The Age of Ambition - New Matilda

The Age of Ambition, New Matilda, 20 October 2016

Globally, these are tough times to be a social democrat. The cumulative social democratic vote share in Western Europe has fallen by one-third, to its lowest in 70 years. Angry politics is alive and well in the person of Trump and Le Pen, Farage and Wilders. It’s a politics that emphasises differences within the community, and urges citizens to jump at the shadows of trade, immigration and foreign investment.

Amidst secular stagnation, fear of terrorism, and a hate-filled politics, a message of inclusion, egalitarianism and multiculturalism doesn’t always resonate. In that environment, what is the best approach for the left’s party of government, the Australian Labor Party?

Labor is now in our 125th year – the seventh age for Australia’s oldest political party. Some have argued that we need to defend the status quo, and tweak our way to a better world. There’s nothing inherently wrong with any of this. Indeed, there’s a bit of me that’s temperamentally technocratic – desiring to defend against cuts, and fight for better indexation.

But it’s not a whole program. Labor’s story has always had a touch of élan, a bit of vision, a sense of excitement. Ours has always been the party of ambition. 

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Second Reading Speech: Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2016-2017, Appropriation Bill (No. 2) 2016-2017, Appropriation (Parliamentary Departments) Bill (No. 1) 2016-2017

Dr LEIGH (Fenner) (18:42): I was 11 years old when I bought my first computer. It was back in 1984 and the machine called an Aquarius. It had rubber keys, a cassette drive, a black and white television was its monitor and it held a little less than four kilobytes in memory. Back then, the machine was, well, not start of the art, but pretty close. We have come a fair way from that to the advent of the iPad Air.

We didn't get there by settling for second best. We did not get there by saying, 'Well, the technology of today will do us for the course of the next generation.' That is the lesson that this government has failed to learn with its National Broadband Network. It is a government that thinks that investing in the future involves buying millions of metres of copper. Since the change of government, we have seen Australia fall from 30th to 60th in global internet rankings.

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From Sacarnawa Deconeski to Pokemon Go: The Multifaceted Australia-Japan Relationship* - Speech

Dinner Speech to the Japan Update

Australia-Japan Research Centre

Australian National University


21 September 2016


Let me start by thanking the Australia-Japan Research Centre for inviting me to speak here tonight. In 2014, the Japanese and Australian Prime Ministers Abe and Abbott expressed their strong support for the Australia-Japan Research Centre in promoting research collaboration and intellectual exchanges between Australia and Japan on political and economic relations. Both sides of politics strongly support the Australia-Japan relationship as well as the great work of the Australia-Japan Research Centre.


But I want to start tonight with the story of Sacarnawa Deconeski. Sacarnawa was the first recorded Japanese resident in Australia. He settled in Queensland having reached Australia in 1871, applying for naturalisation in 1882.Although most Japanese settlers in the late 1800s worked as pearlers in northern Australia, Sacarnawa was different. He was a professional acrobat.

After travelling around Australia as an entertainer for many years, in 1875 Sacarnawa married a woman from Melbourne. As many of us do in later life, Sacarnawa gave up acrobatics. He and his wife set up a farm in Far North Queensland near the town of Herberton. At its height, Herberton was the richest tin mining field in Australia and was home to 17 pubs. In case you’re wondering, Canberra has 56 pubs and clubs, but on per capita terms Herberton was doing pretty well for a small town.

By the start of Federation, Australia had 4000 Japanese immigrants, mostly based in Townsville where the Japanese Government had established its first consulate in 1896. During Australia’s shameful period of the White Australia Policy, the consulate closed in 1908 and it wasn’t until 1966 that consular offices reopened in Brisbane and, eventually, in Cairns, too.

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The Good Life Podcast Launch

Andrew Leigh interviews people who have something to say about living a happy, healthy and ethical life.


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The Turnbull Government can't even do the easy stuff - Speech

Today in the House of Representatives I called out the Turnbull Government's inability to deliver a tax cut it had promised to Australians that Labor supports!




Dr LEIGH (Fenner) (13:41):  Thank you Deputy Speaker.

On Budget Night the Treasurer said, 'From the 1st of July this year, we will increase the upper limit for the middle-income tax bracket from $80,000 to $87,000 per year.' 

And then the Treasurer trampled to an election, stamping on the way the tax cut that he had promised to Australians earning over $80,000 a year. 

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Does Love Have Any Place in Politics? - The Minefield with Waleed Aly and Scott Stephens (Radio National Podcast)

The Minefield

Thursday 25 August 2016 11:30AM 


Next week, the 45th Parliament sits for the first time since the federal election. The government holds a paper-thin majority in the House of Representatives; the Liberal Party Room is suffering significant internal discord; and the new Senate is more fractious, demanding and wilfully recalcitrant than any in modern history.

These are the ideal conditions for political discord and outright opportunism.

Australia is hardly unique in this respect. Western politics as a whole seems to be following this trend toward greater political instability, less cooperation; more anger, less empathy. The media’s own fetishisation of the spectacle of conflict is doubtless complicit in this state of affairs.

But the proliferation of social movements and forms of political activism are not exempt from blame either.

On all sides, the prospects for constructive, broad-based collective action are under threat. The question is: if there is to be a change in our fraught and fractious political climate, what will be the agent? From where might the impetus for change come?

For one Australian politician, that change must come from within politics itself.

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I acknowledge we are meeting on the traditional lands of the Ngunnawal people and pay my respects to their elders past and present.

I acknowledge Peter van Noorden, Professor Margaret Harding, Bruce Moore and the editorial team.

I was delighted to receive the call-up to speak today. But it only came yesterday, so I have been – as they say – lucubrating over the evening in preparing my remarks today.

This is the Second Edition of Oxford’s Australian National Dictionary. The first one to come along in 28 years – since 1988. It has indeed been a long time between verbs.

I've been asked to say a few words today and I'm happy to do that. 

Apophany. Ultracrepidarian. Stemwinder.  

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The Politics of Love - Speech

The Politics of Love

Collins Street Baptist Church

16 August 2016

This is the first time I’ve given a speech in a Melbourne church. Which is a bit neglectful, since I literally owe my life to a Melbourne church. Let me tell you the story.

In 1964, a man called Michael delivered the sermon at Ivanhoe Methodist on behalf of his father, Reverend Keith. He was lean and bookish – a runner and an academic-to-be. He had been in Sarawak in Borneo. In the congregation was Barbara, a blonde-haired young woman who had represented her school in debating championships, and was training to be a teacher. She had just returned from the highlands of Papua New Guinea. They got chatting, and he offered to drive her home. She lived a few hundred meters from the church – and said yes. They talked about religion, travel – and even some politics. And so my parents fell in love.

In a world where religion is too often a source of conflict, it is easy to forget that attending a church isn’t just an opportunity to meet your future spouse (by the way, if you’re single, feel free to take a moment to shoot a quick smile to your left and right). Those who attend a religious service regularly are more likely to volunteer time to community organisations, give money, or donate blood.[1] As someone who does not regularly attend church, I’m keenly aware of the positive role that our religious organisations can play in encouraging us to be better versions of ourselves.

Politics, too, provides an opportunity to be a better version of ourselves. After all, as Aristotle noted, politics is simply the art of working out how to live together. Politicians were at the heart of shaping Federation, creating the age pension, abolishing child labour, designing Medicare, and legislating native title. I’m honoured to serve in the same profession as Winston Churchill, Alexander Hamilton, Xanana Gusmao and Aung San Suu Kyi.   

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The ACT Launch of the Australia-China Joint Economic Report - Speech

[The report is available from ANU Press]




 Thank you for that very generous introduction. Can I of course acknowledge we’re meeting on the traditional lands of the Ngunnawal people and pay my respects to their elders past and present.

Let me start by thanking Peter Drysdale for inviting me to speak at this event.

As all of you know, Peter was recently awarded the Order of Australia which, among many other things, was for his ground-breaking work as the intellectual architect of APEC.

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Matters of Public Importance: Economy, 4 May 2016 - House of Representatives

Dr LEIGH (Fraser) (15:53): In mid-2009, the then Leader of the Opposition, Malcolm Turnbull, decided he would bring back an old stunt from the Liberal Party—the notion of a debt truck. He put a debt truck on the road, sat at its wheel and said that under Labor gross debt might go to $315 billion. That, he thought, was so terrifying that the Australian people had to be warned about it. Well, it is instructive to look at the budget papers to see where gross debt will be under the Turnbull government. Under the Turnbull government, gross debt is going not to $315 billion but to $624 billion. Gross debt will be nearly twice as large as when Malcolm Turnbull got his first debt truck. I have news for the Prime Minister: it is time to trade in his debt truck and buy a debt B-double. 

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