ABC CANBERRA DRIVE
THURSDAY, 30 MAY 2019
Subjects: The federal election, Labor frontbench.
ANNA VIDOT: Andrew Leigh, thank you for joining us this afternoon and commiserations.
ANDREW LEIGH, MEMBER FOR FENNER: Oh thanks, Anna. That's very kind, but terrific news that Katy Gallagher is in the shadow ministry. Canberrans can be confident that they're going to be well represented on Labor's frontbench.
VIDOT: And we're all on tenterhooks to find out exactly what portfolios she’ll be taking over. In a statement that you released earlier today, Andrew Leigh, you urged non-factionally aligned members of the Labor Party to stay engaged. But why should they, when your contribution has been rewarded in this way?
LEIGH: Well, I've had the privilege for the last six years of being on Labor's frontbench, working as the Shadow Assistant Treasurer on developing nearly 20 multinational tax policies, as Shadow Minister for Competition working on a dozen monopoly-busting policies and as the first-ever Shadow Minister for Charities and Not-for-Profits on engaging with the community sector and building their policies. So I've had a great privilege working on those policies and I'll be exceptionally active over the next three years to make sure that the values of Canberra and that my ideas on economics are incorporated into Labor's policy agenda for the next election.
VIDOT: But doesn't exactly what's happened today show that it doesn't matter how great your contribution is, if you're non-factionally aligned you can still be shoved aside.
LEIGH: Factions are a reality of the Labor Party. They've been around since the 1950s. When I was an academic, I even wrote an article on factions in 2000, which maybe I should go back and read over a beer this evening. But it's one of those realities. Obviously, I'm disappointed. I would have loved to continue on the frontbench. I relish the role and as a former economics professor, I didn't get into politics for power, I got in to in order to make a difference with my ideas. But as someone once put it, there's no small roles, there's only small people. So I will look to work in as many ways as I can with my terrific colleagues on crafting the policies we take to the next election.
VIDOT: Do you feel badly done by, Andrew Leigh?
LEIGH: Oh look, I feel disappointed but frankly Anna, not like the disappointment that I felt on the 18th of May. Because that was a disappointment that we hadn't done the work for the people who rely on a Labor Government. For the pensioners who can't afford to get their teeth fixed, for the kids at school that are in schools that aren't properly funded. I had somebody in my office the other day who's a recovering drug user who is having difficulty finding work and I thought to myself ‘it's people like you that we let you down on the 18 May’. That's been the big disappointment of the month of May, not today's decision.
VIDOT: Andrew Leigh is with us, the member for Fenner, of course here in Canberra, now formerly the Shadow Assistant Treasurer and Shadow Minister for Competition. Andrew Leigh, you mentioned some of the things that you are proud of working on, on the frontbench, for the opposition in that space. What are some of the policies that you are still hoping to prosecute from a little bit further back on the opposition benches?
LEIGH: There's a number of things. As Shadow Minister for Charities and Not-for-Profits, I held 16 meetings around the country with charities to discuss what they can do to build civil society. We've had this problem of Australia becoming more disconnected over the last generation, less likely to join Scouts, Guides, Rotary, Lions, political parties, trade unions. So I'd like to continue that agenda around building a stronger sense of civil society - a society of ‘we’ rather than a society of ‘me’. I'm also interested in better understanding deep deprivation in Australia. We talk a lot about inequality, perhaps a little less about poverty and I want to spend some time over the next few years looking at some of those root causes of poverty and intergenerational disadvantage and making sure that I bring my skills as a former economics professor to thinking about how we help some of the most vulnerable in the community. And that might be through government programs and might be through non-government agencies, but we need to do more for those invisible Australians who are struggling on the margins of society right now.
VIDOT: For some of those people, Andrew Leigh, who you say you feel that the party let down on the 18th of May, should they have confidence that a party who's deciding who should go into which job based on factional support rather than necessarily just – well, are you deciding based on factional support rather than just who's the most talented for each role?
LEIGH: We've got a super-talented front bench, Anna. I mean, we could have filled three shadow ministries with people who are far more talented than the bunch of lacklustre no-hopers that Scott Morrison has put up. Some of his best people have left the parliament or have been sent overseas on postings. Ours, just to take one example, you've got Katy Gallagher, a former ACT chief minister, and Kristina Keneally, a former New South Wales Premier. You've got Linda Burney with all her wealth of experience of understanding Indigenous disadvantage and social policy. Tanya Plibersek, Bill Shorten, Chris Bowen and Jim Chalmers - there is a wealth of experience on the Labor frontbench and we're going to be more than a match for the government over the course of the next three years. We'll be listening and learning, but we're not going to be a timid opposition.
VIDOT: When did you find out that you were in fact going to lose your frontbench position?
LEIGH: It became increasingly clear to me over the course of conversations in the last week. So, it had crystallised by the time I woke up this morning. I decided I would start the day, even though I was a little below zero, with a 16 kilometre run around the foothills of Mount Majura and Mount Ainslie. That was one of those things that just brings everything else into perspective. Being out there with the kangaroos and your own thoughts just makes you grateful to be alive. And when you're sucking in that crisp Canberra air, you really do know you're alive.
VIDOT: Particularly this morning!
LEIGH: Exactly. To run back in the house to three little boys and my extraordinary wife Gweneth – you know, I'm grateful for so much and really relishing being part of the Labor team.
VIDOT: Were you left to come to that conclusion on your own though, or was there a conversation had at any point with you?
LEIGH: There’s a series of conversations, the way these things always are. So I would have would have loved the chance to serve, but I feel as though I made a contribution which although we lost the election won’t be wasted. I want to ensure that we use parts of that policy work going forward. I want to be there for my colleagues, who will step into the roles that I was previously occupying, make sure they're able to build on what I did and also to learn from my mistakes. We want to get better and better at policymaking as we go on, and I'm sure under Anthony Albanese's leadership we’ll do that.
VIDOT: Andrew Leigh, thank you very much.
LEIGH: Thank you, Anna.
Authorised by Noah Carroll ALP Canberra.