Growing up, we were both fans of the television show Sale of the Century. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, millions of Australians tuned in to the quiz show, to see contestants try their hand at winning cars, holidays and cash. Guided by hosts like Tony Barber, Glenn Ridge, Delvene Delaney and Jo Bailey, some contestants won big. In 1992, Robert Kusmierski took home cash and prizes worth $676,790. But most who chanced their hand went home with next to nothing.

It made for a terrific gameshow, but today, as Labor parliamentarians, we’re worried that our society is starting to look too much like a gameshow. If you compare wages in 1980 (when the first episode of Sale of the Century went to air) with today, then you see a labour market where earnings have growth three times as fast for the top tenth as for the bottom tenth. It’s been a great generation for lawyers and landlords – not so much for retail workers and renters.

To some extent, success in life is determined by hard work, but luck matters too. Billionaire Warren Buffett likes to reflect on his good fortune at being born in an era when his investing skills can be put to work. For most of human history, those skills wouldn’t have been much use. We also know that the labour market pays more to men, tall people and right-handers. That’s luck, not skill.

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Agile Aid For Fragile States - submission to "Australia Ahead of the Curve: An Agenda for International Development to 2025”

Andrew Leigh, Shadow Assistant Treasurer, and Senator Claire Moore, Shadow Minister for
International Development and the Pacific.

In 1970, countries from across the globe agreed to a common aid goal: that for every hundred dollars of national income, they would give 70 cents of aid to developing countries.

In almost half a century since then, Australia has repeatedly reaffirmed our commitment to the international aid target. Other nations have gotten there. Unlike Sweden, Denmark and the United Kingdom, Australia has never met the 70 cent goal.

But like any target, we can still judge Australian governments on how close or far they have come to meeting this commitment to the world's poorest.

When Labor was in government, overseas foreign aid increased from 28 cents in every hundred dollars) in 2007-08 to 37 cents in 2013-14. Had Labor been returned, aid was budgeted to rise to 50 cents in every hundred dollars in 2017-18.

Then the Coalition won office with an aid commitment that matched Labor’s, but then put us on a very different path. Today, Australia spends just 23 cents per hundred dollars on overseas aid. Under Labor, our aid contribution exceeded the average for the rich country OECD grouping (30 cents per hundred dollars). Now, we are not only below the OECD average, our aid share is the lowest since comparable records began in the 1970s. When aid was headed to 50 cents in every hundred dollars, we were on the path to meet our promised aid goal. With aid at 23 cents, we have literally shrunk from the task to which our nation once committed.

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The politics of hate is on the rise. A week before the Brexit vote, UK Labour MP Jo Cox was shot by a man shouting “death to traitors, freedom for Britain”. In France, Marine Le Pen draws parallels between Muslim migrants and the occupation of her country during World War II. In the US, Donald Trump wants to bring back torture, has called women “pigs” and made fun of a reporter with a disability.

In Australia, the share of voters who hate their opponents has risen from under one in six in the late 1990s to over one in four voters today. In the US, the share of people who say they would be unhappy if their child married someone from another political party has risen from 5 per cent to 41 per cent.

You can imagine the scene here in Australia. “Oh, thank goodness, sweetheart — when you said your girlfriend was a lesbian, I thought you said a Liberal.”

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We won't beat homelessness without tackling inequality - HA Magazine

We won't beat homelessness without tackling inequality, joint op-ed with Jan McLucas, Homelessness Australia Magazine

Glenn Tibbitts was born at 26 weeks in the back of an ambulance because his mother had endured yet another beating. Glenn’s first recollection of abuse he suffered was between the ages of one and two.

Around the age of seven his parents broke up and as Glenn describes it: ‘the door of the cage was left open and that was my opportunity to go’. 

Both of us have parented seven year-olds. On a good day– with a bit of cajoling – they might eat breakfast and get themselves dressed for school. There is something horrifying about such a child having to choose homelessness in order to survive.

Glenn slept in car parks and under bushes and bridges. This was interspersed with short periods in refuges and shelters. As a child he experienced the indignity of having scraps of food thrown at him by strangers. Not given. Thrown.

As he describes it: ‘You are always constantly hungry, you are always constantly cold’. Dealing with the abuse and trauma he suffered was a constant struggle that kept him on the streets.

As heart-wrenching as Glenn’s story is, it is also a story of hope.

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True tax package would tackle profit shifting on all fronts - Australian Financial Review

A true tax package would tackle profit shifting on all fronts, Australian Financial Review, Wednesday 27 May 

Imagine, for a moment, that Bill Shorten had fronted up to announce Labor's multinational tax package back in March, and told the assembled media it would add a grand total of $30 million to the budget bottom line. Imagine he'd said that he hoped this figure would turn into billions, but he didn't have enough confidence in the estimates to count on more than $30 million.

If Labor had presented a package of this kind, we would have been laughed off Capital Hill, and rightly so.

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Being Mortal

Conversations About Aged Care Should Always Evolve, The Chronicle, 7 April 2015

Harry Truman lived on Spirit Lake, at the foot of Mount Saint Helens in the northwest of the United States. A former World War I pilot and bootlegger, he was 83 years old when the volcano began to rumble. Authorities tried to get him to move out, but he was worried his lodge would be vandalised. ‘If this place is gonna go’, he said, ‘I want to go with it.’ On 18 May 1980, the volcano blast covered his home beneath a massive lava flow. 

In his book Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End, Atul Gawande tells the story of how modern medicine struggles to get aged care right. Nursing homes often place too much emphasis on safety and not enough on quality of life. Most people want to end their lives at home, but many end up dying in hospital. Two-thirds of doctors overestimate how long patients with terminal diseases will survive.

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Sharing the benefits of the sharing economy - Policy Forum

The Asia & Pacific Policy Society has recently launched a new online magazine for exploring big policy challenges and ideas in Australia and around our region. In what I hope will be the first of many pieces for the site, I've explored international approaches to regulating the sharing economy, and the lessons we might learn here in Australia.

Sharing the benefits of the sharing economy, Policy Forum, 29 January

With nothing but a smartphone, I can order up an Uber car to whisk me to my next meeting or find a bargain bed for the night through AirBNB. If I lived in one of the major US cities, I could also tap on an app to hire a pair of skis for the weekend through Spinlister, find someone to assemble my flatpack furniture on TaskRabbit, leave my dog with a pet-lover for the weekend via DogVacay, or even get roaming WiFi from Fon.

Often gathered under the banner of the ‘sharing economy’, ‘collaborative consumption’ or the ‘peer to peer market’, these services are all about linking people who have surplus goods to those who can make use of them. They provide a means for us to make more efficient use of the world’s existing stock of bedrooms, cars, tools and other goods, and help cut down on the need to continually produce more.   

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Opening Harry Hartog Bookstore

Recently, I had the pleasure of being invited to open Harry Hartog bookstore in Woden. Here's my launch speech:

Opening of Harry Hartog Bookstore
Woden, Canberra, 24 October 2014

It is a delight to be at a book store opening in the era of book store closings.

I acknowledge that we are meeting on the traditional lands of the Ngunnawal people and pay my respects to their elders, past and present.

I’d like to thank Robert and David Berkelouw for inviting me, and James and Michelle for their hospitality – and for generously placing a few copies of my books at the front, so you can’t possibly get out of the store without tripping over them.

As Groucho Marx observed: outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend – and inside a dog it’s too dark to read anyway.

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Guilt trip - The Spectator

In the latest edition of The Spectator, I've reviewed Gordon Peake's Beloved Land: Stories, Struggles and Secrets from Timor-Leste. The book which paints a very different picture of the country than the one most Australians are familiar with; read on to find out how:

Guilt trip, The Spectator, 9 August 2014

If you had to pick one emotion to characterise Australia’s attitude towards East Timor, it would be guilt.

We are right to feel guilty about 1942, when Australian troops retreated from Timor, leaving many of the East Timorese who fought alongside us to be killed by the Japanese. We should feel guilty about 1975, when we failed to speak up about the invasion of East Timor. We ought to feel guilty about 1978, when we extended de jure recognition of Indonesian sovereignty over East Timor. And we should feel guilty too about 1999, because we could have done better in the process that led to the referendum and the many thousands who lost their lives.

And yet, most of the time, Australians don’t think about East Timor at all. Between cricket and celebrity cooking, Barack Obama’s latest speech and Lady Gaga’s latest outfit, there isn’t much space in the Australian news cycle for a nation of 1.2 million people sitting 700 kilometres off the coast of Darwin.

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The upsides of the buyback - book extract

Inside Story is currently featuring an extract from my new book 'The Economics of Just About Everything', which looks at the unexpected benefits of Australia's gun buyback scheme. Read on...


On the chilly Melbourne evening of Sunday 9 August 1987, nineteen-year-old former army cadet Julian Knight drank several beers at the Royal Hotel in Clifton Hill then packed a bag with an M14 semi-automatic, a Ruger 10/22 semi-automatic, and a Mossberg pump action 12-gauge shotgun. As he later told the police, “I wanted to see what it was like to kill someone.”

Most bullets are less than a centimetre wide, but when they enter a person’s body they make a far larger hole. One reason for this is that, once inside your body, a bullet begins to “yaw,” or tumble. Because bullets are a few centimetres long, the tumbling effect is far more destructive than if the bullet had continued to travel in a straight line.

In addition, a cushion of air known as a “pressure wave” precedes the bullet, temporarily creating a cavity inside the body that can be much wider than the trajectory of the tumbling bullet. The combined impact of a tumbling projectile and a pressure wave means that the entry wound can be as small as a fingernail, while the exit wound can be as large as a tennis ball.

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