I spoke on Breaking Politics with Tim Lester and Senator Fiona Nash this morning about the upcoming budget, government revenue, the Coalition’s internal disagreements on their paid parental leave scheme, and sports betting promotion.
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:
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.
In parliament today, I spoke about superannuation, and about aged care.
Superannuation Legislation Amendment (Reducing Illegal Early Release and Other Measures) Bill, 11 February 2013
In 1991, the then Prime Minister Paul Keating said of the superannuation guarantee:
‘It will make Australia a more equal place, a more egalitarian place and hence a more cohesive and happier place.’
We do not often talk about happiness and superannuation in the same breath, but I think we should, because a strong superannuation system is a system that ensures dignity in retirement. It ensures that Australian retirees can enjoy that extra grey nomad trip and the comfort of being able to spend time with loved ones without worrying about paying the bills. It ensures that generations that have given much to Australia enjoy the retirement to which they are entitled.
My Chronicle column this month is on love and related adventures.
Valentine’s Day is a time for new and old love, The Chronicle, 5 February 2013
With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, there’s probably no more inappropriate song to be listening to than Tim Minchin’s ‘If I didn’t have you… I’d probably have someone else’. In the song, Minchin tells us he thinks it’s mathematically pretty unlikely that he met the one girl on earth specifically designed for him while studying at a university in Perth. Life is chaos, he argues, not fate.
In the United States, if you want to insult a right-winger, call them a ‘liberal’. In Australia, if you want to insult a left-winger, call them a ‘Liberal’. In both countries, liberalism has become detached from its original meaning.
It’s time to bring Australian liberalism back to its traditional roots. Small-L liberalism involves a willingness to protect minority rights (even when they’re unpopular) and a recognition that open markets are the best way to boost prosperity.
I spoke in parliament yesterday about the government’s reforms to address problem gambling.
National Gambling Reform, 27 November 2012
May I start with a story from an email sent to me by one of my constituents, Gary Hatcliffe. He wrote to me as follows:
‘My name is Gary Hatcliffe. The pokies have taken away the past 25 years of living for me. Some would say I had a choice; unfortunately, the addiction overpowered my logical thought processes. As a result, I have just completed 7 months of live-in rehabilitation and I now reside in a half-way house in Canberra. Eight months ago I was destitute in Melbourne (having hit rock bottom once again) and I was going to kill myself.
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.
I’m on paternity leave from parliament from Mon-Thu this week (thanks to the Opposition granting me a rare pair).
In between helping Gweneth wrangle our 5 year-old, 3 year-old and 1 month-old boys, I’ll be checking email sporadically. But I may be a little slower in responding than usual. And while 16-hour parlimentary days are tiring, I have a feeling that I’ll be working harder still at home this week!
I recently surveyed the Fraser electorate on their experiences with local child care.
The headline results? Most people are happy with their child’s care, many still collect the Child Care Rebate either quarterly or annually despite fortnightly now being an option and it’s about a 50/50 split as to whether parents are prepared to pay higher fees for reduced staff turnover and higher salaries.
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.
In the latest Quarterly Essay, I’ve penned a response to Laura Tingle’s discussion of the role of government, social spending, and whether Australians are congenitally cross.
Response to Laura Tingle’s Quarterly Essay ‘Great Expectations’
Published in Quarterly Essay #47 (2012)
In 2002, David Moss described the role of government as being the ultimate “risk manager.” Governments, Moss believed, ought to act as a backstop for things that might go wrong in our lives. Just as we buy private insurance to pool our risk with other customers, so governments allow us to pool social risk across other citizens. You can think of your taxes partly as an insurance premium.
The notion of government as risk manager doesn’t cover the full gamut of what governments do, but it does encapsulate many of their important roles. For example, governments help guard against overseas threats and keep our streets safe. Managing risk explains why we have a social safety net to guard against the risk of poverty, a public health care system to deal with the risk of illness, and a public education system to remove the risk that a poor family might not be able to afford to educate their child.
I’ve appreciated hearing from hundreds of Canberrans about your views on childcare and migration. Since education is a passion of mine, I’m now running a survey on schooling. It should take about 3 minutes if you don’t have schoolchildren, or 5 minutes if you do. I look forward to hearing your views. For those on a mobile device, you can find the survey here
I spoke in parliament today about Homeless Connect Day.
Homeless Connect Day, 9 August 2012
On 9 August it was my pleasure to attend Homeless Connect Day at Pilgrim House on Northbourne Avenue. Homeless Connect Day is a one-day event for homeless people, or those at risk of homelessness, to access services, support and essentials. On the day there was a range of services available to people who were homeless or at risk of homelessness: free food, clothing, haircuts, massage, personal care packs, health advice and even entertainment. I was grateful to see the folks from Canberra FM there as well, drawing public attention to one of the real challenges that Australia faces.
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.
The long tail of academic publishing means that two years after leaving my professorial post at ANU, I’m still having pieces appear in the journals. In case it’s of interest, here are the handful of publications that have come out in 2012.
Family Dynamics Affect Poverty, Australian Financial Review, 3 August 2012, R7
There are two polar views on why poverty persists across generations. On the hardline conservative view, poverty is the result of bad choices: not staying in school, not taking a job, not waiting to have a child. At the other end of the spectrum is the view that poverty is simply a lack of money. Provide enough income support, and intergenerational poverty will disappear.
In our hearts, most of us know that neither of these views can be right. And yet many progressives have found the conservative view so harsh that we have recoiled from any discussion about the role that families play in determining children’s outcomes.
If you haven’t yet filled in my Child Care Survey, you can follow the hyperlink or complete it below. I want to hear from a wide variety of parents in my electorate of Fraser, including those who care for their own children at home.
On Sky Lunchtime Agenda, I spoke with David Lipson and Liberal Senator Arthur Sinodinos about the need to find a bipartisan solution on asylum-seekers, how emission trading schemes harness the ingenuity of the market, and the proper role of governments in providing industry assistance.
I spoke today about payday lending, reverse mortgages, and Labor’s history of consumer protection.
Consumer Credit and Corporations Legislation Amendment (Enhancements) Bill 2011
26 June 2012
Not all debt is bad. Many of us here have a mortgage. Many of us have taken a loan to buy a car. My own calculations using data from the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia Survey suggest that 60 per cent of Australian adults live in a household that has some debt and that the average is $100,000 of property debt. On average, debt levels rise with household net worth: if a household increases their net worth by $10, they will typically take another dollar of debt. Thanks to home loans, Australians are now able to buy houses at a much younger age than was the case in my grandparents generation. So credit in that sense has made us better off. Business loans also make the corporate sector grow faster; they help productive firms grow more rapidly. Car loans allow young people to take a job that requires four wheels. And although too many Australians probably carry unpaid balances on own credit cards, they are a handy source of finance to carry us through a tight spot.
It is only when sources of credit are made available to people in circumstances contrary to their interests that it becomes a problem. Care Inc., a financial counselling service in the ACT, told me the story of a client of theirs on a disability support pension, supporting her low income by selling the Big Issue magazine. She had sought assistance for a payday loan she had been paying for well over a year, and that was despite the initial loan being for one month. The client was regularly short of money to pay for food and utilities but continued to take out payday loans. Often a new loan would be provided with the outstanding amount being rolled in. That client felt trapped in a cycle of debt and felt great anxiety. Care Inc. told me that her limited understanding of budgeting and dependence on payday loans significantly affected her quality of life. Having an intellectual disability and mental health issues only compounded the issue.
‘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.
My column in the local Chronicle newspaper is on the new R18+ rating for computer games.
Support for R18+ rating for games, The Chronicle, 3 April 2012
One of the fastest-growing pastimes in Australia is computer gaming. According to one recent survey, 95 per cent of Australian homes with children under the age of 18 had a device for playing games.
Over the past generation, we’ve moved from clunky arcade games like Pacman and Space Invaders to games like EverQuest and World of Warcraft, with slick graphics and millions of players interacting with one another. No longer are gamers just teenage boys. Today, nearly half of all gamers are women, and the typical Australian gamer is aged 32.
My Chronicle column this month is on politics and parenthood.
Politics and Parenthood
The Chronicle, February 2012
Canberra FM recently had parents phone in with their favourite parenting disaster stories. A woman told of the time that she was rushing her two children out of the house to get to swim school. Wanting to assist, her 2 year-old shouted out ‘I’ll get towel’. When swim class finished, the discovery was made that ‘getting the towel’ meant helpfully stuffing the swimming bag with paper towel.
I spoke in parliament yesterday about my November Community Summit.
Fraser Community Summit
1 November 2011
Early this morning, I convened a breakfast roundtable in Parliament House to discuss with 13 ACT community sector leaders the issues of poverty and disadvantage in Canberra. This is the second of these forums that I have arranged and the focus of today’s discussion was on financial literacy, debt and savings. Attendees emphasised that financial problems can be caused by stress factors, such as family breakdown, mental illness, substance abuse and problem gambling. Conversely, financial problems can also cause disadvantage, with money problems leading to health problems, family stress and gambling in an attempt to ‘win back’ losses. Some attendees commented that crisis services are now seeing people who they call the ‘working poor’—such as apprentices and community sector workers. They also pointed out the challenge of high housing costs in the ACT. For people caught in a debt cycle, community leaders pointed out that life is a constant juggling act. People often borrow from their friends and neighbours, and these personal debts can take priority over paying utility bills. One attendee quoted a person in crisis who said, ‘Debt makes me feel like half of me is in the grave already.’
I moved a private members’ motion yesterday on the benefits of putting more information in the public domain.
MYSCHOOL, MYHOSPITALS AND MYCHILD WEBSITES
On the motion of Dr Leigh—That this House:
(a) Australians are keen to have better access to information about government performance;
(b) more transparent public services have been shown to perform at higher levels; and
(c) greater access to information helps Australians make the best choices; and
(2) commends the Australian Government on the creation of the MySchool, MyHospitals and MyChild websites.
Good news today for nearly 30,000 Canberrans, who receive an increase in their pensions thanks to twice-yearly indexation. With my colleagues Gai Brodtmann (the member for Canberra) and Senator Kate Lundy, we’ve put out a media statement providing more details. Full text over the fold.