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Breaking Politics – Monday, 14 April

In my usual media spot on Mondays with the Liberal’s Andrew Laming and Breaking Politics host, Chris Hammer, topics up for debate were the spectre of raising the pension age to 70 and flagged federal budget cuts to the CSIRO. Here’s the full transcript:



SUBJECT/S: Joe Hockey’s budget and cuts; Age Pension, CSIRO, the ABC and SBS; Superannuation and inequality; Unfair PPL Scheme, Trade and Foreign investment

CHRIS HAMMER: Well the budget is now less than a month away and Treasurer, Joe Hockey, is talking tough. His given the clearest signal yet that he intends to raise the pension age to 70, but perhaps not in this term of government. Joining me to discuss that and other matters, budgetary and otherwise, I’m joined by Andrew Leigh, the Federal Labor member for Fraser here in the ACT, and Andrew Laming, the Liberal member for Bowman in Queensland. Good morning. Andrew Laming, let me start with you. Should the pension age be raised to 70?

ANDREW LAMING: Well, obviously the pension age is already changing from 65 to 67 over the next decade and Andrew Leigh has long made that very important point that with longevity in Australia that period between retirement and expected length of life only continues to increase. So this is a debate that brave politicians will continue to have. I think that the pace at which it’s increasing, a couple of years per decade, is thoroughly reasonable and of course we’ve also got the life expectancy figures to back those calculations.

HAMMER: Whatever the merits of the policy though, this isn’t going to be a quick fix for the budget, is it, because we’re looking at so many years into the future?

LAMING: That’s correct. So, already these increases through to 2023 are continuing at a trajectory on from that date, obviously only helps the budget in the 2020s. It doesn’t help the budget right now.

HAMMER: Andrew Leigh, raising the pension to 70, is it a good idea, an inevitable idea?

ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: Well it was an idea ruled out Chris the day before the election by the Prime Minister who said ‘no changes to pensions’.

HAMMER: But I think he was referring to this term of government. If he goes to the next election saying ‘this is what we intend to do’, well that would be fine, wouldn’t it?

LEIGH: He certainly didn’t make that clear in his unequivocal statement the day before the election Chris. But the impact of this is that a scheme which was set up to avoid poverty among the elderly is now looking at being changed in a way that would increase poverty among the elderly. Andrew is right when he says that average life expectancy is rising but the other fact to bear in mind is that workers in manual jobs like check-out operators and cleaners find it tough to work till 70 and workers in those occupations will die on average six years younger than the most affluent Australians. So on life expectancy, there’s a big gap between most and least affluent and I’m really scared about what this broken promise will do to the most vulnerable Australians.

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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.

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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.

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Celebrating 50 years of Dr Who – 18 November 2013

Today in parliament Dr Who fans and colleagues from both sides of the parliament paid homage to The Doctor, fifty years on this month. My contribution noted a few connections Australia shares with the long-standing BBC series and encouraged the latest incarnation of the Time Lord, crew and producers to come Down Under to film an episode here. My speech is below followed by the Private Members Motion that sparked it.

ANDREW LEIGH (Fraser):  In the spirit of bipartisanship that pervades this debate, let me acknowledge the members for Moreton, Mitchell and Dawson for their fine speeches before me. It clearly proves that sci-fi nerdom is a bipartisan gene. The next series of Doctor Who should be filmed in Australia and, indeed, it should be filmed right here, in Canberra, because what better setting to host an attack of the cybermen, the Daleks or the Slitheen than the ‘Shine Dome’, the home of the Australian Academy of Science, colloquially referred to around town as the ‘Martian embassy’.

The member for Dawson has done a terrific job in his motion of highlighting a range of connections with Doctor Who to Australia. I might also point out another one from one of my electors, Peter Martin, that Doctor Who producer Verity Lambert, who essentially set up the program, came to Australia many years later in the 1980s to film ‘Evil Angels’ in the Central Desert. Peter Martin also points out that several of the lost tapes for the early episodes, which had been binned by the BBC and assumed to be lost forever, were actually found in Australia, archived by the ABC. The love of Doctor Who also extends to Senator Conroy. One can go on Twitter and look at the twitter account, @ConroyMO, which features not Senator Conroy’s face but the logo of a Dalek.

Doctor Who turned many Australian kids onto science and technology. It made science ‘cool’, and in recent episodes it has broadened that discussion to ethics through ‘Torchwood’. There are many pieces of advice from Doctor Who which are sage for this government. In season 2, episode 2, the Doctor said: ‘You want weapons? They’re in the library—books. The best weapons in the world.’ It is good advice for a government which is cutting back on science. For those of us who are perhaps mourning a government that fell too short, in season 3, episode 6, the Doctor says: ‘Some people live more in 20 years than others do in 80. It’s not the time that matters; it’s the person.’

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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.

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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.

$6.5M for Civic and Citizenship Education – 26 August 2013

This morning, I joined Bill Shorten and Gai Brodtmann for a tour of Questacon before announcing some funding certainty for the popular Parliament and Civics Education Rebate (PACER) program. The funding will deliver a steady stream of young patrons to the capital’s vital national institutions:


Minister for Education Bill Shorten, Member for Canberra Gai Brodtmann, Member for Fraser Andrew  Leigh

Minister for Education Bill Shorten joined the Member for Fraser Andrew Leigh and the Member for Canberra Gai Brodtmann on the steps of  Questacon today to announce a further $6.5 million for the  popular Parliament and Civics Education Rebate (PACER) program.

PACER provides a subsidy for schools travelling more than 150 kilometres to visit the national capital as  part of a civics and citizenship education  excursion.

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Creativity and Innovation

I launched Stuart Cunningham’s new book Hidden Innovation tonight.

Launching Stuart Cunningham, Hidden Innovation: Policy, Industry and the Creative Sector
Paperchain Books, Manuka
9 April 2013

According to one study cited in Stuart Cunningham’s book, there are two opposing groups of people: ‘political junkies’ (PJs) and Big Brother fans (BBs). PJs think that it ‘beggars belief’ that anyone could think Big Brother was useful. BBs say that politicians are unapproachable and out of touch.

So as an MP who used to quite enjoy watching Big Brother, I found myself torn. Am I a BB or a PJ? A PJ in BBs? Or a BB in PJs?

The reference to Big Brother is just one of a myriad of cultural touchstones in this fascinating book. Stuart Cunningham’s book romps through Survivor and Go Back to Where you Came From, Korean bloggers and Fat Cow Motel, Australian iTunes game Fruit Ninja and Nigeria’s ‘Nollywood’.

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Making a Difference in Fraser

I spoke today about the federal government actions that have made a positive difference in my electorate of Fraser.

Appropriations Bills, 12 February 2013

There are several old chestnuts the Liberals can be relied on to trot out every election year, and one of those that we hear so often in the ACT is the line, ‘Labor ignores Canberra’—the suggestion that somehow Labor governments take Canberra for granted. But, unfortunately for the Liberals, the people of Fraser are a clever bunch. They are able to see through this line easily, because it is so demonstrably false. The investments that this Labor government has made in Fraser are visible everywhere, from the Majura Parkway to the National Broadband Network rolling out and the many schools enjoying new facilities thanks to the Building the Education Revolution program.

In fact, if you were to take the time to visit all of the sites where Labor has invested in my electorate of Fraser, you would be taking a pretty comprehensive tour of Canberra’s north. I can even provide you with a loose itinerary. You can set off from the flourishing suburb of Braddon, where my electorate office is located and where Minister for Human Services Kim Carr and I opened a one-stop shop for Medicare and Centrelink in October last year. The co-location of these facilities is a core part of Labor’s service delivery reforms. It is making access to housing, health, crisis support, education and training, and family and financial support easier for Canberrans.

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In Antarctica

On 13 December, I visted Antarctica on a parliamentary delegation. It’s an astonishing spot, and we were fortunate to have two hours on the ground speaking with the scientists. We even got to get a short ride in “Priscilla” (the snowbus, so named for its ability to navigate this snow-covered desert), to see ice drilling, snow camping, and some of the accommodation. We’d had a full-day briefing the previous day at the Australian Antarctic Division base in Hobart, talking with researchers about their ice core program (drilling down hundreds of metres to look at changes in greenhouse gas concentrations over thousands of years), their marine biology program (better understanding how krill respond to environmental changes), and their non-lethal whale reserach program.

I left with a strong sense of the value that comes from our Antarctic research program, and a sense of the research potential of this extraordinary part of the world. The following two videos give you some sense of the local environment.

More from the Canberra Times (plus a terrific new announcement on Antarctic ice cores from Environment Minister Tony Burke).

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.

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Boosting Innovation

I spoke in parliament yesterday about a valuable roundtable on boosting innovation.

Innovation Roundtable, 14 August 2012

This morning it was my pleasure to attend a roundtable discussion at Government House on the topic ‘A National Conversation on Capturing the Benefits of Basic Research in Australia’. The event was organised by recent Nobel Laureate Brian Schmidt and moderated by Ken Henry. It operated under the Chatham House Rule so I will not list all 26 participants, but they included heads of research bodies, senior government officials, business leaders and the Governor-General herself. The very thoughtful Senator Arthur Sinodinos represented the coalition.

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Go forth, and be unreasonable

Today’s Australian runs a version of my ANU graduation speech in the Higher Education section.

Progress rarely plane sailing but dare to do it anyway, The Australian, 25 July 2012

In 1931, the British air ministry decided to experiment by commissioning a new fighter aircraft. The bureaucrats wanted aviation engineers to abandon past orthodoxies and create something entirely new.

The initial prototypes were disappointing. But then a company called Supermarine approached the ministry with a radical new design. A public servant by the name of Henry Cave-Browne-Cave decided to bypass the regular process and order it. The new plane was the Supermarine Spitfire.

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The Spirit Which is Not Too Sure It’s Right

I addressed graduating ANU students today, speaking about doubt and uncertainty, scepticism and risk-taking, experimenting and being prepared to make a mistake.

‘The Spirit Which is Not Too Sure It’s Right’
ANU Graduation Address
12 July 2012

In 1931, the British air ministry decided to experiment by commissioning a new fighter aircraft.[1] The bureaucrats wanted aviation engineers to abandon past orthodoxies and create something entirely new.

The initial prototypes were disappointing. But then a company called Supermarine approached the ministry with a radical new design. A public servant by the name of Henry Cave-Brown-Cave decided to bypass the regular process and order it. The new plane was the Supermarine Spitfire.

Continue reading ‘The Spirit Which is Not Too Sure It’s Right’ »

Maths & Science

I spoke in parliament this morning about evidence-based policies to boost the number of students studying maths and science.

Higher Education Support Amendment (Student Contibution Amounts and Other Measures) Bill 2012
27 June 2012

Graham Freudenberg recalls in his book A Certain Grandeur Gough Whitlam was asked for concrete example of equality. Whitlam replied, ‘I want every kid to have a desk with a lamp in his own room to study.’ One can argue that for Whitlam the light on the hill shone from that lamp on the desk. I would like to think that at some of those desks they would be studying the sciences and mathematics, fulfilling their curiosity and passion for new insights and a deeper understanding of the world, building and developing skills that will enable them to make new discoveries, create innovations and be part of breakthroughs that will revolutionise our way of life. The sciences and mathematics are vital fields of knowledge for our prosperity and for our place in the world. Labor recognises this, which is why we are taking evidence based steps to ensure we foster the critical thinking, reasoning and creativity the sciences engender.

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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.

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Ockham’s Razor talk

Ever since I was a kid, I’ve enjoyed ABC Radio National’s science program Ockham’s Razor. This week, host Robyn Williams was kind enough to ask me to reprise my Sydney University talk on Five Science Breakthroughs That Could Change Politics. You can podcast it here.

Science Breakthroughs on ABC

Here’s a podcast of my chat this morning about science breakthroughs on ABC 666 with Alex Sloan.

And here’s a short version of the speech that was published on the ABC’s Drum website.

Five Science Breakthroughs That Could Change Politics

I gave a speech to a group of Sydney University students this morning on ‘Five Science Breakthroughs That Could Change Politics’. The text is below.

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The Art of Choosing

My op-ed in today’s Sydney Morning Herald discusses new research about how to make better decisions.

Spoilt by choice: how data ruins decisions, Sydney Morning Herald, 13 April 2012

In a share-trading experiment, two groups of university students were pitted against one another. One team saw only share prices, while the other team could also consult experts and media reports. The result? The better-informed team ended up reacting to rumours and gossip, made too many trades, and earned half as much as their less-informed classmates.

In his book How We Decide, Jonah Lehrer discusses a host of situations in which too much information leads us to make worse decisions. Guidance counsellors who can only see test scores do a better job of predicting whether students will perform well at university than when they can also draw upon essays and a personal interview. In the case of back pain, doctors who obtain an MRI scan are more likely to misdiagnose the patient as having disc abnormalities, and more likely to erroneously prescribe intensive medical interventions. Doctors are now advised not to get scans done on patients with non-specific lower back pain.

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Brian Schmidt

On Wednesday, I spoke to parliament about Nobel laureate Brian Schmidt, now possibly the most famous person working in my electorate.

Brian Schmidt
12 October 2011

Professor Brian Schmidt’s day job involves measuring the difference between exploding stars, studying dark energy and tracking the expansion rate of our universe billions of years back in time. But, after becoming Australia’s newest Nobel laureate, the most important task at hand for Professor Brian Schmidt was making sure he was not late for class the next day. The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences has recognised the incredible work of Professor Schmidt, a lecturer with the ANU’s Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics, awarding him the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics, an award which was shared with Professor Adam Riess and Professor Saul Perlmutter, both from the United States.

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