All leaders should be readers - Speech, House of Representatives


I commend the member for Moreton for bringing forward this vital motion on the value of reading. Time will not permit me to mention all of the books that have touched me during this year, but I want to use the little time I have to give a short rundown of some of them. At the outset I want to give a shout-out to some Canberra region authors: Marion Halligan—hard to ignore—a great writer; crime writer Chris Hammer; historical writer Robyn Cadwallader; the new suspense writer Peter Papathanasiou, who has written a terrific book called The Stoning; and Omar Musa, a spoken-word poet and modern novelist.

But books can shape how we think about policy and politics. I think the industry minister would be better off having read Ian McEwan's novel Machines Like Me, Walter Isaacson's biographies Leonardo Da Vinci, Einstein, Steve Jobs, and The Innovators; Ed Catmull's book Creativity, Inc.; and Kazuo Izuguro's novel Klara and the Sun.

The housing minister would be better off for having read Matthew Desmond's book Evicted, and the sports minister for having read Bonnie Tsui's Why We Swim, Adharanand Finn's The Rise of the Ultra Runners and Alex Hutchinson's Endure. The Treasurer should read Amy Klobuchar's Antitrust and Tim Wu's The Curse of Bigness, not to mention Martin Sandbu's The Economics of Belonging and Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo's Good Economics for Hard Times.

My thinking to climate change this year has been shaped by Bill Gates's How to Avoid a Climate Disaster, Alan Finkel's Quarterly Essay Getting to Zero and Richard Flanagan's The Living Sea of Waking Dreams. Anyone's thinking on education can't fail but be changed by reading Tara Westover's harrowing biography, Educated; Alison Gopnik's The Gardener and the Carpenter, a beautiful book about parenting and child education; and Jordan Ellenberg's How Not to Be Wrong: The Power of Mathematical Thinking. Anyone interested in immigration should of course read my colleague Tim Watts's terrific book The Golden Country, not to mention Abul Rizvi's Population Shock and Peter Mares's Not Quite Australian. The home affairs minister would also do well to read Geoffrey Canada's Fist Stick Knife Gun. Few books have better characterised the way to think creatively about violence. For the health minister it would be beneficial to read Judith Miller's book Germs, on biological warfare, and Michael Pollan's How to Change Your Mind, about the emerging science of psychedelics.

All members of parliament should delve into some of the great books that have been written about politics this year: Ezra Klein's Why We're Polarized, Barack Obama's A Promised Land and Anne Applebaum's Twilight of Democracy.  We are all being deluged in email, and Cal Newport's A World Without Email has a discussion of the problem and some ideas on solving it. Kate Ellis's Sex, Lies and Question Time is a vital book in the Me Too era.

When Macgregor Duncan and I wrote an article in 2010 about what parliamentarians were reading, George Orwell topped the list for both sides of the House. The conservative side most loved his novels; the progressive side most loved his essays. In that spirit, I would recommend Dennis Glover's Orwell's Australia and The Last Man in Europe: A Novel. Many of my colleagues have been writing books, including Richard Marles's Tides That Bind and Kate Thwaites's book with Jenny Macklin, Enough is Enough.

Then there are just some great books: John McWhorter's Nine Nasty Words; Alice Pung's Unpolished Gem; Glennon Doyle's Untamed; James McBride's Deacon King Kong; Maggie O'Farrell's Hamnet, the most extraordinary depiction of losing a child; Patrick Keefe's Say Nothing, based on the Boston University interview transcripts about the Irish troubles; Douglas Stuart's Shuggie Bain, beautiful and brutal at the same time; Oceon Vuong's On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous—just some stunning phrases; Seth Stephens-Davidowitz's Everybody Lies, an extraordinary exposition of big data; Brit Bennett's The Vanishing Half, one of the best books you'll read about race and identity; and anything by Sam Harris, including Free Will, Lying and Waking Up.

All leaders should be readers. All of us in the parliament should be reading more.


Authorised by Paul Erickson, ALP, Canberra.

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Cnr Gungahlin Pl and Efkarpidis Street, Gungahlin ACT 2912 | 02 6247 4396 | [email protected] | Authorised by A. Leigh MP, Australian Labor Party (ACT Branch), Canberra.