UN Security Council Reform

I spoke in parliament this week about proposals to reform the UN Security Council.
United Nations Security Council Reform
17 August 2011

In 1994 the genocide in Rwanda shook the world's collective conscience. A mixture of international unwillingness and poor procedure meant that effective action was not taken to prevent the killings. The next year, in what became the largest mass murder in Europe since World War II, United Nations forces in Srebrenica failed to protect those who had sought refuge in a so-called UN 'safe zone'. In 1999, fear of a veto in the Security Council prevented UN forces from intervening in atrocities in Kosovo. All of these failures revealed structural defects in the way the international community responds to mass atrocities.

Almost since its inception, reform has been on the agenda of the UN. In helping me better understand the various proposals for UN Security Council reform, I am grateful to William Isdale, who interned in my office and worked on this issue.

The UN Security Council plays a vital role in world affairs. Except in cases of self-defence, the Security Council is the only international body legally entitled to authorise the use of force. Yet the council currently has two major challenges: membership and procedural effectiveness.

The fact that the council's five permanent members are essentially the victors in World War II has riled developing countries, whose member states are often those most affected by UN peacekeeping operations. There is a strong push for greater geographical representation in the council and an emerging consensus that we should boost the number of permanent members and make the deliberations of the council more transparent. Among the countries most often mentioned are Japan, Germany, Brazil and India. Others suggest that the permanent members should include representatives from Africa and from majority Muslim nations. Australia is among the many countries that support India's current bid for a permanent seat, which India's first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, reportedly declined when it was offered in 1955.

A major issue in Security Council reform is the veto. The veto power of the permanent members has always been contentious—Australia opposed its introduction in the council from the start—and at one stage the conflict on this question threatened to break up the 1945 San Francisco conference at which the UN Charter was drafted. The threat of veto has prevented effective intervention in atrocities as recently as Darfur in 2005. Yet a resolution to remove the veto power would almost certainly itself be vetoed. Bodies like the African Union are aggrieved by the potential that their members will be offered second-class permanency, but additional vetoes in the council could make the body even less effective.

If we add permanent members, they should participate without a veto. Indeed, it would be better if the existing permanent members did not veto intervention to prevent mass atrocities. Thanks in part to the tireless efforts of former Australian foreign minister Gareth Evans, the council unanimously affirmed its 'Responsibility to Protect' in 2006 and again in 2009. Where intervention is approved, it should be done swiftly and with minimal casualties. One challenge is that the UN currently lacks its own standing army and instead relies on member nations willing to commit forces. At present, a large number of such forces are provided by developing countries who hope that their soldiers will be trained up in the process. The UN must ensure that it has the best people for the job.

The UN also has a way to go in ensuring that the procedures for authorising action on the ground are clear and transparent, as they were not in Srebrenica or Rwanda, and that it builds upon the infrastructure required for such operations. Progress has been made, such as the creation of a UN 'situation room' in 1993, but more could be done to strengthen the UN's capacity to monitor the security situation of countries and predict the likelihood of an outbreak of ethnic violence.

In a world of 'problems without passports', multilateralism is no longer a second option, especially when it comes to issues like genocide and other mass atrocities. Strengthening the ability of the United Nations to deal with such crises is in everyone's interests. Martin Luther King once said:

"Over the bleached bones and jumbled residues of numerous civilisations are written the pathetic words: 'Too late.'"

Let us hope that reform of the UN Security Council can help avert another Rwanda, Srebrenica, Kosovo or Darfur.
Add your reaction Share

Health Performance Authority

I spoke in parliament this week about health reform.
National Health Reform Amendment (National Health Performance Authority) Bill 2011
17 August 2011

On 2 August I was pleased to visit the Canberra Hospital in the company of the Prime Minister, the Minister for Health and Ageing, the member for Canberra, and Katy Gallagher, the Chief Minister of the ACT. We were generously shown around the Canberra Hospital by our ACT Health hosts, Lee Martin, Rosemary Kennedy, Kate Jackson and Sarah Majeed. It was a real eye-opening visit to see hospital reform in action; to see what is already occurring in Australia's hospitals as a result of having a federal government that is committed to improving health. Our party met with 16-year-old Jake Floro and his mother Kerrie-Anne Floro. Jake had a hip operation on 15 April and he is recovering really well.

This visit through the Canberra Hospital, one of the great hospitals in Australia, reinforced the positive experiences that I and my family have had at both the Calvary Hospital and the Canberra Hospital over recent years. I learned a lot from those personal experiences. As the dad of a couple of young boys who seem to always be falling off things, I have spent my fair share of time in emergency wards. But I have also learnt a lot about the ACT hospital system through speaking with my friends, Caroline Fahey, Mary-Ann Kulh and Mike Hall. At the outset I will speak generally about the bill, but I want to return to some ACT specifics of this bill at the end of my speech. The National Health Reform Amendment (National Health Performance Authority) Bill 2011 will deliver another $20 million in extra funding for public hospitals. In practical terms, that means more beds, more local control, more transparency; it means less bureaucracy, less waste and less waiting. Under the new health agreement that was struck with all the Australian states and territories on 13 February this year, the Commonwealth will permanently pay for 50 per cent of the growth in hospital costs. Initially, from 2014-15, the Commonwealth will pay 45 per cent and then from 2017-18 it will be 50 per cent. There will be a national funding pool, so hospitals will all be paid the same way regardless of whether they are in Bourke or Ballarat. That will deliver unprecedented transparency in hospital funding arrangements.

Across a whole range of public sector management issues, transparency drives reform. We see this in early childhood, in schools, in universities and in hospitals. The states and territories, under this historic agreement, have agreed to deliver substantial reforms. They will provide greater local control of hospitals. There will be a national price for activity based funding. As a former economics professor, and I would like to think a current economist, I regard this as a great way of driving efficiency and reducing waste. We will have new national standards and new targets to cut those waiting times in emergency departments and in elective surgery waiting lists. As someone who has spent a fair number of hours sitting in emergency departments, I know the stress that can build up while waiting for service. It is really important we do what we can to cut those emergency waiting times to make sure that those families that do not need to be in emergency rooms are not there and those who need to be in emergency rooms are seen quickly.

As a result of this legislation, there will be a new National Health Performance Authority. It is a key element of the government's health reform agenda and the COAG agreements. Its role will be to monitor and report on local hospital networks, public and private hospitals, Medicare Locals and other healthcare service providers. It will deliver clear, transparent performance reporting. There will be a new framework that will provide Australians with information about the performance of their health and hospital service in a relevant way and which is nationally consistent. As with the MySchool website, where parents can now compare schools right across the country, patients will have more information on their local healthcare services and those patients will spur reform. The authority will produce clear reporting. It will produce Healthy Communities reports for every Medicare Locals geographic area. You will be able to see, for example, how your local healthcare services are performing, preventive risk factors and access to GP services.

I moved a private member's motion earlier this year about the importance of transparency across the board and about the reforms that are driven by having a MyChild website, a My School website and a MyHospitals website. The MyHospitals website, which went live in December last year, compares the emergency department and elective surgery performance of public hospitals around Australia for the first time. The MyHospitals website is a critical element in ensuring that Australian health services are as good as they can be.

I move on to speaking from an ACT perspective about what this means. The ACT government—as a strong reforming Labor government—has already taken action to make sure the ACT health system can respond to growing health service demand. For the ACT, one of the big challenges is that many of the patients who are served in Canberra's hospitals come in from New South Wales. That is particularly true in the ski season when many people who find themselves injured on the slopes will eventually end up in a Canberra hospital. There is a lot of pressure placed on Canberra's hospitals, which they respond to well.

A part of the reforms the ACT government has put in place is a program called Your Health-Our Priority. It is a major infrastructure program which is facilitating investments such as a new cancer centre at the Canberra Hospital. There are also important investments that the ACT government is making in e-health. I note that this is an area of major difference between the two parties in this place. Those opposite would be quite happy to do away with e-health. They would be quite happy to stick with the old paper records, the errors and the inefficiencies that are inherent in using a paper based system. But the ACT government, as with the Gillard government, is committed to moving towards e-health and recognises that faster broadband will offer new opportunities in the future. And right now we can start getting those e-health records to ensure that, if you turn up to a different GP from the one you usually see, your new GP will be able to see your entire health record. That new investment is going to be absolutely critical to reducing error rates and ensuring patients do not have to repeat their health history every time they go to see a new doctor. These big investments will ensure the ACT health system is greatly improved. The Independent Hospital Pricing Authority will be a key part of this.

The ACT Legislative Assembly has established an ACT Local Hospital Network as part of this new reform. That will be a network system that holds service contracts with ACT Health. It will comprise the Canberra Hospital, Calvary Public Hospital, Clare Holland House and the Queen Elizabeth II Family Centre. The ACT government will continue to manage the system-wide public hospital service planning and performance, including the purchasing of public hospital services, and it will be responsible for the management of the performance of the ACT Local Hospital Network.

That Local Hospital Network, as I mentioned, will be overseen by a high-powered board. That board includes Michael Peedom, who is the Director of Legal Services of the ACT Regional Office of the Australian Government Solicitor's Office; Professor Nicholas Glasgow, the Dean of the ANU Medical School; Lynette Brown, a member of the ACT Health Council; Mary Montgomery, a member of the Calvary Health Care ACT Community Advisory Board; Colleen Duff, the Secretary of the ACT Branch of the Australian Nursing Federation; Dr Rashmi Sharma, a director of the ACT Division Of General Practice; Michael Moore, a former ACT health minister and a long-time campaigner for better health services in Canberra; John Runko, CEO of the property industry; Darlene Cox, a member of the Health Care Consumers Association; and Megan Cahill, and Associate Director in the Health and Human Services Practice of KPMG. These dedicated Canberrans will be an important part of ensuring that the Local Hospital Network serves all Canberrans.

Another exciting health reform for Canberra, which I know many of my constituents are looking forward to, is the establishment of a GP superclinic in the ACT, a GP superclinic that will ensure that we bring together many of the skills we have here in Canberra, joining together strong medical research teams, medical training teams and their expertise in delivering primary health care.

I want to use this opportunity too to pay tribute to the West Belconnen Health Co-op. My friend Michael Pilbrow has been heavily involved in this. The West Belconnen Health Co-op has done a great deal to boost bulk-billing rates in the ACT and to bring new doctors into Canberra. They are servicing one of the more disadvantaged parts of the ACT and they have expanded from their Charnwood site to open a new site in Belconnen. As part of that, they are really serving a great mission of community medicine, ensuring that doctors are there for those who need them and bringing specialists in to the West Belconnen Health Co-op so that patients do not have to travel all around Canberra to see an expert. Once a month, say, a specialist will come in and see people with particular issues.

Winnunga Nimityjah is another health centre in the ACT, an Aboriginal health service operating out of Narrabundah but servicing many people on the north side of Canberra. Winnunga Nimityjah often drives its clients down to the health service. They go above and beyond to provide a level of health care to Indigenous Canberrans. And of course, if we are to close the gap, it will be through initiatives such as Winnunga Nimityjah. I would like to use this opportunity to pay tribute to those workers there.

All of these are mainstream reforms. You would expect them to be supported by both sides of parliament. But what we have seen is the coalition opposing efficient pricing and opposing transparency. It is of a piece with much of what we have seen from the current Leader of the Opposition. The current Leader of the Opposition only has one word in his vocabulary and that word only has two letters. The Liberal Party has become the party of 'no': the party of opposition to everything. In the case of private health insurance, the current Liberal Party says that Australians without private health insurance who earn the minimum wage should be subsidising the private health insurance of millionaires. They are unwilling to means-test the private healthcare rebate for millionaires. This is what we might expect given that the Leader of the Opposition is the man who ripped a billion dollars out of our healthcare system. It is a sad thing to see that those opposite are so committed to an ideological oppositionist agenda. The reforms that we are putting forward are sensible reforms, reforms that will deliver more beds, more transparency, more efficiency to our healthcare system. But those opposite seem only able to learn from the scare campaigns of the US Republicans and their Tea Party friends. They seem to have decided that whatever issue comes up, they have to oppose it. Maybe the next time we start talking about efficiency here, we are going to hear those opposite start to raise spectres of death panels, as the US Republicans have done.

It is sad that the modern conservative parties have now become fringe oppositionist parties. It is very different from the mainstream parties of small 'l' liberalism that the Liberal and National parties once were. They have now become the party of 'no', the party of rallies, the party of radicalism. The modern Liberal and National parties have lost touch with what ordinary Australians want. When I hold my community forums and mobile offices, Canberrans tell me that what they want is quicker access to doctors. They want access to GPs and they want to make sure that when they go to hospitals they get seen as quickly as possible. They want to know about the performance of their local hospitals and they want to be able compare those local hospitals. They want to be sure that at all times their healthcare system is operating as efficiently as possible.

My constituents know, as, sadly, those opposite appear not to know, that a more efficient system means that we can spend more dollars on high-priority areas. We can invest in cutting waiting times, we can invest in closing the gaps and we can invest in e-health, ensuring that the technology of the future is available in Australian hospitals today. I commend the bill to the House.
Add your reaction Share

Memorials Inquiry

In recent meetings of parliament's National Capital and External Territories Committee, I've been asking questions about new memorials in the parliamentary triangle. So I'm pleased that Simon Crean (the relevant minister) has now asked the committee to inquire into the process of choosing national memorials. Terms of reference below.
Inquiry into the Administration of the National Memorials Ordinance 1928 - Terms of reference

The Committee has been asked by the Hon Simon Crean, Minister for Regional Australia, Regional Development and Local Government:

1.     To inquire into, and report on:

  • The administration of the National Memorials Ordinance 1928 (the Ordinance), with particular reference on:

o    The membership of the Canberra National Memorials Committee (CNMC);

o    The process for decision-making by the CNMC;

o    Mechanisms for the CNMC to seek independent, expert advice; and

o    Opportunities for improving transparency in the administration of the Ordinance.

  • The appropriate level of parliamentary oversight for proposed National Memorials.

  • The appropriate level of public participation in the development of proposed National Memorials.

2.     If changes to current arrangements are recommended, inquire into and report on transition provisions for current proposals for memorials which have not yet been constructed.

The Minister has asked the Committee to report by the end of 2011.

Submissions close 9 September (details here).
Add your reaction Share

Clean Technology Showcase

Canberrans who are interested in clean tech may wish to pop along to this important event tomorrow.
Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research, Senator the Hon Kim Carr invites you to the Clean Technology Showcase.

Date: Thursday 18 August, 2011
Time: 11.30 am - 1.30 pm
Venue: Mural Hall, Parliament House

This event showcases manufacturers from across Australia who have embraced clean and high technology. At the event, you can speak with these businesses and see clean and high technology products, which have been developed with the support of the Australian Government. You can also speak with parliamentarians and government officials.
Add your reaction Share

Sky News AM Agenda 15 August 2011 Part 2 of 2

Andrew Leigh and Mitch Fifield discuss political issues with Sky News AM Agenda host Kieran Gilberthttp://www.youtube.com/embed/K2TUY6f9rzg?hl=en&fs=1
Add your reaction Share

Sky News AM Agenda 15 August 2011 Part 1 of 2

Andrew Leigh and Mitch Fifield discuss political issues with Sky News AM Agenda host Kieran Gilberthttp://www.youtube.com/embed/PUCL1me4Z5g?hl=en&fs=1
Add your reaction Share

Territory Bill Backed

It's now over 22 years since the ACT Legislative Assembly's first elections, and the Assembly has shown itself to be a mature debating chamber; the equal of any other state or territory parliament.

So I'm chuffed that today, Federal Labor made the decision to back an important piece of legislation that will make it harder for the Australian parliament to veto ACT legislation. The veto power will still remain (removing it would require changing the constitution), but it will now be exercised by the parliament - not the executive.

As Simon Crean has put it, the bill strips the commonwealth's right to veto "at the stroke of a ministerial pen". Vetoing an ACT law should be only undertaken in extreme circumstances, and it's appropriate that all federal parliamentarians should have the chance to speak on such a debate.

My ACT colleague Gai Brodtmann and I took the unusual step of making a submission to the Senate inquiry into the bill. Federal Labor's decision to back it is subject only to some technical tweaks (this AAP report has a pretty decent summary of the amendments).

I'm hoping that the Coalition and minor parties will now get on board, and support this important bill.
Add your reaction Share

Caption Time

In the lead up to National Literacy and Numeracy Week, Media Access Australia has launched cap that!, a new education campaign asking teachers to turn on captions for improved literacy and inclusion for students. If you're an educator, you can find more information and teaching resources on their website.
Add your reaction Share

Mobile Offices & Community Forums

Here's an update of my upcoming mobile offices and community forums.

Community forums

  • West Belconnen (Ginninderra Labor Club, Lhotsky St) Friday 18 November 2.00-3.30pm

Mobile offices

  • Civic bus interchange Thursday 10 November 8-9am

  • Gungahlin (Hibberson St) Saturday 19 November 9-10am

  • Dickson Woollies, Saturday 19 November 10.30-11.30am

Past forums and mobile offices

  • Community Forum @ Belconnen (Belconnen Community Services, Swanson Court) Tuesday 25 October 6.00-7.30pm (focusing on the National Disability Insurance Scheme)

  • Dickson Woollies, Saturday 20 August 9:00am

  • Civic bus interchange, Wednesday 7 September 8:00am

  • Community Forum @ Dickson (Majura Hall, Rosevear St) Saturday 27 August 10-11.30am (starting with a speech on climate change)

  • Kippax Saturday 17 September 9:00am (with Chris Bourke MLA)

  • Charnwood shops 17 Sept 10:45am (with Chris Bourke MLA)

  • Jamison Trash & Treasure Sunday 25 September 9-10am (with Chris Bourke MLA)

  • Community Forum @ Gungahlin (Gungahlin Resource Centre Function Room, Ernest Cavanagh St) Wednesday 28 September 12.00-1:30pm (starting with a speech on early childhood)

  • Gungahlin (Hibberson St) Saturday 22 October 9-10am

  • Dickson Woollies Saturday 22 October 10.30-11.30am

Add your reaction Share

Belconnen Retirement Income Seminar

The federally-funded Financial Information Service are running a free seminar next week on 'Understanding retirement income streams'.

Details, details...
Wednesday, 17 August
6pm – 8.30pm
Belconnen Premier Inn, 110 Benjamin Way, Belconnen.

Update: Due to the popularity of these seminars, Centrelink scheduled another one
Thursday, 18 August
6pm – 8.30pm
Belconnen Premier Inn, 110 Benjamin Way, Belconnen.

Please RSVP to 13 6357 or fis.seminar.bookings@humanservices.gov.au
Add your reaction Share

Stay in touch

Subscribe to our monthly newsletter


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