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Archive for January 2012

A Twitter Randomised Trial

I have a confession to make: I’m a twitter-sceptic. In a piece for the Australian Literary Review in 2010, Macgregor Duncan and I surveyed what politicians were reading, and concluded that federal politicians ought to read more and tweet less. It was the words of an armchair critic, but when I unexpectedly found myself transitioning from professor to politician later that year, I decided it would be hypocritical of me to tweet. So I refrained.

But over the past 17 months, enough people who I respect have made a good case for twitter that it seems churlish to base my decision on theory alone. In other contexts, I frequently complain about people who make decisions without looking at the evidence, so I figured I really ought to test the theory, and find out once and for all: does twitter make me happier and more productive?

So, following in the footsteps of my good friend Justin Wolfers, I’m embarking on a month-long twitter randomised trial. Each morning in February, I’ll toss a coin. Heads, I’ll tweet for the day. Tails, I shan’t. At the end of each day, I’ll record how happy I’ve been, and how productive. And at the end of February, I’ll tally it all up.

If you’re interested in joining me for the ride, you can follow me by clicking the button below.

UK Worries

Wondering what all the fuss is about Europe? Here’s the scariest chart I’ve seen this year – from the ‘Not the Treasury View’ blog.

Bottom line: Four years into the recession, UK output is doing worse than at the same stage in the Great Depression.

Overseas Same-Sex Marriage

A thoroughly sensible announcement from the AG today – the government will now issue certificates of no impediment to same-sex couples wishing to marry overseas.

Continue reading ‘Overseas Same-Sex Marriage’ »

Opening of ‘Snakes Alive’ exhibition

Holding a snake at the 'Snakes Alive' exhibition

Today I opened the ‘Snakes Alive’ exhibition, an annual display of snakes and other reptiles and amphibians put on the the ACT Herpetological Association. As part of the opening event, they put a snake in my arms which was perhaps one of the more unusual experiences I’ve had since becoming a parliamentarian.

It’s a fun event with lots of hands-on activities and hosted by the Australian National Botanic Gardens. My boys came along with me today and were fascinated by the snakes and loved being told about the different species, what they ate, and where they live.

My media release for the event is below.

Continue reading ‘Opening of ‘Snakes Alive’ exhibition’ »

Welcoming the Babies 2012

On 4 March, I’m 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.

Date: Sunday, 4 March 2012

Time: 10:30 AM – 12:30 PM

Location: Stage 88, Commonwealth Park (Google maps)

Registration: Register your attendance by phoning 6247 4396, or emailing

US Republicans Downunder

My opinion piece in today’s Canberra Times looks at the local impact of the Coalition’s promised 12,000 public service job cuts.

Abbott Plans to Cut APS Heavily, Canberra Times, 20 January 2012

If US politics is the greatest show on earth, then the Republican Primaries must surely be Comedy Central. And no candidate is more radical than libertarian Ron Paul, who believes that there should be no income tax, no foreign aid, and no unemployment benefits. Among Ron Paul’s promises is a plan to abolish five government departments, getting rid of 10 percent of US public servants.

If you think this sounds radical, you may be interested to know that Tony Abbott’s promises are only a little less extreme. In the last election, the Coalition committed to getting rid of 12,000 public servants – around 7 percent of the Australian public service.

Continue reading ‘US Republicans Downunder’ »

Forgotten Australians @ the NMA

My article in the Chronicle this month is about the ‘Forgotten Australians’ exhibition at the National Museum of Australia.

Australians No Longer Forgotten, The Chronicle, 17 January 2012

Hugh McGowan was born to a single mother in Scotland. Lacking any support, she gave him up to a boys’ home in Glasgow. One day the children were asked if they wanted to go to Australia. Twelve year-old Hugh initially agreed, but then changed his mind and told the ‘cottage father’ he didn’t want to go. He still remembers the reply: ‘Too bad, you’re going’.

Continue reading ‘Forgotten Australians @ the NMA’ »

Sky News AM Agenda – 19 January

This year, my usual spot on the Sky News AM Agenda has moved to alternate Thursdays and my sparring partner is now Victorian Liberal backbencher Kelly O’Dwyer. Today we talked about the financial situation in Europe (compared with the strong performance of the Australian economy), and the manufacturing sector.

Mobile Complexity

In today’s Canberra Times, Ross Peake writes up my criticism of Australian mobile phone carriers for offering needlessly complex plans. A snippet:

A Federal Labor MP is gobsmacked that Australian mobile phone companies get away with offering plans that are very difficult to understand and compare.

Andrew Leigh is turning his frustration into a campaign, based on his experience with simpler plans offered in the United States.

He says the complexity of phone plans has a particularly hard impact on people with low levels of financial literacy. ”Complexity hurts the poor, new migrants and the elderly – in this sense unnecessary complexity operates like a regressive* tax,” he said. Mr Leigh, who represents the northern half of Canberra, concedes that the Federal Government has little role to play unravelling the complexity of plans and caps. ”You can’t legislate simplicity,” he said.

* The article accidentally quoted me as saying ‘progressive’. But of course a tax that hurts the poor is a regressive one.

Advice to PhD Students

On 29 Nov, I spoke to PhD students at the ANU Crawford School. In case you’d like to watch it, the video has now been posted on the ANU website.

And here’s my list of 10 suggested topics for economics PhD students.

Great Teachers Have Lasting Effects

In the NYT, Nick Kristof writes up an important new paper on the impact of great teachers.

Having a good fourth-grade teacher makes a student 1.25 percent more likely to go to college, the research suggests, and 1.25 percent less likely to get pregnant as a teenager. Each of the students will go on as an adult to earn, on average, $25,000 more over a lifetime — or about $700,000 in gains for an average size class — all attributable to that ace teacher back in the fourth grade. That’s right: A great teacher is worth hundreds of thousands of dollars to each year’s students, just in the extra income they will earn. …

Conversely, a very poor teacher has the same effect as a pupil missing 40 percent of the school year. We don’t allow that kind of truancy, so it’s not clear why we should put up with such poor teaching. In fact, the study shows that parents should pay a bad teacher $100,000 to retire (assuming the replacement is of average quality) because a weak teacher holds children back so much.

Here’s the academic abstract:

The Long-Term Impacts of Teachers: Teacher Value-Added and Student Outcomes in Adulthood
Raj Chetty, John N. Friedman, Jonah E. Rockoff

Are teachers’ impacts on students’ test scores (“value-added”) a good measure of their quality? This question has sparked debate largely because of disagreement about (1) whether value-added (VA) provides unbiased estimates of teachers’ impacts on student achievement and (2) whether high-VA teachers improve students’ long-term outcomes. We address these two issues by analyzing school district data from grades 3-8 for 2.5 million children linked to tax records on parent characteristics and adult outcomes. We find no evidence of bias in VA estimates using previously unobserved parent characteristics and a quasi-experimental research design based on changes in teaching staff. Students assigned to high-VA teachers are more likely to attend college, attend higher- ranked colleges, earn higher salaries, live in higher SES neighborhoods, and save more for retirement. They are also less likely to have children as teenagers. Teachers have large impacts in all grades from 4 to 8. On average, a one standard deviation improvement in teacher VA in a single grade raises earnings by about 1% at age 28. Replacing a teacher whose VA is in the bottom 5% with an average teacher would increase students’ lifetime income by more than $250,000 for the average classroom in our sample. We conclude that good teachers create substantial economic value and that test score impacts are helpful in identifying such teachers.

Peter Veness

Last night, 27 year-old AAP journalist Peter Veness lost his battle with cancer. He had been diagnosed in 2009, and given just a few months to live. His survival for nearly three years is testament to his extraordinary inner strength.

As a new backbencher, I came to know Peter through his razor-sharp questions at the doors of Parliament House. Peter’s questions were always the most nerve-wracking part of a doorstop interview, because you knew that he couldn’t be distracted from his focus on the important issue of the moment. He was no fan of the sideshow aspects of modern politics, and his eyes were invariably on the long game.

I sometimes wondered whether Peter acted like this because he knew his own clock was running out – and whether the rest of us would do well to act in the same way.

Australia has lost a fine scribe. Peter will be sorely missed by his many friends, and particularly by his widow Rebecca, his parents Cheryl and David, and his siblings Tim and Lara.

Sky News AM Agenda – 11 January

David Lipson hosted Liberal Senator Simon Birmingham and me on the Sky News AM Agenda program this morning. Topics included multiculturalism, manufacturing and the benefits of foreign investment.

Listening to the Evidence

Don Weatherburn, director of the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research, has a terrific op-ed in today’s SMH, castigating governments who are evidence-based in name only (shall we call them ENO administrations?).

A snippet:

You would never be able to market a pharmaceutical drug in Australia without rigorous evaluation by the Therapeutic Goods Administration. But state and territory governments routinely spend large sums of taxpayers’ money trying to reduce crime and re-offending without subjecting the measures to any evaluation. Where evaluations are undertaken, the results are often ignored.

The promise to appoint additional police and impose tougher penalties on crime are staples at nearly every election; yet no Australian state or territory government has ever promised to evaluate and publicly report on the effects of additional police and tougher penalties.

And it isn’t just those old staples that escape critical scrutiny. The list of policies shown by my office to have no effect on re-offending in NSW includes high fines for drink drivers, supervision of offenders on good behaviour bonds, detention for juvenile offenders, the forum sentencing program (a restorative justice program for young adult offenders) and the circle sentencing program (under which Aboriginal offenders are brought before community elders for sanctioning).

Despite the negative results, all these policies remain in place. Meanwhile, programs that have been known for years to be effective, such as the NSW Drug Court Program, are only now being expanded.