My video blog about the end of Parliament for 2010

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My Mobile Office on 27 November @ Dickson Shops and Civic

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House Economics Committee

The RBA Governor Glenn Stevens appeared before the House Economics Committee on Friday, to be quizzed by the seven members, myself included. One of the things that struck me most was his comment that when he attends meetings of central bank governors, he looks around the room at his 40-50 colleagues, and there's none that he'd choose to change places with. A transcript of the hearings is available via Parlinfo.

This week, the Committee will be holding hearings into Indigenous economic development in Queensland, particularly as it balances with the preservation of the area's wild rivers. Parliament-permitting, I'll be spending Tuesday to Thursday in far north Queensland. If you'd like to make a submission to our inquiry, details are here.
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Frank Fenner

I spoke in Parliament on Thursday about the death of Professor Frank Fenner.


Adjournment
Professor Frank Fenner
25 November 2010


I wish to speak today on the loss of Emeritus Professor Frank Fenner, the audacity he demonstrated throughout his life and the monumental contributions he made to Australia and the world. A distinguished Australian microbiologist, he passed at the age of 95. His legacy has been cemented by years of advocacy regarding public health and his successes in various theatres of medical and scientific life. Spanning virology, immunology and microbiology, his battles against virulent pathogens in the name of science and humanity are world renowned, including his work on the World War II battlefields of Egypt and Papua New Guinea in the Australian Army Medical Corps where virtually he alone was equipped with crucial life-saving knowledge regarding the malaria virus.

Underpinning his work were strong values and principles and his promotion of mass vaccinations was directly related to his concern for public health. The active engagement he consistently showed with his research reached exceptional levels. The account of him injecting himself and his colleagues with enough myxoma virus to kill up to 1,000 rabbits in order to prove its benign effects on humans is legendary. The virus escaped in the early 1950s and killed millions of rabbits, alleviating the devastation the pests had caused to the agricultural industry. It coincided, however, with an outbreak of encephalitis and so they acted to put the public’s mind at ease by proving the disease was unrelated and to respond to the local hospital manager’s challenge that they do so if they were so confident of that fact.

When he became director in 1967 of the John Curtin School of Medical Research here in Canberra, Professor Fenner was unwilling to continue scientific research. He wished to be thoroughly involved in the process, not through students and not through assistants. As he asserted in a radio interview:

I am temperamentally unable to do research without being personally involved, hands-on at the bench.

From genetics at a molecular level to epidemiology, Professor Fenner’s work has provided the foundations for a plethora of research and knowledge. Even though there has been a sharp fall from the mortality rate of 99 per cent in the rabbit population since the release of the myxoma virus, the research carried out pertaining to changes in virulence provided about the only example of an extended period of study on genetic resistance and continues to be a reference for modern genetic understanding.

Professor Fenner’s work has been and continues to be duly acknowledged. His death has made international headlines and the awards he has received over the years evoke a sense of a decorated veteran or war hero. He was made a member of the Order of the British Empire in 1945 following his work combating malaria, and he was awarded the Britannica Australia Award for Medicine, as well as the Prime Minister’s science prize in 2002. The World Health Organisation medal of 1988, however, is a veritable symbol of Professor Fenner’s outstanding accomplishments and contribution to the world. He led the battle against the devastating smallpox virus as chairman of the Global Commission for the Certification of Smallpox Eradication. In an interview with Peter Thompson he said that announcing to the UN’s World Health Assembly in 1980 the eradication of the virus, a monumental victory and honour, was his proudest moment.

Professor Fenner had been an important voice on matters ranging from health to the environment to the fate of humankind. He was strongly interested in the consequences of health impacts in the environment and as foundation director of the Centre for Resource and Environmental Studies at the ANU, where he worked until his retirement in 1979, he advocated the development of a socially and environmentally sustainable population. His last interview with the Australian is not only thought-provoking but an impetus for further research and work. His assertion that humankind was facing imminent extinction stemmed from his dismay at the inaction regarding climate change and the delays in cutting greenhouse gas emissions. As a pioneer and fighter for humanity, the absence of a strong and rousing response to the environmental threats to our existence was understandably disappointing to him.

However, I relate to the words of Stephen Boyden, a long-time friend of Professor Fenner. He said:

Frank may be right, but some of us still harbour the hope that there will come about an awareness of the situation and, as a result, the revolutionary changes necessary to achieve ecological sustainability.

I believe we are on the cusp of such revolutionary changes and that by taking action, acknowledging the science and looking out for the future health of Australia this government can assist in avoiding the imminent extermination that Professor Fenner predicted.

His insight and legacy, however, is of far-reaching value. Professor Fenner’s legacy lives on in the plethora of books he has written, the students he has taught and the words of warning about caring for the world in which we live and for the health of one another. In response to his colossal achievements, he modestly replied, ‘You just have to live a long time.’

In closing, on his last day of sittings, I would like to take the opportunity to acknowledge my staff—Rick Youssef, Lyndell Tutty, Shobaz Kandola, Alex Cubis and Ruth Stanfield—and three hardworking volunteers in my office—Damien Hickman, Sigourney Irvine and Emily Murray. To each of them I say, ‘I literally could not have done it without you'.
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Electric Cars

I spoke in Parliament on Wednesday on the topic of electric cars.


Adjournment
Electric Cars
24 November 2010


I rise today to update the House on the imminent launch of Australia’s first electric car network in Canberra in 2012 and to explain how the electric car will benefit Australia’s economy, health, foreign relations and environment. Last week, Australians paid an average of $1.24 per litre for unleaded petrol. Soon, they won’t have to. Aside from the heavy burden that the price of petrol places on families, sourcing oil from regions with a history of being politically unstable will inevitably result in volatile petrol prices for Australians. The introduction of hybrid and electric cars presents an opportunity that benefits our health, environment and economy. Petrol-consuming passenger vehicles account for nearly half the total of Australia’s liquid fuel consumption, but we will soon have the opportunity to shift these vehicles’ power source from petrol to electricity.

Producing electricity for travel in hybrid and electric cars through current national electricity generation methods would release less greenhouse gas emissions than combustion in petrol cars. Indeed, an electric car powered by electricity from a coal fired power station emits less greenhouse gas than a petrol car. But we can do even better if the electricity comes from renewables. Currently, Australia generates 15,000 gigawatt hours of renewable energy, sufficient to supply a fleet of five million electric cars without any ‘well to wheel’ greenhouse gas emissions. The Gillard government is committed to generating 20 per cent of Australia’s electricity from renewable sources by 2020, which will equate to 45,000 gigawatt hours of renewable energy annually—enough to supply an entire national electric car fleet without any greenhouse gas emissions.

The health benefits of electric cars are also significant. Unlike petrol vehicles, electric cars have no tailpipe emissions only precombustion emissions which, unlike those from petrol vehicles, include virtually no carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons or particulate matter emissions and only a quarter of the nitrogen oxides that are released by petrol vehicles. The total reduction of air pollutants in electric vehicles’ emissions compared to petrol vehicles’ emissions ranges between 10 and 20 grams per kilometre.

The emissions produced throughout the life cycle of electric cars in the manufacturing and disposal processes are difficult to predict, due to the ever-evolving and highly complex automotive manufacturing industry and its supply industries. At this stage, research from MIT indicates that electric cars require 20 per cent less lifecycle energy and associated greenhouse gas emissions than petrol vehicles. Electric vehicles will also require less maintenance, as they have 70 per cent fewer moving and consumable parts which is estimated to halve maintenance costs over ten years.

Australia’s power generation and distribution infrastructure will most likely not need to be expanded to produce extra electricity for electric cars. The power produced by renewable solar and wind sources varies over the day. Therefore, electric cars will charge during the time required by the driver at charging rates that vary according to the current electricity available and demand for distribution. This minimises the impact of the cars on the energy infrastructure and allows cars to collect and store up to seven kilowatts of energy, generated in times of low electricity demand, that would otherwise be wasted. A car can then later return any surplus energy to the grid in periods of high demand to power the community or other cars that require immediate charging—greatly reducing the demand for additional energy generation to charge electric cars.

By capturing, saving and then returning excess energy to the grid—excess energy that Australia generated but would not otherwise have used or stored—each electric car could enable, for example, the retention of 43 megawatt hours of renewable wind energy annually, while each electric vehicle would require only 2.7 megawatt hours of electricity to recharge over a year. With each car effectively saving 40 megawatt hours of energy that would otherwise be lost, a fleet of one million electric vehicles would, therefore, allow the realisation of the 45,000 gigawatt hours of renewable energy required by the Federal Renewable Energy Target.

The introduction of the electric car to Canberra in 2012 presents Australia with an unprecedented opportunity to increase our international independence and economic stability, to decrease car maintenance costs and increase the health of Australians, and the possibility of greatly reducing Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions. This is an opportunity we must grasp with both hands—an opportunity that our nation cannot afford to miss.
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They Might be Giants

The parliamentary calendar has us in the building from morning to late-evening, so it was terrific this morning to get out to Manuka Oval for an event with ACT Sports Minister Andrew Barr, Commonwealth Sports Minister Mark Arbib, my Canberra colleague Gai Brodtmann, and a couple of AFL GWS Giants players. Thanks to some help from Josh Bruce and Israel Folau, I reckon my handpassing skills have improved from utterly appalling to merely bad.
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RBA Governor Visits Canberra

I'm on the House of Representatives Economics Committee, which is holding a public hearing with the Reserve Bank Governor on Friday. All welcome - details below.


Issued by: House of Representatives International & Community Relations Office, Tuesday 23 November 2010

Reserve Bank Governor to front House Economics Committee in Canberra this week

9.30am to 12.30pm, Friday, 26 November 2010

The House of Representatives Economics Committee will hold a public hearing with the Governor of the Reserve Bank of Australia, Glenn Stevens, in Canberra on Friday, 26 November 2010.

Since October 2009 the RBA has lifted the cash rate seven times taking it from 3.00 to 4.75 per cent. The RBA in its November Board meeting minutes commented that ‘the outlook for growth in the resources sector was very strong and GDP growth was expected to rise gradually.’ The potential for capacity constraints will be examined.

Committee Chair Craig Thomson (Member for Dobell, NSW) advised that the RBA’s views on the adequacy of competition in the banking and non-banking sector would be sought. The RBA November Board meeting minutes referred to bank funding costs and stated that “members noted that there was a possibility that banks would increase interest rates on loans by more than any move in the cash rate”. This issue will be examined.

The RBA’s November quarterly statement on monetary policy indicated that underlying inflation is forecast to remain around 2.5 per cent until mid 2011, before picking up gradually to 3 per cent.

Mr Thomson said the committee will explore with the RBA the short to medium term outlook for the economy and the risks and opportunities that exist. In particular, the committee will be seeking elaboration on employment trends, forecasts for growth and underlying inflation, and what this may mean for the future direction of interest rates.

Public Hearing Details

Committee: House of Representatives Economics Committee

Venue Main Committee Room, Parliament House, Canberra

Date: Friday, 26 November 2010

Time: 9.30am to 12.30pm

Webcast: The hearing will be webcast http://webcast.aph.gov.au/livebroadcasting/

For media comment: Please contact the Committee Chair Craig Thomson MP:

Electorate: (02) 4321 1223

Parliament: (02) 6277 4460

Mobile: 0417 042 072

For background information: Please contact the committee secretariat:

Phone: (02) 6277 4564 Email: economics.reps@aph.gov.au Website: www.aph.gov.au/economics

Issued by:

Andrew Dawson, media manager, International & Community Relations Office,

House of Representatives Tel: (02) 6277 2063 wk, 0401 143 724 mob.

Have you got About the House magazine yet?

Visit: http://www.aph.gov.au/ath

To unsubscribe from the House of Representatives email alert service, please send an email with "unsubscribe from email alert service" in the header to liaison.reps@aph.gov.au
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Funding the Farm

My AFR column today discusses the current populist campaign against foreign investment. (And remember, writers don't choose their headlines!)


We have to sell the farm, Australian Financial Review, 23 November 2010

An iron law of populism is that while Australian businesspeople investing abroad are portrayed as job-creating entrepreneurs, foreign investors are depicted as rapacious robber-barons.

And so it is with the latest tabloid campaign against foreign investment. Under headlines such as ‘Chinese buying up our farms’, ‘It’s time to stop selling off the farm’, and ‘It's time to save our farms from foreign investors’, News Ltd tabloids have recently embarked upon a fear campaign against foreign investment in Australian agriculture. With anecdotes taking the place of statistics, foreign investment has been labelled ‘a dramatic global land grab’, fed by ‘a looming global food shortage’.

For a country whose agricultural sector has benefited substantially from foreign investment, this is odd stuff indeed. In 1855, British investors helped kickstart our local sugar production industry when they established CSR (originally Colonial Sugar Refinery). In 1877, American firm Schweppes opened its first Australian factory – as did Kraft and Kellogg in the 1920s. Japanese investment in Australia’s beef cattle sector has been important since the 1970s. Today, the largest foreign investors in Australia are still Britain and the United States.

As a resource-rich nation with a relatively low domestic savings rate, Australia has traditionally looked abroad to fill the investment gap. On one estimate, one in eight workers are employed by a foreign-owned firm. If we were to ban all foreign investment tomorrow, wages would fall and unemployment would rise. An Australia without foreign investment would also risk missing out on the latest overseas know-how. From technology adoption to business processes, foreign firms can often help spur innovation by changing the way that things are done.

Naturally, this happens in both directions. In a typical year, Australia’s outbound foreign investment is about two-thirds the size of our inbound foreign investment. In our regional neighbours such as New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and Singapore, Australian firms are major sources of outbound investment. Where our investors set up shop abroad, they show local firms a new way of doing business. In the process, Australia’s overseas investors help raise living standards in those nations.

This is not to say that foreign investment flows unrestricted into Australia. Formalised by the Whitlam Government in 1975, the ‘national interest’ test applies to a wide range of investment classes across the economy. The Foreign Investment Review Board (FIRB) must approve foreign ownership that exceeds 15 percent (where the firm worth $231 million or more). FIRB must also sign off anytime an overseas resident wishes to buy residential real estate.

Importantly, FIRB has a veto right over any investment by a foreign government – including farms. In addition, banks, media outlets, airports, Qantas and Telstra are subject to special conditions. While FIRB rejects relatively few applications outright, most approvals are given subject to particular conditions. According to its latest annual report, agricultural investments that are subject to the FIRB process comprise less than 2 percent of the value of all FIRB-approved foreign investment.

Compared with other developed nations, Australia’s regulation of foreign investment places us at the more restrictive end of the scale. For example, work by the OECD’s Takeshi Koyama and Stephen Golub classified countries’ foreign investment regimes on a scale from 0 (unrestricted) to 1 (completely restricted). They scored Australia at 0.28, above the OECD average of 0.15. Given that Australia’s foreign investment review regime is rated as more stringent than that of Britain, Canada, New Zealand and the United States, it is hard to give much credence to suggestions that FIRB has somehow been toothless.

For decades, Australia’s economic policymakers have recognised that our nation’s prosperity relies on being enmeshed with the world. Since the time of white settlement, immigration and trade have been a part of Australia’s social fabric: producing a nation in which one-quarter of the population are born overseas, and exports make up one-fifth of the economy. Integral to an outward-looking Australia must be an appreciation that well-regulated foreign investment brings significant benefits for our nation.

Most ironic about the recent tabloid campaign against foreign ownership in agriculture is the fact that the newspapers responsible are themselves owned by US citizen Rupert Murdoch. Indeed, if a campaign were to be waged against foreign ownership in the media industry, you would expect these newspapers to be among the first to describe it as economic populism. It’s  funny what happens when the pitchfork is in the other hand.

Andrew Leigh is the federal member for Fraser.
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