Australia does better when we engage - Transcript, ABC Sydney Mornings





SUBJECTS: New book Choosing Openness, Brexit and German election, migration and the US refugee resettlement deal

WENDY HARMER: We often hear about politicians that they’re not experts in the field that they end up having their portfolios in, but I don’t think you could argue with this one because my guest is Andrew Leigh. He’s the Shadow Assistant Treasurer and prior to entering the Australian Parliament in 2010, he was a professor of economics at the Australian National University. That’s not too shabby, is it? He holds a PhD in public policy from Harvard, he graduated from the University of Sydney with first class honours in law and arts and he’s a pretty prolific author as well. He has a few books – I don’t know how many altogether, but the ‘The Luck of Politics’, ‘The Economics of Just About Everything’, ‘Battlers and Billionaires: The Story of Inequity in Australia’ and ‘Disconnected’. This latest effort is a Lowy Institute paper, which is released today. It’s called ‘Choosing Openness’. So I don’t think we can complain about the lack of expertise. Hello Andrew Leigh, welcome to the program.

ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: G’day, Wendy. Great to be with you.

HARMER: Thanks. It’s very nice to have you along. Now, as I mentioned there, it’s in the news today that former prime minister Tony Abbott is about to advise a new think tank in Britain on how to Brexit. What would you be saying? I imagine you’d be saying ‘wrong way, go back’.

LEIGH: Well, there’s nothing wrong with trying to make lemonade out of lemons, Wendy, but let’s face it – Brexit was a retreat from the global engagement that Britain had engaged in throughout that post war era. There’s now an ongoing Remain movement that’s still looking at the prospect of whether Britain might be best served by staying within the European Union and that I think has a stronger free trading bedrock than do these attempts to see how Britain can make its way outside the European Union.

HARPER: You warn against this sort of populist – you put a few of them in together, interconnected, haven’t you, these sorts of populist politics which have brought us Donald Trump and Brexit. Can you just outline your argument there of why you think that those populist decisions came about in the first place?

LEIGH: I think there’s a handful of factors that have driven populism. We’ve had some poor economic outcomes – rising inequality, there’s been an increase in the death rate among low educated whites in the United States, a pretty extraordinary development. We’ve seen very rapid technological change and I think sometimes when the world is changing fast people can feel a little adrift from their values. So things like genetic sequencing, mobile computing, artificial intelligence have given a sort of cyclone feel to what’s going on in the world. We’ve had some pretty canny political entrepreneurs who have made the most of this. You can look at Marine Le Pen in France as a good example of this and of course President Trump. Then you’ve seen a decline in traditional institutions, among them mainstream political parties whose voters have fallen by about 10 per cent right across the advanced world. Just as we’ve retreated from traditional institutions like churches and big business and trade unions, so too traditional political parties have shrunk. So all of that has made space for these right wing populist movements such as Brexit, such as the Alternative for Deutschland Party which entered the parliament in Germany on the weekend.

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Again. The ATO systems crashed again - Media Release




Yesterday critical ATO systems went down. Again. For at least the 14th time since December 2016.

Important tax office systems have now crashed so often it’s hardly a surprise to hear of another – but it isn’t good enough for the government to continually allow important online functions to be taken down for so long.

This outage was reportedly first experienced at 11.30am and the myTax service was still offline at 4.30pm. This is unacceptable.

The Turnbull Government – and its peak digital agency, the DTA - has overseen a litany of embarrassing tech wrecks, perhaps none as drawn out and futile as their management of the failing ATO systems.

ATO systems have been crashing since at least December last year and have occurred repeatedly right through to this years’ tax time. 

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Parliament should have been allowed to do its job - Transcript, Sky News Agenda





SUBJECTS: Same-sex marriage postal survey and its impact on mental health, religious protection, the energy crisis and the Clean Energy Target.  

KIEREN GILBERT: On the program now is Shadow Assistant Treasurer, Andrew Leigh. Your thoughts on that issue, which has been reported in the Fairfax papers and Patrick McGorry expanding on that this morning about their experience with particularly the youth services, that there’s been a spike in requests for assistance.

ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: Really troubling, Kieran, and it isn’t just the statistics we’re seeing. We had Eddie, a 14-year-old with two mums come to Parliament last week to talk about the experiences that he’s felt as a child of same-sex parents. It’s not as though gay and lesbian couples don’t already have children – they do and many of those children are feeling the brunt of some of the nastiness in this campaign. We warned this would happen. This is why Labor never supported this notion of a national survey and thought the parliament should just do its job.

GILBERT: But it’s not all bad, as Professor McGorry pointed out in that interview. While there’s a short term spike and issue, by November 15, if the result goes as the polls suggest, this will be a big win for that particular group of people in terms of the community’s support, acknowledgement, their broader acceptance.

LEIGH: We could have had that win by just letting parliament do its job. The important thing now is to make sure those organisations are resourced. Bill Shorten has called on Malcolm Turnbull to provide additional resourcing to mental health services, particularly those supporting young gay and lesbian teenagers.

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Lack of detail haunts Liberal policy - Speech, House of Representatives



Five years ago, Daniel O'Connell took on a contract to do some plumbing work in a caravan park in regional Victoria. Daniel was commissioned to do the work by a firm called Global Contracting, which eventually admitted that it wasn't going to pay him. He was left $200,000 out of pocket, one of around 300 contractors that lost a collective $8 million when the people who ran Global Contracting shifted money into other firms.

Phoenixing activity costs the Australian economy as much as $3 billion a year. In Northern Tasmania, a franchisee who ran multiple Noodle Box franchises was charged with alleged phoenix activity for having reportedly reassigned a number of the Noodle Box store leases, plant and equipment in such a way as to deny the creditors access to what was rightfully theirs. The scourge of phoenix activities hurts taxpayers, workers and honest businesses.

On 24 May, the member for Gorton, Senator Gallagher and I announced Labor's plan to crack down on dodgy directors. We pointed out that it was easier to become a company director than to open a bank account.

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Vale, Connie Johnson - Speech, Federation Chamber



On Wednesday, 10 May, this year, 5c pieces glittered in the autumn sun in Canberra as 25,000 Canberrans gathered to toss 5c pieces into a huge heart of coins on one of the netball courts. As Megan Doherty put it:

"By nightfall, the heart had become a big silver lake of hope and generosity."

In addition to the $300,000 raised in coins, there was an additional nearly $2 million raised for the purpose of 'cancer vanquishment'.

The woman who organised this was Connie Johnson. She had contracted cancer in 2009 and spent nearly 10 of her 40 years battling cancer. She launched the charity organisation Love Your Sister in 2012 to raise money for breast cancer research through the Garvan Institute of Medical Research. She worked with her brother, Logie-winning actor Samuel Johnson, who rode on a unicycle around Australia to raise money for cancer research. The heart on the Lyneham netball court was Connie Johnson's attempt to top her brother's extraordinary fundraising effort.

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Too little, too late on phoenixing - Transcript, The Business





SUBJECTS: The Turnbull Government adopting Labor’s plans to tackle dodgy directors, power prices and a clean energy target.

ELYSSE MORGAN: Andrew Leigh, you've been pushing for a crackdown on businesses phoenixing. You must be pleased with the Turnbull Government’s announcement today?

ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: Well, I am pleased that they’re finally acting, Elysse. But it’s taken a long time. Brendan O’Connor, Katy Gallagher and I announced Labor’s policy on tackling dodgy phoenix directors back in May – four months ago – based off the recommendations of Monash and Melbourne Universities’ studies on this. Since then, we’ve had the Australian Institute of Company Directors, the ACTU and a host of expert bodies come on board and call for the Turnbull Government to act. But all the Government has said on the director identification number is still at the announceable stage. We had the Minister today talking about maybe doing biometric checks – clearly they haven’t though this through very well. And they still haven’t adopted Labor’s policies of ramping up the penalties and improving the test for depriving employees of their entitlements.

MORGAN: Just to break it down a bit, the Government has adopted the recommendation that every company director should have an identification number. But we don’t know yet if that will include a 100 point identity check. Any reason do you think why they haven’t gone down that path?

LEIGH: I think they’ve just been sitting on their hands, frankly. This has been a recommendation that’s been absolutely clear from a range of expert bodies. The 100 point ID check is in place, it’s how we check people’s identity when they open a bank account and using a 100 point ID check here would ensure that it is as tough to become a company director as it is to open a bank account.

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Labor policy leading the way on dodgy directors - Media Release


The Turnbull Government has been dragged kicking and screaming to finally take action on phoenix activity, almost four months after Labor unveiled its policy.

We've been calling for the introduction of director ID numbers since May, with support from the Productivity Commission, Australian Institute of Company Directors and  Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman.

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Boosting philanthropy fundamental for stronger Australia - Keynote address, Philanthropy Meets Parliament Summit



Thank you for that very generous introduction. I acknowledge we are meeting on the traditional lands of the Ngunnawal people and pay my respects to elders past and present. I want to acknowledge Joe Skrzynski, Sarah Davies and Krystian Seibert, and in a building known for its give-and-take, the fact that here we have here one of the largest collection of givers assembled in the history of the parliament.

My first significant venture into philanthropy came in 1991 when I was working for Community Aid Abroad, now known as Oxfam. As a teenager, I decided that I would set about raising money for Community Aid Abroad in the local shopping centre using the only method that then occurred to me which was to dress up in a clown suit on a summer’s day and attempt to persuade young children to buy juggling balls from me. Over the course of a very hot morning I think I managed to make about $100 for Community Aid Abroad, but the next year they took me on to the New South Wales board where I got involved on working on their philanthropy strategies. I learned from that the power of story-telling; the value of going to those who’d been generous in the past and telling them in clear language the stories of the impoverished people around the world that their donations had assisted.

That sparked a lifelong interest in community engagement, also known as social capital. Sarah Davies mentioned I did my PhD at Harvard and one of the people I worked with was Robert Putnam who had then just brought out a book called Bowling Alone. Working with Putnam I got interested in what the trends were in Australia and began collecting statistics on how community life had fared in Australia over the last few generations. It turned into a 2010 book, Disconnected, which mapped many of the same trends that Putnam had laid out in Bowling Alone.

With that academic interest, when I came into politics it was natural I’d stay interested in the charities issue. After the last election, Bill Shorten reflected Labor‘s strong commitment to charities and not-for-profits by giving me the portfolio of Charities and Not-for-Profits. It’s the first time either of the major political parties have had a minister or a shadow minister responsible for Charities and Not-for-Profits and it marks Labor‘s strong commitment to your sector. 

Last December, we learned from the Giving Australia 2016 Report, some striking statistics on philanthropy. And for anyone who wasn’t watching the papers carefully last December, they were also helpfully reported again 10 months later in today’s press.  They show that while the amount of dollars donated rose from 2005 to 2016, the share of donors has fallen from 87 to 81 per cent. 

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Media diversity essential - Transcript, ABC Canberra Breakfast





SUBJECTS: Media reforms, a third seat for the ACT, public service cuts under the Coalition, Labor’s support for charities and not-for-profits.

DAN BOURCHIER: To discuss what is likely to be dominating discussions this week, Liberal Senator Zed Seselja and Labor MP for Fenner Andrew Leigh are both with me. Good morning.

ZED SESELJA: Good morning, Dan. Morning, Andrew.

ANDREW LEIGH: Morning Dan, morning Zed.

BOURCHIER: Good to have you both along, I want to start with media reform – lots of discussion of course about this in the last couple of weeks and then the Channel Ten sale shifted directions. Is this still on the agenda, Senator?

SESELJA: Yes, it is. Obviously this is about bringing our media laws into the 21st century. Uh, these are media laws which we have in this country at the moment, which were, which were drafted or passed in the 1980s. Obviously the media landscape has changed dramatically and most importantly we’ve seen the rise of the internet and the way, particularly in the last decade, and the way that people consume media in very different ways. So, things like a two out of three rule, a 75 per cent reach rule for say TV networks and others are obviously need to be looked at in the context of Google and Facebook, Netflix, which are ubiquitous. They are all over the world, all over Australia. So these are seeking to bring our media laws into the 21st century and I think it’s really important so that we can maintain Australian content, so that our local media proprietors can continue to compete.

BOURCHIER: Andrew Leigh, where do you sit on this one?

LEIGH: Dan, one of the starting points is to recognise how concentrated our media landscape is. Let’s look at newspapers. If you go back to the start of the 20th century at the time of Federation, we had 21 daily newspapers and 17 different owners. That’s been steadily narrowing down to just ten newspapers just owned by a handful of owners. The priority for Labor is making sure that we’ve got a diversity of voices in the media landscape. Zed’s absolutely right to point to some of these technological changes, but we’ve also got a fairly concentrated sector. So Labor supports removing the reach rule, which allows regional and metropolitan networks to merge, but not the two out of three rule. If you repealed that, one person could control radio, newspaper and TV in a single market. It’s about getting the balance right in a very fast moving environment. Of course, it’s also about maintaining support for the ABC and SBS. We had that infamous promise from Tony Abbott back in 2013 that there wouldn’t be cuts to the ABC or SBS, but of course, we’ve seen that broken like so many other promises from the Government. There were significant cuts.

SESELJA: Can I respond, Dan, particularly in that issue around concentration. Um, there’s no doubt that if you look at it in the way in Andrew described that there is greater concentration than there was 100 years ago, but that’s if you ignore all of the voices that we have online and the various media outlets that are online. So, the Canberra Times, our local newspaper of course is now mainly an online publication and gets a lot of traffic on its online, but it’s competing not just – uh, well, obviously the Canberra Times is the only one in Canberra, but it’s not just competing in Canberra, it’s competing ah – if you’re a Canberran, you can access media from all over the world and Canberrans do. So we can’t look at it just in the, in the old paradigm where you know you’re the local newspaper and you dominate or here’s a couple of newspapers in town – you’re competing with media proprietors and media entities from all over the world.

BOURCHIER: On that point exactly, where does the significance of local news sit?

LEIGH: It’s absolutely critical and Zed’s right to speak about the potential for competition, but if you look at actually what people are consuming, we’re surprisingly concentrated. Michelle Rowland, our terrific Shadow Communications spokesperson’s been saying that Australia’s media landscape is among the most concentrated in the world and a recent Conversation Fact Check found that to be correct. So we do need to make sure that we have that diversity of local voices. I think there are also initiatives with public interest journalism. One of the things you see out of the United States is this rise in university journalism departments partnering with media outlets in order to produce good pattern journalism, investigative stories – Pro Publica has been very important in this. So there’s a lot of innovation going on, it’s not entirely about government, but I’d be worried about an environment in which government makes things worse by allowing a whole lot of aggregation and mergers.

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The Coalition's Very Uncharitable Move - OpEd, The Age

The Coalition's very uncharitable move

The Age, September 11 2017

What unites St John Ambulance, the Arab Council Australia, Musica Viva, Oxfam, Arthritis Australia and Christian Ministry Advancement? Why, it’s the Turnbull Government, of course. But not in a good way.

In June, heads of these charities, and more than 100 others, wrote an open letter to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. In it, they expressed their frustration at his government’s shabby treatment of Susan Pascoe, who has headed the Australian Charities and Not for Profits Commission since its inception.

The issue came to a head when Michael Sukkar, the fifth Coalition minister in four years to have responsibility for the charities commission, refused to meet with Ms Pascoe and her fellow commissioners, and then announced that she would not be reappointed.

If this was just about getting rid of a talented public servant, Australia’s charities might not be up in arms. What prompted their open letter is the fear that the Coalition is about to resume the ‘charity war’ that prevailed from 2011 to 2016.

Some history. The charities commission was created by the Gillard Government in 2011, following more than a dozen independent inquiries that called for such a body. The charities commission provides transparency for taxpayers, efficiency for charities and accountability for donors.

Yet despite the fact that the commission was established to reduce the reporting burden on charities, the Coalition pledged to kill it. Ironically, they used their ‘Red Tape Repeal Day’ to try and demolish a body whose goal was to reduce paperwork for charities. The Coalition even introduced legislation to parliament in an attempt to scrap the charities commission.

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