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Archive for February 2011

Randomised Trials Motion

I moved a motion today on randomised trials:

DR LEIGH: To move—That this house:

(1) reaffirms this Government’s commitment to evidence-based policy making;

(2) notes that:

(a) the Productivity Commission has highlighted the importance of rigorous evaluation in assessing the impact of social, educational, employment and economic programs; and

(b) randomised policy trials are increasingly being used as an evaluation tool in developed and developing nations; and

(3) supports measures to increase the quality of evaluations, and calls on the Government to consider whether randomised policy trials may be implemented to evaluate future Government policies.

Here’s what I had to say:

Evidence-Based Policy – Private Members’ Motion
28 February 2011

No government has been more committed to evidence-based policy than ours. In areas from water reform to climate change, from foreign aid to schools reform, activity-based health funding to fiscal stimulus, Labor has drawn on the best knowledge of experts in the field. What drives those of us on this side of the House is not a love of particular programs, but a hope that our time in public life will help leave Australia more prosperous and more tolerant, with a cleaner environment and jobs for the future.

To achieve these goals, we need to keep finding better ways to evaluate our policies. As a former economics professor, I can assure the house that this is particularly hard in the case of social policies. Unlike scientific experiments, evaluations of social policies are particularly tricky. We don’t always get the right answer from simple before/after evaluations, nor from comparisons of those who opted in with those who opted out.

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Climate conference

I’m speaking on 31 March at an ANU climate change conference being organised by Frank Jotzo. Details here.


When I gave my maiden speech to parliament last year, I promised to speak more about randomised policy trials, which I’ve managed to do on a couple of occasions.

But just to make sure that people don’t think I’ve dropped the randomista ball, I’ve moved a private members’ motion, which the House of Representatives will be debating on Monday.

DR LEIGH: To move—That this house:

(1) reaffirms this Government’s commitment to evidence-based policy making;

(2) notes that:

(a) the Productivity Commission has highlighted the importance of rigorous evaluation in assessing the impact of social, educational, employment and economic programs; and

(b) randomised policy trials are increasingly being used as an evaluation tool in developed and developing nations; and

(3) supports measures to increase the quality of evaluations, and calls on the Government to consider whether randomised policy trials may be implemented to evaluate future Government policies.

Arts and Sports

I spoke in parliament yesterday about the role of community arts organisations, and the importance of local sporting clubs. Both speeches are below.

Continue reading ‘Arts and Sports’ »

The Economic Challenge of Climate Change

I spoke in parliament yesterday on climate change, responding to a scare campaign by the opposition about electricity prices.

The Economic Challenge of Climate Change
21 February 2011

The globe is warming. Those opposite may not like to admit it, though they did vote for a private member’s bill to this effect last year, but climate change is real, it is happening and it is caused by humans. When I say this I normally pause, because sometimes you get chuckles or shouts from the other side. They like to flirt with the denialists and they like to suggest that perhaps climate change is not happening, or to take the ostrich approach: ‘If we just put our heads in the sand for long enough, maybe climate change will go away’.

But the evidence accrues year after year. Since the 1940s, every decade has been warmer than the one that preceded it. Following this pattern, the past decade was indeed the warmest on record. And you can just look in your own backyard to see this effect. Only a few weeks ago, Sydney experienced a record-breaking seven days in a row of temperatures over 30 degrees. Never in 150 years of record keeping had Sydney experienced seven days of temperatures where the maximum went over 30 degrees, but it has now happened—evidence of climate change in one of our own cities.

Continue reading ‘The Economic Challenge of Climate Change’ »

Open Australia

I spoke in Parliament earlier this week against the current populist campaign to curtail foreign investment in Australian agriculture.

Foreign Investment in Agriculture
21 February 2011

An iron law of populism is that, while Australian businesspeople investing abroad are portrayed as job-creating entrepreneurs, foreign investors in our country are depicted as rapacious robber barons. And so it is with the latest campaign against foreign investment. As sometimes happens, the campaign started in the tabloids. Under headlines such as ‘Chinese buying up our farms’, ‘It’s time to stop selling off the farm’, and ‘It’s time to save our farms from foreign investors’, News Ltd tabloids have recently embarked upon a fear campaign against foreign investment in Australian agriculture. With anecdotes taking the place of statistics, foreign investment has been described by the tabloids as ‘a dramatic global land grab’, fed by ‘a looming global food shortage’.

Continue reading ‘Open Australia’ »

Development in Africa

I spoke in Parliament on Monday night about the economics and politics of boosting growth in sub-Saharan Africa.

Development in Africa
21 February 2011

The Third World has shrunk. For most of the past century, the development challenge has been how to get the rest of the world up to the living standard of the top one billion. Now that challenge has been reversed. With rapid growth across much of Asia, the future looks increasingly bright for billions of Indians and Chinese. As economist Paul Collier puts it, the challenge now is to raise living standards for ‘the bottom billion’. These are the one billion or so world citizens who live in countries with stagnant growth rates, with living standards at about the level of 14th century Europe. Most of the bottom one billion live in Africa. In the 1970s, both China and India had African per capita development levels. Since then, per capita incomes in India have doubled and those in China have quadrupled, but in sub-Saharan Africa incomes barely rose from 1970 to 2000.

Continue reading ‘Development in Africa’ »

Labor in the Community

With the release of the ALP National Review, there has been some commentary recently about how the Labor Party can improve its membership base and engagement with the community. I think it’s critical that we do better, but we also shouldn’t forget the good work that’s currently occurring. So I spoke in parliament this week about some of that activity.

Constituency Statements, 22 February 2011
Australian Labor Party

There has been some public discussion recently about the role the Labor Party plays in the local community. This is an important debate, and I am glad we are having it. Australia’s oldest and greatest political party has a long tradition of being enmeshed in the local community. Sports clubs were a feature of party life in the 1930s, as were camps and excursions in the 1940s. In recent years the Labor Party has struggled to retain members. In this we are no different from hundreds of other mass membership organisations. As I documented in a book last year, Australians are less likely to join the Scouts and the RSL, to attend a religious service and to know their friends and their neighbours well.

Continue reading ‘Labor in the Community’ »

Flood Reconstruction

I spoke in Parliament yesterday in favour of the flood reconstruction package.

Flood Reconstruction, 22 Feb 2011

I rise to speak on the Tax Laws Amendment (Temporary Flood Reconstruction Levy) Bill 2011 and the Income Tax Rates Amendment (Temporary Flood Reconstruction Levy) Bill 2011. The recent floods and cyclone had a devastating impact on Queensland and Victoria, with major infrastructure now needing to be rebuilt. In order to fund this rebuilding effort Labor has proposed a $5.6 billion package. Two dollars out of three of this package will be funded by savings measures from the budget while the remainder will be funded by a one-off levy in 2011-12. The levy, as previous speakers have noted, will be progressive, so that flood victims and taxpayers earning less than $50,000 will pay nothing. For most of those who do pay the levy, the cost will be less than a cup of coffee a week.

Continue reading ‘Flood Reconstruction’ »

Environment Volunteers

I spoke in parliament yesterday about the important role that environment groups play in Canberra.

Constituency Statements
Fraser Electorate: Environment Volunteers
22 February 2011

I have often spoken about the role that volunteers and voluntary organisations play in bringing the community together, acting as a kind of social glue. People volunteer for many reasons and in many different ways, but I firmly believe that some of the most important voluntary work is done by those groups involved with the local environment. My home of Canberra is blessed with a number of park care, catchment and bushland groups, all of which are active in conserving the natural environment in our bush capital.

I recently held a community forum for members of my electorate who are involved in the conservation and environment sector. Among the groups that attended were Friends of Mount Painter Park Care Group, Mount Rogers Landcare Group, Dunlop Environment Volunteers, the Conservation Council, the Cooleman Ridge Park Care Group, ANUgreen, the Ginninderra Catchment Group, Friends of Aranda Bushland and Friends of Mount Majura. As you can imagine, these organisations and others, like the Molonglo Catchment Group, Friends of Grasslands and Greening Australia Capital Region, are incredibly active organisations.

Continue reading ‘Environment Volunteers’ »

Welcoming the Babies

On Sunday 27 March, I will be hosting ‘Welcoming the Babies’, a community event for parents and carers of children aged 18 months or younger. This will be a chance to meet other parents, find out about community services for new parents, and enjoy a morning out with the whole extended family.

All attendees will receive a Baby Pack including community information and a formal certificate. Register your attendance by phoning 6247 4396, or emailing <AT>

Details, details:

Sunday 27 March
10.30 am to 12.30 pm
Stage 88, Commonwealth Park

A Line in the Sand

A Line in the Sand

I spoke in parliament tonight against a private members’ motion moved by shadow immigration spokesperson Scott Morrison.

‘A Line in the Sand’, 21 February 2011

In 1983, I was attending Sutherland Primary School, in the electorate of the member for Cook. One day, a person from the computer company Microbee came and set up a computer in the back of the room. It was the first computer most of us had ever seen. The program was a database of the First Fleet, and each of us took it in turns to search the name records to see if our ancestors were on the ship. In that classroom, every eleven year old child wanted to answer the same question: could I possibly be descended from a boat person?

Continue reading ‘A Line in the Sand’ »

Climate Change

The Unkindest Cut

Federal parliament will soon be debating how to rebuild the damage done to Australia by this summer’s cyclone, floods and fires. All Australians will have seen either first-hand or on their television screens the damage that has been done not only to homes, but also to essential infrastructure such as bridges and roads. State and federal governments must now get the rebuilding process underway quickly, so the economic and social impact of these floods ends up being as small as possible.

Continue reading ‘The Unkindest Cut’ »

Shake your family tree

I put out a press release today on the beaut ‘Shake Your Family Tree’ events that the National Archives are running. In the process, I couldn’t resist mentioning one member of the family you mightn’t expect – my great-great-uncle Robert Beckett (pictured), who served as a non-Labor MLC in the Victorian Parliament 1913-17.

Continue reading ‘Shake your family tree’ »

ABC24 with Senator Scott Ryan

Scott has prepared a transcript, which is here.

An Age Old Topic

My Australian Financial Review opinion piece today is on ageing (remembering, as usual, that authors don’t choose their headlines).

Continue reading ‘An Age Old Topic’ »

Sky AM Agenda this morning

Social Impact Bonds

Justin Wolfers draws my attention to an intriguing new idea afoot in the US and UK.

Lately, both American and British policy makers have been thinking about how to bring some of the competitive discipline of the market to government programs, and they have hit on an intriguing idea.

David Cameron’s Conservative government in Britain is already testing it, at a prison 75 miles north of London. The Bloomberg administration in New York is also considering the idea, as is the State of Massachusetts. Perhaps most notably, President Obama next week will propose setting aside $100 million for seven such pilot programs, according to an administration official.

The idea goes by one of two names: pay for success bonds or social impact bonds. Either way, nonprofit groups like foundations pay the initial money for a new program and also oversee it, with government approval. The government will reimburse them several years later, possibly with a bonus — but only if agreed-upon benchmarks show that the program is working.

If it falls short, taxpayers owe nothing.

The first British test is happening at Her Majesty’s Prison Peterborough, where 60 percent of the prisoners are convicted of another crime within one year of release. Depressingly enough, that recidivism rate is typical for a British prison.

To reduce the rate, a nonprofit group named Social Finance is playing a role akin to venture capitalist. It has raised about $8 million from investors, including the Rockefeller Foundation. Social Finance also oversees three social service groups helping former prisoners find work, stay healthy and the like. If any of those groups starts to miss its performance goals, it can be replaced.

For the investors to get their money back starting in 2014 — with interest — the recidivism rate must fall at least 7.5 percent, relative to a control group. If the rate falls 10 percent, the investors will receive the sort of return that the stock market historically delivers. “It’s been only a few months,” says Tracy Palandjian, who recently opened a new Social Finance office in Boston, “but the numbers are coming in O.K.” …

The Obama administration’s seven pilot programs would create bonds for, among other areas, job training, education, juvenile justice and care of children’s disabilities. Nonprofit groups like Social Finance could apply. So could for-profit companies

What I’m Reading

At the Canberra Multicultural Festival

Do you have to drink each time you mention the Beveridge Curve?

I copped some gentle flack yesterday for asking the RBA Governor about the Beveridge Curve. Here’s an illustration of the data that concerned me (thanks to Scott Kompo-Harms at the Parliamentary Library for compiling it).

Australian Youth Forum for 2011

A brief speech in Parliament on youth engagement.

Australian Youth Forum, 10 February 2011

I was pleased today to attend the launch of the Youth Forum’s Youth Engagement Steering Committee, which is going to advise the Minister for School Education, Early Childhood and Youth, Mr Peter Garrett, about a range of important issues in education. I was delighted to have the opportunity at that event to meet Ms Tahlia Azaria, a successful member of the AYF steering committee in 2010, who will lead the steering committee in 2011 as chair.

I would like to pay particular tribute to two members of that youth steering committee from my electorate, Anthony Antioch and Mitchell Wall, two very impressive young men who I am sure will bring to bear a youth perspective on some of the critical issues that young Australians feel it is important to speak about.

I think young Australians often feel too shut out of our political process, that they do not have enough opportunities to have their voices heard in the corridors of power. The Youth Engagement Steering Committee is a way of addressing that, of bringing a breath of fresh air into our political process and ensuring that young Australians have a voice at the highest level of power.

Politics and Parenthood

Why helping Indonesia is in our National Interest

Leadership for People with a Disability

A new national program provides leadership skills for people with a disability. I hope that local Canberra groups will apply.

Continue reading ‘Leadership for People with a Disability’ »

Big Ideas Competition

Andrew Leigh's Big Ideas Competition

I’m running a ‘Big Ideas’ competition for young people living or studying on the north side of Canberra (the Fraser electorate). Entries should:

* Be a video no more than 3 minutes in length;

* Describe an issue, what should be done in response, and why.

The competition will be open for entries until Friday 12 May and will be run with three separate levels: primary (K-6), secondary (7-10) and youth (year 11 until age 24).

Topics can include anything from reducing crime to improving sports participation, urban transport to water use, foreign aid to alleviating homelessness, boosting business start-ups to fostering artistic creativity in Canberra.

The judges are: Danielle Cronin (Canberra Times), Kieran Gilbert (Sky), Peter Martin (Age), Samantha Maiden (The Australian), Mark Simkin (ABC), Sarah Wiley (2GB), Annabel Crabb (ABC), Mark Davis (SMH), and Laura Tingle (AFR).

If you know any young Fraser residents with bright ideas, please encourage them to enter the competition.

For more details, click on the ‘Big Ideas’ tab at the top of this page.

Schooling in Indonesia

I gave a brief speech today in Parliament on Australia’s aid program, and particularly its funding for education in Indonesia.

Schooling in Indonesia, 9 February 2011

In the late-1970s, I attended primary school in Banda Aceh. I was there because my father was working on an AusAID project to improve education in Indonesia. At the same time, Indonesian education was improving me. As the only white child in my class, I came to appreciate perspectives and cultures quite different from my own. The power of stories and songs, an understanding of geography and history – these things stay with me still.

For Indonesia, as for Australia, education is the best anti-poverty tool we’ve developed. A wealth of evidence now shows that education raises wages and increases participation in the democratic process. Better educated citizens are healthier, and their children receive many of these benefits too.

Yet while Australia has for decades been a partner in improving the Indonesian education system, that bipartisan consensus now threatens to crack. Fuelled by some of the most reactionary groups in Australia, a campaign has been afoot to say that when floods hit Australia, we should stop assisting others. This kind of inward-looking approach will directly harm thousands of Indonesian children. But it will also harm our national interest, which is in engagement, not autarky.

Our nation is not so poor – in finances or national spirit – that we must choose between rebuilding the damage done by the floods and being a good neighbour.

In praise of public servants

Kevin Rudd has a terrific piece in today’s Drum. A few quotes:

It’s fair to say we in politics don’t stop often enough to say thank you to public servants in public forums. This is a criticism that could be equally directed at either side of the political spectrum, and would be a fair comment. …

Our Embassy in Cairo, staffed with fewer than 10 Australians on a regular basis, has swelled to over 40 staff helping stranded Australians get back home to safety.

More than 30 members of the public service heard the call that the Government was looking for more staff to assist in a deteriorating security environment and said “yes, I will go”.  …

Tricia, a regional consular officer based in Dubai, answered the call. She was one of the first on the ground. She worked tirelessly all week until being detained while scoping routes to ensure Australians could travel safely along them. And what did she do after being released? Went straight back to work including living at the airport three days straight helping Australians onto flights. This work is truly appreciated and brought home to me when I met just a few of these rescued Australians on their way home from Egypt.

Tricia’s efforts are just one example of brilliant efforts by brilliant members of our foreign service. Efforts worth commending, but efforts replicated across the public service on a daily basis. …

Every day, be it those on the front line at Centrelink, our customs and border protection staff, or those working on the policy ideas that will solve the challenges that Australia faces, we should be proud that in Australia we do have a world class public service.