A few things that I've been reading over recent weeks.Add your reaction Share
- Michael Fullilove's moving tribute to his father, WWII soldier and Skippy director Eric Fullilove
- John Langmore (former member for Fraser, and prolific thinker) on how Australia can become a more effective UN member
- Nicholas Kristof on good and bad charitable donations
- Thomas Friedman on Arne Duncan's "national teacher campaign"
- McKinsey's recent report on attracting and retaining 'top-third graduates' to careers in teaching
- Skeptical Science, a blog responding to bogus anti-climate change arguments (includes a post on the impact of carbon pricing on the US economy)
- The declining effective tax rates paid by the richest 400 Americans
- The technological and ethical issues surrounding fighting robots
I spoke in Parliament on Thursday about the death of Professor Frank Fenner.Add your reaction Share
Professor Frank Fenner
25 November 2010
I wish to speak today on the loss of Emeritus Professor Frank Fenner, the audacity he demonstrated throughout his life and the monumental contributions he made to Australia and the world. A distinguished Australian microbiologist, he passed at the age of 95. His legacy has been cemented by years of advocacy regarding public health and his successes in various theatres of medical and scientific life. Spanning virology, immunology and microbiology, his battles against virulent pathogens in the name of science and humanity are world renowned, including his work on the World War II battlefields of Egypt and Papua New Guinea in the Australian Army Medical Corps where virtually he alone was equipped with crucial life-saving knowledge regarding the malaria virus.
Underpinning his work were strong values and principles and his promotion of mass vaccinations was directly related to his concern for public health. The active engagement he consistently showed with his research reached exceptional levels. The account of him injecting himself and his colleagues with enough myxoma virus to kill up to 1,000 rabbits in order to prove its benign effects on humans is legendary. The virus escaped in the early 1950s and killed millions of rabbits, alleviating the devastation the pests had caused to the agricultural industry. It coincided, however, with an outbreak of encephalitis and so they acted to put the public’s mind at ease by proving the disease was unrelated and to respond to the local hospital manager’s challenge that they do so if they were so confident of that fact.
When he became director in 1967 of the John Curtin School of Medical Research here in Canberra, Professor Fenner was unwilling to continue scientific research. He wished to be thoroughly involved in the process, not through students and not through assistants. As he asserted in a radio interview:
I am temperamentally unable to do research without being personally involved, hands-on at the bench.
From genetics at a molecular level to epidemiology, Professor Fenner’s work has provided the foundations for a plethora of research and knowledge. Even though there has been a sharp fall from the mortality rate of 99 per cent in the rabbit population since the release of the myxoma virus, the research carried out pertaining to changes in virulence provided about the only example of an extended period of study on genetic resistance and continues to be a reference for modern genetic understanding.
Professor Fenner’s work has been and continues to be duly acknowledged. His death has made international headlines and the awards he has received over the years evoke a sense of a decorated veteran or war hero. He was made a member of the Order of the British Empire in 1945 following his work combating malaria, and he was awarded the Britannica Australia Award for Medicine, as well as the Prime Minister’s science prize in 2002. The World Health Organisation medal of 1988, however, is a veritable symbol of Professor Fenner’s outstanding accomplishments and contribution to the world. He led the battle against the devastating smallpox virus as chairman of the Global Commission for the Certification of Smallpox Eradication. In an interview with Peter Thompson he said that announcing to the UN’s World Health Assembly in 1980 the eradication of the virus, a monumental victory and honour, was his proudest moment.
Professor Fenner had been an important voice on matters ranging from health to the environment to the fate of humankind. He was strongly interested in the consequences of health impacts in the environment and as foundation director of the Centre for Resource and Environmental Studies at the ANU, where he worked until his retirement in 1979, he advocated the development of a socially and environmentally sustainable population. His last interview with the Australian is not only thought-provoking but an impetus for further research and work. His assertion that humankind was facing imminent extinction stemmed from his dismay at the inaction regarding climate change and the delays in cutting greenhouse gas emissions. As a pioneer and fighter for humanity, the absence of a strong and rousing response to the environmental threats to our existence was understandably disappointing to him.
However, I relate to the words of Stephen Boyden, a long-time friend of Professor Fenner. He said:
Frank may be right, but some of us still harbour the hope that there will come about an awareness of the situation and, as a result, the revolutionary changes necessary to achieve ecological sustainability.
I believe we are on the cusp of such revolutionary changes and that by taking action, acknowledging the science and looking out for the future health of Australia this government can assist in avoiding the imminent extermination that Professor Fenner predicted.
His insight and legacy, however, is of far-reaching value. Professor Fenner’s legacy lives on in the plethora of books he has written, the students he has taught and the words of warning about caring for the world in which we live and for the health of one another. In response to his colossal achievements, he modestly replied, ‘You just have to live a long time.’
In closing, on his last day of sittings, I would like to take the opportunity to acknowledge my staff—Rick Youssef, Lyndell Tutty, Shobaz Kandola, Alex Cubis and Ruth Stanfield—and three hardworking volunteers in my office—Damien Hickman, Sigourney Irvine and Emily Murray. To each of them I say, ‘I literally could not have done it without you'.
I spoke in Parliament on Wednesday on the topic of electric cars.Add your reaction Share
24 November 2010
I rise today to update the House on the imminent launch of Australia’s first electric car network in Canberra in 2012 and to explain how the electric car will benefit Australia’s economy, health, foreign relations and environment. Last week, Australians paid an average of $1.24 per litre for unleaded petrol. Soon, they won’t have to. Aside from the heavy burden that the price of petrol places on families, sourcing oil from regions with a history of being politically unstable will inevitably result in volatile petrol prices for Australians. The introduction of hybrid and electric cars presents an opportunity that benefits our health, environment and economy. Petrol-consuming passenger vehicles account for nearly half the total of Australia’s liquid fuel consumption, but we will soon have the opportunity to shift these vehicles’ power source from petrol to electricity.
Producing electricity for travel in hybrid and electric cars through current national electricity generation methods would release less greenhouse gas emissions than combustion in petrol cars. Indeed, an electric car powered by electricity from a coal fired power station emits less greenhouse gas than a petrol car. But we can do even better if the electricity comes from renewables. Currently, Australia generates 15,000 gigawatt hours of renewable energy, sufficient to supply a fleet of five million electric cars without any ‘well to wheel’ greenhouse gas emissions. The Gillard government is committed to generating 20 per cent of Australia’s electricity from renewable sources by 2020, which will equate to 45,000 gigawatt hours of renewable energy annually—enough to supply an entire national electric car fleet without any greenhouse gas emissions.
The health benefits of electric cars are also significant. Unlike petrol vehicles, electric cars have no tailpipe emissions only precombustion emissions which, unlike those from petrol vehicles, include virtually no carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons or particulate matter emissions and only a quarter of the nitrogen oxides that are released by petrol vehicles. The total reduction of air pollutants in electric vehicles’ emissions compared to petrol vehicles’ emissions ranges between 10 and 20 grams per kilometre.
The emissions produced throughout the life cycle of electric cars in the manufacturing and disposal processes are difficult to predict, due to the ever-evolving and highly complex automotive manufacturing industry and its supply industries. At this stage, research from MIT indicates that electric cars require 20 per cent less lifecycle energy and associated greenhouse gas emissions than petrol vehicles. Electric vehicles will also require less maintenance, as they have 70 per cent fewer moving and consumable parts which is estimated to halve maintenance costs over ten years.
Australia’s power generation and distribution infrastructure will most likely not need to be expanded to produce extra electricity for electric cars. The power produced by renewable solar and wind sources varies over the day. Therefore, electric cars will charge during the time required by the driver at charging rates that vary according to the current electricity available and demand for distribution. This minimises the impact of the cars on the energy infrastructure and allows cars to collect and store up to seven kilowatts of energy, generated in times of low electricity demand, that would otherwise be wasted. A car can then later return any surplus energy to the grid in periods of high demand to power the community or other cars that require immediate charging—greatly reducing the demand for additional energy generation to charge electric cars.
By capturing, saving and then returning excess energy to the grid—excess energy that Australia generated but would not otherwise have used or stored—each electric car could enable, for example, the retention of 43 megawatt hours of renewable wind energy annually, while each electric vehicle would require only 2.7 megawatt hours of electricity to recharge over a year. With each car effectively saving 40 megawatt hours of energy that would otherwise be lost, a fleet of one million electric vehicles would, therefore, allow the realisation of the 45,000 gigawatt hours of renewable energy required by the Federal Renewable Energy Target.
The introduction of the electric car to Canberra in 2012 presents Australia with an unprecedented opportunity to increase our international independence and economic stability, to decrease car maintenance costs and increase the health of Australians, and the possibility of greatly reducing Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions. This is an opportunity we must grasp with both hands—an opportunity that our nation cannot afford to miss.
The parliamentary calendar has us in the building from morning to late-evening, so it was terrific this morning to get out to Manuka Oval for an event with ACT Sports Minister Andrew Barr, Commonwealth Sports Minister Mark Arbib, my Canberra colleague Gai Brodtmann, and a couple of AFL GWS Giants players. Thanks to some help from Josh Bruce and Israel Folau, I reckon my handpassing skills have improved from utterly appalling to merely bad.Add your reaction Share
I'm on the House of Representatives Economics Committee, which is holding a public hearing with the Reserve Bank Governor on Friday. All welcome - details below.Add your reaction Share
Issued by: House of Representatives International & Community Relations Office, Tuesday 23 November 2010
Reserve Bank Governor to front House Economics Committee in Canberra this week
9.30am to 12.30pm, Friday, 26 November 2010
The House of Representatives Economics Committee will hold a public hearing with the Governor of the Reserve Bank of Australia, Glenn Stevens, in Canberra on Friday, 26 November 2010.
Since October 2009 the RBA has lifted the cash rate seven times taking it from 3.00 to 4.75 per cent. The RBA in its November Board meeting minutes commented that ‘the outlook for growth in the resources sector was very strong and GDP growth was expected to rise gradually.’ The potential for capacity constraints will be examined.
Committee Chair Craig Thomson (Member for Dobell, NSW) advised that the RBA’s views on the adequacy of competition in the banking and non-banking sector would be sought. The RBA November Board meeting minutes referred to bank funding costs and stated that “members noted that there was a possibility that banks would increase interest rates on loans by more than any move in the cash rate”. This issue will be examined.
The RBA’s November quarterly statement on monetary policy indicated that underlying inflation is forecast to remain around 2.5 per cent until mid 2011, before picking up gradually to 3 per cent.
Mr Thomson said the committee will explore with the RBA the short to medium term outlook for the economy and the risks and opportunities that exist. In particular, the committee will be seeking elaboration on employment trends, forecasts for growth and underlying inflation, and what this may mean for the future direction of interest rates.
Public Hearing Details
Committee: House of Representatives Economics Committee
Venue Main Committee Room, Parliament House, Canberra
Date: Friday, 26 November 2010
Time: 9.30am to 12.30pm
Webcast: The hearing will be webcast http://webcast.aph.gov.au/livebroadcasting/
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Electorate: (02) 4321 1223
Parliament: (02) 6277 4460
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My AFR column today discusses the current populist campaign against foreign investment. (And remember, writers don't choose their headlines!)Add your reaction Share
We have to sell the farm, Australian Financial Review, 23 November 2010
An iron law of populism is that while Australian businesspeople investing abroad are portrayed as job-creating entrepreneurs, foreign investors are depicted as rapacious robber-barons.
And so it is with the latest tabloid campaign against foreign investment. Under headlines such as ‘Chinese buying up our farms’, ‘It’s time to stop selling off the farm’, and ‘It's time to save our farms from foreign investors’, News Ltd tabloids have recently embarked upon a fear campaign against foreign investment in Australian agriculture. With anecdotes taking the place of statistics, foreign investment has been labelled ‘a dramatic global land grab’, fed by ‘a looming global food shortage’.
For a country whose agricultural sector has benefited substantially from foreign investment, this is odd stuff indeed. In 1855, British investors helped kickstart our local sugar production industry when they established CSR (originally Colonial Sugar Refinery). In 1877, American firm Schweppes opened its first Australian factory – as did Kraft and Kellogg in the 1920s. Japanese investment in Australia’s beef cattle sector has been important since the 1970s. Today, the largest foreign investors in Australia are still Britain and the United States.
As a resource-rich nation with a relatively low domestic savings rate, Australia has traditionally looked abroad to fill the investment gap. On one estimate, one in eight workers are employed by a foreign-owned firm. If we were to ban all foreign investment tomorrow, wages would fall and unemployment would rise. An Australia without foreign investment would also risk missing out on the latest overseas know-how. From technology adoption to business processes, foreign firms can often help spur innovation by changing the way that things are done.
Naturally, this happens in both directions. In a typical year, Australia’s outbound foreign investment is about two-thirds the size of our inbound foreign investment. In our regional neighbours such as New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and Singapore, Australian firms are major sources of outbound investment. Where our investors set up shop abroad, they show local firms a new way of doing business. In the process, Australia’s overseas investors help raise living standards in those nations.
This is not to say that foreign investment flows unrestricted into Australia. Formalised by the Whitlam Government in 1975, the ‘national interest’ test applies to a wide range of investment classes across the economy. The Foreign Investment Review Board (FIRB) must approve foreign ownership that exceeds 15 percent (where the firm worth $231 million or more). FIRB must also sign off anytime an overseas resident wishes to buy residential real estate.
Importantly, FIRB has a veto right over any investment by a foreign government – including farms. In addition, banks, media outlets, airports, Qantas and Telstra are subject to special conditions. While FIRB rejects relatively few applications outright, most approvals are given subject to particular conditions. According to its latest annual report, agricultural investments that are subject to the FIRB process comprise less than 2 percent of the value of all FIRB-approved foreign investment.
Compared with other developed nations, Australia’s regulation of foreign investment places us at the more restrictive end of the scale. For example, work by the OECD’s Takeshi Koyama and Stephen Golub classified countries’ foreign investment regimes on a scale from 0 (unrestricted) to 1 (completely restricted). They scored Australia at 0.28, above the OECD average of 0.15. Given that Australia’s foreign investment review regime is rated as more stringent than that of Britain, Canada, New Zealand and the United States, it is hard to give much credence to suggestions that FIRB has somehow been toothless.
For decades, Australia’s economic policymakers have recognised that our nation’s prosperity relies on being enmeshed with the world. Since the time of white settlement, immigration and trade have been a part of Australia’s social fabric: producing a nation in which one-quarter of the population are born overseas, and exports make up one-fifth of the economy. Integral to an outward-looking Australia must be an appreciation that well-regulated foreign investment brings significant benefits for our nation.
Most ironic about the recent tabloid campaign against foreign ownership in agriculture is the fact that the newspapers responsible are themselves owned by US citizen Rupert Murdoch. Indeed, if a campaign were to be waged against foreign ownership in the media industry, you would expect these newspapers to be among the first to describe it as economic populism. It’s funny what happens when the pitchfork is in the other hand.
Andrew Leigh is the federal member for Fraser.
I spoke in parliament yesterday, seconding a motion by John Murphy on the science of climate change.Add your reaction Share
Private Members’ Business
22 November 2010
‘We are playing Russian roulette with features of the planet’s atmosphere that will profoundly impact generations to come. How long are we willing to gamble?’ These are not my words but the word of David Suzuki, well-known scientist and academic. Do these words have relevance in this 43rd Parliament? That is the answer those opposite must provide, the test by which they will be measured.
The science behind climate change is not new; it has not recently emerged. It is based on a body of science over 100 years old. Governments and policymakers for the past 21 years have been provided with an assessment of the state of knowledge in global climate change science by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The 2007 Fourth Assessment Report of the IPCC, a report based on the work of more than 1,250 scientists from 130 countries, the national academies of sciences of each of the Group of Eight countries along with those of India, Brazil and China, plus our own national Academy of Science, agree with the conclusion that global warming is likely caused by us.
Much has been made of two minor errors in the 2007 IPCC report. But these errors are minor, did not affect the overall findings and went to the effects of climate change, not whether it is occurring, which is the question we are debating today. As the Royal Society wrote:
There is no greater uncertainty about future temperature increases now than the Royal Society had previously indicated.
The science remains the same, as do the uncertainties. … There is strong evidence that changes in greenhouse gas concentrations due to human activity are the main cause of the global warming that has taken place over the past half century.
Some who do not accept the overwhelming body of science point to the uncertainties. As Professor Will Steffen has noted, climate scientists are now 100 per cent certain that the world is warming and 95 per cent sure that humans are the primary cause.
A balanced assessment of the available evidence and prior knowledge allows levels of confidence to be attached to scientific findings. Just as we know that asbestos is very likely to cause malignant mesothelioma and bad cholesterol is very likely to increase the risk of a heart attack, we know that society’s greenhouse gas emissions are very likely causing global warming. Just imagine that you had a sick child, and 95 out of 100 doctors told you that the child needed a life-saving drug. Would you really follow the advice of the other five doctors?
To those who disagree with the overwhelming scientific consensus on human induced climate change, I lay down this challenge. Today is the day for you to get on the record. When the next generation looks back to this debate, I want them to know what I stand for. And I want them to know what you stand against. In the words of Rupert Murdoch:
Climate change poses clear, catastrophic threats. We may not agree on the extent, but we certainly can’t afford the risk of inaction.
The risk of inaction is too high.
I wish to place on record my thanks to Shobaz Kandola, my adviser, for his assistance in this speech and to acknowledge the presence in the public gallery today of my friend Macgregor Duncan, who works for Better Place, an electric car company.
Climate change is a problem which has been caused by us and by our parents. It is a problem whose effects will be felt by our children and their children. It is right, it is just and it is the honourable course for us to begin to make amends for our actions. The costs should be ours to bear; the benefits reaped by our children. The science informs us that there is a problem. Scientists tell us that action must be taken. The economics makes it clear that the cost of inaction is too high. Economists advise us that the sooner we act, the less the cost.
To act on climate change is to invest for the present and for the future. We will recoup the costs. We will all prosper. To act on climate change is to act in the national interest, to invest in our prosperity, in our wellbeing and in the health of the environment. Those who stand for inaction and those who do not accept the science stand against the national interest. Let us agree to this motion in unanimity, and let those opposite join with us and with the crossbenchers in a debate about the merits of action. Our parliament is fitting of such a debate and our nation deserving of a contest of ideas to help solve a great challenge facing Australia.
I spoke in parliament yesterday about the ACT Children's Services Awards.Add your reaction Share
Statements by Members
ACT Children’s Services Awards 2010
22 November 2010
On the night of 29 October 2010 I had the privilege of joining Joy Burch, the ACT Minister for Children and Young People, Maureen Cane, the CEO of Communities@Work, and Lynne Harwood, CEO of Galilee, for the 2010 Children’s Services Awards night.
The event was a celebration of early and middle childhood educators and the difference which these educators make to the lives of children and families in the Canberra community. Having a one-year-old and a three-year-old who attend day care, I know firsthand the important and inspirational work early childhood workers undertake throughout our community each and every day. They light the spark of creativity and learning in our children; they help open the door to a world full of possibilities.
The awards recognised a number of individuals, as well as organisations, for their hard work in helping children and families. In total, 15 awards were presented on the night and while time does not permit me to name all the worthy recipients, I would like to conclude by mentioning that each nominee was not just supported by their organisation but by the children in their care and the children’s families.
It is clear that each and every award winner and nominee’s work was shaped by the needs of their children. We are lucky to have such excellent people working in the Canberra community to care for our young children.
I spoke in Parliament yesterday, seconding Michael Danby's private members' motion on Liu Xiaobo.Add your reaction Share
Private Members’ Business
Mr Liu Xiaobo
22 November 2010
I have always viewed the challenges facing China with a sense of awe. Since the great opening of the Chinese economy in 1978, China’s economic achievements have been nothing short of remarkable. Rapid economic growth has improved the livelihoods of hundreds of millions of Chinese. According to the World Bank, China’s per person GDP rose from US$524 in 1980 to US$6,200 in 2010—a twelvefold increase. And this is in 2005 dollars, so the figures do not take account of inflation. Over the same period, the share of the Chinese population living in extreme poverty—below $1.25 a day—fell from 84 per cent to 16 per cent, while the share of the population living below $2 a day fell from 98 per cent to 36 per cent. In The End of Poverty, Jeffrey Sachs wrote:
China is likely to be the first of the great poverty-stricken countries of the twentieth century to end poverty in the twenty-first century.
He also pointed out:
By the year 2050, it is reasonable to suppose that China will reach around half of the Western European income average, restoring China’s relative position at the start of the industrial era.
In addition, the level of general education has been greatly improved since 1990. Average adult education levels were less than five years in 1982 but over seven years in 2000. In 1982, 232 million Chinese people were illiterate. In 2000, the figure was 85 million. The Chinese economic reforms have transformed lives. Men and women, farmers, factory workers and service workers all prospered in a social environment which now permitted the accumulation of individual wealth.
This brings me to Liu Xiaobo. Born on 28 December 1955 in the north-eastern city of Changchun, Liu Xiaobo has long been a passionate man of letters. He was in Beijing in 1989 when the ongoing student demonstrations of the era grew to encompass much of Beijing’s civil society. Liu has been an intellectual leader. For him, the Tiananmen Square protest and resulting crackdown was a deeply formative experience. Released from prison 20 months later, he wrote:
My eyes were opened by 4 June and the death of the martyrs and now, every time I open my mouth, I ask myself if I am worthy of them.
That was over 20 years ago. To the present day Liu has remained an unceasing advocate for democratic reform, never losing his passion for truth and justice or his demand for the state to recognise human rights. His deeply poignant writing, with its overwhelming commitment to the commonality of all humanity, must rank amongst the most heart-moving of literary protests. In spite of long periods of detention he never faltered in his humanity or love for others. His recent trial statement was dedicated to his wife, Liu Xia, while his Nobel Prize was dedicated to the ‘lost souls’ of Tiananmen Square.
As the new China emerges it desperately needs Liu Xiaobo. It needs his courage to speak truth to power; it needs his advocacy on behalf of the dispossessed; it needs him to argue for an independent legal system, freedom of association and for citizens’ rights. China is a big country, and its future is best assured by trusting and relying upon its greatest strength, its more than one billion people. China faces many tough issues, not least of which is uneven progress and rising inequality. Brave spokespeople like Nobel Prize winner Liu Xiaobo are the key to the emergence of a civil society that will only serve to strengthen China. It is a tragic mistake for the government to intimidate and attempt to silence those whose concern is to articulate the needs of the people.
Due to the great number of shared interests that China and Australia have in common I believe it is appropriate to speak to motions such as this. As I have outlined, the Chinese government has shown real commitment and real results when delivering lasting economic reform, all to the benefit of ordinary Chinese citizens. But as the case of Liu shows, there is scope for other issues of reform to be raised and aired. I fear that no-one benefits if China’s reforms stop at the economy. Speaking at Peking University in 2008, the present foreign minister said:
A true friend is one who can be a zhengyou, that is a partner who sees beyond immediate benefit to the broader and firm basis for continuing, profound and sincere friendship.
As a member of a party formed to represent the workers of Australia, I speak in the same spirit as the foreign minister spoke to Chinese students. I am proud to second this motion honouring such a courageous advocate, a man who has committed his life to improving the lot of the people of China and to doing so entirely through non-violent means.