Labor and Liberalism

My opinion piece today is on the ALP and small-l liberalism.


Labor and Liberalism, Australian Financial Review, 26 October 2010

Are the Liberal Party the true defenders of liberalism in Australia? In his 2009 Deakin lecture, Liberal Senator George Brandis argued that liberalism was the golden thread that ran from Deakin to Menzies to the modern-day Liberal Party.

Yet the job of speaking out for individual liberties has often fallen not to the Liberal Party, but to their political opponents. The Sex Discrimination Act and Racial Discrimination Act were both passed by Labor governments – over the quibbles of some Liberal members of parliament. It took the current Labor government to remove from the statute books much of the explicit discrimination against same-sex couples. And that most liberal of ideas – an Australian Republic – finds 100 percent backing only on one side of the House of Representatives.

If we in the ALP have sometimes been coy about our liberalism, it is because modern Labor stands at the confluence of two powerful rivers in Australian politics. We are best known as the party that believes in egalitarianism – that a child from Aurukun can become a High Court Justice, and that a mine worker should get the same medical treatment as the bloke who owns the mine.

But we are also the party that believes in liberalism – that governments have a role in protecting the rights of minorities, that freedom of speech applies for unpopular ideas as for popular ones, and that all of us stand equal beneath the Southern Cross. In this, the modern Labor Party is the true heir to the small-L liberal tradition in Australia.

Alfred Deakin was one of the earliest Australian leaders to make the distinction between liberals and conservatives. Deakin argued that liberalism meant the destruction of class privileges, equality of political rights without reference to creed, and equality of legal rights without reference to wealth. Liberalism, Deakin said, meant a government that acted in the interests of the majority, with particular regard to the poorest in the community.

As for conservatives, to quote Deakin’s description of his opponents, they are:

‘a party less easy to describe or define, because, as a rule it has no positive programme of its own, adopting instead an attitude of denial and negation. This mixed body, which may fairly be termed the party of anti-liberalism, justifies its existence, not by proposing its own solution of problems, but by politically blocking all proposals of a progressive character, and putting the brakes on those it cannot block.’

While liberalism derives from a deep belief in individual freedom, conservatism depends on where one stands. In defending the established order of things, conservatives may find themselves supporting different institutions according to time and place. As Brandis noted in his 2009 lecture, conservatism ‘lacks the moral clarity to make the most fundamental judgments about right and wrong’.

Perhaps the Liberal Party could once claim to be the defenders of small-L liberalism. But today’s party has shed the livery of liberalism – and donned the crown of conservatism. Leaders such as John Howard and Tony Abbott are defined less by their support for individual liberties, and more by their defence of long-established institutions. Theirs is more the political philosophy of Edmund Burke than John Stuart Mill.

This approach can readily be seen in the modern Liberal Party’s hostility to the work of the independent Murray Darling Basin Authority and its opposition to using market-based mechanisms to address climate change. In both cases, the Liberal Party’s position is to defend the status quo.

Parties will continue to argue over the values that inspire them. John Howard fuelled the notion of ‘Howard’s battlers’ – the idea that working-class voters had deserted Labor. This was a daring rhetorical grab into Labor’s heartland – though one backed by little evidence, since low-income voters have always been more likely to support the ALP.

Yet in the process, Howard also placed himself and his party firmly in the conservative tradition. This was reflected in the Howard government’s stance on everything from reconciliation to refugees, the monarchy to multiculturalism. Although Brandis and other moderates in the Liberal Party would like to distance themselves from this, the party of Howard and Abbott is very much a party of conservatism: instinctively suspicious of social change.

A century on, it is hard to escape the conclusion that if Deakin were in the federal parliament today, he and his brand of progressive liberalism would find a natural home in the Australian Labor Party.

Andrew Leigh is the federal member for Fraser. Parts of this article draw on his maiden speech, which is available at www.andrewleigh.com.
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Suicide Prevention and Mental Health

On 25 October 2010, I spoke in parliament on the issue of suicide prevention and mental health.
Mental Health, 25 October 2010

At age 22, I gave the eulogy at the funeral of my friend Andrew McIntosh, who had taken his own life. It was one of the hardest things I had ever had to do. Andrew was a high school friend of mine, a gifted athlete who could pick up a new sport within a few hours, a person who took the time to listen to his mates and who was always there to share a laugh. He drove a bright yellow Valiant Charger, loved music and was always up for a night out. Andrew was studying sports education at the time of his death. We all thought that he was on his way to becoming a great teacher. But none of us caught sight of the fact that the black dog had found its way inside him. Andrew died in 1994, but I know that his parents, Grahame and Rena McIntosh, still miss him every day.

I thought of Andrew in January of this year when I attended the funeral of Canberra lad Alex Hodgins, son of Judy and Tony Hodgins, who run the Gods Cafe at the Australian National University. Alex was a handsome man with a ready smile, and I knew him through the Gods Cafe, where he would often make my daily coffee and we would have a chat about what he was up to or what I was thinking about that day. On that day, back in January of this year, Alex’s loss had touched hundreds of his friends, and the church in Ainslie was overflowing with young men and women in the flower of their lives, all dressed in black, with their puffy red eyes.

There is no simple solution to reducing suicide, but we can improve the odds of survival. One of John Howard’s first acts as Prime Minister was the national firearms agreement, which cut the suicide rate by making it harder for people to get their hands on a firearm. Australians are also better at talking about depression today, thanks in part to public advocates like Jeff Kennett and Jack Heath, but there are still too many young people who take their own lives; too many parents who bury their own children. As a society, I think we can do better. I do not agree with parts of this motion we are debating today—I think it is a little too simplistic and there are some inaccurate claims about the current government—but I do respect the opportunity to talk today about the critical issue of suicide, the issues of mental health and what we can do about them.

At the moment the Labor government is delivering a range of new reforms which are aimed at trying to improve the way in which we as a society deal with mental health.

The Gillard government is rolling out up to 30 new youth-friendly services and providing extra funding for the existing 30 headspace sites. Headspace is a program that works with community youth services. The government is providing $25½ million over four years to expand the Early Psychosis Prevention and Intervention Centre, the EPPIC model which is referred to in the motion, in partnership with states and territories. The government is providing $13 million over two years to employ extra mental health nurses. The government is also providing $5½ million to extend the Mental Health Support for Drought Affected Communities Initiative through to 2011. And the Gillard government is providing resources in direct suicide prevention and crisis intervention programs, such as improving safety at suicide hotspots and increasing funding for Lifeline Australia.

I met recently with Mike Zissler, the CEO of Lifeline, and talked to him about the way in which Lifeline operates and the important role that Lifeline plays, not only through its well-known telephone hotline but also through the counselling support it can provide and through the training that Lifeline does in teaching us how to have a sensible conversation about suicide. Mike talked to me about the importance of using the ‘s’ word—of actually saying to someone you think might be contemplating suicide: ‘Are you thinking about suicide?’ He said that their research has shown that asking that simple question, actually using the word ‘suicide’, will often result in somebody who is on the brink saying, ‘Well, yes, I am thinking about suicide,’ and provide that crucial window to do something about it.

The government is providing more services and support to men, who, as previous speakers have noted, comprise about three-quarters of suicide victims, and through programs such as beyondblue expanding the reach of suicide support to men. The Gillard government is also providing resources to promote good mental health and resilience in young people in order to prevent suicide later in life. As previous speakers have also noted, this has been the first ever Commonwealth investment in the EPPIC model since its introduction in 1992. The Gillard government also has the first Commonwealth minister for mental health, recognising the importance that this government places on the issue of mental health. Labor has been building resilience in young children by expanding the KidsMatter program and has been funding initiatives in high-risk communities such as Indigenous Australia, which accounts for a disproportionate share of all suicides. Mental health is a particular second-term priority for the Gillard government. I know that the Minister for Health and Ageing has a series of meetings planned around the country with consumers and carers. He will be out there listening to their experiences and having those stories shape Labor’s policy.

On 12 October 2010 I opened a day-long event in my electorate titled ‘Towards recovery: how do we talk about suicide?’ It was run by the ACT Transcultural Mental Health Centre and the Mental Health Community Coalition. I wish to use the opportunity today to pay tribute to the hard-working organisers, including Simon Tatz, Brooke McKail and Simon Biereck. The event was conducted in Pilgrim House as part of Mental Health Week. Events like this help emphasise the importance of talking about suicide and help allow community groups, which provide the solution to this problem, to come together and talk about how they have addressed the issue and how we can do better.

I would like to finish my comments today by talking about the experiences of one of my staff, Lyndell Tutty. Lyndell is a woman who is always ready with a smile and a joke. She is somebody who is ready to make fun of me wherever I need to be taken down a few pegs. You would never know it from looking at Lyndell that she has had her own very serious battles with depression. Lyndell provided me with terrific help today in preparing the comments I have made in this place. I want to finish by quoting from her words on dealing with depression. She said:

'Education, recognising the symptoms, the triggers, and early intervention are the key.'

With education you are provided with tools and therefore hope and confidence that you can either manage your illness or beat it.

When you have no confidence and feel soulless the last thing you can do is believe in yourself, but with support, hope and education you can try your best to ride the dark moments until you are strong enough to believe.

Lyndell is now a terrific contributor to public policy in Australia and I am really proud to have her on my staff and to have the opportunity to contribute to this important discussion today.
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Lateline Interview

Lateline's Leigh Sales interviewed Kelly O'Dwyer and myself about the week in politics (multiculturalism, asylum seekers, water, economic policy and Afghanistan). Transcript and video here.
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Dignity in Retirement

I spoke in parliament yesterday about the importance of dignity in retirement.
Hansard  - 21 October 2010

One of the most important things a society can do is look after older members. Indeed, the first payment issued from the Commonwealth government was the age pension, instituted in 1909. Labor continues in that proud tradition today.

In the last term of government we increased the single age pension from 25 per cent of male total average weekly earnings to 27.7 per cent.  This was the largest increase in the pension since its inception. The

Gillard government is also committed to raising the minimum superannuation contribution from nine to 12 per cent.

Another important principle is ensuring that people live in homes that are appropriately set up for their needs. I am delighted to be joined in the gallery today by Charmian Leigh, who is here with Rosemary Chivers and Gabrielle Leigh and my parents Barbara and Michael.

Charmian is an occupational therapist whose work aims to ensure that veterans can continue to function in their own homes by installing a range of mobility aids such as ramps and handrails. I know one hospital in Sydney that refers to this work as that of the ‘geriatric flying squad’.

It is critical to providing older Australians with dignity in retirement, and I could not be more proud of Charmian and her work.
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Ride to Work Day

I spoke in parliament yesterday about 'Ride to Work Day'.


Hansard, 19 October 2010
Constituency Statements
Fraser Electorate: Ride to Work Day


I rise today to speak about a terrific community event called Ride to Work Day. On 13 October this year I had the opportunity to participate in Ride to Work Day, an event organised by Pedal Power in my local electorate. Honourable members may remember that that morning was particularly rainy, but I was fortunate to be joined at my local shops in Hackett by not one, not two, not three and not four, but five members of Pedal Power: John Widdup, Paul Truebridge, Tony Shields, Brendan Nerdal and Joy Clay. They were not only terrific company but took great advantage of the opportunity of cycling with me from my home to my work to lobby me, one by one—cycling alongside me and raising with me particular issues of concern they had about cycle paths in different parts of Canberra. It was a really enjoyable morning, I think, for all of us.

Pedal Power is one of those great local organisations we have in Canberra, with a membership of about 3½ thousand people. The organisation was founded with the support of Jim Fraser, after whom my electorate is named. It may interest members in this place to know that the organisation was founded on 11 November 1975, a date which we sometimes remember for other reasons.

Cycling is good for people’s health and it is important for the environment. Moving more people to a low-carbon transport approach is going to be one of the ways in which we tackle climate change along, of course, with the use of market based mechanisms. The government and the federal government are strongly committed to a transport plan which will increase the number of Canberrans cycling to work. I was delighted recently to open, with John Hargreaves MLA, a cycle path alongside Ginninderra Drive which will increase the opportunities for people in that area to cycle to work.

Cycling is also terrific fun. When I was an economics professor at ANU, I used to cycle into work whenever I could and I found that half-hour was sometimes the best thinking time I got in the day. It was also a time I got to bond with my one-year-old son, when I occasionally put him on the back of the bike.

Finally I want to congratulate Paul and Di Truebridge of Pedal Power for a program they run called New Horizons cycling development. This program won a national award last year and it is a program that is important in increasing the number of people who cycle to work. It is a program aimed at people who can ride a bike, but not very far or not with confidence, and who want to improve their riding knowledge and techniques so they can commute, go touring or just have fun on the bicycle. It is terrific to see Paul and Di Truebridge encouraging more people to get on two wheels than ever before.
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eKate

Congratulations to my ACT colleague Senator Kate Lundy, who has been named one of the Top 10 People Changing the World of Internet and Politics at the 11th World eDemocracy Forum held last week in Paris.
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First Speech

I gave my first speech to parliament today. The full text is below.

Thank you to all those who came along to hear it.


First Speech
Andrew Leigh
Member for Fraser
18 October 2010

It is hard to imagine a greater honour than to represent your friends and neighbours in our national parliament. Each of us brings to this place the hopes and dreams of the people who chose us. I am keenly aware both of the incredible opportunity the people of Fraser have bestowed on me, and the very great responsibility to them which that opportunity entails.

Let me begin, then, by telling you about my electorate of Fraser, and the city of Canberra in which it lies.

Fraser rests on the right bank of the Molonglo River, stretching north from the office blocks of Civic to the young suburbs of Bonner and Forde on the ACT’s northernmost tip. Because the leaders of the time decided that a capital city must have its own port, the electorate of Fraser also includes the Jervis Bay Territory, home to a diverse community, and a school where kangaroos graze on an oval overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

In the electorate of Fraser, some locations carry the names given to them by the traditional Ngunnawal and Ngambri peoples, who used what is now modern-day Canberra to hold their corroborees and feast on Bogong moths. Other suburbs are named after Australia’s great political leaders. For the people of Canberra, a nation’s proud history is embodied in our local geography.

Thanks to far-sighted decisions by generations of planners, Canberra’s hills are largely undeveloped. This means that many residents have the pleasure of looking up from a suburban street to see a hill covered in gum trees. From the Pinnacles to Mount Majura, the Aranda Bushlands to Black Mountain, our city’s natural environment offers ample opportunities to exercise the body and soothe the soul.

Economists like me are trained to believe in markets as the best route to environmental protection. And I do. But I also know that smart policy will only succeed if there is a will for action – if we believe in our hearts that we cannot enjoy the good life without a healthy planet.

As vital as our natural environment are the social ties that bind us together. In an era when Australians are becoming disconnected from one another, Canberra has some of the highest rates of civic engagement in the nation. Canberrans are more generous with our time and money, more likely to play sport with our mates, and more inclined to participate in cultural activities. Part of the reason for this is that we spend less time in the car than most other Australians, but I suspect it also has something to do with the design of Canberra’s suburbs.

During my time in this parliament, I will strive to strengthen community life not only in Canberra, but across Australia. In doing so, I hope to follow in the footsteps of my grandparents – people of modest means who believed that a life of serving others was a life well lived. My paternal grandfather, Keith Leigh, was a Methodist Minister who died of hypothermia while running up Mount Wellington in Hobart. It was October, and the mountain was covered in snow – as it is today. Keith was 59 years old, and was doing the run to raise money for overseas aid.

My mother’s parents were a boilermaker and a teacher who lived by the credo that if there was a spare room in their house, it should be used by someone who needed the space. As a child, I remember eating at their home with Indigenous families and new migrants from Hong Kong, Papua New Guinea, Chile, Cambodia and Sri Lanka.

That early experience informs my lifelong passion for Australia’s multiculturalism. With a quarter of our population born overseas, Australia has a long tradition of welcoming new migrants into our midst. Earlier this year, I attended a prize-giving ceremony for an art competition run as part of Refugee Week. First prize went to a Karen Burmese woman who had woven a traditional crimson tunic. Because she didn’t have a proper loom, the woman had taken the mattress off her bed, and fashioned a loom from her pine bed base. It is hard not to be overwhelmed by the courage and spirit of Australia’s migrants.

Near my home in Hackett, the local café is run by the three sons of James Savoulidis, a Greek entrepreneur who opened the first pizzeria in Canberra in 1966, and taught Gough Whitlam to dance the Zorba a few years later. Elsewhere in the Fraser electorate, you can enjoy Ethiopian in Dickson, Indian in Gungahlin, Chinese in Campbell, Vietnamese in O’Connor, or Turkish in Jamison. Canberrans who are called to worship can choose among their local church, temple, synagogue, or mosque. And yet I’ve never heard a murmur from my religious friends about the fact that the local ABC radio station broadcasts on the frequency 666.

My views on diversity and difference were also shaped by spending several years of my childhood in Malaysia and Indonesia. Sitting in my primary school in Banda Aceh, I learned what it feels like to be the only person in the room with white skin. And as I moved through seven different primary schools, I got a sense of how it feels to be an outsider, and the importance of making our institutions as inclusive as possible.

But clearly the experience didn’t scar me too much – because at 38, I’ve spent more than half my life in formal education. Sitting in Judith Anderson’s high school English class, I learned to treasure the insights into the human condition that come from the great storytellers – the works of William Shakespeare and Jane Austen, George Orwell and Les Murray, Leo Tolstoy and Tim Winton. Studying law, I learned that open government, judicial independence, and equal justice are principles worth fighting for. And picking my way through the snow drifts to attend Harvard seminars with Christopher Jencks, I came to appreciate the importance of rigorously testing your ideas, and the power of tools such as randomised policy trials (a topic about which members can be assured I will speak more during my time in this place).

In the decades ahead, education will be the mainspring of Australia’s economic success. Great childcare, schools, technical colleges and universities are the most effective way to raise productivity and living standards.

Improving education is also smart social policy. First-rate schooling is the best antipoverty vaccine we’ve yet invented. Great teachers can light a spark of vitality in children, a self-belief and passion for hard work, that will burn bright for the rest of their lives.

As an economist, much of my research has been devoted to the vast challenges of reducing poverty and disadvantage. I believe that rising inequality strains the social fabric. Too much inequality cleaves us one from another: occupying different suburbs, using different services, and losing our sense of shared purpose. Anyone who believes in egalitarianism as the animating spirit of the Australian settlement should recoil at this vision of our future.

But my research has also taught me that good intentions aren’t enough. As a professor-turned-politician, one of my role models is the late great US Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan. Moynihan was innately sceptical about every social policy solution presented to him. Indeed, his starting point was to expect that any given social policy would have no measureable effect. But these high standards didn’t make him any less of an idealist, and Moynihan never lost his optimism and passion. What we need in Australian policy today is not more ideologues, convinced that their prescriptions are the answer, but modest reformers willing to try new solutions, and discover whether they actually deliver results.

This spirit of optimistic experimentation has deep roots in our nation. Manning Clark once said that Australia was an experiment for the multiple faiths of the Holy Spirit, the Enlightenment and a New Britannia. So you get the sense that in these early days, the Australian project was one of expansiveness, enlargement and possibility, where people were prepared to take risks and try new ideas in an effort to show that in Australia we did things differently, and better, than elsewhere around the world.

This Australian project is not finished. It’s not something that stopped with the end of the First World War or with the death of Ben Chifley. And all of us, as today’s Australians, are the custodians of this project, a project that stretches back over generations and centuries, and binds all Australians, past, present and future, together in this greater cause. It is like the red sand that Gough Whitlam poured into the hands of the great Gurindji elder Vincent Lingiari, who declared ‘we are all mates now’. We have a responsibility to make sure that the Australian project, for the time that it rests in our hands, is advanced and continued. 

To me, the Australian project is about encouraging economic growth, while ensuring that its benefits are shared across the community. It is about making sure that all Australians have great public services, regardless of ethnicity, income or postcode. And it is about recognising that governments have a role in expanding opportunities, because no child gets to choose the circumstances of their birth.

Internationally, the Australian project should be one of principled engagement. Australia’s influence overseas will always rely on the power of our values. A respect for universal human rights and a passion for raising living standards should always guide the work of our military and our diplomats, our aid workers and our trade negotiators. In the shadows of World War II, Australia helped create the United Nations – guided by a belief that all countries must be involved if we were to create a more peaceful and prosperous world. That ideal must continue to inform how we engage with the rest of the world.

Another important part of the Australian project has been democratic innovation. What we call the secret ballot is elsewhere termed ‘the Australian ballot’. We introduced female suffrage a generation before many other nations. We made voting compulsory, recognising that with rights come responsibilities.

Yet for all this innovation, Australians have increasingly become disenchanted with their elected representatives. The problem has many sources: the rowdiness of Question Time, too much focus by the commentariat on tactics rather than ideas, and a tendency to oversimplify problems and oversell solutions. I hope to help rebuild a sense of trust between citizens and politicians.

It starts with respect, and a recognition that we can disagree without being disagreeable. Working as associate to Justice Michael Kirby taught me that intellect and compassion together are a powerful force for change. Admit that most choices are tough. Listen to others. Be flexible. And remember that the fire in your belly doesn’t prevent you from wearing a smile on your face.

Australian politics isn’t a war between good parties and evil parties. At its best, it is a contest of ideas between decent people who are committed to representing their local communities. I am happy to count among my friends people on both sides of this house – and I am sure some of those friends will be happy to know that I don’t plan to name them today.

That said, choosing between the parties has never been an issue for me. I was born in the year that Gough Whitlam won office, and when my mother’s pregnancy reached the nine month mark, she pinned an ‘It’s Time’ badge onto the part of her shirt that covered her belly.

It is a true honour to serve as a Labor representative today, alongside so many capable and talented individuals. Thank you to those who have given me advice already. There is much more I have to learn from each of you.

In the Labor pantheon, the parliamentarians I most admire are those who have recognised that new challenges demand fresh responses. Among these I count John Curtin and Bob Hawke, Paul Keating and John Button, Lindsay Tanner and Gareth Evans. For each of these men, their ideals and values were their guiding light; yet their proposals were as flexible and innovative as the situation demanded.

I also had the privilege to work briefly as trade adviser to the late Senator Peter Cook. Peter was an instinctive internationalist, as keen to chat with a visiting Chinese delegation as to swap stories with the Argentinean ambassador. He believed in ideas, enthusiastically working to persuade colleagues that anyone who cared about poverty should believe in free trade. Peter passed away in 2005, far too early. I wish he were with us today.

I also count among my role models two former members for Fraser. As a 16 year-old, I came to Canberra to volunteer for John Langmore, and was struck by the depth of his principles and the breadth of his knowledge. Never did I imagine that one day I would succeed him.

My immediate predecessor is Bob McMullan. Over two decades in federal politics, the people of the ACT supported Bob for being a superb parliamentarian, and because they were proud to have, on their home turf, a true statesman, who embodied every day the best of what politics can be. I acknowledge Bob, and all those elected by the people of Fraser before him. Their service has set a high bar.

As elected representatives, one of our most important jobs is to speak out on behalf of those who struggle to have their voices heard. The Labor Party has a proud tradition of defending individual liberties. Past Labor governments outlawed discrimination on the basis of gender or race. This Labor government has removed from the statute books much of the explicit discrimination against same-sex couples, and strengthened disability discrimination laws. And all Labor governments strive to protect the right of workers to bargain collectively for better pay and conditions. Our party also stands firmly committed to democratic reform, including the simple yet powerful notion that every Australian child should be able to aspire to be our head of state. 

The Labor Party today stands at the confluence of two powerful rivers in Australian politics. We are the party that believes in egalitarianism – that a child from Aurukun can become a High Court Justice, and that a mine worker should get the same medical treatment as the bloke who owns the mine.

But what is sometimes overlooked is that we are also the party that believes in liberalism – that governments have a role in protecting the rights of minorities, that freedom of speech applies for unpopular ideas as for popular ones, and that all of us stand equal beneath the Southern Cross. The modern Labor Party is the true heir to the small-L liberal tradition in Australia.

Alfred Deakin was one of the earliest Australian leaders to make the distinction between liberals and conservatives. Deakin argued that liberalism meant the destruction of class privileges, equality of political rights without reference to creed, and equality of legal rights without reference to wealth. Liberalism, Deakin said, meant a government that acted in the interests of the majority, with particular regard to the poorest in the community.

As for conservatives, to quote Deakin’s description of his opponents, they are:

‘a party less easy to describe or define, because, as a rule it has no positive programme of its own, adopting instead an attitude of denial and negation. This mixed body, which may fairly be termed the party of anti-liberalism, justifies its existence, not by proposing its own solution of problems, but by politically blocking all proposals of a progressive character, and putting the brakes on those it cannot block.’

A century on, it is hard to escape the conclusion that if Deakin were in this parliament today, he and his brand of progressive liberalism would find a natural home in the Australian Labor Party. (And given the numbers in today’s parliament, I am sure my colleagues would welcome his vote.)

For my own part, I would not be here without the support of the Australian Labor Party – Australia’s oldest and greatest political party – and the broader trade union movement. Ours is a party that believes in the power of collective action. When the goal is just and we are one, our movement and our party are unstoppable.

On a more personal level, I would also not be here without the bevy of volunteers who doorknocked, staffed street stalls, and handed out on polling day. Let me thank all of those who worked with me on this campaign, and gave up vast amounts of their time for a cause greater than any of us. Thank you also to my staff, who make me proud to walk into the office each day. I am deeply touched that so many friends, staff and supporters are here in the galleries to share this special day with me.

Let me also acknowledge and express my love for my parents Barbara and Michael, who instilled in my brother Timothy and me the simple values that guide us today: Be curious. Help others. Laugh often.

I hope that I can be as good a parent to my two sons – Sebastian and Theodore – as you have been to me.

To my extraordinary wife Gweneth, who left her home state of Pennsylvania for the unknowns of Australia. No matter how chaotic our lives become, you will always be the fixed point that puts everything else into perspective. In the words of John Donne, writing four hundred years ago to the love of his life: ‘Thy firmness makes my circle just, and makes me end where I begun.’

Finally, to the people who sent me here, the voters of Fraser. With the exception only of the neighbouring federal seat of Canberra, more votes were cast in Fraser than in any other electorate in Australia, and I am keenly aware both of the deep and diverse needs of our seat, and of the great trust and confidence Fraser’s voters have placed in me.

To them, I express my enormous gratitude for the honour they’ve given me of representing them in our nation’s Parliament. And to them I make this pledge – to do my utmost always: to represent their interests to the very best of my abilities, to remember always that their support for me is not my entitlement but their precious gift, and to ensure that, in their name, I make Fraser’s contribution to securing a better, fairer, more prosperous and more just future for our great nation.    
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First Speech - House of Representatives - Monday, October 18th

It is hard to imagine a greater honour than to represent your friends and neighbours in our national parliament. Each of us brings to this place the hopes and dreams of the people who chose us. I am keenly aware of both the incredible opportunity the people of Fraser have bestowed on me and the very great responsibility to them which that opportunity entails.

Let me begin by telling you about my electorate of Fraser and the city of Canberra in which it lies. Fraser rests on the right bank of the Molonglo River, stretching north from the office blocks of Civic to the young suburbs of Bonner and Forde in the ACT’s northernmost tip. Because the leaders at the time decided that a capital city must have its own port, the electorate of Fraser also includes the Jervis Bay territory, which is home to a diverse community and a school where kangaroos graze on an oval overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

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What I'm reading

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Field of Dreams

With ACT Education Minister Andrew Barr, I opened a new playing field in Gungahlin today. We celebrated with a kids vs 'celebrities' touch footy game (Darters, Capitals, politicians). While I didn't keep score, I have a sneaking suspicion the kids might have beaten us.

More details below.


Opening of new sporting facility

The largest artificial playing surface in the ACT was officially opened today at the Gold Creek School and the Holy Spirit Primary School, jointly by Dr Andrew Leigh MP, Member for Fraser, and Mr Andrew Barr MLA, ACT Minister for Education and Training and Tourism, Sport and Recreation.



Building on an existing highly successful model partnership between government and non-government schools, this project involved the installation of a synthetic sports ground and associated components including: fencing, lighting, a soccer pitch, a multi-use field with sprint lanes, a running track and cricket practice wickets.

This project is designed to enhance school programs impacting on childhood obesity, while innovative construction methods will minimise water usage.



Dr Leigh congratulated the school and its community on establishing the best possible facilities for their students and school staff.



“These outstanding facilities will help ensure all students at Gold Creek School and Holy Spirit Primary School to realise their full potential and attain their goals,” said Dr Leigh.

“This new surface has educational and environmental benefits. Not only do students have a great new playing field, its one that will use less water,” said Dr Leigh.



The project, totalling $3 million, was funded through $2.5 million provided by the Australian Government under its Local Schools Working Together pilot program and $0.5 million provided by the ACT Government.



Dr Leigh also said “the project demonstrated the Australian Government’s commitment to providing every student with the best possible learning environment through the provision of these new facilities.”



The Local Schools Working Together pilot program is an important element of the Australian Government’s Education Revolution.

“The Gillard Government is committed to finding ways for schools to work together in delivering educational outcomes.  Schools in a community, whether government, catholic or independent schools, should work together in maximising the educational resources available, ensuring we can deliver the best education to our kids.

“The Local Schools Working Together initiative that encourages government, Catholic and independent schools to work together to develop shared educational facilities, facilities which will broaden the benefit of government expenditure on capital infrastructure and help create new opportunities for students who might otherwise be denied access to the range of facilities.”

“The Local Schools Working Together program is all about schools working in partnership to achieve educational excellence and equity,” concluded Dr Leigh.
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8/1 Torrens Street, Braddon ACT 2612 | 02 6247 4396 | Andrew.Leigh.MP@aph.gov.au