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Notes from Sao Paulo

I’m in Sao Paulo this week, attending the Partnership Forum for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, which is a strategy conference held every 2-3 years.

The conference is mostly implementers and NGOs, with a smattering of politicians (I’ve enjoyed chatting with Mark Lancaster, a moderate Tory who is the principal private secretary on international development to the Secretary of State).

Six things I’ve learned since I arrived:

  1. There are forms of malaria that can kill you within 24 hours of the first symptoms.
  2. After mosquitoes bite an infected person, they need to sit in a dark corner. So spraying insecticide in dark corners is surprisingly effective.
  3. There’s been a lot of emphasis on preventing mother-child transmission of HIV by ensuring all HIV+ mothers are on antiretrovirals during pregnancy. But after the birth, there often isn’t the money to keep up treatment. The result is that we prevent the child being born with HIV (which is terrific), but pretty much guarantee that s/he will be an orphan within a few years. Hard ethical issues.
  4. Treating regular TB costs a few dollars. Treating multi-drug resistant TB costs around $10,000.
  5. The tendency for mission creep is strong – not surprisingly, given the Global Fund has mobilised nearly $22 billion in the past decade. But it’s important to keep remembering that the reason donors have been so generous is that they think they know pretty precisely what their cash is going towards. Broaden the remit, and the dollars may disappear.
  6. There’s a lot of talk about reactionary government attitudes hampering the outreach efforts of HIV programs to marginalised groups such as sexworkers, men who have sex with men, and injecting drug users. But the policymakers who hold those views either aren’t attending, or are staying very quiet. Instead, the atmosphere is very inclusive. My favourite moment came during a Q&A session today, when the MC said ‘Everyone who has asked a question so far has been male – can I hear from a woman now?’. A voice piped up at the back of the room ‘I’m transgender – does that count?’.

The Case Against a Sovereign Wealth Fund (for now)

My AFR column this week was on sovereign wealth funds.

Second Thoughts on Sovereign Funds, Australian Financial Review, 28 June 2011

Opened in 1880, the Melbourne Royal Exhibition Building is widely considered a national treasure. The first building in Australia to achieve World Heritage listing, it was made possible by the discovery of gold in the mid-nineteenth century. To see the legacy of the gold rush, just look at central Melbourne.

But would we have been better off if the Victorian government had saved the money rather than building infrastructure? This is effectively the argument made by those who argue that the right policy response to today’s mining boom is a sovereign wealth fund.

Continue reading ‘The Case Against a Sovereign Wealth Fund (for now)’ »

Petition on Live Exports

Andrew Leigh presented with a petition on live exports

Last week in Parliament House Tara Ward, Jess Ferry, Karen Vincent and her son Noah presented me with a petition signed by many Canberrans on live exports.

Free Trade

I spoke in parliament last week about the benefits of free trade to Australian consumers and businesses, and the legacy of the great Labor Senator Peter Cook.

Free Trade
23 June 2011

I rise to discuss the benefits of free trade to the Australian economy and the Australian consumer. Estimates from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade show that households have benefited by $3,900 per annum as a result of the reductions in tariffs and the elimination of export quotas over recent decades. A large part of that boost has been in the form of prices being lower for consumers than they would otherwise have been in the presence of tariffs. The real prices of heavily protected products have fallen sharply. Boys’ footwear has fallen by 50 per cent, prices of major household appliances have fallen by 47 per cent and prices of automobiles have fallen by 37 per cent. One in five Australians is now employed as a result of exports and imports. Australians working in export industries are paid 60 per cent more than other working Australians.

Continue reading ‘Free Trade’ »

Financial Frameworks and Government Borrowing

I spoke in parliament last week about a piece of financial framework legislation, and the broader issue of government borrowing. The speech followed on from a diatribe against the government from Andrew Robb (the member for Goldstein), so I couldn’t resist responding.

Continue reading ‘Financial Frameworks and Government Borrowing’ »

Canberra Gang Show

A Gang Show? No, not that kind of gang, it’s the annual production held by the ACT Scouts and Guides. More information below including dates of the performances:

What is Canberra Gang Show?

Canberra Gang Show is a theatre production performed annually by ACT Scouts and Guides from a script written by a youth creative team. Continue reading ‘Canberra Gang Show’ »

Internships and Fellowships

When I was 16, I did two weeks’ work experience for John Langmore, who was then the member for Fraser. It was the first year that the new Parliament House had been opened, and I remember getting hopelessly lost as I went on errands around the building. I’m not sure how much of an impression I made on John (he didn’t remember me when we met again a decade on), but the experience had a profound impact on me – as I learned a ton about the issues and personalities that drove politics in that era.

Over the past year, I’ve been fortunate to have several people help out as volunteers in my office, assisting me with speeches and submissions, helping solve constituent problems, answering the phone, and assisting with campaigning activities.

So I thought it might be useful to put out a formal call for interns and fellows.

Keen to apply? See the FAQs below.

Continue reading ‘Internships and Fellowships’ »

Of twits and tweets

On a day when Shadow Treasurer Joe Hockey is posting photos of a Kevin Rudd cutout, it’s ironic that I’ve acquired my own Twitter impersonator, who is tweeting rather odd things under my name and photograph. We’ve had Twitter shut one of his accounts down this week, but he’s started up a new one today (and presumably will do the same thing when we shut down his next account).

So for anyone who has any doubts – I’m not on Twitter (but I do offer a wide suite of e-products, including an e-report, a blog and regular replies to emails…).

Update, 17 Oct 2011: I’m still not on Twitter. Would my twitterganger please desist?

Update, 31 Jan 2012: For the month of February, I’m trying a one-month Twitter randomised trial, at @ALeighMP.

Local Sporting Champions

Nine young people and one local team have received grants as Local Sporting Champions.

Federal Member for Fraser Andrew Leigh today announced that the ACT Under 17 Girl’s State Softball team had received a $3,000 grant along with nine sportspeople who each received a $500 grant to assist them with their sporting endeavours as part of the Federal Governments Local Sporting Champions program. Continue reading ‘Local Sporting Champions’ »

Navy opens $18 million training facility at HMAS Creswell

Parliamentary Secretary for Defence Senator David Feeney  welcomed today’s opening of the Royal Australian Navy’s new $18 million training facility at HMAS Creswell, Jervis Bay.

The new damage-control training facility will enable Navy personnel to build their skills in responding to toxic hazards, fire fighting and conducting emergency repairs afloat.

  Continue reading ‘Navy opens $18 million training facility at HMAS Creswell’ »

Demand-Driven Universities

I spoke in parliament yesterday about the shift to a demand-driven university system.

Higher Education Support Amendment (Demand Driven Funding System and Other Measures) Bill 2011
21 June 2011

Productivity lies at the heart of raising Australian living standards. As US economist Paul Krugman once said, ‘productivity isn’t everything, but in the long run it is almost everything.’ So the challenge in raising Australian living standards in the future is to crack the nut of higher productivity.

Continue reading ‘Demand-Driven Universities’ »

Consumer Credit Reforms

I spoke in parliament yesterday about consumer credit reforms to make simpler information available to mortgage and credit card customers.

National Consumer Credit Protection Amendment (Home Loans and Credit Cards) Bill 2011
21 June 2011

The Australian dream of owning your own home is usually only possible through a home loan, yet taking out a home loan can be the biggest financial commitment that most Australians make. Credit cards promise that bit of help to manage the family budget. Whether it is helping to get access to cash in an emergency or helping to pay for those little extras like a holiday, accessing quick and easy credit is an attractive option for most. But, in the excitement of thinking about a first home or a new home, or the possibilities of what can be bought with a credit card or an extended credit limit, the obligations that banks and other credit providers place on consumers can be forgotten.

Continue reading ‘Consumer Credit Reforms’ »

Chris Bourke’s First Speech

Chris Bourke – Australia’s first Indigenous dentist, and the ACT’s first Indigenous representative – gave his inaugural speech to the ACT Legislative Assembly yesterday. Full text below.

Continue reading ‘Chris Bourke’s First Speech’ »

Gungahlin Forum

I joined an ABC 666 forum in Gungahlin library last Friday, speaking with Louise Maher and guests Alan Kerlin, Rhonda Daniels and Tony Gill about infrastructure and social capital. You can podcast the discussion here.

Doors Transcript

I was on ‘doors’ today, answering questions about some of the main issues in Australian politics. Here’s a transcript.

Continue reading ‘Doors Transcript’ »

Jamie Mackie

I spoke last night about the great Australian life of Jamie Mackie.

Jamie Mackie
20 June 2011

I rise to pay tribute to Professor Jamie Mackie, who passed away on 21 April, aged 86. Jamie was a key player in the deepening of Australia’s engagement with South-East Asia and the campaign to dismantle the White Australia policy.

Continue reading ‘Jamie Mackie’ »

World Refugee Day

I spoke in parliament yesterday about the contribution that refugees have made to Australia.

World Refugee Day
20 June 2011

What do all these great Australians—researcher Gustav Nossal, entrepreneur Frank Lowy, scientist Karl Kruszelnicki, academic Eva Cox, commentator Les Murray, comedian Ahn Do; sportsman Majak Daw, television presenter Yalda Hakim, the late businessman Richard Pratt and Justice James Spiegelman—have in common? They were all refugees. World Refugee Day is a day to reflect on the generosity of Australia. We are a big country with a big heart This is something we should be proud of. Since 1945, over three-quarters of a million people have resettled in Australia. Those who have sought refuge in our country have made significant social, economic and cultural contributions to the nation we are today and to the nation we will be tomorrow.

Continue reading ‘World Refugee Day’ »

Tax Reform

I spoke in parliament yesterday about tax reform.

Tax Laws Amendment (2011 Measures No. 5) Bill 2011
20 June 2011

The great achievement of the Labor government has been a serious ongoing commitment to tax reform. It is with taxes that we build society and a hallmark of this Labor government has been focused and consistent attention on tax reform. We, of course, commissioned the Henry review, a root and branch tax review, which has for the first time in a generation looked across the tax system at how to make it work more effectively. As the Henry review in its opening noted:

Continue reading ‘Tax Reform’ »

Public Sector Superannuation

I spoke last week on some useful reforms to public sector superannuation.

Governance of Australian Government Superannuation Schemes Bill 2011
15 June 2011

The bills before us concern the retirement savings of people who serve our nation. The good men and women of our military, as well as those in our public service, many of whom reside in the ACT in my electorate of Fraser or in the neighbouring electorate of my good friend and colleague the member for Canberra, will benefit from the changes in this legislation. The bills seek to consolidate the main civilian and military superannuation schemes under a single trustee. The merger will see the Commonwealth Superannuation Scheme, the Public Sector Superannuation Scheme, the Military Superannuation and Benefits Scheme, the Defence Force Retirement and Death Benefits Scheme and the Defence Force Retirement and Benefit Scheme all administered by a single trustee, the Commonwealth Superannuation Corporation, or CSC. The CSC will be a statutory agency, as will ComSuper.

Continue reading ‘Public Sector Superannuation’ »

Sky AM Agenda 20 June 2011 with Andrew Leigh and Mitch Fifield

Transcript – Sky News AM Agenda – 6 June 2011


E & OE 

Subjects: Carbon pricing, live exports, immigration Continue reading ‘Sky AM Agenda 20 June 2011 with Andrew Leigh and Mitch Fifield’ »

Denying Reality

If you’re after some light entertainment, try asking a member of the federal opposition what they think of climate change deniers.

If you’re talking to someone in the half of the party room who voted for Tony Abbott over Malcolm Turnbull, they’ll likely try to change the subject. They know that it’s a difficult task to argue that the CSIRO, the Bureau of Meteorology, NASA and the Academy of Sciences are engaged in a vast conspiracy. But in their heart, many Coalition politicians somehow can’t come to accept the overwhelming scientific evidence in favour of climate change.

Continue reading ‘Denying Reality’ »

Foreign Aid & Local Forums

‘Vertical funds’ are playing an increasingly important role in foreign aid these days. One of these is the Global Alliance on Vaccines and Immunisation (GAVI), which received an extra $200 million injection from Australia at a donor meeting in London a week ago. Kevin Rudd’s speech received plaudits from those who attended (Bruce Boyd told me of a colleague at the meeting who said the announcement ‘took people’s breath away’). Given how well GAVI has performed in assessments such as the UK multilateral aid review, this is good news indeed.

Another vertical fund that Australia contributes to is the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. The fund will be holding its fourth Partnership Forum in Sao Paulo from 28-30 June, and I’ll be attending as part of a parliamentarians’ event on 27 June. You can guarantee that I won’t be making any spectacular pledges of Australian aid, but I am looking forward to the conversation.

Flying from Australia to Brazil is messier than you might think (I’m getting there via South Africa), so it turns out that I won’t be able to return in time for the community forum that I had advertised for Saturday 2 July in Downer Community Centre. I’ll post details here once I’ve rescheduled that event. Apologies to inner north residents for any inconvenience.

AYCC and Carrotmob

I spoke in Parliament today about the Australian Youth Climate Coalition, as well as Canberra’s first ‘Carrotmob’.

Climate Change, 16 June 2011

In politics, some of the most important decisions you make are the ones that outlive you, whether it is the Menzies government’s decision to expand basic research through the CSIRO, the Keating government’s decision to put in place a superannuation guarantee or this government’s decision to dramatically improve early childhood education. Great policy is made with the long game in mind. In the case of climate change, the decisions we make today will matter more for my sons than they will for me. It will be my little boys whose world will be most affected if sea levels continue to rise and temperatures increase. Young people in my electorate, much like their peers across Australia, want a clean energy future, a future where Australia prices carbon.

Continue reading ‘AYCC and Carrotmob’ »

ACT Community Living Project

I spoke in Parliament today about the ACT Community Living Project.

ACT Community Living Project, 16 June 2011

On Monday, 13 June, I had the pleasure of attending a barbecue to raise funds and awareness for the ACT Community Living Project. CLP is a not-for-profit community organisation seeking services for people with a disability, particularly those with a moderate to severe intellectual disability, many of whom have physical or health issues. The group also includes people with autism.

Continue reading ‘ACT Community Living Project’ »


Tim Harford’s latest book is a cracker (Adam Smith meets Malcolm Gladwell). It’s titled Adapt: Why Success Always Starts with Failure. Some choice quotes:

An enterprising civil servant… decided to bypass the regular commissioning process and order the new plane as ‘a most interesting experiment’. The plane was the Supermarine Spitfire. … it is only a small exaggeration to say that the Spitfire was the plane that saved the free world.

Continue reading ‘Adapt’ »


My wife Gweneth is curating an exhibition at the Gallery of Australian Design in 2012 on the links between landscape architecture and public health.

If you have worked on design projects that promote healthy living (including schools, hospitals, prisons and parks), Gweneth would love to hear from you. Details here.

Live Exports Suspension

I spoke in parliament last night on the issue of live animal exports.

Live Animal Exports, 14 June 2011

The image of our stock men and women is deeply etched on the national psyche: the laconic stockmen rocking easily in the saddle, cajoling and guiding the herd; the alert and agile stockman darting through the bush, bringing a bolter back or displaying campdrafting skills at the local rodeo.

Continue reading ‘Live Exports Suspension’ »

Drug Action Week 2011

My speech at the launch of Drug Action Week 2011.

Launch of Drug Action Week 2011
(themed ‘Looking After Your Mind’)

Thank you for braving a Canberra winter morning to be at Parliament House for the launch of Drug Action Week 2011.

We weren’t taught about it in primary school, but European settlement to Australia was inextricably linked to substance abuse.

So important was rum in the early colonies that it took the place of currency.

According to Russell Ward in The Australian Legend, ‘no people on the face of the earth ever absorbed more alcohol per head of population’ than Australians in the 1800s. Continue reading ‘Drug Action Week 2011’ »


My AFR op-ed today is on dental care.

The Economics of a Smile, Australian Financial Review, 14 June 2011

The smile is one of the great puzzles of evolutionary psychology: why should people indicate pleasure by showing their teeth? Among chimps, a silent bared-teeth display is used to appease dominant members of the troop. But humans are the only species that also use smiles to signal happiness.

Continue reading ‘Dentalnomics’ »

Facts of the Day

on average in each working hour around 1,550 people move from being jobless to being employed, and about 1,530 people leave employment and become jobless

At the same time in any given period very large numbers of people move into different jobs, and from full to part-time work (and vice-versa), without actually changing employment status. This means that the extent of changes in the labour market must be much greater than even that suggested by these simple gross flows data.

(From Bruce Chapman and Kiatanantha Lounkaew, How many jobs is 23,510, really? Recasting the mining job loss debate.)

I AM a huge fan of randomised trials. Last year at Google the search team ran about 6,000 experiments and implemented around 500 improvements based on those experiments. The ad side of the business had about the same number of experiments and changes. Any time you use Google you are in many treatment and control groups.

(From Hal Varian, discussing randomised policy trials)