I wrote a column for the Chronicle newspaper recently about the proposed National Disability Insurance Scheme.
National Disability Insurance Scheme
The Chronicle

If you ever feel like you’ve had a tough week, try chatting with a parent who’s caring for a child with a profound disability. Chances are, they’ll be bleary-eyed and bone-tired. They may be struggling to make ends meet, and often contending with health issues of their own.

Like every parent, they love their children – but their parenting journey is harder than most. The regular cycle of life is that children leave home and start families of their own. But parents of children with a disability can find themselves caring for a 40 year-old with the mental abilities of a toddler. Many face a searing fear: what will happen to my child when I die?

In recent weeks, I’ve attended two events to recognise Canberrans with disabilities and the people who care for them. In Hackett, I spoke at the opening of Ross Walker lodge – a supported accommodation facility for six people with intellectual disabilities. Ross Walker preached the social gospel, and was a strong advocate for the most disadvantaged people in our community. (By coincidence, his life followed a similar trajectory to that of my paternal grandfather, who was also born in the 1920s, and entered the Methodist ministry after World War II.)

In Holt, I visited Sharing Places, one of the many organisations that care for people with a disability. Sharing Places has a focus on providing day services to adults with an intellectual disability. I met with several clients, and the people who care for them. Some had been working in the sector for decades, and found it the most rewarding activity they’d ever done.

The Sharing Places event was a DisabiliTEA morning tea, part of a campaign for a National Injury Insurance Scheme and National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS). An NDIS would provide better care to people with a disability. It would help resolve some of the anomalies in the current system. For example, if you become a paraplegic in a car accident, you’re more likely to get a payout than if you fall off your roof while cleaning the gutters. Under the current system, people who are born with a disability often receive insufficient care.

An NDIS isn’t cheap, and it’s not straightforward. But when the Gillard Government commissioned a report on it from the Productivity Commission, they came back with a strong recommendation that we should go ahead. So we’re working with the states and territories to build the foundations of an NDIS.

If you want more details, I’ll be holding a community forum in Belconnen at which I’ll discuss what an NDIS would mean for Australia. And if you’d like to volunteer, there are community organisations looking for people to help in the disability sector. Check out www.govolunteer.com.au and www.volunteeract.org.au for more details.

Andrew Leigh is the federal member for Fraser.
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Stimulus, Schools and Skating

I wrote a column for the Chronicle newspaper recently about the opening of the 'Belco Bowl'.
Stimulus, Schools and Skating
The Chronicle

The original skateboarders were bored California surfers – they came up with the new sport in the 1940s as a way to kill time when the waves were flat. Opening the new ‘Belco Bowl’ with Chris Bourke MLA earlier this month, I told the audience that its location couldn’t be more apt. As Canberra skaters look out over the calm waters of Lake Ginninderra, they can be reminded of how their sport started.

For anyone who hasn’t yet been to the Belco Bowl, you’re in for a treat. Now the largest skate park in the southern hemisphere, the Belco Bowl offers opportunities for expert skaters to show off their ollies, wheelies and pivots, as well as a space for first-timers to practice. For non-skaters like me, it’s a place where my wife and I can take our 2 year old and 4 year old boys, so they can watch with wide eyes as the BMX riders and skateboarders do their tricks.

The Belco Bowl upgrade was partially funded by the Australian government under the stimulus program. When the Global Financial Crisis struck in 2008, the federal government responded with household payments and infrastructure spending. We chose infrastructure projects that were both necessary and ‘shovel ready’. This included funding to upgrade Canberra’s local roads. Glebe Park also got a makeover, with a new shade sail, seating and event stage.

Every primary school received new facilities as part of the stimulus program. If you have children at school, you’ll have seen how these projects have improved their educational experience. For example, Florey Primary School has new science labs where the kids can follow in the footsteps of Howard Florey, who discovered penicillin. At Amaroo Primary School, teachers can teach in their traditional classroom, or remove the dividing walls between classrooms and teach in teams. At the Forde campus of Burgmann Anglican College, the new multipurpose hall has sharply raked seating, so all children can see the stage.

Across Australia, stimulus spending saved around 200,000 jobs, and our unemployment rate now stands at 5%, well below the jobless rate in Britain (8%) and the US (9%). Long-term unemployment can leave scars that last a lifetime. The stimulus spending not only prevented recession, it also left a valuable legacy: safer roads, better sporting facilities and revamped schools. From the Belco Bowl to Amaroo Primary, we’re investing to ensure Canberra stays the best city in Australia.

Andrew Leigh is the federal member for Fraser.
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Having been an Obama fan for quite some time, I was pretty chuffed to be able to meet him this week (as was my US-born wife, Gweneth). A few pics below.

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Superfast Broadband

I wrote a column for the Chronicle newspaper recently on the rollout of the National Broadband Network.
Superfast Broadband
The Chronicle

I was 11 years old when I bought my first computer. It was 1984, and the machine was an Aquarius. It had rubber keys, a cassette tape drive, and 3.5 kilobytes of memory. I used it to write simple programs in the BASIC language. Later that year, I upgraded to a VIC-20, with a whopping 5 kilobytes of memory. At about this time, Sydney Morning Herald computer editor Gareth Powell said that there was no advantage to any program in going beyond 16 kilobytes of memory.

The fact is, we’re not particularly good at forecasting where technology will take us. When I sent my first emails in 1996, they were text-only. In fact, most of us thought that email would be like the telegrams that previous generations had used, just faster and cheaper. Today, photos and video comprise most of the traffic flowing around the globe. Emails of 16 kilobytes or larger arrive in my inbox every few minutes.

So it’s little wonder that some critics of the National Broadband Network can’t imagine it as being anything more than a way getting faster access to YouTube and Facebook. Unfortunately, this just repeats the same mistake as previous decades: failing to imagine how a new technology will transform life and work.

The government’s current plan is to provide 93 percent of households with speeds of 100 megabytes per second. But in a recent trial of the network at Broken Hill, we saw speeds of 100 gigabytes per second: one-thousand times faster than hoped for.

But even at 100 megabytes per second, it will be possible to use the internet in fundamentally new ways. As anyone who has used Skype on a current connection will know, the jerky picture is better than nothing, but hardly ideal. The NBN will enable high-definition video-conferencing: letting patients speak with a medical specialist from home, allowing students to participate in distance learning from afar, and permitting teleworkers to participate in team meetings while working from home.

Starting in Gungahlin, the NBN will be progressively rolled out across the ACT over the next few years. We can’t predict all the ways it will transform our society for the better, but I expect that within a few decades, I’ll look back on today’s internet with the same wry amusement that I look at my old Aquarius.

Andrew Leigh is the federal member for Fraser. For more information on the timing of the NBN rollout, see www.nbnco.com.au.
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Aid Event

Pat Boldra from Friends of Plan Australia has asked me to let you know about their charity art and craft show, which I'm happy to do... even though it's a smidgin south of the electorate.
Our charity art and craft show which will be held at the Weston Creek Community  Hall on 25th-27th November? Each year the Friends of Plan Canberra group selects a Plan overseas aid project to support with all funds raised from our efforts.  So far we have raised over $2,500 this year towards clean water and improved sanitation in East Timor and we are well on the way to raising another $2,000 from the art and craft show and raffle of paintings donated by a local artist, Eleanor Inns.  The Ambassador for East Timor, His Excellency Abel Guterres, has agreed to open the show at 6pm on Friday 25th November and the raffle for Eleanor's paintings will be drawn at 3pm on the last day of the show, Sunday 27th.  In-between we will have on sale art and craft by local people in support of the project, much of it ideal as Christmas gifts.
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Street Party Invitation

With summer nigh upon us, it's a good chance to hold a summer street party. And to make it easy, here's a template:
This year, we’re holding a summer street party, to get to know the neighbourhood.

Our address is: _______________________________

Time: _______________________________

Date: _______________________________

RSVP by phoning: _______________________________

Please bring something to eat or something to drink.

We look forward to seeing you there.

To hold your own street party, just fill in the blanks on this template invitation and pop it in the letterbox of people in your street. There are plenty of ways to tailor it - one thing we've done is to look up the person after whom the street is named in the Australian Dictionary of Biography, and tell your neighbours a bit about how much that person loved socialising with friends.
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Walking and Social Capital

In the final chapter of Disconnected, one of the things that I advocate is 'reclaiming the footpaths', as a way of building civic connectedness. Reading this passage, local resident Neville Hurst sent me a delightful account of his regular walks around Lake Ginninderra. He's given me permission to post it here.
By Neville Hurst

Walking is one of the great privileges of life – just ask anybody who has lost the ability, whether permanently or temporarily, to walk easily.  For those who have the good fortune to be able to “take a walk”, it is still freely available, not yet commodified.

Like many others, I am committed to a regular walk.  Every Saturday morning – no shirking because of the odd cyclone or heatwave – I walk around Lake Ginninderra; a comfortable canter of about 7 km.

The benefits are manifold.

The most obvious is physical.  Just to move freely after a confined week is a joy.  I can vary my speed, responding to how my body reacts, sometimes coasting and sometimes pressing harder.  I can be overcome by a feeling of atavism -–as if I were a hunter setting out for a foray.  And then reality takes over – an elderly, effete modern man pretending to physical capability that his muscles tell him he doesn’t have.

The Lake Ginninderra walk is an environmental cornucopia – through open bushland, round the natural peninsula, over the two bridges, reluctantly passing the coffee shop, past the buildings at the southern end and finishing by the parkland.  Each week is different – when it is freezing, the lake may be steaming in the sunlight, fallen trees appear from time to time, the wattle stands come suddenly into bloom, the old “Sizzlers” transmutes into a modern Thai restaurant.  Sometimes hot-air balloons sneak quietly in to land, and I can watch the people struggle out of the basket.  I have to come to terms with major changes – a large apartment complex to the south west, and a new housing development near Ginninderra Drive; but the overall integrity of the circuit is not threatened.

The interaction with people is a highlight.  Early on a Saturday morning, there is a well-defined culture of Lake “encirclers”.  We all know that we are engaged in a serious, albeit enjoyable, enterprise.  This culture has its structure – at the pinnacle are the cyclists who whizz past, sometimes ringing their bells and sometimes not, without any acknowledgment of the lesser breeds.  Then there are the runners – some very good (for example, Phil McGilvray) and others clearly struggling; they all tend to be self-absorbed.  It is the fellow-walkers that I warm to, again a variable tribe – groups of women, individuals with dogs or pushing prams, lone individuals like myself.  I make more contact with strangers in this hour than throughout the rest of the week.  There is a real art in exchanging greetings – one must look elsewhere until one gets within about three metres, and then one is entitled to make eye-contact and essay a cheerful “Good morning”; only rarely is it not returned.  When passing somebody walking in the same direction, the etiquette seems to be to keep quiet; there may be some deep-seated concern not to be seen as gloating!

I could write a monograph on the etiquette of social contact while walking.  Hardly a PhD thesis, but perhaps a tract.

And then there is the opportunity for thinking.  I can choose the themes as the mood takes me:  one day it might be theology, another football.  The regular “one-two” movement helps to put a structure on problems that might have seemed difficult up till then.

More fancifully, one can think of the circuit of the lake as an allegory for life.  The start is all  eagerness, re-learning just as a child does the skills from the week before.  Soon, one is in the thick of things, at the peak of performance and looking forward to the challenges ahead.  Then, tiredness gradually takes over, and the last kilometre or two can be a real challenge.  When the end comes, it is a relief.  Even the car ride home can fit into this allegory - the magic chariot that translates one away towards a heightened reality.

However, it is really just a walk.  But it is a marvellous privilege available to us here in Canberra, and one that everybody who can should consider engaging in .  I wish I had started thirty years ago when the Lake was opened - I guess I’ll just have to plan for the next thirty.
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Foreign Aid and Volunteering

I'm holding a foreign aid forum in the Griffin Centre at 12.30pm today (details). In that spirit, here's a column I wrote recently for the local Chronicle newspaper.
Overseas Volunteering Benefits Canberra Too
The Chronicle

Some kids who grow up with parents in the military refer to themselves as ‘army brats’. As a child whose parents worked on AusAID projects, I like to think of myself as an ‘aid brat’. Living in Banda Aceh, in the north of Indonesia, I had the experience of being the only white kid in the class, appreciating the generosity of local villagers, and seeing the indignity of poverty. As your federal MP, they’re memories I regularly draw upon.

On 28 September, I had the chance to farewell the latest crop of Australian Youth Ambassadors for Development on behalf of Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd. The AYADs are leaving to work for a year in a developing country. Headed for countries such as East Timor, Cambodia, and the Solomon Islands, they’ll be doing everything from teaching school children to building houses.

Having helped raise living standards abroad, our overseas volunteers will come home to enrich Australia. This tradition goes back to the pioneer of Australia’s international volunteering programs, Herb Feith, who worked in Indonesia in the 1950s. A Jewish refugee from Austria, Herb was the kind of person for whom volunteering was part of a life fully lived. In Indonesia, he rode a bicycle and ate simply.

Returning home, Herb wrote to the Australian Prime Minister and Indonesian President suggesting the establishment of an international volunteering program. In 1952, when the bilateral agreement was signed, Herb was just 22 years old. Later on, he was active in campaigns to abolish the White Australia Policy, and to encourage deeper engagement with Asia. I like to think that Herb is one of the reasons that my eldest son attends a primary school where he will learn Indonesian.

If you’d like to volunteer abroad, check out www.ausaidvolunteers.gov.au. Whether you’re a tradesperson, an entrepreneur, or fresh out of school, there’s a volunteering opportunity that’s right for you.

When volunteers return, all of us in Canberra benefit from their new skills and ideas. One of the things I love about Canberra is our internationalism. Ours is a city where your local school’s Mandarin teacher may have worked in Shanghai, your local travel doctor may have practiced in Hanoi, and the worker who supports newly arrived refugees may have lived in Rangoon. International volunteering supports the maxim ‘Charity begins at home – but doesn’t end there.’

Andrew Leigh is the federal member for Fraser.
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The Economics and Politics of Teacher Merit Pay

One of the things that many people don't realise about academic economics is how slowly the research pipeline moves. Since leaving the ANU in July 2010, virtually my only research activity has been to revise a few papers for publication, incorporating referee comments. Yet in 2011, I've had half a dozen papers appear in journals (partial list here), and there will be probably be a few more in 2012.

However, there is one new piece of research I've done, which comes out of a keynote talk I gave for an economics of education conference in Munich, organised by Eric Hanushek and Ludger Woessman. It gave me the chance to survey the burgeoning literature on the economics and politics of teacher merit pay.

I'll be giving a talk tonight at the Grattan Institute, drawing on the paper. In case you're interested, here's a copy. Feedback most welcome (particularly if it sparks off the content of the paper, rather than just the title).
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What I'm Reading

A few links that have caught my fancy lately.






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Cnr Gungahlin Pl and Efkarpidis Street, Gungahlin ACT 2912 | 02 6247 4396 | Andrew.Leigh.MP@aph.gov.au