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Ideas and Engagement: The Western Australian Economic Story

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

Ideas and Engagement: The Western Australian Economic Story*

Andrew Leigh MP
Shadow Assistant Treasurer

Business Breakfast, Perth
21 February 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

AusAID Cuts

I spoke in parliament about cuts to AusAID:

Government is about choices and those choices tell us a lot about people’s values. A top priority of this government is to give a $4 billion tax cut to mining billionaires. The beneficiaries will be among the world’s richest people. At the same time, this government is cutting over $4 billion from aid to the world’s poorest people. That cut will affect aid workers, too. We have seen this government forcibly integrate AusAID into the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in a botched process with little care for the passionate development workers who have been involved. We saw a terrible initial briefing in which AusAID workers were herded like cattle into the middle of the DFAT auditorium, while those in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade looked down upon them from the atrium and one of the DFAT officials reportedly mimed machine-gunning the AusAID staff.

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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’ »

AusAID should not become an ATM for diplomats – 19 September


The Abbott Government’s decision to integrate AusAID into the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is extremely short-sighted.

“AusAID is not an ATM for diplomats,” said Andrew Leigh, the Federal Member for Fraser in the Australian Capital Territory.

“The purpose of development assistance is fighting poverty. Absorbing AusAID into DFAT signals that fight – to save and improve the lives of the world’s absolute poor – is not valued.”

“This takes us back to 1973. Like Tony Abbott’s decision to scrap the science ministry and his choice to have only one women in a cabinet of twenty people, this shows that this is a back-to-the-future government,” said Dr Leigh. Continue reading ‘AusAID should not become an ATM for diplomats – 19 September’ »

Ten Challenges for Tony Abbott

My op-ed in today’s SMH sets out some of the questions the incoming Prime Minister has to answer.

Ten Challenges for Tony Abbott, Sydney Morning Herald, The Age and The Canberra Times, 13 September 2013

As a poll sceptic, I’m fairly rare in Parliament House. Most of the building watches opinion polls with the eagerness of sailors looking for land. For those on the Coalition side, the fact that almost every opinion poll in the past three years has gone in their favour has given them a strong sense of confidence that they would form government at this election.

The Coalition won the election with a convincing margin, and I congratulate Mr Abbott on becoming our 28th Prime Minister. But given the length of time the Abbott Government has had to prepare for office, the real surprise is the number of major policy questions that lie unanswered. Here are ten for starters.

First, given that we know from independent experts such as the Grattan Institute that Direct Action will not meet the bipartisan target of cutting emissions by 5 percent by 2020, how does the government intend to reduce our carbon emissions? Given that Australia has just had the hottest summer on record, is it really acceptable for the developed nation with the highest emissions per person to back away from action on carbon emissions?

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Launching Gordon Peake, Beloved Land: Stories, Struggles and Secrets from Timor-Leste

Launch of Gordon Peake’s Beloved Land: Stories, Struggles and Secrets from Timor-Leste
Australian National University
11 September 2013

I acknowledge that we are meeting on the traditional lands of the Ngunnawal people and pay my respects to their elders past and present.

I recognise Ambassador Abel Guterres, Paul Hutchcroft and of course Gordon Peake this evening.

Australia’s relationship with East Timor is akin to the way a parent thinks about a child that they adopted out at birth.  It’s a strong bond but it’s a relationship you don’t think about all the time.  And if you do think about it probably the predominant emotion that governs the relationship is one of guilt.

And Australia should feel a sense of guilt towards East Timor.

In 1942, the East Timorese fought alongside Australian troops.  Australians left, and many of the East Timorese who fought alongside were then left to face the Japanese alone.

Continue reading ‘Launching Gordon Peake, Beloved Land: Stories, Struggles and Secrets from Timor-Leste’ »

Sky PM Agenda with David Speers – 29 August 2013

On 29 August, Andrew Leigh MP appeared on Sky PM Agenda with host David Speers and Liberal MP Josh Frydenberg. Topics included the Coalition’s secrecy over releasing costings, and the situation in Syria.

New UC quality teaching and learning centre – 26 August 2013


Minister for Education Bill Shorten, Member for Canberra Gai Brodtmann

The Centre for Quality Teaching and Learning will deliver professional learning programs and research from next year under a new agreement signed with the University of Canberra.

As announced in May 2013, the Rudd Labor Government is investing $26 million in the Centre for Quality Teaching and Learning to support the implementation of the Better Schools Plan in the ACT and beyond.

The Minister for Education Bill Shorten was joined by the Member for Canberra Gai Brodtmann at the University of Canberra today to celebrate the new partnership and witness firsthand the cutting edge teaching technology that the University of Canberra offers.

The $26 million Centre for Quality Teaching and Learning will support the Better Schools goal of being in the world’s top five in reading, numeracy and science by 2025.

Continue reading ‘New UC quality teaching and learning centre – 26 August 2013’ »

Helen Hughes

I spoke in parliament today about the passing of distinguished Australian economist Helen Hughes.

Helen Hughes, 17 June 2013

Economists have a tradition of paying tribute to colleagues of a different ideological view. Friedrich Hayek said of John Maynard Keynes, ‘He was the one really great man I ever knew, and for whom I had unbounded admiration. The world will be a very much poorer place without him.’

Larry Summers said of Milton Friedman, ‘He and I probably never voted the same way in any election. …. Nonetheless, like many others I feel that I have lost a hero, a man whose success demonstrates that great ideas convincingly advanced can change the lives of people around the world.’

I am far from that league, but it is in that same spirit that I rise to acknowledge the free-market economist Helen Hughes, who died on Saturday aged 85. Born in Prague, Professor Hughes emigrated to Australia in 1939. Educated in Melbourne, she did her PhD at the London School of Economics and then worked at the World Bank in Washington DC.

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Speech to the Mining for Development Conference

Andrew Leigh MP
Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister
Member for Fraser

20 May 2013


Good morning – I’d like to welcome you to the Mining for Development Conference, on behalf of the Australian Government and the Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Honourable Bob Carr.

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Australian Volunteers for International Development

I spoke in parliament today about some terrific Canberrans who’ve spent their time volunteering in developing countries.

International Volunteering, 21 March 2013

On 19 February I held a morning tea for volunteers in my electorate who have worked with various international development programs. They shared their experiences and stories of the rewards, frustrations and challenges of volunteering in a developing country.

Roger Butler worked with the National Narcotics Board in Indonesia and was involved with the health and drug therapeutic community division. An important aspect of the division was to support those undergoing drug rehabilitation programs, including many in and recently released from Indonesian gaols. He worked to reduce the prevalence of HIV and multidrug-resistant tuberculosis with this population.

Continue reading ‘Australian Volunteers for International Development’ »

Talking Happiness with Stan Grant – 20 March 2013

To mark ‘World Happiness Day’, Sky News invited me to talk about the economic evidence on happiness with presenter Stan Grant. We discussed how you measure happiness, where it can be a useful tool, and why new evidence shows that the “Easterlin Paradox” doesn’t hold up.

Youth Activism

I spoke in parliament today about some optimistic and inspiring stories of youth social entrepreneurship and volunteering.

Youth Activism, 14 March 2013

I rise to speak about three examples of inspiring youth activism. This morning it was my pleasure to meet some of the Oaktree Roadtrip youth ambassadors. These are a group of young Australians who are travelling the country aiming to gather 100,000 names of Australians who support the movement to end poverty, a movement that will show public support for increased foreign aid—as this government has been delivering. I particularly enjoyed spending time with the Canberra Roadtrippers, having farewelled them from Canberra only on Saturday at the Australian National University. Since then, they have travelled to Western Sydney, to Eden and to Cooma and they are back hitting the road again tomorrow. They will be part of a great movement to bring an end to extreme poverty.

Continue reading ‘Youth Activism’ »

Enterprise Migration Agreements

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.

Continue reading ‘Enterprise Migration Agreements’ »

Work Begins on Canberra’s $15m GP Super Clinic “Hub”

People in the ACT will soon enjoy a variety of health services in convenient locations, with the first sod turned on the ACT GP Super Clinic ‘hub’ in Bruce today.

Joining Minister Tanya Plibersek, and Chief Minister Katy Gallagher for the first sod-turned on the Bruce GP Super Clinic construction site

Continue reading ‘Work Begins on Canberra’s $15m GP Super Clinic “Hub”’ »

Boosting Farm Productivity

I spoke last night on a bill that will see Australia re-engage with the International Fund for Agricultural Development, and started my speech by telling the story of when I used to go along as a high school student in the 1980s to talk international development with my local MP, member for Berowra Phillip Ruddock.

International Fund for Agricultural Development Amendment Bill, 5 February 2013

It is a particular pleasure to follow the member for Berowra in this debate on the International Fund for Agricultural Development Amendment Bill 2012. My first-ever engagement with a federal parliamentarian was when I was a young volunteer for an organisation called Community Aid Abroad, now part of Oxfam. Community Aid Abroad invited us to visit our federal member of parliament, to speak about the importance of foreign aid and why it should be increased. I suspect I was to the left of the member for Berowra even as a whippersnapper but I do remember him being very good to me, giving me at least half an hour of his time, listening through what I am sure were not particularly well-informed comments about foreign aid and providing some genteel responses about his views on the issue. Those meetings do occasionally come back to me now is a federal member of parliament, thinking about the importance of giving time to somebody who has passionate feelings about an issue even if one might know more about that issue than they do. I use this opportunity to thank the member for Berowra, some two decades late, for his generosity in that regard. It made a mark and it continues to shape my dealings with my constituents.

Mr Ruddock:  Can I interject and say thank you very much.

Continue reading ‘Boosting Farm Productivity’ »

Construction of the NBN begins in Civic

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

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

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

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

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

New Life

My latest Chronicle column is on parenthood.

Wonderous Times With Newborns, The Chronicle, 6 November 2012

Ever wondered why a calf can walk after a few hours, while a baby takes a year to learn the same skill? It turns out that the problem arises from two features of humans – we stand on two legs (which requires a small and bony pelvis), but also have large brains (which are hard to fit through that pelvis). Evolution’s solution to this problem is that all humans are born – in a sense – prematurely. After emerging from the womb, we need more protection from the world than do most other animals.

I’m typing this article one-handed, with a one month old boy asleep in the crook of my left arm. There’s something extraordinary about new life – its beautiful vulnerability and that unique ‘new baby smell’ that disappears all too quickly. Zachary is our third child, and we’ve gotten a few things right this time that we wish we’d done before.

Continue reading ‘New Life’ »

Big Bang Ballers

I spoke in parliament yesterday about the ‘Big Bang Ballers’ program, working with disadvantaged youth in Australia and overseas.

Big Bang Ballers, 16 August 2012

Last Saturday night it was my pleasure to attend the Gunners versus Bandits game at the ACT Basketball Centre, part of the South East Australian Basketball League competition. I was invited there as a guest of Tony Jackson, the CEO of Basketball ACT, because it was a special evening with all proceeds going to the Big Bang Ballers campaign to use basketball to fight youth poverty and social disadvantage around the world. In Afghanistan the Big Bang Ballers are currently providing basketball courts to young Afghani girls who until recently could not even consider sport, let alone play it.

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Odious Debt

I spoke in parliament this morning on a private member’s motion moved by Rob Oakeshott on debt forgiveness for developing nations, and the role of ‘vulture funds’.

Debt and Vulture Funds
25 June 2012

Debt is not the most serious issue that developing countries face, but unsustainable debt burdens can, in certain cases, be a barrier to development. So the HIPC Initiative was launched in 1996 by the IMF and the World Bank, and its aim is to ensure that no poor country faces a debt burden that it cannot manage.

Continue reading ‘Odious Debt’ »

Putting Facts Before Fear in Economic Debates

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

A Strong Australian Economy
18 June 2012

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

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

Continue reading ‘Putting Facts Before Fear in Economic Debates’ »

The Pro-Growth Progressive

In the latest issue of Labor Voice, I argue that progressives should like economic growth. Full text over the fold.

The Pro-Growth Progressive: How Economic Reform Can Make Us Happier, Labor Voice, Issue 3, 2012
Andrew Leigh

As Australians, we’re used to economic growth [1]. It’s the benchmark by which governments are often judged. Yet it is easy to forget how unusual growth is in human history.

Go back a few centuries to the Victorian era and the average person was no better off than the average caveman [2]. There were a lucky few who enjoyed tea in china cups, but the true living standards of 1800 were better captured by Charles Dickens than Jane Austen.

Indeed, economic historian Greg Clark makes the point that on some measures, the vast mass of the world’s population were worse off in 1800 than their ancestors of 100,000BC. For example, Britons in the Victorian era were shorter – reflecting their poor diet and exposure to disease in childhood.

In 1800, life expectancy was around 30-35 years, pretty much what it was on the savannah. Citizens of 1800 probably worked longer hours than cavemen. From the Stone Age to the Renaissance, most people ate around 2000 calories a day, compared to the 3000 calories a day that we consume.

Continue reading ‘The Pro-Growth Progressive’ »

Effective Aid

In a short program on the ABC’s Radio Australia network, I spoke about foreign aid with Girish Sawlani. Here’s a podcast.

The Asian Century Beckons

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

The Asian Century Beckons, Canberra Times, 25 April 2012

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

Continue reading ‘The Asian Century Beckons’ »

Sky AM Agenda – 5 April 2012

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.

AYAD Farewell Speech – 21 March 2012

I had the pleasure of farewelling the Australian Youth Ambassadors for Development in the foyer of the High Court of Australia on Wednesday night. Here’s an audio file of my speech.

Centenary of Canberra

I spoke in parliament last night about the Centenary of Canberra in 2013.

Centenary of Canberra
20 March 2012

One hundred years ago Walter Burley Griffin said that he wanted to design a city for a nation of ‘bold democrats’. On 12 March 2013 Canberra will celebrate its centenary, a celebration that all Australians can be proud of. Tonight I want to speak about two exciting aspects of Canberra’s centenary. The first is the opportunity to speak in greater depth about what our history means and where it has been going. It is my pleasure this evening to engage in one aspect of this—a forum hosted by the Australian Institute of Landscape Architects entitled ‘Sex in the city’ in which noted architecture writer Elizabeth Farrelly presented her views on gender and urban development. I would like to thank Paul Costigan, Diane Firth, my fellow commentator, Gary Rake, and many others for an important discussion about where a great Australian city is to go. Better understanding your own city is the first step towards improving it.

Continue reading ‘Centenary of Canberra’ »

Aid Event

Pat Boldra from Friends of Plan Australia has asked me to let you know about their charity art and craft show, which I’m happy to do… even though it’s a smidgin south of the electorate.

Our charity art and craft show which will be held at the Weston Creek Community  Hall on 25th-27th November? Each year the Friends of Plan Canberra group selects a Plan overseas aid project to support with all funds raised from our efforts.  So far we have raised over $2,500 this year towards clean water and improved sanitation in East Timor and we are well on the way to raising another $2,000 from the art and craft show and raffle of paintings donated by a local artist, Eleanor Inns.  The Ambassador for East Timor, His Excellency Abel Guterres, has agreed to open the show at 6pm on Friday 25th November and the raffle for Eleanor’s paintings will be drawn at 3pm on the last day of the show, Sunday 27th.  In-between we will have on sale art and craft by local people in support of the project, much of it ideal as Christmas gifts.

Foreign Aid and Volunteering

I’m holding a foreign aid forum in the Griffin Centre at 12.30pm today (details). In that spirit, here’s a column I wrote recently for the local Chronicle newspaper.

Continue reading ‘Foreign Aid and Volunteering’ »

Speech to the Australian Orangutan Project

I spoke last night to the fundraising dinner of the Australian Orangutan Project.

Continue reading ‘Speech to the Australian Orangutan Project’ »