Those of us who sit in this House are here because people put their faith in our undertaking to represent their best interests. This bill, the Migration Legislation Amendment (Regional Processing Cohort) Bill 2016, would permanently exclude any person who comes here by boat from ever entering Australia. In proposing this measure, the government has made a political gesture that is in no-one's best interests—not those sitting in Manus and Nauru, not those refugees who have come to Australia in the past and not those Australians who are concerned to see that our tax dollars are spent wisely and our migration program is an orderly one.

This is gesture politics at its worst, with all of the effectiveness of the pledge by candidate Trump to build a wall along the Mexican border and make Mexico pay for it. That is how effective this proposal would be. It asks people to make peace with the pettiest and meanest instincts, by dressing up those instincts as strength and certainty. It trades on fear and demonisation of the other, aiming to set up a dichotomy between us and them, hoping that Australians will forget the refugees who have come here in the past, who have helped to make Australia richer, more diverse and more interesting; refugees—from Anh Do to Frank Lowy to Les Murray—who have enriched our country.

It is a bill that demeans the elements of the coalition who have instigated it, and it is a bill that has incensed my electorate. As one of my electors wrote to me:

"I was so disheartened today to read of Mr Turnbull's plans to introduce legislation to the Parliament in the next session that any person seeking asylum who has travelled to Australia via a boat will be banned from ever entering this country...One of our dearest friends, who sadly died last year, was a boat person. He, with his family, escaped Hungary in the 1950s and made his way to Australia...Please do not bend to the far-right bigotry that is holding this government to ransom and do not vote for this ghastly piece of legislation." 

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In the Long Run, Love Trumps Hate




In the 240-year history of the American republic, no candidate has ever before been elected president without previous military, executive or legislative office. Elections determine power, not truth. It remains true today as it was yesterday that Donald Trump has called women ‘pigs’ and has made fun of a reporter with a disability. He has advocated a ban on Muslim migration and has called Mexicans criminals and rapists. He has claimed that President Obama was born in Kenya and only admitted to Harvard through affirmative action. He has dismissed an American born judge as a ‘Mexican’ who would not fairly hear his case and attacked the parents of a Muslim soldier killed in action.

As Nick Kristof, the New York Times columnist, noted summarising Trump's behaviour over four decades, 'I don't see what else to call it but racism.' These remain facts and those who say that the people in Australia should refrain from stating these facts are effectively saying that when someone is powerful, we should not call out sexism and racism. It was reasonable for those on the other side of the House to describe Mr Trump as 'terrifying', 'kind of weird' and his comments on women 'loathsome'. And those who made these comments should not now refrain from them.

What should progressives do on the day after a Trump victory? A temptation is to retreat but it is vital to remember that reform is two steps forward, one step back. As the great American Martin Luther King once wrote, 'Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.' The great American Martha Nussbaum wrote that many of those who transformed their countries have drawn on the ethic of love including Jawaharlal Nehru, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Nelson Mandela and Vaclav Havel. As the great American Barack Obama once put it, '… whenever we exaggerate or demonize, or oversimplify or overstate our case, we lose. Whenever we dumb down the political debate, we lose.' And an increased partisanship cannot be met by increased partisanship.

Today is the day in which many progressives are naturally sad and angry, wishing to pull the blanket over their heads and retreat from political life. But I urge progressives to remember the words of another great American progressive, United States senator Cory Booker, who spoke about the politics of love at the recent Democratic National Convention. He concluded with a wry smile that 'love trumps hate'. Maybe not every day, but in the long run.

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Last month, Australian life expectancy hit a new high – 80.4 years for men, and 85.5 years for women. That means a baby born today can expect to enjoy about 30,000 days on the planet.

You can see this as a lot or a little. Compared with past generations, this is an extraordinary amount of time. In cosmic terms, it’s a mere blip.

But rather than asking “how long do I have?”, the better question is “what can I do with the time that I have?”. For most of us, that comes down to doing good work. A typical career lasts around 80,000 hours of work. How do we make the most of that time?

Adam Smith, one of the founders of modern economics, is best known for his book An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations. But in an earlier work, The Theory of Moral Sentiments, Smith gave what I think is one of the best answers to the question of how we should spend our lives. He wrote:

‘To be amiable and to be meritorious; that is, to deserve love and to deserve reward, are the great characters of virtue… The consciousness that it is the object of such favourable regards, is the source of that inward tranquillity and self-satisfaction with which it is naturally attended… Man naturally desires, not only to be loved, but to be lovely; or to be that thing which is the natural and proper object of love.’

Talking with people in business, I’m often struck by how well Smith’s words encapsulate what we do. Most people don’t just want to make money; they want to be the kind of person that others look up to. In Smith’s formulation, most of us want to be ‘lovely’.

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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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