WHAT’S THE WORST THAT COULD HAPPEN? EXISTENTIAL RISK AND EXTREME POLITICS
EAGxAustralia Conference, Effective Altruism Australia, Melbourne
Friday, 22 September 2023
I acknowledge the people of the Kulin Nations as traditional custodians of the land and pay my respects to their Elders past and present. I acknowledge any First Nations people and businesses represented here today. I commit myself to the implementation of the Uluru Statement from the Heart, which starts by voting Yes on October 14.
Much of what we focus on in politics centres on immediate challenges. This week, I’ve participated in discussions about competition policy and randomised trials, community-building and economic dynamism. These are important issues for Australia’s future.
But the EAGxAustralia conference provides an opportunity to think about existential risk – about dangers not only to our way of life, but to our lives themselves.
In a busy life, it’s easy to confuse the improbable with the impossible.
What would happen if you decided to cross the road without checking the traffic? Odds are that you’d survive unscathed. But do it enough times and you’re likely to come a cropper.
That’s where catastrophic risk comes in.Read more
START UPS, UPSTARTS AND COMPETITION
International Small Business Summit, Melbourne
Friday, 22 September 2023
I acknowledge the people of the Kulin Nations as traditional custodians of the land and pay my respects to their Elders past and present. I acknowledge any First Nations people and businesses represented here today. I commit myself, as a member of the Albanese Government, to the implementation in full of the Uluru Statement from the Heart, including voting Yes for a Voice to Parliament.
Thank you to the Small Business Association of Australia for hosting today’s summit. It comes at a time when our government is providing around one million small businesses with direct energy bill relief.
We’re also putting in place the Small Business Energy Incentive to help businesses with annual turnover of less than $50 million save on their energy bills.
We’re improving small business cash flow by halving the rate of increase of quarterly tax instalments for GST and income tax.
And we’re making it easier for small businesses with an annual turnover of less than $10 million to invest and grow through the $20,000 instant asset write-off.
Under the leadership of Small Business Minister Julie Collins and Treasurer Jim Chalmers, the Albanese Government is tackling cost pressures now and we’re laying the foundations for growth in the decades to come. Competition policy is central to both of those goals and that’s my focus for today.Read more
COMPETITION AND ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE
McKell Institute, Sydney
Wednesday, 20 September 2023
I acknowledge the Gadigal people, traditional custodians of the land on which we gather today. I pay my respects to their Elders, extend that respect to other First Nations people present today, and commit myself, as a member of the Albanese Government, to the implementation in full of the Uluru Statement from the Heart, which starts with voting Yes on October 14.
It’s always a pleasure to address the McKell Institute. New South Wales Premier William McKell not only taught my party that it was possible to win back-to-back elections; he also provided a model for how to govern in turbulent times. McKell became premier in 1941 – the year of Pearl Harbour – and governed until 1947 – through the end of the war and into the peace. Like Prime Ministers Curtin and Chifley, Premier McKell saw an opportunity to rebuild a nation that was stronger after the war than before. My thanks to McKell Institute CEO Ed Cavanough and your team for hosting today’s event.
In 1955, a group of mathematicians sent a funding proposal to the Rockefeller Foundation. They were seeking support for a summer of brainstorming at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire. Their goal was to carry out a two-month, ten-person study of artificial intelligence ‘to find how to make machines use language, form abstractions and concepts, solve kinds of problems now reserved for humans, and improve themselves.’ Lacking no modesty, the application said ‘We think that a significant advance can be made in one or more of these problems if a carefully selected group of scientists work on it together for a summer’ (McCarthy et al 1955).
The Dartmouth Workshop was held in 1956. It did not solve the problems of artificial intelligence over two months. But it did mark the first use of the term ‘artificial intelligence’, and the attendees at this seminal event are considered the founders of AI research.
In the coming decades, researchers encountered several ‘AI winters’. Among the many challenges that programmers encountered was the difficulty of word-sense disambiguation. Put simply – to translate a sentence a machine needs to have some idea of the subject or it made mistakes. One possibly apocryphal example arises from an attempt to train an AI to translate from English to Russian. Given the English saying ‘the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak’, the early AI model translated it literally into Russian as ‘the vodka is good but the meat is rotten.’
Those early researchers weren’t just held back by the processing power of their machines. They were also working on a model of AI that was based on giving a computer a series of rules that it would follow in sequence. The problem is that humans don’t learn how to speak by following rules. Instead, we learn by listening to others. By trying and failing. Over and over.
Classical symbolic AI is dubbed GOFAI, or Good Old-Fashioned AI. Generative AI – which trains computers by providing them with vast numbers of examples – succeeds where good old-fashioned AI failed by using neural networks. Those networks need vast amounts of data. And in recent years, they have made vast breakthroughs.Read more
Water Amendment (Restoring Our Rivers) Bill 2023
Second Reading Speech
House of Representatives, 13th September 2023
Cast your mind back to the last drought, some three years ago, when the Darling River stopped flowing for more than 400 days, when farming communities were brought to their knees, desperate for water, when millions of native fish died and gruesome environmental images were broadcast across the world. Last month the Minister for the Environment and Water, Tanya Plibersek, struck a deal with basin state and territory governments in order to deliver the Murray-Darling Basin Plan. This historic agreement reflected the policy that Labor took to the last election to deliver the Murray-Darling Basin Plan in full. For me, as an ACT representative, this is important. The ACT is one of the signatory governments. I note that the minister who's responsible, Shane Rattenbury, has talked about the importance of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan to the ACT.Read more
Statutory Declarations Amendment Bill 2023
Federation Chamber, 13th September 2023
Dr LEIGH (Fenner—Assistant Minister for Competition, Charities and Treasury, Assistant Minister for Employment) (17:54): In my early 20s, as a law student, I decided that I wanted to become a justice of the peace. The process then was that you wrote to your local member of parliament, who, in my case, was the Liberal member for Northcott, Bruce Baird. He was quite happy to support me as a justice of the peace. I did so because I wanted to help out in the community, and I was struck by the number of times I'd encountered people who need a statutory declaration witnessed but were unable to find somebody to do so. Every 10 seconds in Australia a statutory declaration is filled in, amounting to some 3.8 million statutory declarations a year and costing some 900,000 hours. Those statutory declarations might involve evidence in a court proceeding; they might involve issues around child custody.
This significant modernisation ensures that, rather than requiring statutory declarations to be carried out in the traditional paper based form with an in-person witnesses, they can also be carried out in two alternative ways: electronically, by allowing electronic signatures and witnessing by an audiovisual communication link; or digitally verified through the use of an approved online platform that verifies the additional identity of the declarant through an approved identity service.
This will be an important efficiency gain for businesses, but it also has a crucial equity dimension. I know that is why the Attorney-General has championed it so strongly. We frequently find that people who want to get a statutory declaration witnessed have to pay for that service. Or, if they can find a free service, it's limited in the length of the statutory declaration or limited in the approach that it takes to attachments. So it is the most vulnerable who often find themselves unable to complete the in-person statutory declarations. Thanks to these reforms, those who are unable to pay for in-person witnessing service will have an alternative approach. I commend the Attorney-General for this important efficiency and equity measure to modernise statutory declarations in Australia.
Higher Education Support Amendment (Response To The Australian Universities Accord Interim Report) Bill 2023
Higher Education Support Amendment (Response To The Australian Universities Accord Interim Report) Bill 2023
Second Reading Speech
House of Representatives, 4 September
There are hundreds of thousands of 18-year-olds who began university this year. Those people were born in 2005, and they'll be at university from 2023 to 2025 if they do a regular, three-year bachelor's degree. Those people won't be eligible for the pension until 2072. At the end of their working lives, they will be dealing with the advanced technology of a workplace in 2072. We don't know the exact contours of what that labour market will look like, but we do know that it will be the sort of labour market which will reward high levels of skills. Just as the level of skill in the Australian economy has steadily increased over the last couple of generations, it will continue to do so for the current cohort. That means that, to a school leaver today, who was born in 2005 and who isn't eligible for the pension until 2072, university looks increasingly attractive. University won't be for everyone, but, in an age in which artificial intelligence is increasingly taking more routine jobs—automation of mobile services and factory automation are filling niches once filled by workers—higher levels of education are valuable. Our crystal ball for forecasting the precise jobs that will rise is a bit cloudy, but we do know that it's a very good bet that the jobs of the future will require higher levels of formal education than the jobs of today.
Where will those new university graduates come from? They'll tend to come from groups that are currently underserved. At the moment around half of Australians in their late 20s and early 30s has a university degree, but that level differs quite markedly across Australia. In the outer suburbs of major Australian cities, only 23 per cent of young Australians have a university degree. In the regions, only 13 per cent of young Australians have a university degree. Among young adults from poor families, only 15 per cent have a university degree. Among Indigenous Australians, only seven per cent have a university degree. For a young Indigenous man today, you're more likely to go to jail than you are to go to university. Right across the population, 36 per cent of Australians have a university qualification today, and it's been forecast that by mid-century it's going to be necessary to have 55 per cent of the population with a university qualification.Read more
THE ECONOMICS OF CORRUPTION
National Integrity Summit, Melbourne
Wednesday, 30 August 2023
I acknowledge the people of the Kulin Nations, the Traditional Custodians of the land on which we gather today.
I pay my respects to their Elders, extend that respect to other First Nations people present today, and commit myself, as a member of the Albanese Government, to the implementation in full of the Uluru Statement from the Heart. including a constitutionally enshrined Voice to Parliament.
Thanks to Transparency International Australia and your CEO Clancy Moore for inviting me to speak today. I also acknowledge the National Anti-Corruption Commissioner Paul Brereton, Deputy Commissioner of Victoria’s Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission Kylie Kilgour, and longtime anti-corruption campaigner Professor A.J. Brown.
The Moonlight State
While Australia has had many corruption scandals, the Fitzgerald Inquiry and the systemic corruption among police and Queensland politicians it unearthed stands out both because of the scale of the corruption that it revealed and the long-term impact it had.
Historian Raymond Evans described the Fitzgerald Inquiry as ‘the most remarkable Commission of Inquiry in Australia’s history’. In 2009 – in the lead up to the 20th anniversary of the tabling of Fitzgerald’s report in Parliament – then Premier Anna Bligh said:
‘In many ways, the Fitzgerald inquiry was Queensland’s Berlin Wall. It washed away an old regime and heralded in a new era. Nothing on Queensland’s political landscape has been the same since.’
The system whereby corruption police would take protection payments from the sex industry was called ‘the Joke’, but the cost was no laughing matter. By the 1980s tens of thousands of dollars in bribes were being paid each month to senior police the culture that grew up around the crooked cops went far beyond one industry. To quote the Fitzgerald Report:
The later segment of evidence involving political figures demonstrated that misconduct in the Police Force was not isolated, but part of a wider malaise to do with attitudes to public office and public duty.
Indeed the Fitzgerald Inquiry may never have happened if then Premier Joh Bjelke-Peterson hadn’t been on a trip to the United States on the night the Four Corners show ‘Moonlight State’ aired. As a result it fell to the Acting Premier Bill Gunn to initiate the inquiry.
The Inquiry ultimately led to four former state ministers, and multiple senior police being found to have engaged in corrupt conduct, and the establishment of Queensland’s first anti-corruption body, the Crime and Misconduct Commission (now the Crime and Corruption Commission) in 1988.
Corruption ultimately brought Joh’s premiership to an end. According to party-room records revealed years later – Joh was allegedly set to receive up to $20 million to facilitate the construction of what would have then been the world’s tallest building in Brisbane.
His National Party colleagues refused to wave the deal through, so Joh tried to reshape his Cabinet. He demanded five Ministers resign – they refused. He demanded the Governor of Queensland, Walter Campbell call an election despite the Parliament only being a year old – which Campbell declined. Joh was ultimately challenged by Mike Ahern – ending 19 years as Premier.
Joh himself was put on trial for perjury in 1992 but the jury deadlocked.
According to another episode of Four Corners from 2008: ‘A later inquiry conducted by Justice Bill Carter found the [jury] selection process had been manipulated by ... ex-police officers ... helping to put Joh before a jury led by Young Nationals member, Luke Shaw’.
When corruption really gets into the bones of a society the damage it does to institutions can take generations to heal.Read more
NATIONAL PRESS CLUB ADDRESS
TUESDAY, 29 AUGUST 2023
SUBJECTS: Australian Centre for Evaluation, multinational tax transparency, competition in the airline industry, supermarket prices, matters to be included in the Competition Review, Intergenerational Report, evaluation and public service capability building, industry policy, local manufacturing.
ANDREW TILLET (MODERATOR): Thank you Dr Leigh, unfortunately we’ve gone a little bit over time for this speech so we might have to get straight to the Choose Your Own Adventure part of the proceedings and go to questions from our colleagues. First up is Paul Karp.
PAUL KARP: Thanks very much for your speech Dr Leigh, Paul Karp from the Guardian. Could I ask on a different topic about country by country multinational tax transparency? Has Australia been warned that other countries might actually share less information if we enact these rules in their current form, and is the government preparing to water down the reforms so that we collect information in the same format as the EU?
ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR EMPLOYMENT, CHARITIES, COMPETITION AND TREASURY ANDREW LEIGH: Thanks very much for your question, Paul. Our multinational tax agenda isn't just closing loopholes, it's about boosting transparency. The House recently passed one transparency measure, which will require all public firms to report on the country of tax domicile of their subsidiaries. So if a company is doing business in a tax haven, then their investors will know about it. Another part of it as you rightly point out is country-by-country reporting. We're going to make sure we get that right, so that the information that is currently reported to the Australian Tax Office by its counterparts in other countries isn't diminished. The European Union moves to country-by-country reporting on the first of July next year. And our view is that aligning the Australian timetable with European Union makes sense. We're keen to ensure that the maximum amount of information is out there, while guaranteeing that the ATO still gets the data it needs in order to do its job.Read more
EVALUATING POLICY IMPACT: WORKING OUT WHAT WORKS*
National Press Club, Canberra
Tuesday, 29 August 2023
Social workers in schools always boost student outcomes. Drug offenders shouldn’t be treated differently. Malaria bed nets are more likely to be used if people pay for them. Seeing inside a jail will deter juvenile delinquents from becoming criminals.
All four statements sound perfectly sensible, don’t they? Unfortunately, randomised trials suggest that all four are perfectly wrong. Let me explain.
In Britain, pilots of social workers in schools showed that everyone liked the idea. Teachers, social workers and students all liked it. Then researchers at Cardiff and Oxford Universities ran a two-year randomised trial across 300 schools to test the impact. The results, reported this year, showed no significant positive impact (Westlake et al 2023). As a result, the planned national rollout has now been scrapped (Molloy 2023).Read more
MONDAY, 28 AUGUST 2023
SUBJECTS: Pat Farmer's Run for the Voice; Indigenous Voice to Parliament.
ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR EMPLOYMENT, CHARITIES, COMPETITION AND TREASURY ANDREW LEIGH: Welcome, everyone. Thank you so much for being here at the aptly named reconciliation place. My name is Andrew Leigh, the Federal Member for Fenner and it's a real privilege to be here this morning.
We've got the remarkable Rob de Castella former World Marathon record holder and founder of the Indigenous Marathon Foundation.
ROB DE CASTELLA AO: Good morning everyone and thanks Andrew. Pat, you are amazing. Isn’t this man amazing? (Applause) You’re two thirds of the way through the journey. The conviction and the drive and the effort to highlight the significance of this referendum that acknowledges First Nations people and gives them a seat at the table is absolutely amazing.