The 'Politzer' prize is for photographs taken by politicians of places in their electorate. A photo of mine - taken at Floriade - has made the shortlist. If you'd like to check out the finalists (and vote for the people's choice awards), go to this website.Add your reaction Share
I've now set up an Andrew Leigh YouTube channel (in the 21st century, anyone can be a media mogul). It includes my first speech, as well as recent appearances on Lateline, ABC24, and Sky.Add your reaction Share
A University of Canberra Professor has been awarded approximately half a million dollars to continue vital medical research.Add your reaction Share
Minister for Mental Health and Ageing Mark Butler, and Member for Fraser Dr Andrew Leigh today announced that Professor Suresh Mahalingam will receive a National Health and Medical Research Council - European Union grant of $494,022 over three years from the National Health and Medical Research Council.
“The grant, funded by the Gillard Government, will allow Professor Mahalingam to contribute to the international effort to tackle the Chikungunya virus (CHIKV),” Mr Butler said.
“Although not well known in Australia, CHIKV is a mosquito borne virus that causes fever, rashes, intense headaches and severe joint inflammation. Recovery in adults takes around one to two and a half months with joint pain known to last up to two years.”
Dr Andrew Leigh said: “This research is part of an international project which will focus on co-ordinating research efforts to enhance monitoring and surveillance of CHIKV, diagnosis, treatment and prevention.
“Findings will contribute to the broader fight against viruses, the most dangerous and easily transmitted infectious agent.”
The NHMRC – EU scheme supports Australian participation in leading international collaborative research under the EU Seventh Framework Program. The Australian grant will support the health research project co-funded by the European Commission, and carried out within Australian and European research institutions.
The Murray Darling Basin Authority's ACT consultation session on Nov 11 has apparently been moved to a slightly larger room. It'll now be in the Manning Clarke Theatre, Building 26(a), Union Court, Australian National University. The session runs from 9am to noon. Registration details here.Add your reaction Share
A few things that caught my eye this week.Add your reaction Share
- Does financial literacy make you wealthier, or is it the other way around?
- Which books do prisoners request?
- How much of the costs of childhood obesity are borne by the invidual, and how much by society?
- How do Israeli home demolitions affect subsequent terrorism?
- The 100 best signs at the weekend's rally to restore sanity and/or fear in Washington DC (my faves: 1, 39, 52, 59, 97)
Last Wednesday, I appeared on ABC24 in a segment with Liberal Senator Scott Ryan, moderated by Chris Uhlmann. Transcript below.Add your reaction Share
Thanks to Scott for an enjoyable conversation, and for taking the trouble to transcribe it.http://www.youtube.com/v/w5mQ_KQdbyE?fs=1&hl=en_US
ABC News 24
27 October 2010, 4.30pm
Well Andrew Leigh, to you first, during Question Time today the big topic for the Opposition was the cost of living and there's a compelling logic, isn't there, that if you put a carbon tax on top of electricity prices then electricity prices will rise?
Well Chris, that's not right at all. What's going on here is that because electricity generators don't have certainty as to what's going on with a carbon price, they're not making the investments to the necessary infrastructure. We need investments in electricity generation in order to make sure that electricity prices don't rise – and the only way we get that is by tackling climate change.
Well Chris, what Andrew neglects to point out is that the uncertainty is one created by this government. Just before the election, there was no carbon tax. Now, after the election, there is apparently going to be a carbon tax. The Prime Minister has previously alluded to 40% increases in domestic power bills over the last three years. That hasn't seen a reduction in electricity use. There's a legitimate argument here – as a highly inelastic good, electricity use is not that sensitive to price rises. The uncertainty is created by the government breaking its own promise to not have a carbon tax.
Isn't there a number of things involved here too, Andrew Leigh? Underinvestment is one problem that the Prime Minister keeps pointing out, but we're also moving to higher cost sources of power. That's going to make electricity prices rise with things like renewables. The cost of connecting those sources to the grid is going to push up electricity prices as well, and the cost of incentive schemes that we're using to get things like solar power. They're all adding, aren't they, to the rise in price in electricity?
But Chris, the key here is that we had a bipartisan consensus around getting a price on carbon and that bipartisan consensus was smashed by Tony Abbott. That was how he won the leadership – he smashed the bipartisan consensus on climate change. Now, what that's meant is that electricity generators aren't willing to invest in the clean energy sources, because they don't know whether there's going to be a price on carbon. And they're not willing to make investments in, say, 'dirtier' energy sources, because again, they don't know whether there's going to be a price on carbon. In that environment, you get massive underinvestment and that drives the prices up. We have to deal with climate change – like many other mature nations have done. In the UK, there was a bipartisan consensus that saw a deal on climate change and that's the sort of deal we need to see here. Level-headed people sitting down and sensibly realising that a price on carbon is the only serious way of dealing with climate change.
Scott Ryan, isn't there a point in all of that? There's essentially a capital strike while people wait to see what the future is going to look like, and the longer that goes, the more there is a risk to the price of electricity and the infrastructure.
Well I make the point Chris, again, the uncertainty is one caused by this government. To go to what Andrew said earlier, blocking the ETS just ensured that the 12% increase we've seen in electricity prices isn't going to be even greater than that because the ETS was going to force electricity prices up by more than 20% – by 30%-plus for small businesses. So the uncertainty has been one that's been created by this government, because it said, "No carbon tax" and now it's saying, "There will be a carbon tax." Importantly, it talks about a price on carbon as if that's a euphemism. You are not going to reduce the price of electricity by putting a tax on it to make it more expensive.
But we need some certainty, Scott. Unless we get certainty in this debate – unless we have an approach which provides certainty going into the future – we don't get these big investments. You don't build a power station unless you know what's going to happen in the future.
Julia Gillard could provide certainty right now by going back to what she said only days before polling day, which was, "There will not be a carbon tax." That's the certainty that could be provided. Julia Gillard has backflipped – that's where the uncertainty is coming from.
Well what Labor has always said is that we ought to use market mechanisms to deal with the challenge of climate change. The thing is, we've now got a Coalition which has walked away from market mechanisms for dealing with climate change, just as it's walking away from market-based mechanisms in a whole range of other areas.
The Coalition would not put an additional tax on Australian households and small businesses that would only see Australian businesses become less competitive, because Australia alone cannot fix this problem.
I think Australians know that it's important to deal with climate change and it's important to do that in the lowest-cost way. If we don't deal with climate change now, the cost only goes up. We have to tackle climate change and a market-based mechanism is the right way of doing it.
Well Andrew, just to pick up on one of the things that you said, too, and it's a theme that the Prime Minister has been hammering for a while – the death of bipartisanship. In the way that she describes it, did bipartisanship like that ever exist? I do vividly recall the Labor Party was opposed to the GST. Now that's a big part of the economic reform of the past 25 years, and Labor opposed it vigorously.
Well Chris, I wouldn't rate the GST as major economic reform. What Labor did during the GST campaign – and I was working in this building at the time – was to ask some reasonable questions about the impact of putting up grocery prices on low-income households. That ultimately managed to help secure a deal in which food was exempted from the GST. But Labor was also part of sticking with the Coalition over trade liberalisation. That's been a bipartisan policy all the way through the Hawke, Keating, and then the Howard Government as well. What we've now seen is a Coalition that's walking away from things that have been fundamental to the Australian economic fabric for a generation – walking away from the idea of a floating exchange rate. We have the Shadow Treasurer, Joe Hockey, saying that somehow we shouldn't have an independent Reserve Bank setting interest rates, but instead that we ought to have interest rates set by Parliament again. This is really taking us back to the 60s and 70s.
Andrew is fundamentally misrepresenting both the past and the present in that. First, the ALP were not subject in any way – or had a role in any way – with the deal to exempt food from the GST, because the ALP refused to respect the mandate of the people. Quite frankly, I'm surprised that you don't think that abolishing nearly a dozen other taxes is a substantial economic reform. On the issue of whether there has been bipartisanship, in the 80s, the Coalition supported the reduction in tariffs, the various industry plans and the financial sector reform. As soon as Labor went to opposition, despite privatising everything that it could get its hands on, it opposed the privatisation of Telstra – even though it had plans to do so to parts of it in at the 1996 election. It opposed tax reform, despite it being voted on by the people, and it opposed the independence of the very Reserve Bank you're talking about now and threatened to take Peter Costello to the High Court.
No, listen, this isn't right. Labor was the party that floated the dollar. Labor has always stood by the independence of the Reserve Bank.
(inaudible) … in 1996 – opposed it and attacked it in the House of Representatives and the Senate.
Well let's focus on what we're saying today, which is the rise of what the Prime Minister has, I think, rightly referred to as 'economic Hansonism'. It was Joe Hockey being willing to say the Parliament ought to have a role in setting interest rates. This is very dangerous territory, it takes them back to the 1980s.
Joe Hockey hasn't said that at all. What Joe Hockey's speech was all about was about trying to inject competition into our financial services sector. Competition is something that Labor doesn't like, because it's outlawing it in telecommunications – I realise that. What Joe Hockey has outlined is a program and a plan to try and look at our financial sector, look at the impact of the last few years and say, 'how can we inject more competition into it?' That's what he said.
At the very least though, Scott, it's been a little untidy in the last week or so, it hasn't been entirely clear what Joe Hockey was on about really until he made that speech yesterday.
I read the speech earlier this week. I thought it was quite clear and comprehensive. The idea that we have debates in the Shadow Cabinet – I think that's a great idea. Otherwise we all become the 'lobotomised zombies' that Doug Cameron refers to the Labor Party as.
Well I certainly don't think that's right. What you've seen here has been Malcolm Turnbull not willing to back in Joe Hockey. This morning, we saw Tony Abbott not willing to back in Joe Hockey's nine point plan. Really, you have Joe Hockey out there on his own, saying some stuff which would really take Australia back to the bad old days for Australian households. Ken Henry, last week, referred to his recollection of the mid-1980s, when young families couldn't get a loan because of the credit squeeze. That kind of credit squeeze is what we're going to get if we have Parliament regulating interest rates.
No one's proposing that except your coalition partners, The Greens.
Aren't Ken Henry and the ACCC also worried about a lack of competition in the banks?
Well there's been a long-term reform agenda going on the Basel Accords. This is being run through the G20. Joe Hockey's late to the party on this one. This is a reform agenda which has been going on internationally. You'd think the Shadow Treasurer would actually know what was going on rather than just picking up on a few talking points.
Graeme Samuel has outlined that he would like powers to investigate the issue of price signalling because he is concerned about the level of competition in the financial services sector. Labor has refused to take up that recommendation and the Coalition has committed to looking at action on that front.
There's a long-term reform agenda around this issue. It's going through the Basel process. It has been going on for many years. To pretend that suddenly competition in the banking industry is an issue which Joe Hockey has thought up is just…
Australian banks and the issue around price signals has got nothing to do with international accords or the capital requirements.
Alright gentlemen, we'll move on, because there's something that you might be able to get bipartisan agreement on, at least here. John Howard's in town today pushing his book 'Lazarus Rising'. In the speech that he gave today, he talked about the noble art, really, of politics – an idea that goes all the way back to Aristotle – and said that it was a matter of some pain to him about the way that politicians were being portrayed now and the lack of respect really that there is for politicians in some areas. Now you, Andrew Leigh, also have a book out – and this is not a book sale – but you talk in 'Disconnected' about the decline in trust and what you find is driving it across a whole range of areas in Australia.
Well Chris, I think there are a number of factors driving it. One is technology – the rise in use of cars, the rise in use of ATMs, increased watching of television – all those things sap a bit of time from community activities. So people aren't joining political parties, but it's also true that they're not joining organisations like Lions, Scouts, the unions, they're not going to church. So it's, sort of, all of a piece, this big collapse in social capital. I'd like to be a part of trying to rebuild that, because I do think that it's important that that sort of compact that citizens and politicians have – the faith that people have in their elected leaders.
Scott Ryan, are you concerned that there has been a loss of trust in institutions, in politics, and in the church?
It does concern me. I think, particularly over the last fifteen to twenty years, we've had massive technological change, we've had massive social change. My generation has grown up in a very different social environment with 'working families' with child care much more relied upon than extended family than, I think, the previous generation. But I think one thing that's important here is that, when it comes to politicians, the increasing lack of faith that people have in politicians has, I think, been a reflection partly of politicians promising to do things they can't. When a politician promises to fix fuel prices or grocery prices but those aren't fixed, then I think that actually diminishes trust in all of us.
So how do you repair it, Andrew?
Well I have suggested in the book a few things. The most controversial, as the Prime Minister mentioned when she launched it yesterday, was that people should contact two politicians – one politician to say something they like, and one politician that they said they didn't like. I don't know about Scott, but I would certainly welcome more contact from voters. I really enjoy being out there doing mobile offices, being in contact with people and talking to them about their daily problems. I've spent a lot of time in academia, but that conversation over the kitchen table is really important to understanding the issues and challenges that people are facing.
Scott Ryan, do you find that people say that they don't like politicians, but when they meet you, if they get to know you, they say, 'oh but not you – I quite like you'?
I'm a bit more humble than that. Maybe they'll tell the next person they see. But I think one of the challenges is the distance from our home bases. This place in itself, this building in Canberra, is actually a little bit surreal. I think we all enjoy the opportunity to get back out there with our community – wherever that may be – and actually talk to people about the problems that concern them, rather than what concerns us up here.
Well Scott Ryan, Andrew Leigh, we'll have to leave it there. Thank you.
Thanks to Scott for an enjoyable conversation, and for taking the trouble to transcribe it.http://www.youtube.com/v/w5mQ_KQdbyE?fs=1&hl=en_US
Back in March, Macgregor Duncan and I wrote a piece for the Australian Literary Review on what federal politicians are reading (article, spreadsheet with full results). In today's Age, Jane Sullivan does a similar exercise for Victorian politicians. My favourite quote:Add your reaction Share
For what it's worth, I'm currently enjoying two autobiographies: Christopher Hitchens' Hitch 22, and Dalton Conley's Honky.
[Judith Graley,] Labor member for Narre Warren South is also a big fan of Tim Winton's Cloudstreet: "I often read the opening paragraph, it is so poignant and sets the mood for feeling both overwhelmed and inspired, as we all do when dealing with family matters."
For what it's worth, I'm currently enjoying two autobiographies: Christopher Hitchens' Hitch 22, and Dalton Conley's Honky.
A few pieces about Disconnected in the weekend papers:Add your reaction Share
And on the radio...
- The Australian carries an extract in its "Inquirer" section (update: and an article this week by Angela Shanahan)
- The SMH has a review article by Adele Horin (who also wrote a generous quote for the dustjacket)
- The Canberra Times has a book review by Don Aitken in its "Panorama" section (not online at this stage)
And on the radio...
On Wednesday night, John Faulkner launched Learning to be a Minister: Heroic Expectations, Practical Realities. I would've liked to attend, but was refused a pair, so had to make do with enjoying the text of his speech. John has given me permission to post it below.Add your reaction Share
A speech by Senator John Faulkner
At the launch of Learning to be a Minister: Heroic Expectations, Practical Realities
By Anne Tiernan and Pat Weller
27 October 2010
First of all let me thank Anne Tiernan and Pat Weller for inviting me to launch Learning to be a Minister: Heroic Expectations, Practical Realities.
I have, of course, wondered why they invited me. But I saw the answer when I got to the end of the book. They have been thoughtful enough to include a short Epilogue: When the Music Stops - which I have read with particular interest!
“Learning to be a Minister”, is, in its exquisite (or perhaps excruciating) timing, a poignant book. Michelle Grattan’s suggestion - that given the potential for a change of government in 2007 the focus should be on how a new ministry learns and adapts to the responsibilities of governing - was a good one.
The Preface describing the ‘lively throng at Government House, Canberra on 3 December 2007’ catches the zeitgeist well, and Anne and Pat’s interviews undertaken for the book in 2008/9 and the commentary based on them reflect that mood – a time that now, in October 2010, seems far more than just 2 years and 10 months ago.
But the change of Government – a comparatively rare event in Australian politics – has assisted the authors explore the job of a minister; what they do; how they get there; and how they learn to manage the huge and diverse range of responsibilities that accrue to Ministers under the Westminster model.
This book is thorough and serious, drawing on interviews with 19 members of the Rudd Ministry, 10 former Howard ministers, 16 departmental secretaries and 10 senior ministerial staffers, and on the literature of academics and practitioners.
To have actually tied those people down and undertaken interviews with them is itself an achievement; to have then selected, distilled and prioritised their words into a coherent structure is a very substantial effort.
The authors do not claim that either their choice of interviewee or of what was said was scientifically representative. How could it be?...when just like snowflakes, no two Ministers are alike. But letting that selection of people recount their own experiences, in their own words, is an excellent way to bring the muddle of ministerial days and the dry theory of public administration and public policy to life.
Of course, there is some entertainment to be had in trying to identify the anonymous extracts. For example, this from a former Howard Government Minister discussing Cabinet meetings:
“[Howard] instituted the rule that we do appointments first. That was a really good rule and the really interesting part of Cabinet as well...Some of the ministers were just hopeless at appointing people. They’d just get the department to give them a list of names and no sense of the government’s political interests or the sensitivity of the issues, just nothing... And of course when they got a reputation for not being good on appointments, as soon as we saw one from that person we’d all be into it. Real sport you know, just knock ‘em down...of course it is a sport...”
Round up the usual suspects!
Anne and Pat took Pat and Michelle Grattan’s 1981 book Can Ministers Cope? (the first and only comprehensive study of Australian federal ministers at work) as a baseline for comparing how Ministers’ roles, and the environment in which they operate, had changed in thirty years.
Comparing these two books gives a good sense of both the continuities in the job of a minister and also the massive changes that have occurred in the environment in which the job is done.
Since 1981 Australian society and culture have been transformed: -
- In 1981 only one woman was serving in Cabinet, and only three had ever held a ministry. 23% of the Rudd Ministry was female.
- The effect of rapid change in information and communication technologies with an increasingly educated and technology savvy electorate has been enormous.
- The impact of the 24 hour news cycle on so many aspects of a Minister’s personal and professional life has been profound.
- As Anne outlines in her book, “Power without Responsibility”, we have seen an evolution, if not a revolution in the role of ministerial staff – not to mention the massive increase in numbers of ministerial staff in Ministers private offices.
- There is a great deal more contestability in the range of policy options government may pursue, and now a plethora of alternative sources of policy advice
- The geography, landscape and dynamics of decision making have changed, particularly since the move to the new Parliament House in 1988.
- Major changes have been made to portfolio structures including the appointment of, and new arrangements and administrative orders for, Portfolio Cabinet Ministers, non-Cabinet Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries.
- The public service has been extensively reformed. Senior Public Servants, Secretaries in particular, remain critically important, but perhaps sadly for some, none are able any longer to wrap and coddle their Ministers so tightly so as to blanket out other voices.
Some of the contrasts between the 1981 and the 2010 books are quite stark. For example, the emphasis then on the respective power of ministers and public servants, and the extensive treatment now of the role of ministers’ offices. Peter Wilenski wrote in 1979:
“the restoration of ministerial responsibility is, at least for reform governments (of whatever political colour), the most urgent task facing public administration and that will necessitate extensive changes in our system of government”
It is to the great credit of the Hawke and Keating governments that those extensive changes were made – and, to be fair, followed up with the new Public Service Act during the Howard Government’s time in office – so that we no longer debate the respective powers of ministers and public servants.
Rather, by 2007, concerns had developed about whether the public service had lost its capacity to come up with innovative policy and whether ministerial staff had become - how should I put this, forceful? Even in some cases “overbearing”? It was in part in response to those kind of concerns that, as Special Minister of State, I established the Code of Conduct for Ministerial Staff, insisted that all staff attend induction courses, and, as an important accountability and transparency measure, introduced a Members of Parliament (Staff) Act Annual Report which will become increasingly useful over time as the system further evolves.
Ladies and Gentlemen, whatever has changed, some things stay the same:
- A Minister’s obligations and responsibilities to the Parliament remain paramount,
- Cabinet has retained its importance in authorising the decisions of Government,
- There remain many things only ministers can do, legally and administratively,
- There remain many fights only Ministers can be in, and many political decisions only Ministers can take, and
- In our political system, however much bastardised Westminster, may be, it remains the case today that Ministers still trump officials and Ministers still trump staff.
I commend Chapter 3 of the book – “Taking Over” - as particularly valuable in describing those early days after a change of government.
There is nothing quite as eerie as the Ministerial Wing when departing ministers have disappeared and before incoming ministers have arrived; nor anything quite as empty as a vacated ministerial office – empty filing cabinets, empty shelves, empty drawers, bare desks, slightly soiled carpets, blank walls, the occasional post-it note and perhaps, if you are lucky, some iced vo-vo’s - albeit stale - left on a shelf in the kitchen.
The authors rightly bring out the important role played by Departmental Liaison Officers (DLOs) especially in those early days – and by other departmental staff urgently dispatched to Parliament House to train a new Minister.
Compared to other countries our transitions are particularly abrupt. In the United States, months go by between election and inauguration. In the United Kingdom, new ministers go to work in established offices in their departments - so everything is already set up and usually there is some continuity of private office staff.
I recall when I was first learning to be a minister in March 1993 - after the sweetest victory of them all, Paul Keating advised ministers to use offices located - not in Parliament House but in their departments. It was one of those ideas which was never going to happen; our geography, architecture and parliamentary sitting patterns and practices make it too hard.
Ministers were nonplussed - Departments apoplectic - but we calmly solved the problem in the Department of Veterans’ Affairs with some lateral thinking by simply putting a sign on the door of a conference room – “Office of the Minister”.
After our defeat in the 1996 election Labor ministers were given a less- than - generous 24 hours to vacate their ministerial offices. One newly minted Liberal minister stormed into their new office on the Monday after the election, scaring the wits out of a cleaner desperately vacuuming away. The shaken cleaner was provided with an explanation – I’ve been waiting half a friggin’ lifetime to get my feet under that desk. (Actually friggin’ wasn’t the word used!).
And then in 2007, one new Labor Minister excitedly rang the PMO to report a former Howard Minister had been really helpful, and had contacted them to say they had left a filing cabinet full of Cabinet submissions behind, all neatly organised and labelled, to assist the new Minister get on top of the portfolio.
Panic stations. PM & C were called in to retrieve the highly classified documents and leave both the exiting Minister and the newbie red faced. No photocopies were taken I can assure you!
Ladies and Gentlemen, one addition I hope Anne and Pat will consider for the second edition of Learning to be a Minister, is the business of record keeping. Records, both paper and electronic, created and held in a minister’s office cover the range from official Cabinet and other departmental records, to the parliamentary, to the party and to the purely personal; from the very highly classified to material in the public domain; and also from the important and historically valuable to the completely trivial.
Both political survival and good administration require reliable records systems so facts can be established, and recollections verified, during and after a term of appointment.
Official records are eventually handled by departments under the provisions of the Archives Act. The major political parties should have their own arrangements for their formal records. The harder questions though, are whether, and where, to keep the more personal records.
As a recently restored member of the National Archives Advisory Council and, in another life the Minister responsible for the National Archives, you will not be surprised to hear me urging ministers and chiefs of staff to get early advice from the Archives on the services they provide for the retention of personal records. And it goes without saying that in time, the increasing size, significance and potential accountability of ministerial staff will bring a call for more systematic handling of their records.
And, in case you were wondering, I have continuously deposited my personal papers with the National Archives. What is described by the Archives as the Faulkner Archive now fills 71 metres of shelving and contains Commonwealth and private records reflecting all aspects of my political and parliamentary life.
The book’s two chapters on the public service, especially the one on How Departmental Secretaries See Ministers are instructive. I am pleased to see recognition of the very different approach to serving departmental secretaries adopted by Kevin Rudd in 2007. Rudd kept them on. Compare this to John Howard’s night of the long knives in March 1996 – in my view one of Mr Howard’s very worst decisions.
So too, I was pleased to see the attention paid to the responsibilities of ministers in parliament and to see the comments of one former Liberal minister; who said: “we Senate ministers always found the House of Reps ministers never really understand the exigencies of the parliament and the difficulties of getting things through...”. (I suspect there might be a growing level of understanding on the green benches these days!)
I think this book is to be commended for its restrained, common sense judgments, and for its avoiding simplistic remedies for change. The enormous pressures on Ministers are recognised, and set out in some detail; for example in the diary information provided, and in the accounts of the changed approaches, attitudes and expectations of the media.
But Anne and Pat in their final chapter which asks again Can Ministers Cope? come to much the same conclusions as in 1981: the reader shouldn’t be tempted to sympathy; becoming a Minister is a choice made by an individual which is usually desperately sought after, generally very hard fought for; and as the achievements of Governments of all persuasions demonstrate, the job can be done.
Most Ministers can, and do, cope – but some, as we know, cope better than others.
I sincerely congratulate Anne and Pat on “Learning to be A Minister”. I have prepared a shortlist of people in this very town for whom it should be essential reading! My spies tell me it is selling well in Manuka, with a number of quite surreptitious purchases being made!
I’ve already mentioned Anne’s ground breaking work on Ministerial staff, but let me say also to you Pat, that your work on governance and public policy issues has been of enormous significance now for over 30 years – for academics, practitioners and the public. To both Anne and Pat, who are of course, two of Australia’s finest political scientists – I compliment you both on a job very well done.
Ladies and Gentlemen for those interested in the way government in Australia works, this book is essential reading.
It is with pleasure I launch, “Learning to be a Minister, Heroic Expectations, Practical Realities”.
I spoke in Parliament yesterday on the Australian mission in Afghanistan.Add your reaction Share
Afghanistan: A Humanitarian Mission
Andrew Leigh MP
26 October 2010
On the morning of 11 September 2001, I was living in Boston. Standing in the atrium of the Littauer Building of the Harvard Kennedy School I watched up at the television screen and saw smoke pour out of the twin towers. Standing around me were students from around the globe, including many Americans. Some had friends who had boarded flights leaving Boston at 8 am that morning whom they would never see again.
That morning we were supposed to choose our classes. To help us decide Harvard had each professor give a short overview of their course offering. By chance, I entered the room where Professor Michael Ignatieff was presenting his overview. After a minute’s silence to remember those who had died that morning, Ignatieff spoke eloquently about international law and the challenges of deciding when to intervene in another nation for humanitarian reasons. He balanced the heart and the head—the need to honour those we have lost while thoughtfully considering the circumstances to justify sending our military overseas.
When I left the classroom, one of the twin towers had fallen. The second would fall soon afterwards. There was little doubt that the attack was planned from Afghanistan. A month later, US forces entered Afghanistan. Australian special forces troops followed soon afterwards. The mission was authorised under UN Security Council Resolution 1386. Since 2006, Australian troops have served in Oruzgan province, providing security and reconstruction.
Nearly a decade on from September 11, our parliament is debating whether Australian troops should remain in Afghanistan. Historically, we have debated such matters about once a decade: most recently in 2002 and, before that, in 1991. Such debates are important not only for what they say about particular engagements but also for what they say about the general principles that guide Australia in deciding when to send troops abroad.
I am not an isolationist. In 1991, Bob Hawke reminded this parliament of Neville Chamberlain’s words of 1938 when he said, ‘Why should we be concerned with a faraway country of which we know little?’ Hawke reminded the parliament that Chamberlain’s answer was provided by the horrific events that followed. ‘The great lesson of this century,’ said Hawke ‘is that peace is bought at too high a price if that price is the appeasement of aggression.’
But, just because it is right to intervene in some circumstances, it does not follow that all international engagements are justified. Opponents of our mission have pointed to Afghanistan’s many lasting problems. Afghanistan is one of the poorest parts of the world, and Oruzgan province is one of the poorest parts of Afghanistan, with subsistence-level incomes and literacy rates of one per cent for women and 10 per cent for men. Ninety per cent of public spending in Afghanistan comes from foreign aid and, while NGOs in Afghanistan have done some tremendous work, there is always a risk that those organisations could create parallel institutions and tempt Afghan professionals to leave the bureaucracy.
Yet we have made progress. Modern Afghans are a generation of people who, having come through decades of violence and unimaginable privation, possess a remarkable degree of fair-mindedness. Many seek the establishment of equity under the law and the restoration of social order. For example, the Afghan parliament now features 68 female members and has demonstrated Afghanistan’s growing pluralism and commitment to good governance by blocking ministerial candidates that it believes are unqualified or unfit to hold public office. More funding means more built infrastructure, and it is work such as this, in parallel with similar efforts around Afghanistan, that has led to the situation where over six million school age children—2½ million of them young women—are now accessing primary education.
History teaches us very few clear lessons. It is true that, in the 19th century, Afghanistan halted the expansion of the British Empire, massacring complete regiments of British soldiers in the passes outside Kabul. It is also the case that, in the 20th century, the Mujaheddin defeated the Soviet Union’s best divisions and hastened communism’s collapse. Yet there are major differences between the Soviet occupation of the 1980s and our current attempt to rebuild war-torn Afghanistan. As Afghan Defense Minister Abdul Wardak points out:
Unlike the Russians, who imposed government … you enabled us to write a democratic constitution … Unlike the Russians, who destroyed the country, you came to rebuild.
I fear that a simplistic portrayal of Afghanistan engenders defeatism and shows a lack of humanism. We must go forward with a new consensus on our continuing role in Afghanistan not only for the benefit of our serving men and women but also for the Afghan people, who deserve the chance to enjoy the benefits of a sovereign democratic nation.
In part, the role of ISAF and the coalition in Afghanistan is a tactical mission, directly targeting those who are planning bombings. In this capacity, a series of articles in last week’s New York Times suggests that better intelligence and the use of new rocket systems that are accurate to within a metre have severely weakened the Taliban and reduced the number of suicide bombings and rocket attacks on coalition troops and Afghan civilians.
But our mission is more than hunting insurgents. In Afghanistan the international community is working to ensure that the Afghan people can enjoy the fruits of good governance and stability that have so far eluded their country. For Australia’s part, the ADF are engaged in training the 4th Afghan Brigade and providing security, funding and personnel for Oruzgan’s provincial reconstruction team, which helps to build local infrastructure and assist with government services.
In my view, there are four reasons why we should stay in Afghanistan. First, we should do so because of our alliance commitments. As the Minister for Foreign Affairs has pointed out, a unanimous resolution of this House formally invoked articles IV and V of the ANZUS Treaty against those responsible for the terrorist attacks on 11 September.
Second, we should do so because of international law. Article 2 of UN Security Council Resolution 1386 calls upon member states to ‘contribute personnel, equipment and other resources to ISAF’. Forty-seven nations have heeded that call. Just like Australia, the rest of the international community realises that their position in Afghanistan is driven by a concept of principled engagement. Here there is shared fundamental human compassion, respect for universal human rights and commitment to raise the quality of life and to fight extremist behaviour. Together we share the moral courage to put our country men and women at risk to ensure that these tenets are upheld in a country which beforehand was a byword for conflict and instability.
The third and fourth reasons why we should stay in Afghanistan are that our work is helping reduce the threat of terrorism and that our efforts are helping to improve the humanitarian position of the Afghan people. A generation ago most military experts would have argued that these are fundamentally different missions, but modern counterinsurgency thinking is increasingly demonstrating that they are interwoven.
Training the Afghan 4th Brigade is much more than simply teaching these soldiers how to fight an insurgency. As members of the Australian Defence Force, our instructors believe in the importance of good governance, the rule of law and building civilian institutions. I am optimistic that in time these Afghan soldiers will demonstrate capacity to shield the Oruzgan community from corruption and coercion, not just outright violence.
The provision of government services and infrastructure are the basic weapons against extremism. In his recent book on the root causes of terrorism, Eli Berman argues that ‘social service provision creates the institutional base for most of the dangerous radical religious rebels’. To halt extremism, the international community must follow the same approach. We must tackle the fundamental social, political and economic issues that generate the lack of livelihood and the sense of hopelessness that beget extremism wherever they exist. Address these issues and you begin to unravel the extremist organisation.
To really shut down insurgent groups in Afghanistan we must continue to provide the basics: electricity, education, health care and welfare services. In the longer term we also need to be looking at the types of higher education and training that will ensure that young people have the option to build a real livelihood and access secondary services, rather than simply turn to extremism for moral and material sustenance. Just as ISAF special forces soldiers pursue Taliban leaders, the international community must be even more assiduous in providing the social outreach that stops Afghans from joining the insurgency.
The fact that insurgents seek to sabotage such services and attack those who attend demonstrates that building such infrastructure is our most potent way of combating such extremism. Indeed, counterinsurgency expert David Kilcullen has described this strategy as ‘armed social work’. Using soldiers to protect a newly constructed school is unglamorous but it may be the best way of crippling insurgents in the long run.
In recent months the Australian government has moved to deliver more funding to the reconstruction team that provides just these types of services. Our provincial reconstruction team is now able to access up to 20 per cent of the $123 million of aid destined for Afghanistan. What happens in Afghanistan directly affects Australians. As Anthony Bubalo and Michael Fullilove have pointed out, Afghanistan helped form the mind of Noordin Top, a terrorist who masterminded a string of bombings directed towards Australians in Indonesia. Bubalo and Fullilove also point out that Afghanistan lies ‘in a region that shares an ocean with Australia; contains two nuclear powers that have come close to war—and in Iran, a possible third—is close to the heart of international energy supplies; has become a major exporter of drugs; and lacks any viable regional security framework’.
It is now clear that we have entered a new stage in our involvement in Afghanistan. This is a new era signalled not merely by the openness with which this debate is being conducted but also by broader changes in counterinsurgency strategy on the part of ISAF. We are entering a transition phase, moving to Afghan lead roles in both security operations and civilian government. This does not mean that foreign troops will be out of Afghanistan by 2014, but it does mean that, by the time of their next presidential election, Afghan forces will be in the lead. Parallel to this will be a process of reconciliation, in which some insurgents who wish to rejoin the mainstream will have the opportunity to do so. Of course, not all groups will have this chance —some are utterly unacceptable—but, as the experience of other countries has shown, insurgencies almost invariably end in negotiation.
Australian forces have continued to re-evaluate how Australian personnel cooperate with Afghanistan’s various stakeholders such as the Afghan government, ISAF and non-government organisations. Our mission also involves integration between our own military and civil agencies. There are 50 to 60 Australian government civilians in Afghanistan today, including 28 Australian Federal Police members and a number of DFAT and AusAID personnel. I am proud of the work these public servants are doing, not least because about half of them live in my electorate.
The lessons learnt on the ground and from our international partners in Afghanistan will serve Australia well in future stabilisation efforts. In the coming decades Australia and the international community will often have to make rapid decisions on whether to intervene to counter extremism and avoid destabilisation.
When it comes to intervening in other countries, the international community in the past has made mistakes. Many have argued that we should not have intervened in Vietnam. And in retrospect, we should have intervened earlier in Rwanda.
Yet sometimes war is just. In World War I my great-grandfather was a radio operator on an Australian Navy ship off German New Guinea. In World War II my grandfather was an army medic in Bougainville. I am proud of both of their service.
More recently Australia can be proud of our own deployments that have supported our values—deployments which have showed that we can adapt to and confront challenging social and political landscapes far from home soil. In our current efforts in East Timor, in the Solomon Islands and, of course, in Afghanistan from 2001 to today, Australia is continuing to rebuild societies and save lives.
For the future, there is no simple test that determines when and how we should intervene, but some principles should guide our thinking. As our nation has always done, we must honour the fallen, for there is no greater sacrifice than to lay down your life for your country. Yet our decisions must be made based on future costs and future benefits not just to our own personnel but to affected civilians. No decision today can bring back those lives that have been tragically lost.
We must also realise the complexity of the moral and leadership challenge before us. The political calculus must not be to ensure a crude ‘exit strategy’ but be to deliver a good and honourable humanitarian outcome for these most vulnerable.