadvantage and how to stop the cycle of poverty from replicating itself across generations. One of the attendees at the summit made the point that disadvantage itself is now more complex than it was in the past and is often interrelated with issues such as mental illness, poor health, substance abuse, domestic violence and addiction. Another attendee told the story of a child whose parents were addicted to hard drugs and who was never given anything by his parents; all he had were the things that he had found or stolen. Another spoke about families who eat McDonald’s every meal because it is simpler to get takeaway than to prepare a meal. Attendees were concerned about the impact of imprisonment on the children of those who are behind bars.
WITH his casual dress sense, ready laugh and broad vowels, Bruce Western immediately strikes you as the expatriate Queenslander he is. The Harvard-based sociologist is also one of the leading scholars of crime in the United States, and a few years ago he presented a seminar about his research at the United States Studies Centre in Sydney.
Now, I’ve attended hundreds of conferences and academic seminars, and I don’t recall ever gasping out loud. But I did when Western’s PowerPoint presentation began reeling through the following facts.
US jails currently hold over two million people, more than 1 per cent of the adult population. Among men aged twenty to thirty-four who didn’t complete high school, the imprisonment rate is a jaw-dropping 12 per cent for whites and 37 per cent for blacks. That’s right – 37 per cent of young, black high school dropouts are currently behind bars.
On Sky AM Agenda today, I spoke with presenter Kieran Gilbert and my regular counterpart Kelly O’Dwyer about public service jobs, the value of foreign aid, and the importance of the presumption of innocence in our legal system.
I have an article on the ABC Drum website today about the politics of fear.
Power-seeking politicians walking the low road on fear
ABC The Drum Opinion, 19 March 2012
For centuries, power-seeking politicians have recognised that scaring the public is an effective tactic to win support.
Today, with ready access to a media that’s hungry for shocking stories, any parliamentarian who wants to whip up fear will usually find a ready audience.
Nowhere is this truer than in the case of fear of crime. Most Australians – particularly those whose major source of information is talkback radio – believe that crime is high and rising. And yet as a report earlier this month from the Australian Institute of Criminology showed, most categories of crime in Australia have been falling over time.
I spoke in parliament yesterday about the new R18+ computer games classification.
Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Amendment (R 18+ Computer Games) Bill 2012
14 March 2012
It is important to say at the outset of the discussion of this Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Amendment (R 18+ Computer Games) Bill 2012 that there are many terrific uses of computer games. Many Australians enjoy computer games and although I am not a big gamer myself, my two little boys, Sebastian and Theodore, love getting on the iPad any moment they can. Their favourite game is Angry Birds. It is a chance for them to work on their fine motor skills, a little breather for their parents and an opportunity for them to work together as brothers. However, there are many computer games in Australia to which I would not want children exposed and certainly not without their parents’ knowledge.
Kelly O’Dwyer and I had a pleasant chat this morning on AM Agenda with Kieran Gilbert. Topics included the Gillard Government’s company tax cuts (opposed by the Liberal Party) and Opposition scaremongering on guns and crime.
Don Weatherburn, director of the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research, has a terrific op-ed in today’s SMH, castigating governments who are evidence-based in name only (shall we call them ENO administrations?).
You would never be able to market a pharmaceutical drug in Australia without rigorous evaluation by the Therapeutic Goods Administration. But state and territory governments routinely spend large sums of taxpayers’ money trying to reduce crime and re-offending without subjecting the measures to any evaluation. Where evaluations are undertaken, the results are often ignored.
The promise to appoint additional police and impose tougher penalties on crime are staples at nearly every election; yet no Australian state or territory government has ever promised to evaluate and publicly report on the effects of additional police and tougher penalties.
And it isn’t just those old staples that escape critical scrutiny. The list of policies shown by my office to have no effect on re-offending in NSW includes high fines for drink drivers, supervision of offenders on good behaviour bonds, detention for juvenile offenders, the forum sentencing program (a restorative justice program for young adult offenders) and the circle sentencing program (under which Aboriginal offenders are brought before community elders for sanctioning).
Despite the negative results, all these policies remain in place. Meanwhile, programs that have been known for years to be effective, such as the NSW Drug Court Program, are only now being expanded.
I spoke to parliament on both Wednesday and Thursday about the Tax Forum, and also about the challenge of ongoing tax reform to support the kinds of social policies society is increasingly demanding.
Statements – Taxation
12 October 2011
It was my pleasure last week to participate in the Australian government’s tax forum, a forum designed to continue the important conversation about how to build a better taxation system in Australia. This forum, of course, does not sit in isolation. This government commissioned a once in a generation taxation report in 2009. The Henry review reported back with a range of important recommendations which this government is pursuing. In my own submission to the tax forum, I argued that among the core principles for tax reform should be the following: taxes should be shifted from mobile tax bases to immobile tax bases, taxation of savings should be more neutral and sustainable, polluters should internalise the social cost of environmental damage, disincentives to labour force participation should be reduced, and the tax system should be as simple as possible.
I spoke to parliament this week on the topic of work health and safety. Due to the intervention of a quorum call and members’ statements, the speech was broken into three parts, but I’ve sewn them back together in what follows.
Work Health and Safety Bill 2011
25 August & 12 October 2011
I rise to speak in the debate on the Work Health and Safety Bill 2011.
Five workers die aboard an unseaworthy vessel in the Torres Strait. Six motorcycles used for work are found to be unroadworthy in the Northern Territory. Camp food containing peanuts is fed to a camp attendee with a severe peanut allergy in Victoria. Two members of the public die on a rail access road and bridge in South Australia. The thing that each of these situations has in common: they are all part of the Commonwealth’s health and safety jurisdiction—the Department of Immigration and Citizenship, Australia Post, the Department of Defence and the Australian Rail Track Corporation, respectively.
I put a private members’ motion on the notice paper this week on the topic of crime and incarceration rates. Hopefully it’ll be selected for debate in the coming weeks.
Dr LEIGH: to move:
That this House:
(1) recognises that:
(a) the Australian incarceration rate has risen from 117 prisoners per 100,000 adults in 1991 to 172 prisoners per 100,000 adults in 2010;
(b) since the Indigenous Deaths in Custody Report was released in 1991, the Indigenous incarceration rate has risen from 1739 prisoners per 100,000 adults to 2303 prisoners per 100,000 adults; and
(c) an increasing number of Australian children have a parent behind bars; and
(2) encourages governments at all levels to pursue innovative policies to reduce crime and incarceration rates, including:
(a) investing in early intervention programs to deter young people from crime;
(b) where appropriate, considering alternatives to incarceration such as weekend detention, periodic detention, restorative justice and drug courts;
(c) employing smart policing strategies, such as using real-time crime statistics to identify and target crime hotspots;
(d) establishing in-prison education, training and rehabilitation programs aimed at reducing recidivism and improving family relationships for prisoners with children; and
(e) implementing randomised policy trials (akin to the 1999 NSW Drug Court randomised trial) to rigorously evaluate the impact of criminal justice interventions.
Thanks to intern Jess Woodall for her help drafting the motion.
It’s now over 22 years since the ACT Legislative Assembly’s first elections, and the Assembly has shown itself to be a mature debating chamber; the equal of any other state or territory parliament.
So I’m chuffed that today, Federal Labor made the decision to back an important piece of legislation that will make it harder for the Australian parliament to veto ACT legislation. The veto power will still remain (removing it would require changing the constitution), but it will now be exercised by the parliament – not the executive.
As Simon Crean has put it, the bill strips the commonwealth’s right to veto “at the stroke of a ministerial pen”. Vetoing an ACT law should be only undertaken in extreme circumstances, and it’s appropriate that all federal parliamentarians should have the chance to speak on such a debate.
The ACT Labor Party conference today debated a motion (moved by Natasha Shahidullah and Andrew Barr) that advocated a change to include same-sex couples in the definition of marriage. I spoke in favour of the change.
ALP ACT Conference, 30 July 2011
Few moments in life are so powerful, so emotionally charged, that they transcend the individual and connect us all.
The birth of a child;
Saying and being told I love you;
And for those of us who are married – our wedding day.
A day so special that we name anniversaries silver, gold and diamond.
Marriage should be recognised and registered by law, regardless of the sexual orientation, or gender of the couple wanting to be married.
Same sex marriage is not about gay versus straight, conservative versus progressive, left versus right.
By coincidence, two of my favourite economics commentators today have written up papers that I wrote while an economics professor at the Australian National University.
Ross Gittins discusses my paper with Francesca Cornaglia, which finds that crime lowers the mental wellbeing of non-victims (and suggests that the fear effect of crime may even be larger than the direct impact).
Peter Martin discusses my study with Joshua Gans, which looked at Australian media slant in the period 1996-2004, and found that the press was mostly pretty centrist until 2004.
The academic publication process being what it is, both are still wending their way through refereeing and revisions.
Justin Wolfers draws my attention to an intriguing new idea afoot in the US and UK.
Lately, both American and British policy makers have been thinking about how to bring some of the competitive discipline of the market to government programs, and they have hit on an intriguing idea.
David Cameron’s Conservative government in Britain is already testing it, at a prison 75 miles north of London. The Bloomberg administration in New York is also considering the idea, as is the State of Massachusetts. Perhaps most notably, President Obama next week will propose setting aside $100 million for seven such pilot programs, according to an administration official.
The idea goes by one of two names: pay for success bonds or social impact bonds. Either way, nonprofit groups like foundations pay the initial money for a new program and also oversee it, with government approval. The government will reimburse them several years later, possibly with a bonus — but only if agreed-upon benchmarks show that the program is working.
If it falls short, taxpayers owe nothing.
The first British test is happening at Her Majesty’s Prison Peterborough, where 60 percent of the prisoners are convicted of another crime within one year of release. Depressingly enough, that recidivism rate is typical for a British prison.
To reduce the rate, a nonprofit group named Social Finance is playing a role akin to venture capitalist. It has raised about $8 million from investors, including the Rockefeller Foundation. Social Finance also oversees three social service groups helping former prisoners find work, stay healthy and the like. If any of those groups starts to miss its performance goals, it can be replaced.
For the investors to get their money back starting in 2014 — with interest — the recidivism rate must fall at least 7.5 percent, relative to a control group. If the rate falls 10 percent, the investors will receive the sort of return that the stock market historically delivers. “It’s been only a few months,” says Tracy Palandjian, who recently opened a new Social Finance office in Boston, “but the numbers are coming in O.K.” …
The Obama administration’s seven pilot programs would create bonds for, among other areas, job training, education, juvenile justice and care of children’s disabilities. Nonprofit groups like Social Finance could apply. So could for-profit companies