Over the weekend the ACT Labor family was rocked by news that one of our brightest young activists, Kurt Steel, was killed in a sudden accident while travelling overseas. In Parliament this morning I paid tribute to Kurt and the enormous contribution he made in his all-too-short life.
REMEMBERING KURT STEEL
It is fair to say that political staffers do not get a lot of love in the Australian public debate. But we who have the chance to serve in this place know how invaluable staffers are. It is not just the many long hours they give us; it is that many of our staff are impressive in their own right. They crack jokes, read deeply, love ideas and use their spare time to do community service or travel the world.
Kurt Steel, the media adviser to ACT Deputy Chief Minister Andrew Barr, was such a man. Kurt was Canberra through and through. He attended Melrose High, Canberra College and the University of Canberra and barracked for the Raiders.
Anyone involved in ACT politics at the federal or territory level knew Kurt. He worked first for New South Wales parliamentarian Steve Whan, before switching to work with Andrew Barr. Within the ACT, Kurt seemed to be at every committee meeting, trivia night and party event. My enduring memory of him is the man with a smile, looking for the next problem to solve. As Andrew Barr put it: ‘Kurt was a professional, highly respected and dedicated leader’
On Saturday, Kurt died in a bus crash in Bolivia, aged just 25. He had been on a six-week trip around South America—a trip that he had more than earned by dint of working many long hours and weekends.
Kurt's death has shaken the whole Labor family. Opposition leader Bill Shorten spoke of his 'truly awesome' passion for the Labor cause. ACT Chief Minister Katy Gallagher has remembered him as a person ‘who always went beyond what was required of him’. ACT Labor Secretary Elias Hallaj has called him ‘one of our brightest stars’. National ALP Party Organiser Nathan Lambert said, 'Kurt was so valuable in the last national campaign, we had already begun working out how to poach him… again.'
As the face of the Right faction at ACT Labor conferences, I know Kurt would have got a chuckle out of the fact that tributes to him have come not only from ACT opposition leader Jeremy Hanson – but even from the Left faction of the Labor Party.
Many of his friends have told me how much they will miss him and how strange it is to look at Facebook updates from his trip and realise they will not be able to share a beer with him ever again. Many in the media have also added tributes to Kurt, with whom they worked closely. I extend my condolences to Kurt's siblings, Chris and Yasmin, and to his parents, Jayne and Phillip.
As Mark Parton tweeted: ‘Kurt Steel seemed like one of nature's true gentlemen.’ Adam Collins tweeted 'such a lovely and happy bloke'. As Kurt's friend Todd Pinkerton put it over the weekend: ‘Heaven has gained one hell of a community organiser today.’
As part of launching my new book 'The Economics of Just About Everything', I sat down for an interview with my good friend Dr Tim Harcourt, also known as The Airport Economist. In this video, we to talk about the economics of dating, dieting and designing policy. Take a look:
...I'm not sure they meant it as literally as this.
I was proud to join with members of the activist group Vocal Majority in launching a photo album showing Australian families in all their forms and guises. I also had a few words to say about love overcoming prejudice:
ADDRESS TO THE VOCAL MAJORITY FAMILY ALBUM LAUNCH
THURSDAY, 28 AUGUST 2014
I acknowledge the Ngunnawal people, the traditional owners of the lands on which we meet today, my parliamentary colleagues Claire Moore and Larissa Waters, and ACT MLA Yvette Berry.
Thank you to the Vocal Majority organisers, including its founders Melanie Poole and Courtney Sloane, and Nikki and the team who run the organisation today.
My words today are not just for the people who have travelled halfway around the world to bring a message of intolerance and exclusion into the building behind me.
And they are not just for Coalition parliamentarians who think their personal prejudices should guide our nation’s policies.
My words today are for Australia’s mums and dads; its mums and mums; dads and dads – and anyone else who considers themselves to be part of a family bound together by love.
I want you to know that the love you feel for your family, the love which you give and receive in return, will rise above the hostility of those who seek to deny it. A love as strong and universal as yours demands recognition, and on a day not very far from now, I know that recognition will be given.
Like many communities around Australia, the Fraser electorate was devastated by the shocking loss of life in the MH17 air disaster. One of our own, Liliane Derden, died in that disaster, and in Parliament today I paid tribute to her life.
When Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 went down, it took with it someone who was from around here; someone who will leave a great gap where she lived; someone who resembled the rest of us in many ways.
Liliane Derden was a citizen of the world and a servant of the public. Like so many locals, she could tell you what year she moved here; like so many Canberrans, she could tell you where she worked when she met her closest friend. For many years, she lived not far from my family home, and indeed, not so very far from where we meet today.
Liliane Derden was a person entirely characteristic of this city and we all feel the effects of her loss. But she was also a person with a private “life entire” whose death brings her closest friends and family inexpressible pains.
Today I acknowledge Liliane – and we acknowledge the people who miss her most.
Her partner Craig.
Her daughters Cassandra and Chelsea.
Her family, in Australia and Belgium.
The Canberrans she worked with at the NHMRC and at Calvary Hospital; the communities of Ainslie and Hall where her loss is so deeply felt.
Chelsea wrote to me this week about her Mum: “she is very loved and missed by us all”.
Canberra is a considerate community. We would never intrude, but we will never forget either, and we are here if you need us.
This was tragic, but it was not a tragedy; this was a crime.
Let the guilty be brought to justice, let the innocent rest in peace, and let those who remain know they are not alone.
One of the most interesting emerging trends in the competition portfolio is the rise of collaborative consumption services like Uber and AirBnB. In the Australian Financial Review I've explored some issues that these services raise for governments and how we can spread their benefits while also protecting consumers. Here's the article:
WHEN THE DISRUPTORS RATTLE OLD REGULATORY SYSTEMS, Australian Financial Review, 27 August 2014
In today’s tech parlance, Nikola Tesla was a disruptive innovator. When he invented the alternating current electricity supply system and began marketing it to cities across America, Tesla took on the corporate might of Thomas Edison’s Illuminating Company, which used the inferior direct current system.
Tesla’s technology punctured the status quo by offering consumers a different way to meet their energy needs — one that was cheaper, more efficient and bypassed existing network structures. Edison went so far as to publicly electrocute an elephant in his efforts to discredit Tesla, but consumers voted with their wallets. Consumers moved from DC to AC power, and Edison’s firm was spurred into innovative new technologies in search of fresh profit.
As Parliament resumed for the first sittings of the spring session, I joined Lyndal Curtis on Capital Hill to talk about why the government has found itself in such a budget quandary. Here's the video and transcript:
ABC CAPITAL HILL
TUESDAY, 26 AUGUST 2014
SUBJECT/S: Tony Abbott’s unfair Budget
LYNDAL CURTIS: Throughout the five-week parliamentary winter break, the Opposition has stuck fast to its plans to oppose budget measures it disagrees with. The Shadow Assistant Treasurer is Andrew Leigh and he joins me now in the studio. Andrew Leigh, welcome to Capital Hill.
ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: Thanks Lyndal.
CURTIS: If I could start with the Finance Minister's comments on increased taxes this morning: isn't it a statement of the obvious that if the government needs to rein in spending, rein in the budget or make room for future spending, it will have to cut existing spending or raise future taxes, won't it?
LEIGH: Those are the clear options for a government that wants to pay down debt, Lyndal. But one of the important things to understand is how we've got to where we are now. Part of that has to do with the government saying ‘no’ to a very large source of revenue in the carbon price. The carbon price isn't just the smartest way of reducing Australia's carbon emissions, it is also an important boost to the budget.
As we enter the first Parliamentary sitting week of the Spring Session, the Abbott Government's first budget remains unresolved and there is significant division within the Coalition over key environmental policies like the Direct Action Plan. I joined Sky AM Agenda to discuss why the best thing the government could do is go back to the drawing board on all fronts. Here's the transcript:
SKY AM AGENDA
MONDAY, 25 AUGUST 2014
SUBJECT/S: Tony Abbott’s Unfair Budget; Coalition’s flawed Direct Action plan
KIERAN GILBERT: With me now on the program this Monday morning, Shadow Assistant Treasurer, Andrew Leigh and also the Parliamentary Secretary for Communications, Paul Fletcher. Paul Fletcher, first you've heard what Senator Xenophon had to say in his proposal. What is the government's position on this?
PAUL FLETCHER, PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY FOR COMMUNICATIONS: Good morning Kieran. The government's position in relation to the emissions reduction fund has consistently been than it is in relation to domestic expenditure. So that point was made very clear when the white paper was issued earlier this year. Now I think we heard Senator Xenophon say that he's put forward a proposal, he's been in discussions with the Environment Minister, Greg Hunt, as you'd expect. Environment Minister Greg Hunt is in discussions with a range of independent senators, as you'd expect when we have a policy and a legislation you want to get through the senate which is directed towards achieving that 5% reduction target. Achieving a reduction by 2020 on the 2000 levels of emissions in Australia and our policy instrument to achieve that is the Direct Action Policy. We've consistently advocated and pursued that policy for several years, two elections. We are now obviously working to get the legislation through the senate.
GILBERT: Do you think that it makes sense to have this as a complimentary measure to the Direct Action Plan, to have this prospect of having carbon permits bought internationally, legitimate ones? Might that be a good way to compliment the efforts to meet that target?
FLETCHER: Well look, it's not in our policy. Minister Greg Hunt is dealing with them in a courteous and professional fashion, as he always does I might add; with Senator Xenophon and all of the independent Senators and crossbenchers in relation to getting our legislation through for the emission reduction fund, implementing the Direct Action policy through the Senate. We'll continue to have those discussions and those negotiations with the view to getting our legislation through the Senate so that we can achieve that very important reduction in emissions that is our policy. We can achieve that through the implementation of our Direct Action Plan.
GILBERT: Andrew Leigh, what's Labor's view on this? I recall that the idea of international permits was part of the emissions trading scheme proposal, is that correct? And what's your view on this suggestion by Senator Xenophon?
ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: That's right Kieran. Just to respond to Paul, the Labor policy was very clearly going to be to use the most efficient, most effective way of reducing carbon emissions and that's a carbon price. Now we've got 30 countries around the world going down that route for the simple reason that when you put a price on carbon pollution, you can get more abatement. Direct Action is a misnomer because it is not direct nor does it take action. There's no credible economist in Australia that thinks that Direct Action alone can meet those emissions reduction targets that are vital to Australia doing our part to combat dangerous climate change. We know very well that we've had temperature records broken, record hot temperature last year, record hot winters, record hot summers. And as a result we've just got the Coalition now saying that they're going to put in place a fig leaf – as Malcolm Turnbull very correctly noted – from a government that really doesn't deep down believe in climate change.
Following Treasury Secretary Martin Parkinson's call to bring forward the national discussion about tax changes, I joined Marius Benson to talk about changes that could make the Coalition's budget fairer. Here's the transcript:
FRIDAY 22 AUGUST, 2014
SUBJECT/S: Ways to make the budget fairer; fuel excise; Tony Abbott’s broken promises
MARIUS BENSON: Andrew Leigh, do you agree with Martin Parkinson that it would be a good idea for the government to bring forward consideration of tax changes, particularly to look at tax breaks that favour the rich, as a way of balancing some of the budget measures that hit low and middle income earners?
ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: I think it would absolutely be a good idea, Marius, if the government looks at making savings across the entire distribution. What's wrong with this budget is not just that it breaks promises, but also that it asks so much more from those who have the least. So if you're a sole parent on $60,000, this budget is taking $6,000 away from you. It's taking one dollar in ten away from the poorest single parents. But at the same time, it's giving money back to the most affluent through tax breaks for multinational profit shifting, and through reversing Labor's very modest measures to ask those with more than $2 million in their superannuation accounts to pay a bit more. If you don't have a budget which is balanced and which looks at the whole community, then you end up with the kind of unfairness which this budget demonstrates.
One of the best parts of my job is being able to help out people in the Fraser community through programs like the Local Sporting Champion Grants. Here's a great story from The Chronicle about one of our recent recipients, Aidan Tremethick: