Afghanistan Speech

I spoke in Parliament yesterday on the Australian mission in Afghanistan.

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.
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West Belconnen Health Co-Op

I spoke in Parliament yesterday about the terrific work of the West Belconnen Health Co-Op in Charnwood and the Belconnen town centre.

West Belconnen Health Cooperative
Andrew Leigh MP
26 October 2010

I rise today to inform the House about some terrific progress being made by the West Belconnen Health Cooperative in Charnwood. Earlier this year the local community owned and professionally managed health co-op opened. I had the pleasure of recently visiting the health co-op and I was shown around by Michael Pilbrow, the current Chair of the West Belconnen Health Cooperative. The co-op began providing a bulk-billing GP medical service from a centre in Charnwood which served one of the more disadvantaged populations in my electorate. It is funded by small annual fees which are charged to co-op members. The centre currently has over 5,400 people with co-op memberships.

The centre began thanks to $220,000 of seed funding from the Commonwealth government in 2009, which was matched by $220,000 from the ACT government. According to board members, the seed funds were invaluable in helping them to fit-out the premises and get the co-op established. I would like to use this opportunity to acknowledge the work of Bob McMullan, my predecessor as the member for Fraser; the Minister for Health and Ageing, Nicola Roxon; and the ACT Minister for Health, Katy Gallagher.

The co-op now has five doctors working with it, all recruited from outside the ACT, particularly from the oversupplied UK. This is significantly helping to address the local GP shortage. The centre is now looking to expand, with six doctors, three practice nurses and several support staff. This extended space at Charnwood will be opening within weeks and will enable the co-op to provide space for a bulk-billing pathology provider.

The co-op is opening its second health centre this week in Totterdell Street in the Belconnen town centre. Other organisations are invited as community partners to become involved with the professional health services of the co-op. The co-op board has recently decided to employ a community relationships manager whose key responsibility will be to integrate some of these relationships such as with the Junction Youth Health Service and with Companion House, which supports survivors of torture and trauma.

I would like to acknowledge the hard work of several individuals involved in the co-op: Michael Pilbrow, the chair; Roger Nicoll, the current deputy chair and previous chair; Peter White, the secretary; Brian Frith; Paul Flint; Joanne Courtney; Jenny McGee; and Ross Maxwell. I would like to conclude by acknowledging the skilled volunteers who served for no pay on the original committee and the subsequent board of directors. They had the vision and the commitment to pursue a dream of a community owned health centre rather than complain and wait for someone else to fix the problem.
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PM's speech launching 'Disconnected'

Julia Gillard launched my book Disconnected in Parliament House yesterday. Here's her speech.

Prime Minister
Book Launch
Disconnected by Dr Andrew Leigh MP
Tuesday 26 October 2010

It is a real pleasure to be here today to launch this book and I again congratulate you Andrew on your election to parliament.

You bring great gifts to public life and I know you will make a great contribution for the people of Fraser and for the people of Australia.

The publication of this book continues a long Labor tradition of elected represent-tatives taking seriously the job of inquiry and analysis though the written word.

Think of Barry Jones, John Button, Craig Emerson, Lindsay Tanner or Wayne Swan; and in an earlier generation Race Mathews, Gough Whitlam and Jim Cairns.

Andrew Leigh now joins that long tradition of Labor intellectuals and he is a very welcome addition to that pantheon indeed.


Like his mentor Robert Putnam, Andrew Leigh has for a decade or more patiently collected data on the trends and patterns that map the state of our social capital over the past 60 years.

And the result is this new work, Disconnected, which I am honoured to launch today.

Like Putnam’s seminal book Bowling Alone, Disconnected is a revealing snapshot of where Australian society stands in 2010.

Revealing and disturbing because it clearly shows that our incredible accumulation of wealth and personal freedom has been accompanied by a loss of community.

Andrew’s research quantifies something we’ve all suspected for a
long time:

-        That there has been a widespread decline of participation in activities such as sport, religion, culture and volunteering, representing a worrying erosion of our social capital.

Those over 40 will be tempted to suggest that we’ve felt a shift from a way of life geared towards building social capital to a way of life where social capital is too often degraded and taken for granted.

As Andrew shows, that temptation is not without foundation.

Australians in the immediate postwar era were a nation of ‘joiners’.

More often than not we were active members of churches, unions, sporting clubs and political parties.

We volunteered in any number of community groups like the Lions Club or the Country Women’s Association.

We went ‘out’ to the movies instead of sitting in our home theatres.

We dropped in on friends and relatives and saw them face-to-face over
a cup of tea.

We visited the green grocer, the butcher and the bakery along a strip of main
street shops.

And the elderly were much more likely to be cared for at home and indeed to live
in households containing three generations.

Today, as Andrew notes, we use self-service check-outs and online banking.

We buy our bus or train tickets from a machine and no longer get to say g’day to
a toll booth operator because we’ve moved to electronic tags.

We’ve even replaced the luxury of browsing a bookstore with uploading books online.

It would be easy to simply blame technology which of course has a part to play.

And it is all too tempting to romanticise a past which hid many problems behind a facade of civility and cohesion.

But the truth is that social capital is declining, and while many people have the capacity for adaptation, large numbers of our fellow Australians are at risk of falling through the cracks and being left behind.

As that happens, the ambit of government is forced to expand to fill the gaps in our social fabric which, contrary to the views of some commentators, is not something anyone on the progressive side of politics wants to see.

And why?

Because we know that however worthwhile transfer payments and other government interventions are, in the end they cannot replace the fabric of a healthy and vibrant community.

Nothing we do in the public sphere can ever substitute for having a good friend who can look after your kids when you suddenly have to work a night shift.

Or a local footy coach who gives a kid that extra sense of belonging because he knows things are tough at home.

Or the neighbour who checks in on an elderly neighbour because they haven’t been around for a few days and they’re worried.

These things are the essence of a good community, and Andrew’s book shows that regrettably such bonds are getting weaker, a conclusion reinforced by the Australian Social Inclusion Board in its report released in January How Australia is Faring.

Andrew’s findings suggest that this decline is not the result of any conscious decision but a by-product of new patterns of work and life that have emerged in recent years; and he lists them:

We work longer hours.

We spend more time commuting and those commutes are often more frustrating due to congestion.

We’ve suffered from the impact of television, which Andrew shows has had a corrosive effect on civic life wherever it has been introduced.

We spend more of our lives using impersonal technologies.

And Andrew indicates two factors that he believes have served to reduce social capital even though they are otherwise beneficial:

-        increased female participation in the labour force, which Andrew shows has diminished the social capital of our communities although it has obviously brought many other advantages to women and to our wider society;

-        and ethnic diversity, which the book shows can reduce the bonds of trust and cohesion, even though it also brings enrichment to our community in so many other ways.

Of course these sources of change are not going to be shifted quickly.

Indeed some should not or cannot be changed at all.

Nor is it the case that all of us will feel the decline of social capital equally.

A member of Generation Y who can invite 150 friends to their party via Facebook probably won’t feel they live in an uncaring society.

They may even feel an expanded sense of possibility in this new world of flexible workplaces, multiple career options and limitless technology.

But certainly there are those in our community for whom the decline in social capital has taken a real toll, and if Andrew’s book prompts our concern, it is to them our thoughts must first turn.

That includes those suffering from social exclusion because of chronic illness
or frailty.

From living with disability or mental illness.

From a lack of skills or self-esteem to engage with the workforce.

From geographic isolation, often compounded by poor public transport.

Or perhaps from being a new migrant without the language skills or cultural knowledge to fully participate in the community.

No matter the cause, all of these fellow citizens have a claim on our understanding and on our compassion as they negotiate a society ever more complex and less cohesive.

For many, inclusion begins with the security of welfare assistance and a place in public housing, the most basic elements of our social contract.

But a worthy agenda of social inclusion requires so much more.

It means investing in early childhood development and incentives to encourage better parenting.

It means giving people access to the transformative power of skills and education.

It means lifting our fellow Australians from dependence on welfare to the benefits and dignity of work.

And it means equipping our non-profit sector with the tools and confidence to craft new responses  to meet changing needs and demands.

I would also add that broadband will open up now possibilities for the socially isolated such as the elderly and home bound, a good reminder that the NBN is as much a social investment as an economic one.

All of these things are absolute priorities for my government and profound personal commitments for me as Prime Minister as well.

But in the end, as Andrew’s book itself concludes, building community is not something that can be left to government or its partners in the non-profit sector alone.

It is a job for all of us.

It is a job for each of us.

As Andrew argues, we need to value our communities by doing the small things
than can help rebuild social capital step by step, day by day.

And he gives a range of simple examples like patronising your local small businesses or holding a street party.

Donating to charity or sharing your time through volunteering.

Trying to ensure you eat lunch at work with others rather than alone.

And getting involved in a some kind of sporting group, activity or hobby.

He also adds this interesting idea: “Contact two politicians”, a suggestion I’m sure
he wrote before being elected to parliament!

As Andrew freely admits, this list is “just for starters”.

But more importantly, and this is his concluding note, it starts with us.

All twenty-two million of us.

Government can’t do it alone.

We can do much.

But we can’t do it all.

Margaret Thatcher may have once said that there is no such thing as society.

I would put it very differently and say: there is no substitute for community.

We cannot be the nation we want to be without the web of cooperation and trust that comes from a healthy accumulation of social capital.

As this book shows in sobering factual detail, that reserve of social capital has been degrading for 40 years.

It’s time to pause, take stock and rebuild.

And I thank Andrew for giving us a roadmap of how we might begin that journey in our own lives, just as this government has commenced that same journey at the policy level through an ambitious agenda of social inclusion and reform.

So friends,

I congratulate Andrew on this wonderful achievement.

It’s a great way to announce your arrival in public life and to signal that your formidable gifts of insight and intellect have been placed squarely at the service of the common good.

I also take this opportunity to thank Andrew’s family for their forbearance because the creation of a book is never easy at home.

Finally, I commend Andrew’s editor Phillipa McGuinness and the publishing team for bringing this work so handsomely to life because you have not only printed a book but helped sustain and enlarge a conversation that is vital to our nation’s future.

With these thoughts in mind, I proudly launch Disconnected

Written by Dr Andrew Leigh and published by the University of New South Wales Press –

And wish it every success.

Thank you very much.
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Labor and Liberalism

My opinion piece today is on the ALP and small-l liberalism.

Labor and Liberalism, Australian Financial Review, 26 October 2010

Are the Liberal Party the true defenders of liberalism in Australia? In his 2009 Deakin lecture, Liberal Senator George Brandis argued that liberalism was the golden thread that ran from Deakin to Menzies to the modern-day Liberal Party.

Yet the job of speaking out for individual liberties has often fallen not to the Liberal Party, but to their political opponents. The Sex Discrimination Act and Racial Discrimination Act were both passed by Labor governments – over the quibbles of some Liberal members of parliament. It took the current Labor government to remove from the statute books much of the explicit discrimination against same-sex couples. And that most liberal of ideas – an Australian Republic – finds 100 percent backing only on one side of the House of Representatives.

If we in the ALP have sometimes been coy about our liberalism, it is because modern Labor stands at the confluence of two powerful rivers in Australian politics. We are best known as the party that believes in egalitarianism – that a child from Aurukun can become a High Court Justice, and that a mine worker should get the same medical treatment as the bloke who owns the mine.

But we are also the party that believes in liberalism – that governments have a role in protecting the rights of minorities, that freedom of speech applies for unpopular ideas as for popular ones, and that all of us stand equal beneath the Southern Cross. In this, the modern Labor Party is the true heir to the small-L liberal tradition in Australia.

Alfred Deakin was one of the earliest Australian leaders to make the distinction between liberals and conservatives. Deakin argued that liberalism meant the destruction of class privileges, equality of political rights without reference to creed, and equality of legal rights without reference to wealth. Liberalism, Deakin said, meant a government that acted in the interests of the majority, with particular regard to the poorest in the community.

As for conservatives, to quote Deakin’s description of his opponents, they are:

‘a party less easy to describe or define, because, as a rule it has no positive programme of its own, adopting instead an attitude of denial and negation. This mixed body, which may fairly be termed the party of anti-liberalism, justifies its existence, not by proposing its own solution of problems, but by politically blocking all proposals of a progressive character, and putting the brakes on those it cannot block.’

While liberalism derives from a deep belief in individual freedom, conservatism depends on where one stands. In defending the established order of things, conservatives may find themselves supporting different institutions according to time and place. As Brandis noted in his 2009 lecture, conservatism ‘lacks the moral clarity to make the most fundamental judgments about right and wrong’.

Perhaps the Liberal Party could once claim to be the defenders of small-L liberalism. But today’s party has shed the livery of liberalism – and donned the crown of conservatism. Leaders such as John Howard and Tony Abbott are defined less by their support for individual liberties, and more by their defence of long-established institutions. Theirs is more the political philosophy of Edmund Burke than John Stuart Mill.

This approach can readily be seen in the modern Liberal Party’s hostility to the work of the independent Murray Darling Basin Authority and its opposition to using market-based mechanisms to address climate change. In both cases, the Liberal Party’s position is to defend the status quo.

Parties will continue to argue over the values that inspire them. John Howard fuelled the notion of ‘Howard’s battlers’ – the idea that working-class voters had deserted Labor. This was a daring rhetorical grab into Labor’s heartland – though one backed by little evidence, since low-income voters have always been more likely to support the ALP.

Yet in the process, Howard also placed himself and his party firmly in the conservative tradition. This was reflected in the Howard government’s stance on everything from reconciliation to refugees, the monarchy to multiculturalism. Although Brandis and other moderates in the Liberal Party would like to distance themselves from this, the party of Howard and Abbott is very much a party of conservatism: instinctively suspicious of social change.

A century on, it is hard to escape the conclusion that if Deakin were in the federal parliament today, he and his brand of progressive liberalism would find a natural home in the Australian Labor Party.

Andrew Leigh is the federal member for Fraser. Parts of this article draw on his maiden speech, which is available at
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Suicide Prevention and Mental Health

On 25 October 2010, I spoke in parliament on the issue of suicide prevention and mental health.
Mental Health, 25 October 2010

At age 22, I gave the eulogy at the funeral of my friend Andrew McIntosh, who had taken his own life. It was one of the hardest things I had ever had to do. Andrew was a high school friend of mine, a gifted athlete who could pick up a new sport within a few hours, a person who took the time to listen to his mates and who was always there to share a laugh. He drove a bright yellow Valiant Charger, loved music and was always up for a night out. Andrew was studying sports education at the time of his death. We all thought that he was on his way to becoming a great teacher. But none of us caught sight of the fact that the black dog had found its way inside him. Andrew died in 1994, but I know that his parents, Grahame and Rena McIntosh, still miss him every day.

I thought of Andrew in January of this year when I attended the funeral of Canberra lad Alex Hodgins, son of Judy and Tony Hodgins, who run the Gods Cafe at the Australian National University. Alex was a handsome man with a ready smile, and I knew him through the Gods Cafe, where he would often make my daily coffee and we would have a chat about what he was up to or what I was thinking about that day. On that day, back in January of this year, Alex’s loss had touched hundreds of his friends, and the church in Ainslie was overflowing with young men and women in the flower of their lives, all dressed in black, with their puffy red eyes.

There is no simple solution to reducing suicide, but we can improve the odds of survival. One of John Howard’s first acts as Prime Minister was the national firearms agreement, which cut the suicide rate by making it harder for people to get their hands on a firearm. Australians are also better at talking about depression today, thanks in part to public advocates like Jeff Kennett and Jack Heath, but there are still too many young people who take their own lives; too many parents who bury their own children. As a society, I think we can do better. I do not agree with parts of this motion we are debating today—I think it is a little too simplistic and there are some inaccurate claims about the current government—but I do respect the opportunity to talk today about the critical issue of suicide, the issues of mental health and what we can do about them.

At the moment the Labor government is delivering a range of new reforms which are aimed at trying to improve the way in which we as a society deal with mental health.

The Gillard government is rolling out up to 30 new youth-friendly services and providing extra funding for the existing 30 headspace sites. Headspace is a program that works with community youth services. The government is providing $25½ million over four years to expand the Early Psychosis Prevention and Intervention Centre, the EPPIC model which is referred to in the motion, in partnership with states and territories. The government is providing $13 million over two years to employ extra mental health nurses. The government is also providing $5½ million to extend the Mental Health Support for Drought Affected Communities Initiative through to 2011. And the Gillard government is providing resources in direct suicide prevention and crisis intervention programs, such as improving safety at suicide hotspots and increasing funding for Lifeline Australia.

I met recently with Mike Zissler, the CEO of Lifeline, and talked to him about the way in which Lifeline operates and the important role that Lifeline plays, not only through its well-known telephone hotline but also through the counselling support it can provide and through the training that Lifeline does in teaching us how to have a sensible conversation about suicide. Mike talked to me about the importance of using the ‘s’ word—of actually saying to someone you think might be contemplating suicide: ‘Are you thinking about suicide?’ He said that their research has shown that asking that simple question, actually using the word ‘suicide’, will often result in somebody who is on the brink saying, ‘Well, yes, I am thinking about suicide,’ and provide that crucial window to do something about it.

The government is providing more services and support to men, who, as previous speakers have noted, comprise about three-quarters of suicide victims, and through programs such as beyondblue expanding the reach of suicide support to men. The Gillard government is also providing resources to promote good mental health and resilience in young people in order to prevent suicide later in life. As previous speakers have also noted, this has been the first ever Commonwealth investment in the EPPIC model since its introduction in 1992. The Gillard government also has the first Commonwealth minister for mental health, recognising the importance that this government places on the issue of mental health. Labor has been building resilience in young children by expanding the KidsMatter program and has been funding initiatives in high-risk communities such as Indigenous Australia, which accounts for a disproportionate share of all suicides. Mental health is a particular second-term priority for the Gillard government. I know that the Minister for Health and Ageing has a series of meetings planned around the country with consumers and carers. He will be out there listening to their experiences and having those stories shape Labor’s policy.

On 12 October 2010 I opened a day-long event in my electorate titled ‘Towards recovery: how do we talk about suicide?’ It was run by the ACT Transcultural Mental Health Centre and the Mental Health Community Coalition. I wish to use the opportunity today to pay tribute to the hard-working organisers, including Simon Tatz, Brooke McKail and Simon Biereck. The event was conducted in Pilgrim House as part of Mental Health Week. Events like this help emphasise the importance of talking about suicide and help allow community groups, which provide the solution to this problem, to come together and talk about how they have addressed the issue and how we can do better.

I would like to finish my comments today by talking about the experiences of one of my staff, Lyndell Tutty. Lyndell is a woman who is always ready with a smile and a joke. She is somebody who is ready to make fun of me wherever I need to be taken down a few pegs. You would never know it from looking at Lyndell that she has had her own very serious battles with depression. Lyndell provided me with terrific help today in preparing the comments I have made in this place. I want to finish by quoting from her words on dealing with depression. She said:

'Education, recognising the symptoms, the triggers, and early intervention are the key.'

With education you are provided with tools and therefore hope and confidence that you can either manage your illness or beat it.

When you have no confidence and feel soulless the last thing you can do is believe in yourself, but with support, hope and education you can try your best to ride the dark moments until you are strong enough to believe.

Lyndell is now a terrific contributor to public policy in Australia and I am really proud to have her on my staff and to have the opportunity to contribute to this important discussion today.
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Lateline Interview

Lateline's Leigh Sales interviewed Kelly O'Dwyer and myself about the week in politics (multiculturalism, asylum seekers, water, economic policy and Afghanistan). Transcript and video here.
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Dignity in Retirement

I spoke in parliament yesterday about the importance of dignity in retirement.
Hansard  - 21 October 2010

One of the most important things a society can do is look after older members. Indeed, the first payment issued from the Commonwealth government was the age pension, instituted in 1909. Labor continues in that proud tradition today.

In the last term of government we increased the single age pension from 25 per cent of male total average weekly earnings to 27.7 per cent.  This was the largest increase in the pension since its inception. The

Gillard government is also committed to raising the minimum superannuation contribution from nine to 12 per cent.

Another important principle is ensuring that people live in homes that are appropriately set up for their needs. I am delighted to be joined in the gallery today by Charmian Leigh, who is here with Rosemary Chivers and Gabrielle Leigh and my parents Barbara and Michael.

Charmian is an occupational therapist whose work aims to ensure that veterans can continue to function in their own homes by installing a range of mobility aids such as ramps and handrails. I know one hospital in Sydney that refers to this work as that of the ‘geriatric flying squad’.

It is critical to providing older Australians with dignity in retirement, and I could not be more proud of Charmian and her work.
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Ride to Work Day

I spoke in parliament yesterday about 'Ride to Work Day'.

Hansard, 19 October 2010
Constituency Statements
Fraser Electorate: Ride to Work Day

I rise today to speak about a terrific community event called Ride to Work Day. On 13 October this year I had the opportunity to participate in Ride to Work Day, an event organised by Pedal Power in my local electorate. Honourable members may remember that that morning was particularly rainy, but I was fortunate to be joined at my local shops in Hackett by not one, not two, not three and not four, but five members of Pedal Power: John Widdup, Paul Truebridge, Tony Shields, Brendan Nerdal and Joy Clay. They were not only terrific company but took great advantage of the opportunity of cycling with me from my home to my work to lobby me, one by one—cycling alongside me and raising with me particular issues of concern they had about cycle paths in different parts of Canberra. It was a really enjoyable morning, I think, for all of us.

Pedal Power is one of those great local organisations we have in Canberra, with a membership of about 3½ thousand people. The organisation was founded with the support of Jim Fraser, after whom my electorate is named. It may interest members in this place to know that the organisation was founded on 11 November 1975, a date which we sometimes remember for other reasons.

Cycling is good for people’s health and it is important for the environment. Moving more people to a low-carbon transport approach is going to be one of the ways in which we tackle climate change along, of course, with the use of market based mechanisms. The government and the federal government are strongly committed to a transport plan which will increase the number of Canberrans cycling to work. I was delighted recently to open, with John Hargreaves MLA, a cycle path alongside Ginninderra Drive which will increase the opportunities for people in that area to cycle to work.

Cycling is also terrific fun. When I was an economics professor at ANU, I used to cycle into work whenever I could and I found that half-hour was sometimes the best thinking time I got in the day. It was also a time I got to bond with my one-year-old son, when I occasionally put him on the back of the bike.

Finally I want to congratulate Paul and Di Truebridge of Pedal Power for a program they run called New Horizons cycling development. This program won a national award last year and it is a program that is important in increasing the number of people who cycle to work. It is a program aimed at people who can ride a bike, but not very far or not with confidence, and who want to improve their riding knowledge and techniques so they can commute, go touring or just have fun on the bicycle. It is terrific to see Paul and Di Truebridge encouraging more people to get on two wheels than ever before.
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Congratulations to my ACT colleague Senator Kate Lundy, who has been named one of the Top 10 People Changing the World of Internet and Politics at the 11th World eDemocracy Forum held last week in Paris.
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First Speech

I gave my first speech to parliament today. The full text is below.

Thank you to all those who came along to hear it.

First Speech
Andrew Leigh
Member for Fraser
18 October 2010

It is hard to imagine a greater honour than to represent your friends and neighbours in our national parliament. Each of us brings to this place the hopes and dreams of the people who chose us. I am keenly aware both of the incredible opportunity the people of Fraser have bestowed on me, and the very great responsibility to them which that opportunity entails.

Let me begin, then, by telling you about my electorate of Fraser, and the city of Canberra in which it lies.

Fraser rests on the right bank of the Molonglo River, stretching north from the office blocks of Civic to the young suburbs of Bonner and Forde on the ACT’s northernmost tip. Because the leaders of the time decided that a capital city must have its own port, the electorate of Fraser also includes the Jervis Bay Territory, home to a diverse community, and a school where kangaroos graze on an oval overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

In the electorate of Fraser, some locations carry the names given to them by the traditional Ngunnawal and Ngambri peoples, who used what is now modern-day Canberra to hold their corroborees and feast on Bogong moths. Other suburbs are named after Australia’s great political leaders. For the people of Canberra, a nation’s proud history is embodied in our local geography.

Thanks to far-sighted decisions by generations of planners, Canberra’s hills are largely undeveloped. This means that many residents have the pleasure of looking up from a suburban street to see a hill covered in gum trees. From the Pinnacles to Mount Majura, the Aranda Bushlands to Black Mountain, our city’s natural environment offers ample opportunities to exercise the body and soothe the soul.

Economists like me are trained to believe in markets as the best route to environmental protection. And I do. But I also know that smart policy will only succeed if there is a will for action – if we believe in our hearts that we cannot enjoy the good life without a healthy planet.

As vital as our natural environment are the social ties that bind us together. In an era when Australians are becoming disconnected from one another, Canberra has some of the highest rates of civic engagement in the nation. Canberrans are more generous with our time and money, more likely to play sport with our mates, and more inclined to participate in cultural activities. Part of the reason for this is that we spend less time in the car than most other Australians, but I suspect it also has something to do with the design of Canberra’s suburbs.

During my time in this parliament, I will strive to strengthen community life not only in Canberra, but across Australia. In doing so, I hope to follow in the footsteps of my grandparents – people of modest means who believed that a life of serving others was a life well lived. My paternal grandfather, Keith Leigh, was a Methodist Minister who died of hypothermia while running up Mount Wellington in Hobart. It was October, and the mountain was covered in snow – as it is today. Keith was 59 years old, and was doing the run to raise money for overseas aid.

My mother’s parents were a boilermaker and a teacher who lived by the credo that if there was a spare room in their house, it should be used by someone who needed the space. As a child, I remember eating at their home with Indigenous families and new migrants from Hong Kong, Papua New Guinea, Chile, Cambodia and Sri Lanka.

That early experience informs my lifelong passion for Australia’s multiculturalism. With a quarter of our population born overseas, Australia has a long tradition of welcoming new migrants into our midst. Earlier this year, I attended a prize-giving ceremony for an art competition run as part of Refugee Week. First prize went to a Karen Burmese woman who had woven a traditional crimson tunic. Because she didn’t have a proper loom, the woman had taken the mattress off her bed, and fashioned a loom from her pine bed base. It is hard not to be overwhelmed by the courage and spirit of Australia’s migrants.

Near my home in Hackett, the local café is run by the three sons of James Savoulidis, a Greek entrepreneur who opened the first pizzeria in Canberra in 1966, and taught Gough Whitlam to dance the Zorba a few years later. Elsewhere in the Fraser electorate, you can enjoy Ethiopian in Dickson, Indian in Gungahlin, Chinese in Campbell, Vietnamese in O’Connor, or Turkish in Jamison. Canberrans who are called to worship can choose among their local church, temple, synagogue, or mosque. And yet I’ve never heard a murmur from my religious friends about the fact that the local ABC radio station broadcasts on the frequency 666.

My views on diversity and difference were also shaped by spending several years of my childhood in Malaysia and Indonesia. Sitting in my primary school in Banda Aceh, I learned what it feels like to be the only person in the room with white skin. And as I moved through seven different primary schools, I got a sense of how it feels to be an outsider, and the importance of making our institutions as inclusive as possible.

But clearly the experience didn’t scar me too much – because at 38, I’ve spent more than half my life in formal education. Sitting in Judith Anderson’s high school English class, I learned to treasure the insights into the human condition that come from the great storytellers – the works of William Shakespeare and Jane Austen, George Orwell and Les Murray, Leo Tolstoy and Tim Winton. Studying law, I learned that open government, judicial independence, and equal justice are principles worth fighting for. And picking my way through the snow drifts to attend Harvard seminars with Christopher Jencks, I came to appreciate the importance of rigorously testing your ideas, and the power of tools such as randomised policy trials (a topic about which members can be assured I will speak more during my time in this place).

In the decades ahead, education will be the mainspring of Australia’s economic success. Great childcare, schools, technical colleges and universities are the most effective way to raise productivity and living standards.

Improving education is also smart social policy. First-rate schooling is the best antipoverty vaccine we’ve yet invented. Great teachers can light a spark of vitality in children, a self-belief and passion for hard work, that will burn bright for the rest of their lives.

As an economist, much of my research has been devoted to the vast challenges of reducing poverty and disadvantage. I believe that rising inequality strains the social fabric. Too much inequality cleaves us one from another: occupying different suburbs, using different services, and losing our sense of shared purpose. Anyone who believes in egalitarianism as the animating spirit of the Australian settlement should recoil at this vision of our future.

But my research has also taught me that good intentions aren’t enough. As a professor-turned-politician, one of my role models is the late great US Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan. Moynihan was innately sceptical about every social policy solution presented to him. Indeed, his starting point was to expect that any given social policy would have no measureable effect. But these high standards didn’t make him any less of an idealist, and Moynihan never lost his optimism and passion. What we need in Australian policy today is not more ideologues, convinced that their prescriptions are the answer, but modest reformers willing to try new solutions, and discover whether they actually deliver results.

This spirit of optimistic experimentation has deep roots in our nation. Manning Clark once said that Australia was an experiment for the multiple faiths of the Holy Spirit, the Enlightenment and a New Britannia. So you get the sense that in these early days, the Australian project was one of expansiveness, enlargement and possibility, where people were prepared to take risks and try new ideas in an effort to show that in Australia we did things differently, and better, than elsewhere around the world.

This Australian project is not finished. It’s not something that stopped with the end of the First World War or with the death of Ben Chifley. And all of us, as today’s Australians, are the custodians of this project, a project that stretches back over generations and centuries, and binds all Australians, past, present and future, together in this greater cause. It is like the red sand that Gough Whitlam poured into the hands of the great Gurindji elder Vincent Lingiari, who declared ‘we are all mates now’. We have a responsibility to make sure that the Australian project, for the time that it rests in our hands, is advanced and continued. 

To me, the Australian project is about encouraging economic growth, while ensuring that its benefits are shared across the community. It is about making sure that all Australians have great public services, regardless of ethnicity, income or postcode. And it is about recognising that governments have a role in expanding opportunities, because no child gets to choose the circumstances of their birth.

Internationally, the Australian project should be one of principled engagement. Australia’s influence overseas will always rely on the power of our values. A respect for universal human rights and a passion for raising living standards should always guide the work of our military and our diplomats, our aid workers and our trade negotiators. In the shadows of World War II, Australia helped create the United Nations – guided by a belief that all countries must be involved if we were to create a more peaceful and prosperous world. That ideal must continue to inform how we engage with the rest of the world.

Another important part of the Australian project has been democratic innovation. What we call the secret ballot is elsewhere termed ‘the Australian ballot’. We introduced female suffrage a generation before many other nations. We made voting compulsory, recognising that with rights come responsibilities.

Yet for all this innovation, Australians have increasingly become disenchanted with their elected representatives. The problem has many sources: the rowdiness of Question Time, too much focus by the commentariat on tactics rather than ideas, and a tendency to oversimplify problems and oversell solutions. I hope to help rebuild a sense of trust between citizens and politicians.

It starts with respect, and a recognition that we can disagree without being disagreeable. Working as associate to Justice Michael Kirby taught me that intellect and compassion together are a powerful force for change. Admit that most choices are tough. Listen to others. Be flexible. And remember that the fire in your belly doesn’t prevent you from wearing a smile on your face.

Australian politics isn’t a war between good parties and evil parties. At its best, it is a contest of ideas between decent people who are committed to representing their local communities. I am happy to count among my friends people on both sides of this house – and I am sure some of those friends will be happy to know that I don’t plan to name them today.

That said, choosing between the parties has never been an issue for me. I was born in the year that Gough Whitlam won office, and when my mother’s pregnancy reached the nine month mark, she pinned an ‘It’s Time’ badge onto the part of her shirt that covered her belly.

It is a true honour to serve as a Labor representative today, alongside so many capable and talented individuals. Thank you to those who have given me advice already. There is much more I have to learn from each of you.

In the Labor pantheon, the parliamentarians I most admire are those who have recognised that new challenges demand fresh responses. Among these I count John Curtin and Bob Hawke, Paul Keating and John Button, Lindsay Tanner and Gareth Evans. For each of these men, their ideals and values were their guiding light; yet their proposals were as flexible and innovative as the situation demanded.

I also had the privilege to work briefly as trade adviser to the late Senator Peter Cook. Peter was an instinctive internationalist, as keen to chat with a visiting Chinese delegation as to swap stories with the Argentinean ambassador. He believed in ideas, enthusiastically working to persuade colleagues that anyone who cared about poverty should believe in free trade. Peter passed away in 2005, far too early. I wish he were with us today.

I also count among my role models two former members for Fraser. As a 16 year-old, I came to Canberra to volunteer for John Langmore, and was struck by the depth of his principles and the breadth of his knowledge. Never did I imagine that one day I would succeed him.

My immediate predecessor is Bob McMullan. Over two decades in federal politics, the people of the ACT supported Bob for being a superb parliamentarian, and because they were proud to have, on their home turf, a true statesman, who embodied every day the best of what politics can be. I acknowledge Bob, and all those elected by the people of Fraser before him. Their service has set a high bar.

As elected representatives, one of our most important jobs is to speak out on behalf of those who struggle to have their voices heard. The Labor Party has a proud tradition of defending individual liberties. Past Labor governments outlawed discrimination on the basis of gender or race. This Labor government has removed from the statute books much of the explicit discrimination against same-sex couples, and strengthened disability discrimination laws. And all Labor governments strive to protect the right of workers to bargain collectively for better pay and conditions. Our party also stands firmly committed to democratic reform, including the simple yet powerful notion that every Australian child should be able to aspire to be our head of state. 

The Labor Party today stands at the confluence of two powerful rivers in Australian politics. We are the party that believes in egalitarianism – that a child from Aurukun can become a High Court Justice, and that a mine worker should get the same medical treatment as the bloke who owns the mine.

But what is sometimes overlooked is that we are also the party that believes in liberalism – that governments have a role in protecting the rights of minorities, that freedom of speech applies for unpopular ideas as for popular ones, and that all of us stand equal beneath the Southern Cross. The modern Labor Party is the true heir to the small-L liberal tradition in Australia.

Alfred Deakin was one of the earliest Australian leaders to make the distinction between liberals and conservatives. Deakin argued that liberalism meant the destruction of class privileges, equality of political rights without reference to creed, and equality of legal rights without reference to wealth. Liberalism, Deakin said, meant a government that acted in the interests of the majority, with particular regard to the poorest in the community.

As for conservatives, to quote Deakin’s description of his opponents, they are:

‘a party less easy to describe or define, because, as a rule it has no positive programme of its own, adopting instead an attitude of denial and negation. This mixed body, which may fairly be termed the party of anti-liberalism, justifies its existence, not by proposing its own solution of problems, but by politically blocking all proposals of a progressive character, and putting the brakes on those it cannot block.’

A century on, it is hard to escape the conclusion that if Deakin were in this parliament today, he and his brand of progressive liberalism would find a natural home in the Australian Labor Party. (And given the numbers in today’s parliament, I am sure my colleagues would welcome his vote.)

For my own part, I would not be here without the support of the Australian Labor Party – Australia’s oldest and greatest political party – and the broader trade union movement. Ours is a party that believes in the power of collective action. When the goal is just and we are one, our movement and our party are unstoppable.

On a more personal level, I would also not be here without the bevy of volunteers who doorknocked, staffed street stalls, and handed out on polling day. Let me thank all of those who worked with me on this campaign, and gave up vast amounts of their time for a cause greater than any of us. Thank you also to my staff, who make me proud to walk into the office each day. I am deeply touched that so many friends, staff and supporters are here in the galleries to share this special day with me.

Let me also acknowledge and express my love for my parents Barbara and Michael, who instilled in my brother Timothy and me the simple values that guide us today: Be curious. Help others. Laugh often.

I hope that I can be as good a parent to my two sons – Sebastian and Theodore – as you have been to me.

To my extraordinary wife Gweneth, who left her home state of Pennsylvania for the unknowns of Australia. No matter how chaotic our lives become, you will always be the fixed point that puts everything else into perspective. In the words of John Donne, writing four hundred years ago to the love of his life: ‘Thy firmness makes my circle just, and makes me end where I begun.’

Finally, to the people who sent me here, the voters of Fraser. With the exception only of the neighbouring federal seat of Canberra, more votes were cast in Fraser than in any other electorate in Australia, and I am keenly aware both of the deep and diverse needs of our seat, and of the great trust and confidence Fraser’s voters have placed in me.

To them, I express my enormous gratitude for the honour they’ve given me of representing them in our nation’s Parliament. And to them I make this pledge – to do my utmost always: to represent their interests to the very best of my abilities, to remember always that their support for me is not my entitlement but their precious gift, and to ensure that, in their name, I make Fraser’s contribution to securing a better, fairer, more prosperous and more just future for our great nation.    
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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.