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2CC interview with Mark Parton – Thursday, 3 April

This morning I joined Mark Parton and Liberal Party Senator Zed Seselja for a feisty discussion about the budget and the public service in the context of a wide ranging speech delivered last night by Treasury head, Martin Parkinson. Here’s the audio to listen to.

Capital still an ideas leader

My Chronicle column this week is on innovation.

Capital still an ideas leader, The Chronicle, 1 April 2014

Ask a non-Canberran what words they associate with ‘Canberra’, and it’s likely they’ll come back with ‘politics’ or ‘government’. Yet as those of us who live here know, ours is a city that’s considerably more than the seat of government. If I had to devise a single notion that sums up smart bureaucrats, connected academics and innovative start-ups, it would be that Canberra is an ‘ideas city’.

Recently, I had the pleasure of launching a new book by Peter Dawson, titled Creative Capital. It tells the tale of a city that is informed, modest and connected. Peter Dawson discusses the Australian National University’s role in dating rocks from Apollo 11, Vikram Sharma’s work on quantum cryptography and Alex Zelinsky’s machines that prevent drivers from falling asleep. He reminds us of about Chris Parish’s cancer research, Peter Gage’s HIV research, Charmaine Simeonovic’s work on diabetes and Tim Hirst’s breakthroughs on influenza. And he describes Canberra scientists who’ve delivered environmental breakthroughs: Andrew Blakers on solar photovoltaic cells; Stephen Kaneff, Peter Carden and others on concentrating solar.

Continue reading ‘Capital still an ideas leader’ »

Sky AM Agenda – 24 March 2014

On Sky AM Agenda, I joined Liberal MP Steve Ciobo and host Kieran Gilbert to discuss Labor’s win in the South Australian election, the Abbott Government’s attempt to fiddle the jobs forecasts and Paul Howes’ rumoured resignation as AWU head.

ABC NewsRadio – 21 March 2014

On ABC NewsRadio, I spoke about the impact of Coalition cuts on the Treasury, as highlighted by Martin Parkinson’s recent speech. Here’s a podcast.

TRANSCRIPT – Talking Politics with 2CC Breakfast – Wednesday, 12 March

This morning I spoke with 2CC’s Mark Parton about revelations that Prime Miniter Tony Abbott and Treasurer Joe Hockey ignored John Howard and Peter Costello’s advice to keep Treasury Secretary, Martin Parkinson. I discuss the decision and affirm the great work of the public service.



SUBJECT/S: Martin Parkinson and the Australian Public Service; Tasmanian election and jobs.

MARK PARTON: I don’t think Andrew Leigh is going to be reinventing himself any time soon; driving a taxi or working in a bakery. He is these days the Federal Member for Fraser in Federal Parliament with the ALP. He is on the line right now. Morning Andrew.

ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: G’day Mark. It is my third career. I was a lawyer for a while. I was a professor for a while -

PARTON: Yes it is. I’d forgotten about that -

LEIGH: And we haven’t even gone into my fruit picking and newspaper delivery days -

PARTON: You talk about people who’ve had to reinvent themselves. Let’s talk about Martin Parkinson, the Treasury Secretary, because we learnt some fascinating things in this story in the last 24 hours. The Abbott Government apparently defied the advice of a couple of learned gentlemen on the right side of politics, in John Howard and Peter Costello. It is our understanding that they recommended Martin Parkinson should stay on as Treasury Secretary but for some reasons Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey said, ‘No, you don’t know what you’re talking about.’

LEIGH: I think it was real a mistake of the Coalition to fire Martin Parkinson. Remember there’s a story from the last recession where basically the only two people who are still around in senior economic policy making a couple of years ago were Ken Henry and Martin Parkinson. The only two people who had been through a recession, and now there’s just Martin. I’ve argued personally to Joe Hockey that from his own self-interest he’d be well served to keep someone like Martin Parkinson who has faithfully served both sides. So it’s this sort of vindictiveness that I think saw the Government come in and immediately get rid of four agency heads. We didn’t do it in 2007. We hadn’t appointed most of the secretaries but we took the view that public servants basically work hard for which ever government is in power and the sort of partisan firings are not wise in the long run.

Continue reading ‘TRANSCRIPT – Talking Politics with 2CC Breakfast – Wednesday, 12 March’ »

Creative Capital – A Foreword

I wrote the foreword to Peter Dawson’s terrific new book on innovation in Canberra. If you’d like to buy a copy, contact

Foreword to Peter Dawson, Creative Capital: Bureaucrats, Boffins, Businessmen, Haldstead Press, 2014
Andrew Leigh

Ask a non-Canberran what words they associate with ‘Canberra’, and it’s London to a brick that they’ll come back with ‘politics’ or ‘government’. Yet as those of us who live here know, this is a city that’s considerably more than the seat of government. If I had to devise a single notion that sums up smart bureaucrats, connected academics and innovative start-ups, it would be that Canberra is an ‘ideas city’.

Peter Dawson’s account of creativity in Canberra is informed, modest and connected – a little like the city itself. You’ll read about the Australian National University’s role in dating rocks from Apollo 11, Vikram Sharma’s work on quantum cryptography and Alex Zelinsky’s machines that prevent drivers from falling asleep. You’ll learn about Chris Parish’s cancer research, Peter Gage’s HIV research, Charmaine Simeonovic’s work on diabetes and Tim Hirst’s breakthroughs on influenza. And you’ll find out about environmental breakthroughs: Andrew Blakers on solar photovoltaic cells; Stephen Kaneff, Peter Carden and others on concentrating solar.

Continue reading ‘Creative Capital – A Foreword’ »

MEDIA RELEASE – Abbott Government axes public valuation office – Friday 24 January, 2014

The Abbott Government confirmed today that it is closing the Australian Valuation Office in June. I have responded with a media release highlighting that this is a Government continually chipping away at the public service, outsourcing public services without concern for the implications for jobs, especially in regional Australia.







The Abbott Government’s decision to axe the Australian Valuation Office jeopardises the jobs and livelihoods of almost 200 people across Canberra, Sydney, and Melbourne and in remote and regional cities.

The decision smacks of an ideological preoccupation with cutting government services without regard to their effectiveness.

The 104 year-old AVO, located in the Australian Taxation Office, has been doing an effective job. While the government refers to a projected loss in the future, it fails to point out that the AVO has consistently run a profit.

At the same time that the Minister for Social Services has announced a review of welfare spending, the Government is axing the office that conducts compliance valuations for Centrelink.

Continue reading ‘MEDIA RELEASE – Abbott Government axes public valuation office – Friday 24 January, 2014’ »

2CC Breakfast Interview – 22 November 2013

This morning I spoke with Mark Parton about the impact of DFAT’s takeover of AusAID and the prospect of the Abbott Government having to compensate ditched and devastated public service graduates. We also discussed carbon policy with the Coalition’s repeal package due for defeat in the Senate. Here’s the 2CC audio.

Coalition wrong on public service savaging

My letter to the Australian Financial Review published today is in response to Treasurer Joe Hockey’s claim that Labor hid public service staff cuts.

Australian Financial Review

Letter to the Editor

21 November 2103

If you were to list the qualities of Treasurer Joe Hockey, it’s unlikely that ‘attention to detail’ would feature high on the list. So the Treasurer’s claim of a ‘secret Labor plan’ to cut public service jobs (“The real scope of Labor’s deceit coming to light’, AFR, 20 November) should raise an eyebrow or two.

Before the election, Mr Hockey was claiming that Labor had left Australia with a bloated public service. Misleadingly, he alleged that the public service had grown by 20,000, when in fact the real figure was closer to 8,000. In terms of public servants per head of population, our public service is about the same size today as it was in 2007.

Yet now that he is in office, Mr Hockey has changed his tune, implausibly claiming that Labor’s 2.25 per cent efficiency dividend (saving $1.8 billion) would have cost more jobs than his own policy to directly get rid of 12,000 jobs (projected to save $5.2 billion).

Labor has consistently said before the election that the Coalition’s pledge to cut 12,000 jobs was savage and short sighted, particularly when coupled with the Coalition’s promise to raise the efficiency dividend to 2.5 per cent.

Labor’s efficiency dividend approach targets non-staff savings first, focusing instead on areas such as travel and procurement. The Coalition approach takes the power away from the hands of senior public service managers, and instead demands forced redundancies.

Australia needs a little less hyperventilating hyperbole from its Treasurer. It’s time he stopped blaming others and started taking responsibility for his actions. He could start by saying that he was wrong about public service numbers, and formally dumping his pledge to cut 12,000 jobs.

(The AFR published an abridged version)

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.

Continue reading ‘AusAID Cuts’ »

Sky AM Agenda – Saturday 9 November 2013

This morning I appeared on Sky TV with host David Lipson. Topics canvassed were cuts to the public service, the asylum seeker stand-off with Indonesia, MP entitlements and the Coalition’s plan to repeal racial vilification laws. Here’s the full transcript:



David Lipson: Joining me in the Canberra studio by the shadow assistant treasurer Andrew Leigh. Thanks for your time today.

Andrew Leigh: Pleasure David.

Lipson: Let’s start off where we finished with Josh Frydenberg, the public service cuts. You’re a Canberra MP, how significant is the impact be on the Canberra economy. We knew this was going to happen but now it’s being put into practice.

Leigh: Well we knew it was going to happen David but it’s going to be pretty significant. Contrary to what Mr Frydenberg said, growth in public service numbers during Labor’s term in office matched population growth, the number of public servants per head didn’t change since the end of the Howard years. But what we have seen now is savage cuts; we’ve seen the incorporation of AusAID into the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade being done in a terribly ham-fisted way. AusAID workers being brought into the DFAT atrium like cattle, made to stand on the ground floor while the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade officials look down and one of those DFAT officials mimed machine gunning those AusAID workers. Now were learning the new graduates for AusAID who had signed contracts with AusAID, and in many cases turned down other offers, in fact won’t have their jobs in February. So it’s being done in a terribly messy way -

Lipson: – that corralling is not the government’s fault, that seems to be a departmental issue doesn’t it?

Leigh: I think it ultimately does go back to the Minister, I think you need to recognise if you’re going to shut down an agency like AusAID and brutally incorporate them in to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade with no proper change management process, no looking after the employees, that’s really going to hit people hard. We are seeing in CSIRO up to a quarter of the workers whose jobs are in jeopardy. This is the organisation that invented the polymer bank note and wi-fi, and perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised that a Government without a science minister wants to slash the CSIRO but it’s deeply disturbing none the less.

Continue reading ‘Sky AM Agenda – Saturday 9 November 2013’ »

Interview on ABC666 – 8 Nov 2013

I spoke today on ABC666 with host Adam Shirley about job losses at CSIRO, the organisation who helped invent wi-fi. The shift from natural attrition to voluntary redundancies represents a clear breach of the Liberals’ pre-election pledge to only reduce jobs through natural attrition.

Here’s a podcast.

Monday Breaking Politics – Fairfax Media

This morning, I spoke with Tim Lester about some of the stories making news today: surveyed economists rejecting the government’s Direct Action policy to limit climate change, the unwelcome prospect of Australia Post delivering Centrelink services and Tony Abbott’s uncouth comments in a Washington Post interview. Here’s the transcript:




Subjects: Centrelink and Australia Post, Direct Action, Foreign Affairs.

TIM LESTER: Has the Abbott Government found a viable way of saving money by shifting the front office operations of Centrelink to the control of Australia Post. It’s likely to cause plenty of discussion in politics this week. Labor MP Andrew Leigh, the member for Fraser here in the ACT, joins us in the Breaking Politics studio to discuss this and a few other issues on a Monday. Andrew, welcome in, appreciate your time.

ANDREW LEIGH: Thank you Tim.

LESTER: Is it a good idea to the front office operations of Centrelink and put them in Australia Post outlets?

LEIGH: Tim, the work that Centrelink does is pretty high level work. It’s not simply dispensing payments. It’s working through the appropriate payments for someone at a time of crisis in their life. People come into a Centrelink office after having lost a job, after having experienced a family breakdown and some of the clients have mental health issues. It’s a time of great vulnerability and that’s why Centrelink officers are trained professionals. The notion that they could simply be lining up in an Australia Post office, dodging through the stands of calendars and express post envelopes misses what Australia Post does. It’s the kind of thing you would expect from a Government that’s just gotten rid of the income support payment, effectively a cut to payment for unemployment benefits to now say now to some of the most vulnerable Australians including those with mental illness, just go the Australia Post Office instead.

LESTER: So you see a real danger in mixing these two?

LEIGH: I think some of the most vulnerable Australians will be hurt by this Tim and I think that, unfortunately, it seems to be so much of a pattern with this Government. Taking away the Schoolkids Bonus, taking away income support payments, giving more money to millionaires to have families, giving big tax cuts to mining billionaires. It’s the wrong philosophy for an Australia founded on the ‘fair go’.

Continue reading ‘Monday Breaking Politics – Fairfax Media’ »

Media Release – Coalition costings confirm speed and severity of PS cuts

Yesterday, my federal ACT colleagues and I issued a media release condemning the Abbott Government’s plan to cut public service job at an extraordinary speed in coming months.

20 October 2013


Federal Labor representatives in the ACT say Coalition policy costings provided on Friday would send a chill up the spine of Canberra public servants.

The Parliamentary Budget Office Post-election Report confirms details of the Abbott Government’s plans affecting the Australian Public Service (APS).

The APS will be reduced by 6,000 staff in the nine months to June 2014. That’s one public service job lost every single hour until the end of the financial year. A further 6,000 jobs will go in the two years after that.

Four agencies are exempt from the cuts – Australian Customs, Australian Federal Police, the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation and Australian Secret Intelligence Service. Only serving military and reservists are exempt in Defence.

“This confirms that thousands of public servants in the Defence Department in Canberra face uncertainty,” said Gai Brodtmann.

Continue reading ‘Media Release – Coalition costings confirm speed and severity of PS cuts’ »

Breaking Bad

My op-ed in today’s Daily Telegraph discusses Mr Abbott’s three broken promises in his first three weeks in office.

Broken promises after just three weeks in job, The Daily Telegraph, 11 October 2013

Prime Minister Tony Abbott has made a great deal of the importance of keeping his promises. A few days before the election, he said that if he became Prime Minister: ‘you should move heaven and earth to keep commitments and only if keeping commitments becomes almost impossible could you ever be justified in not keeping them. And I suspect the electorate would take a very dim view even in those circumstances.’

And yet after just three weeks in the job, Mr Abbott has broken at least three promises.

Continue reading ‘Breaking Bad’ »

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?

Continue reading ‘Ten Challenges for Tony Abbott’ »

Talking with Mark Parton on 2CC – 6 September 2013

I had the opportunity to make a final ‘election pitch’ to Canberra voters, in speaking with Mark Parton this morning. Here’s a podcast.

“Election Smackdown” on MIX 106.3 – 4 September 2013

In the fourth and final ‘Election Smackdown’ on MIX 106.3, I debated Liberal candidate Zed Seselja on public sector job losses, costings secrecy and same-sex marriage. Here’s a podcast.

ABC666 with Ross Solly – 2 September 2013

I joined ABC666′s outside broadcast from Urban Roast cafe in Belconnen at 7.10am this morning, and spoke with Ross Solly about the campaign trail, the risks Coalition cuts pose to public and private sector jobs in Canberra, and what the parties’ policies say about their core values. Here’s a podcast.

Mix106.3 Canbera – 28 August 2013

On MixCanberra this morning, Liberal candidate Zed Seselja and I discussed optimism and talking with kids, kangaroos and roadside signs, Miley Cyrus and high-speed rail, and which Canberra agency will be forcibly relocated to the Central Coast if the Liberals win. Unfortunately, we didn’t get an answer on all these issues, but here’s a podcast.

ABC666 Political Panel with Fraser Candidates – 23 August 2013

On ABC666 this morning, I joined a ‘pollie panel’ with other candidates for the seat of Fraser. We discussed the Coalition’s regressive paid parental leave scheme, and their additional 12,000-20,000 job cuts, plus Labor’s plans to invest in education and the NBN. Here’s a podcast.

Public Sector Job Cuts

My letter to the Canberra Times today (with an apt heading):

Libs vow to decimate PS

Several commentators in The Canberra Times have recently argued that Labor is ”driving down the road” towards the Liberals’ promised public service job cuts.

This misses the fact that the Liberals’ policy is to cut between 12,000 and 20,000 public service jobs at the point when they are elected.

The Liberals will not undo the efficiency dividend or our targeted reduction in EL/SES positions. Their cuts will come on top of our recent decisions, not instead of them.

A vote for the Liberals on September 7 is a vote for 12,000-20,000 fewer public servants. For Canberra, that means higher unemployment, more bankruptcies, and lower house prices.

Andrew Leigh, federal member for Fraser

Talking Politics with Mark Parton on 2CC – 13 August 2013

This morning, I had the pleasure of chatting with Mark Parton about Labor’s investments, the importance of the public service, and the joys of election campaigning. Here’s a podcast.

An Unhealthy Policy

My op-ed in the Canberra Times points out that since Tony Abbott was Health Minister, the federal Health Department has grown more slowly than the Australian population. Yet he now claims not to know what it does, and is threatening savage cuts.

Liberals’ unhealthy dose of purging threatens, Canberra Times, 19 June 2013

Recently, I was chatting to a public servant who works at the federal Department of Health and Ageing – working on ways of reducing smoking, encouraging better nutrition, and decreasing obesity rates.

The conversation turned to this year’s election, and what it meant for our jobs. As a politician, I know that every three years I’m up for a job interview with a 130,000 person panel. But it turned out that this person felt much the same. They’re concerned that their job turns on the election result.

Continue reading ‘An Unhealthy Policy’ »

Closing the Gap

I spoke in parliament about the Prime Minister’s statement on Closing the Gap.

Prime Minister’s Statement on Closing the Gap, 12 March 2013

It is a pleasure to follow the member for Hasluck in this important debate on closing the gap. He is the only Indigenous member of the House of Representatives and the Senate, which is an indication of one gap that we need to work to close. Were Indigenous Australians to be represented in this place in proportion to the number in the Australian population there would be at least five Indigenous members in parliament and many debates, this one included, would be richer for that. I hope we will see Nova Peris joining the next Senate, but we still will have further to go. It is an indicator of how many of these gaps take too long to close.

I am proud to represent an electorate which is the home of the Ngunnawal people. Often when I am looking for stories of Indigenous Australia I turn to Stories of the Ngunnawal, an excellent book which discusses some of the stories of the Ngunnawal elders. One story by Dorothy Brown Dickson reminds us of how tough it was for some of the Ngunnawal people. Ms Dickson grew up in an Aboriginal reserve in Yass. She refers to how tough life was for the young men. She says:

Continue reading ‘Closing the Gap’ »

Canberra’s Centenary, and the Case for a Bigger ACT Assembly

I spoke today on a bill to give the ACT Assembly the power to set its own size.

Australian Capital Territory (Self-Government) Amendment Bill, 12 March 2013

It is a pleasure to rise to speak on the Australian Capital Territory (Self-Government) Amendment Bill 2013 today, the 100th birthday of Canberra. This morning we had a re-enactment out the front of Parliament House of the ceremony of the laying of the foundation stone. I have here the program for that ceremony, which was held on 12 March 1913. Today’s ceremony aimed to shadow that historic ceremony of 1913, when sheep greatly outnumbered the residents of Canberra. The ceremony this morning acknowledged the rich history of Canberra—not only the political heritage but also the social tapestry of the city. I was very pleased today to hear the member for Stirling speak so warmly of the city that I have the honour to represent in the federal parliament.

Walter Burley Griffin said that he was designing a city for a nation of ‘bold democrats’. To borrow a phrase from Seamus Heaney, I have always thought of Canberra as being the kind of place where hope and history rhyme. In the centenary celebrations, Canberra has been given an opportunity to celebrate but also to remember much of our history. Historian David Headon has produced a series of centenary booklets and centenary director Robyn Archer has made sure that history has been interwoven into the celebrations.

Continue reading ‘Canberra’s Centenary, and the Case for a Bigger ACT Assembly’ »

Good Fiscal Policy

I spoke in parliament today about the importance of good fiscal management.

Matter of Public Importance – Fiscal Policy, 5 February 2013

It is a pleasure to rise today to speak on an important issue of economic management. When we talk about the importance of good budget management it is important to remember one simple fact: if the tax-to-GDP ratio today were the same as it had been under the Howard government then the budget would be strongly in surplus.

Dr Emerson:  By more than $20 billion.

Dr LEIGH:  By more than $20 billion, I am informed by the minister. But if the tax-to-GDP ratio under the Howard government had been what it is today then many of their budgets would have been in deficit. That is a simple fact which those opposite cannot deny. Driving things at the moment are two big factors. First of all, mineral prices have softened, and that has brought down corporate revenue. Second, the Australian dollar remains high. Why does the Australian dollar remain high? Because Europe is underperforming. With Europe underperforming, investors are looking around the world to where they can find AAA-rated government debt. And they are finding it in Australia, one of the few countries that maintains that AAA rating. Despite the fact that minerals prices are coming off, the Australian dollar remains high. So this double-whammy hits revenues, and this is reason revenues for 2012-13 are $20 billion down from what Treasury projected in 2010.

Continue reading ‘Good Fiscal Policy’ »

Sky AM Agenda – 28th January 2013

For the last week in January we had a chat about superannuation, industrial relations and the Coalition’s lack of policy vision.

Internships and Fellowships

With the parliamentary year having wrapped up, I thought I’d repost my call for potential interns and fellows. Details here (or below).

Continue reading ‘Internships and Fellowships’ »

The Australian Economy – Strengths and Risks

I spoke in parliament today about the state of the Australian and global economy (and snuck in a few words of thanks to my staff, interns, volunteers and family).

Review of the Reserve Bank of Australia Annual Report, 29 November 2012

The review of the Reserve Bank of Australia’s annual report is an opportunity to reflect on the strength of the Australian economy and on some of the potential threats to that ongoing strength. If you had told any economic policy maker two decades ago that, three years after the biggest downturn since the Great Depression, the Australian unemployment rate would have a ’5′ in front of it, inflation would be in the middle of the target band and growth would be at around the long-term average, they would say that you were dreaming. But that has been the stand-out performance of the Australian economy over recent years.

Continue reading ‘The Australian Economy – Strengths and Risks’ »