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DOORSTOP Transcript – Thursday, 20 March 2014

With legislation going before the House of Representatives yesterday to repeal the charities commission, this morning I spoke to reporters in the Press Gallery to defend the important work of the ACNC.  Here’s the transcript:




SUBJECT/S: Australian Charities and Not for Profits Commission; FOFA and Arthur Sinodinos; Qantas sale.

ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: Amidst their so-called ‘Repeal Day’ the Coalition brought forward the repeal of the Australian Charities and Not for Profits Commission. I say brought forward because the Coalition promised consultation: a consultation paper in February and extensive discussions with the sector. We haven’t seen any of that and that’s why more than 40 charities signed an open letter to the Government calling on them to rethink the scrapping of the charities commission.

The charities commission is important for donors who are vulnerable to door-to-door scams, if there isn’t an agency to report them to. It’s vital to the sector which appreciates the work the charities commission does. That’s why organisations as diverse as Save the Children, Lifeline, Hillsong Church, the RSPCA, and the Myer Foundation are calling on the Government to trash their laws to get rid of the charities commission and to hang on an organisation that’s supported by the sector.

I’ve heard people say the sector is split on this. It’s true. The sector is split on this. Four out of five charities support the charities commission. 94 per cent want the responsibilities to stay with the charities commission. Six per cent want them to go back to the tax office. So if the Government didn’t have a tin ear for consultation and if this process wasn’t being led by a Minister who’s much more driven by ideology than good public policy then they wouldn’t be pursuing this at all. They ought to put it aside and if they’re serious about scrapping red tape, hang on to a one-stop shop that’s working to reduce red tape for charities.

Continue reading ‘DOORSTOP Transcript – Thursday, 20 March 2014’ »

Talking financial advice & charities on Sky with PVO – 19 March 2014

On 19 March, I joined PVO on Sky to discuss the resignation of Senator Arthur Sinodinos, and its implications for the government’s anti-consumer financial changes and its anti-charity ACNC changes.

Population in the Tele

The Daily Telegraph today publishes an extract from my population speech at the Lowy Institute.

Don’t be scared, let’s populate and prosper, Daily Telegraph, 20 March 2014

If there’s one thing that’s really big in the population size debate, it’s the size of the scare campaigns made by both sides. One side tells us that a big Australia is a ‘catastrophe’, while the other says that slow population growth will hurt share prices and drive up debt.

Australians comprise just one in 300 of the world’s population. We have the third-lowest population density of any country. Only Mongolia and Namibia have fewer people per hectare than Australia. Yet we also have one of the highest urbanisation rates. Nearly nine in ten Australians live in urban areas.

An unusual feature of the Australia’s population debate is how much it is sparked by population projections. This is especially odd given the record of past projections. In 1888, the Daily Telegraph predicted that the population in 1988 would be 60 million. The Australian Treasury recently updated its population forecast for the 2040s from 26 million to 35 million.

Continue reading ‘Population in the Tele’ »

Keep the charities commission

In today’s Australian, I have an op-ed arguing that the government should keep the charities commission.

Scrap Charities Register, and Say Goodbye to Giving, The Australian, 20 March 2014

When doorknockers with a children’s education charity Care4Kids rang the doorbell of homes across Melbourne and Sydney, they got a warm reception.

Nearly a million dollars was raised for ‘work helping children with cancer, leukaemia, other illnesses and learning disabilities whose education has been compromised’.

But there have been questions raised about exactly how the money raised by the charity actually benefited children at risk; the people it was intended to help. There is little information to show exactly where the money went.

Alas, this is not an isolated incident. Formed at the end of 2012, the independent Australian Charities and Not-for-Profits Commission (ACNC) received 202 complaints in its first year, including 48 for fraud or criminal activity.

This goes to show just how important a well regulated charitable sector is. In the same way that ASIC provides investors with the confidence they need to buy shares in companies, the ACNC provides donors with the confidence that registered charities are actually performing charitable works.

Continue reading ‘Keep the charities commission’ »

MEDIA RELEASE – Labor will continue to fight for charities commission – Wednesday, 19 March 2014

This morning I issued a media release arguing that the axing of the the Australian Charities and Not for Profits Commission would be a mistake. The Government’s repeal package is now before the parliament with a lot at stake for donors, consumers and charities. Today some of Australia’s best-known charities signed an open letter urging Tony Abbott to abandon plans to scrap the national regulator.







Federal Labor will continue to support the charity and not for profit sector and oppose any government attempts to repeal the Australian Charities and Not For Profit Commission (ACNC).

Today, in an open letter to the Prime Minister, 40 organisations say if the ACNC is shut down and the ATO is reinstated to determine who is and isn’t a charity, “red tape will continue to grow, the size of bureaucracy will grow. Services to the public will be reduced. Services to the sector will be reduced.” Signatories include Save the Children, St. John Ambulance Australia, The Ted Noffs Foundation, RSPCA, the Myer Family Company, Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education, Volunteering Australia, Lifeline and many others.

The Abbott Government will sneakily include the ACNC in its so called ”repeal day” package.

In the week that the Government claims to be cutting red tape, it’s looking to kill an agency that does reduce red tape.

Continue reading ‘MEDIA RELEASE – Labor will continue to fight for charities commission – Wednesday, 19 March 2014’ »

Welcoming the Babies 2014

I’m inviting new parents and their extended families to join me for the 2014 Welcoming the Babies.

This is an event I’ve organised each year since the inaugural event in 2011.

It’s a great opportunity to meet other parents and find out about local community services for young children.

Come along on March 29, 10.30am-12.30pm, to the St Margaret’s Hall (Cnr Phillip Avenue and Antill Street, Hackett).

Enjoy a day out with the whole family. There will be face painting, balloons, a sausage sizzle, music, playground and a toy library.

In case of rain, we have a backup indoor play area.

Everyone is welcome!

If you want to register your baby or toddler for a certificate, please email Lyndell Tutty in my office – Lyndell.Tutty {AT} – or phone 6247 4396.

I hope to see you on the day.

Carbon Pricing

I spoke in parliament on Australia’s backsliding on climate action, while other countries almost universally do more to address the challenge.

Climate Change, 17 March 2014

I rise to speak tonight on the issue of climate change. As the House knows, the historic Australian climate change legislation, passed under the previous government, has seen significant improvements in our environment. Electricity sector emissions fell by 5.5 per cent over the year to September 2013; emissions from companies covered by the carbon pricing mechanism fell by seven per cent in 2012-13. Inflation was within the Reserve Bank’s target band. Growth has continued. Productivity has modestly picked up. And we have not seen any Australian cities wiped off the map. The introduction of the Australian carbon pricing scheme was done in a manner which accords with textbook economics. While putting a price on the negative externality, that of carbon pollution contributing to climate change, we reduced income taxes for low- and middle-income earners to ensure that they became no worse off.

Labor went to the last election pledging to link our carbon price with international schemes. If we compare scrapping emissions pricing with moving to a floating price, the impact on inflation in 2014-15 is less than one-quarter of a percentage point. The government in Australia is running in very much a different direction from most countries around the globe.

Continue reading ‘Carbon Pricing’ »

AALD Miami

I spoke in parliament today about the inaugural meetings of the Australia-American Leadership Dialogue in Miami.

Australia-America Leadership Dialogue, 17 March 2014

It was my pleasure to attend, from 5 to 7 March, the inaugural Australian American Leadership Dialogue meetings in Miami, Florida. They were discussions that covered a wide range of topics, as is usual with the AALD, under the Chatham House Rule. Among the topics discussed were the changing role of diversity in the United States, with Miami providing something of an example as to how the rest of the United States may be over the decades to come; issues of infrastructure financing, which both countries face; immigration reform; and the desire of both the United States and Australia to conclude the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

The meetings were also an opportunity to engage in discussion and innovation. It was commented that President Obama’s focus on neuroscience will be important for Australia as we look to boost innovation. It an opportunity also, through the lens of Miami, to look to Latin America, where many Australian students are currently studying and Australian firms such as are operating.

There were many attendees, but I would like particularly to acknowledge Phillip Scanlan, Martin Adams and Julie Singer-Scanlan from the AALD; US ambassador John Berry; and the mayor of Miami, Tomas Regalado, who I hope will visit Perth and perhaps other Australian cities as part of a return visit next year.

BREAKING POLITICS – Transcript – 17 March, 2014

This morning, I spoke with Chris Hammer about what’s making news this week, notably the Government’s repeal plan which confuses regulation that enhances public safety and accountability with burdensome red tape.



SUBJECT/S: Public polling on Medicare and Qantas; Home Insulation Program Royal Commission and cabinet confidentiality; Red tape and community safety.

CHRIS HAMMER: There’s a new opinion poll out today in Fairfax showing the Government and Opposition running neck and neck. Perhaps of more interest is some of the questions further down the poll about peoples’ attitudes towards Medicare and the Government helping Qantas. On Medicare, the poll reveals that some 52 per cent of respondents support means-testing bulk billing for Medicare. 49 per cent support a six-dollar surcharge every time someone visits the doctor. And 50 per cent agree that the Government needs to do something to reduce the costs of Medicare. Well, to discuss this issue and others, I’m joined by Andrew Leigh, the Labor member for Fraser in the ACT and also Assistant Shadow Treasurer.


HAMMER: And, Andrew Laming, the Member for Bowman in Queensland. Andrew Laming, first to you as a former medical practitioner. What does this poll tell you about peoples’ attitude towards Medicare and the amount it costs government.

ANDREW LAMING: At the margins, it suggests that the Government’s getting its message across about just how important is it to get the budget under control. But I think the bigger picture in health is that you get 50 per cent of people every day of the week supporting means-testing so long as it doesn’t it doesn’t means-test them. These numbers don’t mean much to me and I don’t think there’s a great deal of savings to be made by introducing a few dollars here and there, given that already a quarter of Australia pay up to $50 to see a GP and overwhelming majority of the rest of them are already bulk-billed and will keep their bulk-billing status. The changes are very, very small.

HAMMER: So, the six dollar surcharge is not something you’d support?

LAMING: Look, it’s not a matter of supporting it. It will have an impact in those large city clinics where there’s an oversupply of doctors, people pop in and pop out for convenience GP visits. Collecting six dollars from them will raise somewhere in the vicinity of $175 million dollars over four years. It’s a drop in the ocean compared to the $120 billion annual health budget. We really need to focus on the big picture in health and this is not it.

HAMMER: Okay. Well, Andrew Leigh, support for Medicare has been very strong over the years. The conventional wisdom is you don’t tamper with it. Yet these polling figures people are willing to consider changes to Medicare including means-testing and the six dollar surcharge.

LEIGH: I think it’s really important that we maintain a strong Medicare system Chris and it’s true that Medicare is something that Australians are passionate about. But we had a huge period of Australian history where we fought about Medicare. Essentially all the elections from 1969 to 1993 are fights about Medicare, before finally the Coalition decides that they’ll support the system. If they want to now go ahead and argue for a six dollar GP surcharge then they ought to come forward, put that proposal on the table for the Australian people. If that proposal is contained in the Commission of Audit, then that’s one more reason why that 900 page report which is worrying many of my constituents ought to be in the public domain, as the last Commission of Audit report was, rather than sitting secret in the Treasury archives.

Continue reading ‘BREAKING POLITICS – Transcript – 17 March, 2014’ »

Battlers & Billionaires @ National Press Club

At lunchtime on Thursday 27 March, I’ve been invited to speak at the National Press Club, on the topic ‘Battlers and Billionaires: Australian Egalitarianism Under Threat’. I will talk about why inequality matters, and the risk that the wrong set of policies will threaten an egalitarian ethos that is fundamental to who we are as Australians.

I’d be delighted if you could join me. Tickets can be booked at the National Press Club website.

MEDIA RELEASE – Abbott needs to get on with the job of reviewing competition laws – Friday, 14 March 2014

This morning I issued a media release pointing out the Abbott Government’s inaction since announcing its long anticipated ‘root and branch’ competition review in December.






101 days since Competition Review announced and still no action

The Prime Minister and the Minister for Small Business announced 101 days ago that a review panel would be announced “shortly” to conduct its root and branch competition review.

But since December 4, 2013, there’s been no action.

The Government stated last year that:

“The Federal Government has provided the states and territories with draft terms of reference for a competition review. The review panel will be established shortly so that we can have a final report within 12 months.” [Tony Abbott and Bruce Billson, Joint Media Release, 4 December, 2013]

More than three months later, there are no final terms of reference and no one has even been appointed to conduct the review.

“The delay calls into question the Government’s commitment to a thorough and independent review of competition policy,” Dr Andrew Leigh said.

“This is a critical policy area, which impacts on consumers and small and large businesses from supermarkets to service stations, but seems impacted by the Abbott Government’s ‘go-slow’ approach.

“The Prime Minister said his Government would contain no surprises or excuses. I suppose you can’t be surprised by something that moves at a glacial pace.

“Why the hold up? It appears this Government is too busy breaking its promises on the economy, healthcare and education to pursue long term, sensible economic reform through competition policy.”

“Competition is about good regulation. It underpins productivity and participation. I call on Minister Billson to stop procrastinating and get on with the job,” said Dr Leigh.

“If ‘shortly’ doesn’t mean ‘within 100 days’, perhaps Australians will soon be asking whether Mr Billson is engaged in ‘misleading and deceptive conduct’!”.

Friday, 14 March 2014

Talking Population on The Drum & 2CC

On 14 March 2014, I spoke on ABC’s The Drum about my Lowy Institute speech on population. The video is below.

On 21 March 2014, I also spoke about it with Luke Bona on 2CC. Here’s a podcast.

Discussing Population on ABC The World Today – Thursday 13 March, 2014

I spoke with The World Today host Eleanor Hall about population and migration. A podcast of the interview is available here, and the transcript is below.




SUBJECT/S: Population; immigration; asylum seekers; taxation; budget sustainability

ELEANOR HALL: The Labor Party’s Assistant Treasurer is calling for a new debate on what has long been a contentious issue in Australia: the size of our population, which is now around 23.5 million. In a speech at the Lowy Institute today, Dr Andrew Leigh is calling for a more respectful and fact-based debate about the population and about immigration. He joined me earlier in the studio. Andrew Leigh, in your Lowy Institute talk today you argue that Australia should have a bigger population. How much bigger?

ANDREW LEIGH: Eleanor, I think picking absolute numbers is a mug’s game but I certainly think that we ought to be comfortable with current levels of population growth.

ELEANOR HALL: You say current levels of growth, so not a bigger population?

ANDREW LEIGH: The current levels of growth are a bit above the trend levels that we’ve had in the previous few decades, but principally I think we have the potential to be much more productive if we expand the number of innovative people coming to Australia.

Continue reading ‘Discussing Population on ABC The World Today – Thursday 13 March, 2014’ »

Does Size Matter? An Economic Perspective on the Population Debate

My speech at the Lowy Institute looks at population size, immigration flows and refugee policy.

Does Size Matter? An Economic Perspective on the Population Debate*

Lowy Institute
13 March 2014

Andrew Leigh
Shadow Assistant Treasurer
Federal Member for Fraser

I’ve wanted to say something about this rather controversial topic for a long time. Now that I take to the podium, I can’t help thinking of an epitaph Dorothy Parker penned for her gravestone: ‘Wherever she went, including here, it was against her better judgment.’

A great epitaph for a writer. Perhaps not so much for a politician. Nevertheless, I hope what follows shows that my belief in evidence is stronger than my desire to avoid tough questions.

If there’s one thing that’s really big in the population size debate, it’s the size of the scare campaigns made by both sides.

A big Australia, one side tells us, is a ‘catastrophe’[1] that ‘risks destroying our traditions and even our common language’.[2] Immigration has ‘undermined our higher education system, [and] put intolerable pressure on an overstretched health and transport system’.[3] Some go further, blaming ‘limp-wristed citizenship requirements’ for ‘ethnic crime waves sweeping across our nation, where samurai swords and machetes have become part of the media lexicon’.[4]

Not to be outdone, the other side of the debate argue that: ‘Putting caps on growth would turn Australia into a stagnant, ageing and inward-looking country – a basket case to rival the declining states of Europe.’[5] Some have warned that if population growth is too slow, the share market would stagnate, small businesses would be unable to fund their ventures, taxes would rise, and debt would balloon.[6]

Continue reading ‘Does Size Matter? An Economic Perspective on the Population Debate’ »

TRANSCRIPT – Talking Politics with 2CC Breakfast – Wednesday, 12 March

This morning I spoke with 2CC’s Mark Parton about revelations that Prime Miniter Tony Abbott and Treasurer Joe Hockey ignored John Howard and Peter Costello’s advice to keep Treasury Secretary, Martin Parkinson. I discuss the decision and affirm the great work of the public service.



SUBJECT/S: Martin Parkinson and the Australian Public Service; Tasmanian election and jobs.

MARK PARTON: I don’t think Andrew Leigh is going to be reinventing himself any time soon; driving a taxi or working in a bakery. He is these days the Federal Member for Fraser in Federal Parliament with the ALP. He is on the line right now. Morning Andrew.

ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: G’day Mark. It is my third career. I was a lawyer for a while. I was a professor for a while -

PARTON: Yes it is. I’d forgotten about that -

LEIGH: And we haven’t even gone into my fruit picking and newspaper delivery days -

PARTON: You talk about people who’ve had to reinvent themselves. Let’s talk about Martin Parkinson, the Treasury Secretary, because we learnt some fascinating things in this story in the last 24 hours. The Abbott Government apparently defied the advice of a couple of learned gentlemen on the right side of politics, in John Howard and Peter Costello. It is our understanding that they recommended Martin Parkinson should stay on as Treasury Secretary but for some reasons Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey said, ‘No, you don’t know what you’re talking about.’

LEIGH: I think it was real a mistake of the Coalition to fire Martin Parkinson. Remember there’s a story from the last recession where basically the only two people who are still around in senior economic policy making a couple of years ago were Ken Henry and Martin Parkinson. The only two people who had been through a recession, and now there’s just Martin. I’ve argued personally to Joe Hockey that from his own self-interest he’d be well served to keep someone like Martin Parkinson who has faithfully served both sides. So it’s this sort of vindictiveness that I think saw the Government come in and immediately get rid of four agency heads. We didn’t do it in 2007. We hadn’t appointed most of the secretaries but we took the view that public servants basically work hard for which ever government is in power and the sort of partisan firings are not wise in the long run.

Continue reading ‘TRANSCRIPT – Talking Politics with 2CC Breakfast – Wednesday, 12 March’ »

Breaking Politics – Transcript – Monday, 10 March 2014

At the start of the week I spoke with Fairfax Media’s Breaking Politics host Chris Hammer and Andrew Laming about what’s making news, including speculation the still secret Audit Commission report has recommended making it harder for Australians to be eligible for the Commonwealth Seniors Health Card. Here’s the full transcript:



SUBJECT/S: Pension age; Commonwealth Seniors Health Card; Relaxing media laws.

HOST CHRIS HAMMER: At just what age should Australians be able to retire and what age would they be able to access the old age pension? At the moment that age is 65 but in a few time, by 2023 it will rise to 67. Now there’s speculation the Government may raise it again to 70. Joining me to discuss that and other issues, in the studio is the Shadow Assistant Treasurer and Labor member for Fraser in the ACT, Andrew Leigh and from Brisbane, the member for Bowman, Andrew Laming.

Andrew Laming, good to see you. Where are you this morning?

ANDREW LAMING: Well I’m down at my local quarry where I was hoping to show off a vigorous economy but at the moment there are no customers, so you’d just have to trust me.

HAMMER: Okay, very well. To the topic at hand, Andrew Laming can the Government defend or should the Government even be looking at raising the pension age to 70?

LAMING: Well Chris, we’re certainly looking over a decade ahead now, so it’s pretty hard to predict what living standards and expectations will look like then. But I think it’s important that the Government, given the history of the pension age, continues to debate about where an appropriate age setting should be. I’m glad that’s not a topic too hard to the Coalition to discuss and look ultimately we are, as a health expert I know, slightly fitter and slightly better able to contribute to the economy and Andrew Leigh would admit, that the longer keep people in the workforce the better it is for Australia’s long term future.

HAMMER: Andrew Leigh, we are living longer. It does make sense?

ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER, SHADOW MINISTER FOR COMPETITION: I certainly agree on the importance of participation Chris. But you’ve got to remember there are two key ages. There’s the age that people can access their super which is 60 and the age people get the pension which will eventually be 67. The Government is only focusing on the latter of those ages and that’s of course the time at which manual workers get their pension. And so, to say to manual workers, ‘look you’re going to now have to wait ten years longer than more affluent people who’ve got money in superannuation’ and doing that in an environment where you know that manual workers, sometimes their bodies just give out, say if you’re a bricklayer. We also know that low-income Australians die younger. So, it doesn’t seem particularly fair to be pushing out the pension age for people who do hard physical labour and who in many cases die at younger ages.

Continue reading ‘Breaking Politics – Transcript – Monday, 10 March 2014’ »

Sky AM Agenda – 10 March 2014

On 10 March, I spoke on Sky AM Agenda about mooted eligibility changes for the Commonwealth Seniors Health Card, and media regulation thought bubbles.

SPEECH – Axing charities regulator will hurt consumers – 4 March 2014

Last night I spoke in the Parliament about how Australia’s  first independent charities regulator is providing an important service to consumers and donors. Scrapping the Australian Charities and Not For Profits Commission will make members of the public more vulnerable to charity scams.

DR ANDREW LEIGH: In November last year police in Mackay alerted local residents to a scam that was taking place. Residents around Andergrove in the southern suburbs reported people doorknocking, posing as collectors for Autism Queensland. They were attempting to get bank details from vulnerable residents. Autism Queensland had no collectors in the area.

This story of scammers posing as charitable collectors is sadly not an isolated incident.

Last month, ABC’s 7.30 uncovered a children’s education charity which had received nearly $1 million in donations but could not or would not say where some of those funds have gone. In other developments, scammers targeted Australian households last year with emails asking people to donate to phony bushfire appeals.

I am passionate about standing up for consumers and I know my friend and colleague the shadow parliamentary secretary to the shadow Treasurer is too. If we are to stand up for the interests of consumers then we need an organisation that will report dodgy dealings by charities, and that organisation is the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission.

Continue reading ‘SPEECH – Axing charities regulator will hurt consumers – 4 March 2014’ »


My Chronicle column this month is about swimming.

Summer’s Over But it’s Still a Great Time to Swim, The Chronicle, 4 March 2014

In almost every Tim Winton novel, there comes a point where the main character has to escape the problems of life, and dives into the water for a swim. The strokes come painfully at first, but after a while, the characters find a rhythm. By the time they leave the water, they’re physically tired and emotionally cleansed.

While my troubles are a good deal easier to solve than Winton’s characters, I can’t help identify with his love of the water. Few things mark summer for me like diving into the crisp calm of a pool on a scorchingly hot day. There’s a sense of leaving the heat behind, and allowing the water to envelop you. Whether you’re a mellow breaststroker, a furious butterflier, or a plodding freestyler, the discipline of a good swim is a rare delight.

Continue reading ‘Swimming’ »

Australia After the Boom

On 21 February 2014, I took part in a panel discussion at the Perth Writers’ Festival on Australia’s economic future. The other panellists were Ross Garnaut, Mike Nahan, Andrew Burrell & Scott Ludlam. The chair was Carmen Lawrence. The conversation was subsequently broadcast on ABC Big Ideas.

Labor’s Legacy on Taxation, Superannuation & Healthcare

I spoke in parliament on a bill relating to tax, superannuation and health, and took the opportunity to talk about Labor’s legacy in these areas.

Tax and Superannuation Laws Amendment (2014 Measures No. 1) Bill 2014, 4 March 2014

That all the words after “That” be omitted with a view to substituting the following words:

“whilst not declining to give the bill a second reading the House is of the opinion:

(1) that the government has made clear its intentions of creating a two tiered system of health care by hitting vulnerable Australians with extra out-of-pocket costs while considering further cuts to payments and support;

(2) that savings generated under this Bill must be reinvested to enhance health care affordability and universally accessible health care for all Australians; and

(3) that it was an Australian Labor Government that revolutionised health care in 1983 with the establishment of Medicare and will always defend the right of every Australian to universal, affordable and high quality health care.”

The Tax and Superannuation Laws Amendment (2014 Measures No. 1) Bill 2014 before the House goes to matters of taxation, superannuation and health care. They are matters with which Labor are strongly familiar, as the party that laid down many of the key foundations for our tax, superannuation and health-care system. We think typically of John Curtin as being the Prime Minister who brought the troops home to save Australia against the opposition of conservatives of the day. But as John Edwards’s splendid book Curtin’s gift also points out, one of the great enduring legacies of John Curtin was uniform income tax, a centre of Commonwealth power that is the substance of its fiscal policy effectiveness and which gives the Australian Commonwealth a unity of purpose through the taxation system. Labor is also the party that created universal superannuation and expanded universal superannuation – again, over the objections of conservatives of the day. Labor therefore support schedules 1 and 2 in the bill, which go to penalties for promoters of schemes that result in the illegal early release of superannuation funds and penalties for contraventions relating to self-managed superannuation funds.

Continue reading ‘Labor’s Legacy on Taxation, Superannuation & Healthcare’ »

Reducing Smoking

I spoke in parliament today about a bill increasing tobacco excise.

Excise Tariff Amendment (Tobacco) Bill 2014 & Customs Tariff Amendment (Tobacco) Bill 2014, 4 March 2014

A few years ago I received an email from a constituent about why we should support efforts to reduce smoking rates. The constituent wrote:

‘My great grandfather, grandfather, father and one of my uncles all died from smoking related conditions. Each of the latter three died 20 to 30 years before the life expectancy for their generation. My father’s addiction contributed to two decades of poor health prior to his premature death, resulting in frequent periods where he was unable to work. My siblings and I grew up in poverty, the effects of which are still evident, and the taxpayer bore the cost of his many hospitalisations as well as the cumulative years of income support our family depended on in lieu of employment. I say this so you will understand my absence of sympathy for the ‘principled’ argument that tobacco companies have a right to make a profit from pushing legal drugs.’

This bill is a progressive health measure. While the national smoking rate is around 17 per cent, it remains considerably higher for disadvantaged groups: 26 per cent among people living in low socioeconomic areas; 34 per cent among Indigenous Australians; 38 per cent among the unemployed. Smokers in these groups also consume more cigarettes, around 15 to 20 per cent more cigarettes than the average smoker.

Continue reading ‘Reducing Smoking’ »

Youth Connections

I spoke in parliament today about the Youth Connections program, delivered in the ACT by Anglicare, which faces the prospect of cuts this year.

Youth Connections, 3 March 2014

I rise today to applaud Youth Connections, a national youth education program which is delivered in my electorate by Anglicare and to urge the federal government to continue to fund it. At this stage it is uncertain whether there will be funds beyond this year for the Youth Connections youth education program to continue. Youth Connections is designed to keep young people engaged in high school. It offers a flexible service which keeps them in school and on the road to meaningful and decently-paid work.

Take the story of Alice. When Alice moved with her family to Canberra at the age of 12 she found it difficult to make friends at school. She was bullied severely and eventually stopped going to school. Suffering from depression, she started taking harmful drugs, ran away from home and fell pregnant. She found safe shelter in a refuge. Faced with the prospect of becoming a young mother, Alice sought help from Youth Connections. She joined the program, and they provided essential baby items, helped to transport her to medical appointments and—after the birth of her daughter—assisted with domestic violence issues and court proceedings.

Continue reading ‘Youth Connections’ »

Liveable Canberra

I spoke in parliament today about the new report rating Canberra as Australia’s most liveable city.

Liveable Canberra, 3 March 2014

The member for Canberra and I have long known that this is Australia’s most livable city, but a new report from the Property Council has provided statistical evidence to back up that fundamental truth.

Opposition members interjecting—

Dr LEIGH:  I appreciate the calls of support I received from my own side on this. Canberra is a city that enjoys greater levels of sporting participation and greater levels of community activity. Canberrans are more likely to volunteer their time, more likely to donate their money and more likely to be part of a community group that gives back to their society.

Continue reading ‘Liveable Canberra’ »

Literacy, Numeracy and School Funding

I spoke in parliament today on a motion relating to Australia’s literacy and numeracy performance, and funding for schools.

Australian Educational Performance, 3 March 2014

I thought I would start with a quiz: ‘Joe had three test scores: 78, 76 and 74, while Mary had scores of 72, 82 and 74. How did Joe’s average compare with Mary’s?’ You are not responding immediately, Mr Deputy Speaker, but I am sure that the answer you have in your head, as other members do, is that both Joe and Mary have the same average. This question was asked on successive tests in Australia from 1964 to 2003. In 1964 88 per cent of students answered correctly; in 2003 just 68 per cent answered correctly. A fifth of students who were able to answer it in the 1960s could not answer it in the early 2000s.

Behind this motion are a truth and a falsehood. I want to focus on the truth first, that Australian literacy and numeracy performance has failed to rise over a very long run, a much longer time frame that even discussed in the motion. Work that Chris Ryan and I published in the journal Education Finance and Policy found a small but statistically significant fall in numeracy from 1964 to 2003 and in both literacy and numeracy from 1975 to 1998. Work that Chris Ryan published in the Economics of Education Review last year looked at the change in PISA scores from 2000 to 2012. It found that mathematical literacy fell at the top of the distribution and reading and literacy fell throughout it. It found that declines in school performance were most marked in private schools. Work that Chris Ryan and I have done on teacher aptitude, which was referred to by the mover of the motion, also found declines in literacy and numeracy of new teachers relative to those within the same class. From 1983 to 2003 the share of teachers in the top fifth of their class halved and the share of teachers in the bottom half of their class doubled.

Continue reading ‘Literacy, Numeracy and School Funding’ »

UN Report on Human Rights in North Korea

I spoke today on the new UN Report into Human Rights in North Korea, chaired by Michael Kirby.

Human Rights Abuses in North Korea, 3 March 2014

Three stories from North Korea’s prison camps.

First, a story told by camp survivor Ms Jee Heon A:

‘… there was this pregnant woman … The babies who were born were usually dead, but in this case the baby was born alive. The baby was crying as it was born, so we were curious, this was the first time we saw a baby being born. So we were watching this baby and we were so happy. But suddenly we heard the footsteps. The security agent … told us to put the baby in the water upside down. So the mother was begging. ‘I was told that I would not be able to have the baby, but I actually got lucky and got pregnant so please let me keep the baby, please forgive me.’ But the agent kept beating this woman, the mother who just gave birth. And the baby, since it was just born, it was just crying. And the mother, with her shaking hands she picked up the baby and she put the baby face down in the water. The baby stopped crying and we saw this water bubble coming out of the mouth of the baby.’

Second, an account told by Mr Jeong Kwang-il:

Continue reading ‘UN Report on Human Rights in North Korea’ »

Breaking Politics – Monday, 3 March 2014

This morning I joined Fairfax Media host Chris Hammer and Liberal MP Andrew Laming for a wide-ranging discussion including the importance of keeping Qantas in Australian hands, protecting the Great Barrier Reef and concerns about the potential harm of winding back racial vilification laws.




SUBJECT/S: Qantas Sales Act and jobs; ‘Green Army’ and jobs; Great Barrier Reef and tourism jobs; Offshore processing of asylum seekers; Repeal of hate speech laws.

CHRIS HAMMER: Well, the big political story of the day is undoubtedly Qantas with Cabinet meeting to decide on what assistance if any the Government can give it. Joining me to discuss this issue and others in Andrew Laming, the Liberal Member for Bowman in Queensland and Andrew Leigh, Assistant Shadow Treasurer and Labor Member for Fraser in the ACT. Gentlemen, there seems to be a standoff here. You’ve got the Government saying it doesn’t want to give a debt guarantee for Qantas. You’ve got Labor saying it doesn’t want to relax the Qantas Sales Act at least as far as foreign ownership’s concerned. Andrew Laming, can you see any way through this impasse?

ANDREW LAMING: Well, these are options that are being considered today by Cabinet. I must admit that I sense that Qantas must be feeling positively manhandled by political commentators at the moment. We’ve had every imaginable recipe for their survival. But in the end the affairs rest in the hands of the company itself. They’ve got to find that balance to look after shareholders, staff and customers and I’m just hoping that can be done as seamlessly and painlessly as possible and those options are in the hands of Cabinet effectively.

HAMMER: Is there any qualitative difference between Qantas and the carmakers? With the car markers most Australians weren’t buying Fords and Holdens, they were buying imported Hyundais. It’s the same with holidays and going overseas. They’re just buying tickets on price. Should the Government be intervening to help Qantas?

LAMING: Well, certainly airlines are a more internationalised sector, so that means if we wish to retain some of sense of Australian identity, then we’re going to have to look at every competitive advantage for Qantas in an open market, not unfair support. But in the end these are decisions for the company. They have to look after their own affairs and the more we interfere, even if we think it’s benign, may just prolong the inevitable. We need the company making long term decisions for their survival.

HAMMER: What’s the inevitable?

LAMING: Well, the inevitable is increasing competition. The inevitable is getting rid of the carbon tax here in Australia which costs Qantas $106 million last year. These are things that we can do to improve things immediately for the immediate survival of Qantas as John Borghetti at Virgin pointed out just recently.

HAMMER: Andrew Leigh, Labor has suggested giving Qantas a debt guarantee but that seems to be off the table. Tony Abbott’s ruled that out. On the Qantas Sales Act is there room to move there from Labor’s point of view?

ANDREW LEIGH: Chris, we’re in this strange situation at the moment where Qantas has asked for a debt guarantee and the Government has now said no after having given very clear indications that it would provide such a guarantee with the four-part test laid out with Joe Hockey in December. Qantas hasn’t asked for a change to the Qantas Sale Act and yet the Government is pushing that as its number one solution. So, it really does seem to me that when it comes to saving the Flying Kangaroo the Government is flying chicken. It’s not doing what the company is asking for and is instead pursuing a route which, if it were successful, would see us lose our national carrier. We would effectively see Qantas become a foreign owned airline.

Continue reading ‘Breaking Politics – Monday, 3 March 2014’ »

MEDIA RELEASE – Zero public consultation as Govt prepares to scap Charities Commission – Friday 28 February

Last Friday, I issued a media release about my concerns that Minister Kevin Andrews has little regard for the views and experiences of charities who overwhelmingly want to keep the ACNC.






Friday, 28 February 2014


Senate Estimates hearings this week confirm that the Abbott Government’s promise to consult charities about its plans to abolish the charities regulator is hollow.

Minister Kevin Andrews promised charities a discussion paper on the future of the Australian Charities and Not for Profits Commission by the end of January and a formal consultation process beginning this month.

It’s the end of February and nothing has happened.

The Minister has stopped listening and does not care to listen.

Continue reading ‘MEDIA RELEASE – Zero public consultation as Govt prepares to scap Charities Commission – Friday 28 February’ »

Sky Saturday AM Agenda – 1 March 2014

On Sky AM Agenda, I joined host David Lipson and Liberal MP Josh Frydenberg to discuss the Abbott Government’s dithering on Qantas, and other political issues of the day.

A National Approach on Dangerous Dogs

I spoke in parliament today on the need for a national approach to reducing the harm done by dangerous dogs in our community (and here’s a podcast of me talking about it on ABC 666):

Dangerous Dogs, 27 February 2014

More often than we like we are confronted by the hurt, loss, guilt and confusion that bleeds out through families and communities after a fatal dog attack.

Three years ago in Victoria a group of children were playing in their front garden. At the same time, a neighbour’s hunting dog had found its way free from its yard. The dog was agitated by the activity and noises of the children, and its instincts took over. It began to stalk the children. As they ran from it, it pursued them into the family home. When the mother of one of the children tried to fight it off, the dog focused its attack on her four-year-old daughter. Unfazed by the mother’s efforts to drive it off, the dog began to maul the young girl; the mother was helpless. It was only when the child stopped struggling that the attack began to subside. Then the dog returned calmly to the yard. Paramedics soon attended, but only to take the dead child from her home. They would later reassure the mother that her daughter’s death had been quick.

Continue reading ‘A National Approach on Dangerous Dogs’ »