Territory Rights

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Skynews AM Agenda


KIERAN GILBERT:

Welcome back. Joining me this morning in the Canberra studio is Labor MP Andrew Leigh, good morning Andrew.

ANDREW LEIGH:

Good morning, Kieran.

GILBERT:

And we’ve got Senator Mitch Fifield, Liberal frontbencher, joining us from Melbourne. Senator Fifield, first to you. What do you make of the Government’s response in the wake of this Japanese quake? Has it been appropriate as far as the Coalition can tell?

MITCH FIFIELD:

Well, I think it’s important at a time of crisis like this to not nitpick. Our focus should be on making sure that we can render whatever assistance to Japan that we possibly can and that we also focus on Australians who are in Japan. There’s a very important job to keep families in Australia in touch with what’s happening with their loved ones back in Japan. But I think that the time for reviewing the Australian response is after the immediate crisis has passed.

GILBERT:

Andrew Leigh, your thoughts on what has been the latest in a long series of disasters over the last few months? It’s been remarkable.

LEIGH:

It’s been an awful period, hasn’t it Kieran. I, like many Australians was in touch with a friend of mine who lives in Tokyo, just to check that she was alright. And there’s been those 70 Search and Rescue Officers who have just arrived in Tokyo, and a couple of Sniffer Dog Teams. So Australia is certainly doing what we can to assist in this.

GILBERT:

OK. Senator Fifield, let’s look at some domestic politics before we go – obviously most of our focus this morning has been appropriately on the quake. But on the Nielsen Poll back at home – Julia Gillard’s disapproval rating is up, and her approval rating is down. But I suppose a concern for the Coalition is that Tony Abbott’s approval rating is also down. Why do you think that’s the case?

FIFIELD:

With these polls there’s always a beauty contest element in the preferred leader stakes so I don’t pay too much attention to that. I just focus on the fact that Tony Abbott is doing a great job holding Julia Gillard to account, and I think what the polls essentially reflect today is that the Australian public know that Julia Gillard lied. She put her hand on her heart before the last election, and she solemnly swore that no government she led would introduce a carbon tax. She fibbed, she is now going to introduce one, and the Australian people are not happy.

GILBERT:

And the disapproval rate shows it, doesn’t it Andrew Leigh? This has been a clear rebuke of the Prime Minister’s broken promise.

LEIGH:

Kieran I don’t agree with that at all. We’ve spoken on the program before about the fact that polls this far out from an election have no predictive power. And I think that it’s important that we try and spend less time on polls and more time on ideas. Two of my favourite journalists, Annabel Crabb and George Megalogenis, have made a promise not to mention a single opinion poll for 2011, and Kieran I’d like to use this chance to encourage you to join them. I think it’s - go cold turkey and dive into the ideas. And you’ll find there’s a rich vein there. This is a big economic reform.

GILBERT:

Well let’s move on from the poll – I’ll try to go cold turkey at least for today. But it’s a broken promise, isn’t it? And this reaction we’ve seen through talk-back – it’s right across the board that we’ve seen this reaction. Mitch Fifield and the rest of the Coalition are making a lot of ground on this because it’s a clear, unequivocal, broken promise.

LEIGH:

Kieran we’ve been absolutely clear for years now that we want to implement carbon pricing. That means using the magic of the market in order to move us to a clean, green carbon economy. And we’ve recognised…

FIFIELD:

It’s an artificial market.

LEIGH:

…that a clear way of doing that is to set a fixed carbon price for a three to five year period and then move to an Emissions Trading Scheme. And that’s the same scheme that the Coalition took to the 2007 election. It’s the same scheme that British Conservatives have backed. This is mainstream policy and what’s striking about the Coalition is they’re disappearing into a kind of Dada land in which some of them are sceptics, some of them are market-averse. They’re really moving away from what I would regard as fundamental free-market principles.

GILBERT:

Senator Fifield, it doesn’t help the argument when you’ve got the likes of Senator Minchin questioning whether or not the world is warming, when Tony Abbott wants the focus on the tax?

FIFIELD:

Well the Coalition accepts that man makes a contribution to warming, and we have a policy to address that. Colleagues have a range of views – there are a range of views in both political parties. But our policy is that we have a practical plan of action to reduce emissions. The Labor Party’s plan is based on a lie. Labor’s plan will see prices go up for petrol by 6.5 cents a litre. Labor’s plan will see the average household pay $300 more a year for their electricity. Before the election Julia Gillard said ‘no way, no carbon tax.’ She lied. We’ve got a practical plan – that’s what we want to introduce. And I’ve got to say, I’m happy that in defence of Labor’s position Andrew is talking about the Philosophy of Dada. If that’s the best the Labor Party can do in seeking to defend their position, then good luck to them.

LEIGH:

Well Mitch what you’ve got is a Party at the moment which is backing away from using the market in order to bring us to a clean, green economy. Carbon pricing is a mainstream approach. It recognises that when you price carbon, you allow businesses and households to make the decisions that move us most efficiently to a cleaner economy.

GILBERT:

Andrew Leigh you’ve said that it should be…

FIFIELD:

It’s an artificial market.

GILBERT:

Yes, that’s the point I was going to make. We’re almost out of time, but just quickly, as Senator Fifield says, it’s an artificial market. Why not move to the ETS sooner as well if you believe so firmly in the market rather than have this tax in the first place?

LEIGH:

Well Kieran you can do two ways of carbon pricing. You can – the government can set the price and the market sets the quantity, or you set the quantity and the market sets the price. Either way it’s a market mechanism. So let’s be clear about that. What we’re doing is we’re setting the price in the initial period, because that provides certainty for business – certainty of the impact of the scheme. Not the kind of scare-campaign numbers that are coming up but real certainty.

GILBERT:

OK, Senator Fifield, just very quickly.

FIFIELD:

Two questions the Government has to answer are, what will this carbon tax cost, and will it achieve anything. The truth is, it’s a tax on everything that will achieve nothing.

GILBERT:

Gentlemen, we will continue this debate no doubt when we speak again in a couple of weeks. Andrew Leigh and Senator Fifield, thanks for that. I’m Kieran Gilbert, thanks for your company.

ENDS

[Thanks to Mitch for transcribing.]
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It’s Hard to Build a Road with Clean Hands

My AFR op-ed today is on corruption and foreign aid.
Aid Prone to Corruption, Australian Financial Review, 15 March 2011

A cruel fact about the world is that corruption and poverty tend to go together. This presents a dilemma for donors: do we guarantee our dollars never go astray, or do we focus on countries and programs where the need is greatest? An aid program that offers technical advice to Korea is less corruption-prone than one that uses local contractors to build pit latrines in Cambodia. But if we care about reducing the number of sick children in the world, toilet-building in poor nations is likely to have more impact than providing advice to middle-income countries.

For decades, Australia’s aid officials have wrestled with the challenge of how to have an impact on poverty while minimising our corruption losses. The problem is a bit like a football coach trying to reduce injuries: you don’t want the lads to hurt themselves, but a strategy that guarantees zero injuries will earn you the wooden spoon.

One example of this is the emphasis on ‘improving governance’ that occurred under the Howard government. In the decade from 1996, spending on governance programs such as better administration went from 9% of the aid budget to 30%. In Papua New Guinea, where around half our aid goes to consultants and training programs, there have certainly been some success stories. Yet a recent AusAID review pointed out that PNG still ranks highly for corruption, and suggested that the number of expensive expatriates should be cut back.

In The Plundered Planet, economist Paul Collier argues that one of the challenges of development is that poor countries sorely need more construction projects such as roads and ports. Yet internationally, the construction sector has a reputation for being one of the most corrupt sectors. Because each construction project is subtly different, modifications invariably need to be negotiated as the project is built. The consequence, Collier concludes, is that ‘a large public investment program is dependent upon a sector which is globally corrupt’.

For the world’s poor, a new road enables a farmer to access new markets, permits a child to attend secondary school, and allows a woman to give birth in hospital. Yet if donor countries like Australia were to run a risk-averse aid program, it would involve building fewer roads in places like in Indonesia and the Philippines.

According to the latest figures, AusAID’s losses to fraud in 2009-10 were just 0.028% per cent of the total aid program. This is minimal by comparison with other government departments (Centrelink’s proportional loss to fraud is considerably higher). Indeed, it’s probably lower than fraud losses for businesses operating in Australia, and doubtless much smaller than losses suffered by Australian companies investing in developing nations.

Yet in a world where many good aid programs go unnoticed, while fraud losses are splashed across the front page, the incentive is to be overly risk-averse. Indeed, there are already signs that AusAID has become twice shy. According to a 2009 Australian National Audit Office report: ‘AusAID’s cautious approach to fund provision, while minimising the risk of corruption, has sometimes prevented resources to getting where they are most needed’.

It is not in Australia’s interests for our aid program to ignore the countries most in need (our top nine aid recipients score in the bottom half of Transparency International’s corruption ranking). Nor should we return to the old approach of overspending on technical assistance at the expense of schools, health clinics and roads.

Getting aid right is no easy task, particularly with the rise of China as a major donor (a topic I hope to cover in a future column). But there are plenty of fresh ideas about cutting corruption. For example, the UK Department for International Development have reduced graft by setting up a system to pay Afghan police officers via their mobile phone. For nations with large mineral deposits, the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative attempts to pressure resource companies to publish the monies they pay to governments. And in Indonesia, AusAID not only built thousands of schools, it also created a corruption control mechanism that has now been adopted by the Indonesian Government to use on all its school building projects.

Of Australia’s 20 nearest neighbours, 18 are developing countries. This means that our aid program is more than an expression of our generosity – it is also an investment in a richer and safer region. Like a good football coach, we should do what we can to keep our aid projects off the injury bench – but let’s not forget that the war against poverty is the big game.

Andrew Leigh is the federal member for Fraser.
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Territory Rights

 

The submission which Gai Brodtmann and I made to the Senate inquiry considering changes to the ACT Self-Government Act to strengthen territory rights.

Submission to Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee

Australian Capital Territory (Self-Government) Amendment (Disallowance and Amendment Power of the Commonwealth) Bill 2010



Section 35 of the Australian Capital Territory (Self-Government) Act 1988 affords the Governor-General the power to disallow an enactment of the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) Legislative Assembly by legislative instrument within 6 months after it is made.

Because state parliaments are not subject to the same limitation, this limits the power of the ACT Legislative Assembly to legislate on behalf of all Canberrans. Its practical effect is that an ACT law may be overturned by the Governor-General (acting on advice of the executive), even though it is supported by a majority of Canberrans.

Citizens of the ACT deserve a better deal. After more than two decades of self-government, the ACT Legislative Assembly has proven itself to be a mature debating chamber, which stands the equal of any other state or territory legislature in Australia.

Without a constitutional change, the Australian Parliament will still have the right to overturn territory laws. But this power should only be exercised in the most extreme cases. Overturning territory law should require a decision of the federal parliament, and not remain the prerogative of the executive.

Moving the veto power from the executive to the Australian Parliament will ensure that an open debate takes place, in which every Australian Parliamentarian – including the ACT’s MPs and Senators – has the opportunity to speak out.

We encourage the committee to support the Australian Capital Territory (Self-Government) Amendment (Disallowance and Amendment Power of the Commonwealth) Bill 2010 and the repeal of section 35 of the Australian Capital Territory (Self-Government) Act 1988.

Yours sincerely,

Dr Andrew Leigh MP                  Gai Brodtmann MP               

Federal Member for Fraser          Federal Member for Canberra
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Welcoming the Babies - Two Weeks to Go!

If you haven't yet registered your baby for 'Welcoming the Babies', there's still time. Details below.
Welcoming the Babies

I'm hosting a community event for parents and carers of children aged 18 months or younger. This will be a chance to meet other parents, find out about community services for new parents, and enjoy a morning out with the whole extended family. All attendees will receive a Baby Pack including community information and a formal certificate.

Date: Sunday, 27 March 2011

Time: 10:30 AM - 12:30 PM

Location: Stage 88, Commonwealth Park (Google maps)

Registration: Register your attendance by phoning 6247 4396, or emailing andrew.leigh.mp(@)aph.gov.au.

YouTube Invitation
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Trivial Pursuit - A Response

In the latest Quarterly Essay, I have a response to George Megalogenis’s contribution.
Response to George Megalogenis’s Quarterly Essay, “Trivial Pursuit: Leadership and the End of the Reform Era” (Nov 2010)

Psychologists have a theory they call the fundamental attribution error: the tendency for humans to overplay the role of individuals, and underplay the role of circumstances. On the field, sports broadcasters love to speak about players who are ‘on a roll’, when they’re merely observing Lady Luck. In business, chief executives who govern during a boom tend to be overpaid, because their company is just surfing the wave like everyone else. And in politics, observers love to tell stories that focus on the role of players, rather than events.

A few facts. When the early-1990s global downturn hit, sitting Prime Ministers in Australia and the United Kingdom were both dumped by their own party-room. During the period 1992-1995, six of Australia’s eight states and territories ousted their government.  But in the early-2000s, state elections almost invariably saw the incumbent returned. Even when John Howard had clearly passed his use-by date, the booming world economy meant that his party room could not bring it upon themselves to wield the axe. In the words of British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan, the greatest challenge for a political leader are ‘Events, my dear boy, events.’

For commentators, the temptation to focus on personalities over larger forces is understandable. Tolstoy may have mounted a convincing case for historicism, and against the ‘great man’ view of history. But when you’re trying to sell a story for the daily news rather than a 1,225 page novel, why not boil things down to a human scale?

The trouble with an individual-based approach is that you can miss the wood for the trees. It is true that Julia Gillard, Malcolm Turnbull and Kevin Rudd are deeply fascinating individuals. But the big stories are less about personalities than grander structural narratives.

When it comes to the media, George Megalogenis neatly captures the zeitgeist. He writes of the phenomenon that ‘turns journalist into player’, as ‘commentators… find themselves reheating the one insight across half a dozen forums’. The cost, he points out, is ‘the hours that instant punditry takes away from the day job – time that used to be spent nagging sources, listening to debates and reading documents’ (p.15).

Note that when Megalogenis dissects how the media has changed, he doesn’t focus on individuals. Rightly, he doesn’t attempt to argue that journalism has changed because of the way that particular journalists choose to do their job. Media transformation is about structures and technologies, not the personal styles of Paul Kelly and Laurie Oakes.

Yet when it comes to interpreting modern politics, Megalogenis casts aside his big picture view and turns to a focus on the players. To his credit, he acknowledges the role played by powerful anti-reform forces in the campaign against Mining Tax Mark I. But in the end, Megalogenis cannot resist laying the blame at the feet of an individual. The same goes for his discussion of climate change.

I’ll admit that writing about the tectonic forces that shape modern politics it is harder than spinning a yarn about the witty barbs exchanged during Question Time. But without that kind of context, there’s a risk that reportage devolves into a kind of reality TV show.

Take economic reform, where Megalogenis acknowledges that Labor already has form. Under Curtin, we put in place uniform personal income taxation and laid the foundations for a post-war full employment policy. Under Whitlam, Labor implemented universal health insurance and began lowering Australia’s tariff walls. The Hawke government floated the dollar and negotiated the Accord. And Keating’s government introduced the superannuation guarantee and enterprise bargaining.

Yet Megalogenis fails to recognise that the Rudd and Gillard governments have been engaged in an economic reform agenda that is at least as ambitious. Investing in roads, rail and ports, building the National Broadband Network. Reforming the education sector with more information, greater choice, and a set of incentives that will help students learn more. And switching to activity-based funding for hospitals to bring about structural reforms.

What distinguishes the Gillard government from the Hawke and Keating governments that came before us is not reform ambition, but the difficulty of conducting a sustained national conversation through a media that seems to be perpetually suffering from attention deficit disorder, and amidst the din of an opposition that seems to have adopted the US Republican playbook without changing a page. (Listening to Tony Abbott’s raucous bawling on the last day of parliament in 2010, I half-expected him to caw across the chamber ‘How’s that hopey-changey thing working out for you?’) Like all governments, ours has made mistakes, but the big story is about the economic circumstances and the media environment, not the reforming zeal of particular individuals.

If Megalogenis wants to help economic reform succeed in Australia, I have two suggestions as to how he might achieve it.

First, call your colleagues out on their inconsistencies. When News Ltd tabloids recently embarked upon a 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’), did anyone stop to question the hypocrisy of foreign-owned newspapers campaigning against foreign ownership?

Second, drop the polls, and report only betting market odds. We now have a large body of economic research (including some of my own work on Australia, co-authored with Justin Wolfers), that clearly proves betting markets are more accurate than polls at predicting the final outcomes. But more importantly, betting markets are also more stable. With response rates so low they don’t dare publish them, asking a pollster who is going to win the next election is as useful as asking a manic depressive how he feels today. By contrast, betting odds are as dull as a suburban solicitor. Consequently, a newspaper that reported only betting odds would find ‘who’s going to win’ stories relegated to the inside pages – freeing up precious front pages for issues of substance.

That said, while I think that Megalogenis has overplayed the role of personalities in Australian politics, I share his optimistic view about our nation’s current circumstances. As he points out, ‘Australians elect Labor governments to change things.’ (p.4). The Gillard government fits proudly in that long Labor legacy.

Andrew Leigh is the federal member for Fraser in the ACT. Prior to entering politics, he was a professor of economics at the Australian National University. Andrew’s latest book is Disconnected (UNSW Press, 2010).

In his reply, George doesn't take all my advice, but it sounds like he'll meet me part way. He promises not to discuss a poll number in 2011 - a pledge that Annabel Crabbe has apparently also made. Kudos to both journalists; may more of your colleagues join you.
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Roll Up, Roll Up

I spoke in parliament this week about the Royal Canberra Show.
Royal Canberra Show
2 March 2011


Last weekend I took the family to the territory’s one and only Royal Canberra Show. The show puts on display the best produce and livestock that the ACT and surrounding areas have on offer. Bolstered by the best growing season many producers ever seen, there was a diverse showcase of farm animals and agricultural and horticultural produce. As a boy who attended an agricultural high school, I greatly enjoyed watching the working dogs, seeing the cattle classing and checking out the fresh produce. We also witnessed the V6 HiLux team crash two utes in front of us, prompting my four-year-old to turn to me and say, ‘Daddy, was that meant to happen?’

The 134,000 people who attended were no doubt drawn by the furious show competition that can only be associated with a good agricultural event like the Royal Canberra Show. Congratulations should be afforded to winners like Hannah Power and her bull Recharge, who took home the senior champion ribbon; the Howe family with their stockhorse O’Brien’s Flauntette, who won Champion Australian Stock Horse Working Horse; Dan Dwyer, with his tablet and butternut pumpkins; and DE Thomas with the dog Maryheather Wolfman, who took out first in Australian Bred Working Dog Class.

The success of the Canberra Show tells me two things worth celebrating: Canberrans are proud of their city’s country roots; and the growing regions that surround Canberra—the Monaro, Upper Lachlan, Palerang and Yass Valley—are going strong.
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Expanding Opportunity

I spoke in parliament this week about school funding.
Schools Assistance Amendment (Financial Assistance) Bill 2011
3 March 2011


Education is the best anti-poverty vaccine we have yet invented. It provides the foundations from which Australians can build a life of their choosing. Education lights a spark which can see a child from Cape York not just go on to university and become a leader in her community but also become Young Australian of the Year, as Tania Major did a couple of years ago. A great education means that a child from Ilfracombe can become the first female member of the Queensland bar and our first female Governor-General. This great building, this national parliament, is a showcase of the opportunities which education provides to children from all corners of the nation. So many members of the House acknowledged in their first speeches that they would not be here today were it not for a great education. I remember hearing time after time those stories of where a particular teacher or a certain educational opportunity had made the difference in someone’s life.

Providing a great education is not just good social policy; it is good economic policy as well. Raising the human capital of our workforce is the most promising way of increasing Australia’s productivity, which has been sluggish over the last decade or so. By boosting the quantity of education we will help our labour force deal with future changes in the economic structure. A great education means that children will be more resilient when, as workers, they face changes in the kinds of jobs they are expected to do. Improving the quality of education ensures that Australian children learn more from each given year at school, at VET or at university. The importance of education means that we in this place have a responsibility to ensure that our schools get the resources that they need to do the job that we know it is important for them to do.

The Gillard government, having recognised this, has invested a record amount in school building infrastructure. The great school modernisation program, Building the Education Revolution, has given schools great buildings which allow them to do extraordinary things in the educational space. I have to confess that I was a sceptic about the BER program. When it was introduced, I was not in parliament and did not have children at school, so I had not visited any of these schools. But one of the great things you get to do as a local member is to go out to your local schools to talk with the parents, the teachers, the children and the principal about how these new school buildings have made a difference to the work they have done. I have seen with my own eyes so many examples of how the BER program has transformed the quality of education in Australia. Yesterday morning that I was out with the Prime Minister and the Minister for School Education, Early Childhood and Youth, Mr Garrett, at Turner School. It was my second visit to the school, because I had been there to open their new school library. Principal Ms Jan Day, the teachers, the children and the parents are as excited by their new school library now as they were last year when the library was opened.

Mr Tudge interjecting—

Mr Champion interjecting—

The SPEAKER —I would just indicate that the member is talking about school students being excited, not members of this House. Perhaps we could settle down with the interjections and let the member make his point.

Dr LEIGH —They are still as excited by this new school library as they were last year. I am sure the member for Aston would himself be very excited if he had the opportunity to visit it, an invitation which I formally extend to him today. The community got involved in that school library. There is a mural on the outside of the school library which was put together by Kirsty Verook, one of the local parents. She is a mosaic artist, and she worked with the schoolchildren. She asked them what designs they would like to have on the outside of their library, and she then put their ideas into a mosaic which I was pleased to show to the Prime Minister and Minister Garrett when we visited yesterday morning. Turner School’s is not a lone story. Across Fraser I have seen the impact the BER has had on our community.

At Black Mountain special school, a school for students with intellectual disability, the BER project was the building of a new school hall. I know that many in this chamber think that a hall is just a hall, but for students at Black Mountain the new hall means that for the first time students in a wheelchair can attend the same assemblies as able-bodied students; the school can now fit all of those students into the same hall. The school used to have a stage which was so steep that, when students in wheelchairs got an award, they had to receive it down on the floor in front of the stage. But now, with a well-designed stage, it is possible for the first time for a student in a wheelchair, when they receive an award, to go up and shake the hand of the principal and receive the award in the same place as every other child. This affords them the simple dignity that a great school experience provides.

I had the pleasure of opening new school facilities in Florey Primary School, which has seen renovations to its hall and also the introduction of science labs. That is particularly appropriate given that the school is named after Sir Howard Florey, the great Australian who invented penicillin—possibly one of the greatest Australians of all time. At Amaroo School, new classrooms with innovative learning spaces have been constructed. Students can learn in their traditional classroom or have lessons with their entire peer group. The dividing walls between the classrooms can be taken down and improve the quality of the teaching experience. Team teaching is now possible at Amaroo School thanks to the Building the Education Revolution program. When I was in school—as may have been the case when you were in school, Mr Deputy Speaker Adams—we just had blackboards. We then moved to the age of whiteboards. Now, in Canberra, whiteboards are being replaced by innovative SMART Boards. These are just some of the examples that Prime Minister and the Labor government have brought about through our commitment to high-quality education.

The Schools Assistance Amendment (Financial Assistance) Bill 2011 builds upon the Gillard government’s commitment to ensuring certainty of investment in all Australian schools. The government’s review of funding for schooling is a once-in-a-generation chance to build a community consensus around the education needs of our nation. It will enable us to further the aspiration that every Australian child should have the opportunity to get a great education. By amending the Schools Assistance Act 2008, the Australian government will be able to continue to provide recurrent and capital funding to non-government schools while the review is conducted. That will provide certainty to Catholic and independent schools to enable them to continue to give their students a good education. This bill will also enable the government to continue to work with school communities, parents and families in the non-government school sector to build on the partnerships that are so critical to improving outcomes for Australian primary and secondary students. This is just one part of our broader education agenda.

We are also investing over $64 billion in school education over four years—almost double that of the previous government. We are making more information about our schools available than ever before, through the My School website. As my wife, Gweneth—who I am pleased to acknowledge is here in the chamber today—and I went about choosing a school for our four-year-old we found the information on the My School website absolutely invaluable. My School 2.0, which will be launched tomorrow, will for the first time provide parents and the community with information about the resources that schools have and the changes in student performance over time. I have to say that I am deeply disappointed that the Liberal Party is going to oppose this information being made available to Australian parents—that the Liberal Party supports keeping the blinds down on this critical information.

The Labor government is implementing an Australian curriculum for the first time, working in partnership with states and territories to make sure our students get a great education no matter where they live. I have to say to the member for Sturt that students in my electorate are learning from the national curriculum today. Classes are being taught in ACT schools based on the national curriculum. So, despite what the Liberal Party may say about the national curriculum—and despite what the member for Sturt said before the election when he said that, if you did not like it, the coalition would ‘scrap it and start again’—the national curriculum is a success and it is being taught in schools just a few kilometres from this building.

Labor is supporting students in low-socioeconomic school communities, and improving literacy and numeracy, through a $2½ billion investment in national partnerships. Those national partnerships are investing in over 2,000 schools across the country. They are not just government schools—though many of the low-socioeconomic status communities are served by government schools. Some of them are independent schools and some are Catholic schools. For us in the Labor Party these debates between the government and the non-government sector are very much a thing of the past. We are investing to ensure a quality education for all students, focusing on making sure that every school is a great school.

We have recognised that having high-quality teachers in every classroom is absolutely critical. That is why we are implementing national professional standards for teachers and principals. That is why we are investing in rewarding great teachers and attracting new people to the profession through Teach for Australia and Teach Next. We are empowering principals to manage their schools in a way that best suits their local needs and we are providing rewards for school improvement.

We are investing in infrastructure in schools through, as I have already noted, the Building the Education Revolution program, trades training centres and the digital education revolution—making sure that students have access to modern facilities and equipment to ensure they are prepared for work and life in the 21st century. The National Broadband Network will be another part of this—making sure that e-education provides all students in Australia with a great education.

But great education is not just about dollars. Sometimes when we talk about school buildings and the huge injection of funding—a historic injection of funding—into Australian schools, we can miss the fact that great education is really about a teacher making a connection with a student. It is nothing more complicated than that. Many of us in this chamber will remember a great teacher who made a difference to our lives. For me it was probably Judith Anderson, my high school English teacher, who showed a devotion to the great works, whether it was Browning, Shakespeare or Donne, and provided us with an opportunity to learn outside school hours. She was willing to be there for a group of us who wanted to practise plays. She showed through everything that she did at the front of the classroom her love of education.

But a teacher’s job is not a simple job. I would like to quote from one of my favourite books on education: Teacher Man by Frank McCourt—the great writer of Angela’s Ashes, who sadly passed away recently. He wrote in Teacher Man:

"In the high school classroom you are a drill sergeant, a rabbi, a shoulder to cry on, a disciplinarian, a singer, a low-level scholar, a clerk, a referee, a clown, a counsellor, a dress-code enforcer, a conductor, an apologist, a philosopher, a collaborator, a tap dancer, a politician, a therapist, a fool, a traffic cop, a priest, a mother-father-brother-sister-uncle-aunt, a bookkeeper, a critic, a psychologist, the last straw."

In closing I would like to pay tribute to Australia’s teachers, who each and every day do extraordinary work in improving the lives of Australia’s children. I commend the bill to the House.
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Better Health Care

I spoke in Parliament this week about the government's health reform agenda.
Health Insurance Amendment (Compliance) Bill 2010
2 March 2011


Medicare is a central component of Australia’s universal healthcare system. It is a system that provides affordable treatment for Australians by the dedicated health professionals in our public health system. Introduced in 1975 by the Whitlam government, Medibank—as it was then—allowed for the subsidisation of medical treatment in public hospitals that has made health care more accessible and affordable and has added to the quality of the lives of Australians over the last 35 years. I want to place on record the role played in creating Medibank by Dick Klugman, member for Prospect from 1969 to 1990, who passed away just recently, on 21 February. In 1984, Medibank was renamed Medicare by the Hawke government, who returned it to the original model to reflect the great traditions of equity, fairness and dignity for all Australians—which are characterised by us in the Labor Party. The Health Insurance Amendment (Compliance) Bill 2010 adds to the history of responsible Labor governments by balancing the public interests of confidentiality and privacy with ensuring that public funds are spent appropriately and responsibly.

As part of the governments responsible economic management policy agenda, the Health Insurance Amendment (Compliance) Bill 2010 proposes to amend the Health Insurance Act 1973 to implement the increased Medicare compliance audits initiative announced in the 2008-09 budget. With expenditure on the Medicare benefits scheme over $15 billion in 2009-10, it has grown by more than $1 billion per annum over the last three years. This bill will put in place a system of compliance audits—checks that make sure that the services that are delivered meet Medicare item requirements. We are doing this in order to ensure that taxpayers’ money is spent appropriately, as taxpayers, I am sure, would wish to be the case.

Presently, medical practitioners are not required to produce documentation during a compliance audit conducted by Medicare Australia, and Medicare Australia does not have the authority to require compliance with the request. As a result, around 20 per cent of practitioners either do not respond or else refuse to cooperate with an audit request. This bill addresses that problem.

The bill enables the Chief Executive Officer of Medicare Australia to give notice of the production of documents to a practitioner to substantiate a Medicare benefit paid for a service. To address concerns of due process raised by key stakeholders in the process, the government has put in place four safeguards. Before a notice to produce documents can be issued, the CEO must first have a reasonable concern that the Medicare benefit paid for a service may exceed the amount that should have been paid. This means that Medicare Australia cannot conduct random compliance audits under the provisions of this bill. Secondly, the CEO must take advice from a medical practitioner employed by Medicare Australia on the kinds of documents a practitioner may need to provide in order to substantiate that kind of benefit. Thirdly, the CEO must take reasonable steps to consult with a relevant professional body about the types of documents required to substantiate a benefit before commencing a compliance audit; and, fourthly, the practitioner must be given a reasonable opportunity to respond to a written request to voluntarily provide relevant documents.

As a result, this bill does not add to the workload and record-keeping requirements of already busy practitioners. Provisions for the protection of sensitive information ensure that only information relevant to the purpose of substantiating benefits is produced. No clinical or private details will be required unless they pertain to the substantiation of the benefit payment.

Medicare Australia is also working with the Australian Medical Association and other stakeholders to develop guidelines for practitioners on the kinds of information that may be used to substantiate particular services or groups of services. In accordance with this bill, practitioners must be given 28 days in which to seek an internal review of an audit decision before a debt notice is issued. During this time a practitioner may provide additional material to the CEO to substantiate a Medicare benefit.

The Health Insurance Amendment (Compliance) Bill 2010 will provide savings of around $148 million over four years, and it is expected that the provisions contained in the bill will generate further savings of at least $132 million during this time. Protecting the integrity of Medicare and enhancing Medicare Australia’s current audit program is a crucial element in ensuring that the Australian people know their public funds are spent appropriately and responsibly in the provision of the health services they rely on. The Gillard government is committed to responsible economic management and delivering the world-class services that Australians are entitled to expect—all this in the great traditions of the Labor Party, the originators of Medicare. I commend this bill to the House.
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Peter Gomes

Former Harvard Minister Peter Gomes has passed away, aged just 68. A thundering voice for tolerance and thoughtfulness, his books and sermons will be greatly missed. A New York Times obituary discusses parts of his career, but somehow doesn't capture his sense of humour. I remember sitting in his Easter Sermon (2003, I think), when he said:
Ladies and gentlemen, I have some good news and some bad news.

The good news is that this church has all the money it needs to do its good works throughout the community - to look after the vulnerable, and to strengthen our congregation.

The bad news is that most of that money currently resides in your pockets.

The collection plates will now circulate.
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