Mapping the Northside

Next Tuesday, we'll be launching the final 'people's map' of the northside of Canberra. Details on the BAC website (and below).
Tuesday 3 April > 6:00pm

In 2011, Belconnen Arts Centre and Andrew Leigh MP ran a joint project: ‘Mapping The Northside’. Come along and hear about the 160 favourite places of the many local residents who participated. Learn about the special natural, cultural, gastronomical and sporting spots, and find out the most popular place in the federal electorate of Fraser. The event will feature live music and light refreshments.

Cost > Free! Bookings recommended

More information & bookings > [email protected] or 02 6173 3300
Add your reaction Share

Belconnen Community Forum

I held one of my regular community forums at lunchtime today at the Belconnen Community Services theaterette ('theatre@bcs'). I started off speaking about the mining tax package, which has just passed the parliament, and will provide for a cut to the company tax rate, an increase in superannuation, and more investment (particularly in the mining regions).

There were a wide variety of questions, covering the Gonski review of school funding, local arts facilities, the National Disability Insurance Scheme, refugee policy, the purchase of submarines, the lack of a letterbox at the Kangara Waters community, defence force and public service pension indexation, the adequacy of footpaths in the city centre, the merits of taking on debt to pay for fiscal stimulus, the frequency of grass cutting, household assistance in the carbon pricing plan, and the effect of federal pension increases on ACT public housing costs.

I enjoy the interplay of ideas at these forums, and welcome anyone who lives or works on the northside of Canberra to come along to a future community forum.

This forum was held on a weekday lunchtime, but there's no perfect time of the day for a community forum, so I aim to vary the dates and times to allow as many people as possible to attend. For details of upcoming forums, click here.
Add your reaction Share

AYAD Farewell Speech - 21 March 2012

I had the pleasure of farewelling the Australian Youth Ambassadors for Development in the foyer of the High Court of Australia on Wednesday night. Here's an audio file of my speech.
Add your reaction Share

Better Regulating Financial Advice

A bill regulating financial advice passed the House of Representatives today. Due to a bit of a fillibuster by the Coalition, I ended up not speaking in the debate, but I thought I'd post my speech here.
Corporations Amendment (Future of Financial Advice) Bill 2011

The collapse of Opes Prime and Storm Financial affected thousands of Australians, each one a story of betrayal and loss.  I want to share just two.

In February 2008, Tracey Richards went to see her Storm Financial planner. Instead of withdrawing money to buy a motorhome, she was persuaded to borrow another $200,000 and invest more deeply in the share market. For the Brisbane receptionist, this was her third big margin loan investment through Storm. The first investment in 2001 was her life savings of $250,000, with another $400,000 later added from the sale of her home.

Now all is gone.

In its place was a debt of $300,000 Tracey could not repay. A mother of three, Tracey wondered how on a salary of $45,000 she received a $1.48 million margin loan from Macquarie Bank with an annual interest bill of $115,000. She became suicidal.

Eileen Miller was another victim of the Storm collapse. In 2006, Eileen and her daughter visited a financial advisor hoping to invest the nest egg left by her husband, who died of cancer in 2005. Having left her the house, two thirds of a boat and $300,000 in cash, Eileen’s daughter made it clear, ''The house was not to be at risk under any circumstances”.

In time, documents were put in front of Eileen to sign.

Eileen remembers receiving no explanation of what she was signing, and as a result, she ended up borrowing $750,000 secured against the house. Most of this went into a margin loan with Macquarie Bank, with the financial advisor was paid an unknown portion as commission.

When the financial crisis struck, the advisor called Eileen and her daughter in for a meeting. He told them “the stock market has gone down; I thought it would come back but everything's gone”. The cash was gone, the boat was gone and she was in danger of losing the last substantial thing she owned. Her house - a comfortable but modest weatherboard cottage.

Eileen, Tracey and the thousands of others who were ‘Stormified’ show us financial advisors have a responsibility to their clients. If financial advisors are charging on-going fees for their advice it is only reasonable and fair they remain in regular contact with their clients.

A person’s lifetime savings are too important. They are about securing dignity in retirement.  Ensuring Australians are able to enjoy their retirement and live comfortably without having to worry about being able to pay the bills.

The Labor Party has a proud tradition of being the workers party. We are the party that looks after consumers. Labor introduced the Prices Justification Act in 1973, the Trade Practices Act in 1974, the National Competition Policy on 29 March 1995, and has a tradition of looking after consumers to protect Australians from unconscionable business practices.

This Bill is part of that tradition because good government involves the economic and the social. They are not mutually exclusive and the Labor Party understands this. This is why we introduced the Superannuation Guarantee in 1992. Addressing the Australian Graduate School of Management in 1991, Paul Keating outlined his vision for a national, privately based superannuation scheme.

He said:

“Unless we can move we will put the Commonwealth Government aged pension scheme under unbearable stress and condemn an entire generation of elderly people to an unsatisfactory and poor provided retirement. A system of more adequate private provision of retirement income sympathetically interfaced with the public pensions system will not only better provide for the aged, but is more likely to preserve the dignity and independence each has enjoyed in their pre-retirement years.

It will make Australia a more equal place, a more egalitarian place, and, hence, a more cohesive and happier place. It is the safety net most Australians will need when they retire”.

Those opposite have always stood against superannuation reforms. The Liberal and National parties opposed the first 3 per cent of award based superannuation and then went on to opposed the second 3 per cent. When Prime Minister Keating moved to introduce a superannuation guarantee levy Wilson Tuckey drew on his ‘long history in the racing industry’ to compare the legislation to the ‘worst type of jockey … both stupid and dishonest.’

Mr Tuckey continued: ‘When the poor old employer levy gets to 12 per cent, what will it deliver? Luckily, it might deliver an overseas holiday and a few presents for the kids, but it will not deliver a retirement income at the inflated costs of those days.’

Minister Shorten has demonstrated a 12 per cent superannuation guarantee will provide a worker now aged 30 on average full-time wages with a real retirement benefit of over $553,000 at age pension age. That should leave some change after the ‘overseas holiday and a few presents for the kids.’

Today the Association of Superannuation Funds of Australia calculates $1.3 trillion of assets are in superannuation funds. Treasury forecasts estimate this will grow to between $3-5 trillion by 2025.

More than tripling today’s funds. To boost superannuation savings for low-income earners we have also introduced the Low Income Superannuation Contribution.

For Australians earning less than $37,000 a year, this will help ensure they effectively pay no tax on their superannuation. This will benefit up to 3.6million low-income earners. This alone will boost the superannuation savings of over 2.1 million women by $500 million in 2013-14 alone.

Roy Morgan estimates 2.2 million fund members pay commissions or ongoing fees for financial advice they do not receive. The opt-in provisions in this Bill prevent superannuation savings from erosion by paying ongoing fees without a person’s consent. This Bill ensures that financial advisors do not charge ongoing, open-ended fees where a client is receiving little or no service.

It is about instilling greater confidence and trust in financial services.  It is about providing greater consumer protection. It is about improving professional standards, transparency for clients and the regulatory powers of the Australian Securities and Investments Commission.

The opt-in provisions will only apply to new clients from 1 July 2012. Even then, only if an advisor is intending to charge ongoing advice fees will they need to provide notice. One-off transaction fees and ongoing payments for advice already provided do not apply to this Bill. If an advisor is already seeing a client at least every two years, the opt-in provisions will not be a cost burden.

However, the Financial Planning Association of Australia opposes the opt-in provisions. They talk of their administrative burdens and costs. But what about Australians who are burdened with fees for administration they don’t use, advice they don’t receive and ongoing costs that negatively impact on their retirement savings? It is a simple matter of priorities with a simple answer. The retirement savings of Australians come first.

The Industry Super Network agrees. They understand the opt-in provisions protect against replicating trail commissions. In their words, ‘it is inconceivable an advisor does not have to provide any disclosure of ongoing fees beyond the initial engagement’. Australians should be aware of the fees paid from of their superannuation investments.

Good advice and knowledge regarding superannuation is highly valued by the community. A campaign I ran in my electorate addressed the issue of lost superannuation. Together with Chris Bourke MLA, the campaign let Canberrans know how to find their lost superannuation. Lost superannuation is a particular problem in postcode 2615.  In suburbs like Dunlop, Holt, Flynn, Melba, Spence and Macgregor – there is $45 million in lost superannuation.  We launched the campaign to let Canberrans know about the ATO SuperSeeker website and the hotline number (13 28 65).

In Civic, we chatted to a part-time actor, who had recently found $6,000 in lost superannuation from a previous job. In Kippax, we met Kevin Rourke, who had read about our campaign in the Northside Chronicle. Kevin logged on to our laptop on Saturday and found lost superannuation for a job he had as a panel beater in the mid-1980s. The employer had died and Kevin had not known which superannuation fund he had put the money in. However, thanks to the ATO’s SuperSeeker website, Kevin has been reunited with his retirement savings from a quarter of a century ago.

Every Australian who receives financial advice should be able to trust that advice with confidence. Improving professional standards and increased transparency provide greater protection of a precious investment grown over a lifetime. This Government does not think it is OK for Tracey Richards to be told by her former adviser, “Ignore the margin calls; don't even talk to the bank; I'm your financial adviser, I'm taking care of it."

Or that Eileen Miller with, by her own admission, little financial literacy was left to trust her financial advisor would look after her.

The Leader of the Opposition once called Labor’s superannuation guarantee ‘a con job’.  Those opposite have been fundamentally uninterested in superannuation.  In not supporting this Bill, they again show they are fundamentally uninterested in the Australian people.

When Bob Hawke took office in 1983, just 40 per cent of the workforce had superannuation cover. By 1991, it was 72 per cent. In 2007, it was 94 per cent. Australians have more money invested in managed funds per capita than any other economy. Upfront fee agreements are standard business practice.

When you pay a plumber; electrician; your accountant; even your gym membership the fee is disclosed up front - you receive a quote. If additional fees are to be charged, they let you know why and what for. Typically, consent is given by a person’s signature. It is remarkable this practice has met such resistance by some in the finance services sector and the Opposition.

This Bill empowers Australians to act in their financial best interests.  It is wrong that 2.2 million Australians pay commissions and fees for advice they never receive. Retiring with dignity after a lifetime’s effort and contribution is not a luxury for the few. Thanks to vision and courage of Labor governments, it is the entitlement of many.
Add your reaction Share

Electoral Reforms

I spoke in parliament today about reforms to increase democratic participation.
Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Maintaining Address) Bill 2011
21 March 2012

My electorate of Fraser has one of the highest number of enrolled voters in Australia. As a result, we send out hundreds of enrolment forms to potential new electors and it is my pleasure to be able to send out every month hundreds of letters to people who have joined the rolls. It is a genuine delight to welcome somebody onto the electoral rolls.

In Australia, since 1924, we have had compulsory voting. We have recognised that with the many rights of citizenship there are responsibilities as well. One of those responsibilities is that every three years or so an elector should be required to vote in federal elections and, every four years or so, in state or territory elections. It is a right of all Australians and it is a great privilege, I believe. As other speakers have noted in this debate, there are many countries in the world in which people fight and die for this very right.

High voter participation matters because we know that, in countries where voter turnout is low, voter turnout is unrepresentative. In the United States and the United Kingdom, where about half of the electorate votes, you end up with those who vote not being a representative slice of the electorate. They are too often more affluent, older and better educated. As a result, governments are elected that do not truly represent the demographics of the entire electorate.

When we on this side of the House look at the issue of the electoral roll, we look at it through the lens of Labor values of equity and fairness and that all should participate in the electoral process. But so often we have seen those on the other side of the House approach the issue of enrolment through a partisan lens. In a contribution last night in this debate the member for Moreton referred to the point at which the Howard government closed the electoral rolls, in 2007, attempting to deny tens of thousands of people their say in that election, as one of the more shameful moments in the Australian democracy. That attempt to shut down the electoral rolls is something that this country should never see again.

Why did they do so? We know why. Study after study, including some of my own work, has shown that younger voters are less likely to support the coalition parties. Making a purely political judgment, those on the coalition benches have decided that they should do what they can to deny a say in the electoral process to younger voters.

It is also the case that people who were born overseas are less likely to vote for the coalition. I am sure that those opposite know this as well as me or any researcher in this space does. That is why they, during the Howard government era, under-resourced efforts to ensure that new migrants join the electoral roll. They have under-resourced efforts to ensure that young people maintain their electoral enrolment.

We on this side of the House do not believe that elections should be won or lost depending on who you manage to get onto the electoral roll. We believe that all Australians should be on the electoral roll and that election results should turn on the views of all Australians. So, we are not prepared to sit back and let an estimated 1.5 million voters stay off the electoral roll.

We are seeing a widening gap between the number of eligible voters and the number who are on the roll. The Australian Electoral Commission has estimated that since 2001 there has been an increase of over half a million electors who are not on the electoral roll. They estimate that by 2013 one-and-a-half million eligible voters will not be on the roll and will not be able to cast their votes. That is an average of 10,000 people per electorate—10,000 people who do not get to have their say in choosing the direction our nation should take. They do not get to participate in the choice that we will face at the next election between an optimistic, nation-building government—one that is prepared to tackle the big challenges, to make the investments that lay the prosperity for Australia's future—and a constantly carping and negative opposition. They will not get to make that choice. I think it is a pity for any Australian not to get to make that choice.

The reforms in the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Maintaining Address) Bill 2011 have been described as one of the most significant since the very introduction of compulsory voting in 1924. Yet the opposition do not support the bill. They, as a result, are managing to keep people off the electoral roll. It is almost as though they believe only the right Australians should be able to vote in elections. Those were the words of the Leader of the Opposition when asked about school retention. Last November he said:

'It is all very well keeping kids at school past year 10, but they have got to be the right kids …'

The opposition's opposition to this bill reflects the same philosophy. It is all very well having people on the electoral roll, but they have to be the right sort of voters. For those opposite the right sort of voters are not younger voters or overseas born voters, because they know that those voters are particularly unlikely to support the coalition parties. The Leader of the Opposition should explain which voters do not deserve to be on the electoral roll—which voters should not be participating in our electoral process.

The Labor Party is founded on democratic principles. It was the progressive parties that saw the introduction of the universal franchise, first getting rid of the property qualifications, then extending the franchise to women and then extending the franchise to Indigenous Australians. All these expansions of the franchise have occurred thanks to the progressive side of politics—and each has been fought by the conservative side of politics. You can go all the way back to the Eureka Stockade movement to find those in the progressive movements in this country encouraging the expansion of the franchise against the conservative moneyed interests who wanted the franchise as restricted as possible.

Labor believes that casting a vote is a basic expression of democratic participation. We want all Australians who are eligible to vote to do so, particularly young people, who are becoming increasingly disengaged from politics. We want them to be engaged in the democratic process. I took the opportunity to look at the share of Australians in the last half-century who have cast a valid vote—the share of Australians who have turned up to the electoral polling place and not voted informally—and that share has been declining. There is a greatly concerning downward trend in the share of Australians, even conditional on being on the roll, who are actively participating in the democratic process. I think that is a pity, and it is something we need to reverse.

As a result of this bill the Electoral Commissioner will be able to directly update an elector's enrolled address following receipt from reliable and current data sources from outside the AEC. That will be particularly important in my own electorate of Fraser, which has a high level of mobility—many Australian moving here to study at one of the great universities in the ACT or to work in the fine Commonwealth Public Service. This bill will enable them to maintain their democratic rights to vote and participate by making sure that their record on the electoral roll remains accurate. At the moment eligible electors are being removed from the roll despite the AEC having accurate information of their current address. That is having a detrimental effect on enrolment rates, and we want to change that.

Under this bill an elector will be notified of the intention to enrol them at a new residential address. They will be given an opportunity to object to the change, and people who are not on the roll will still need to enrol in accordance with the current requirements of the Electoral Act. In response, there has been some scaremongering, and I think this scaremongering has been put to bed most nicely by the member for Melbourne Ports, who has noted that between 1999 and 2010 there were six electoral events, including a referendum, and 72 proven cases of electoral fraud. Within those six events, approximately 72 million votes were cast. As the member for Melbourne Ports points out, this is a fraud rate of one in one million. This is not a problem that should cause us to hold back 1½ million Australians from the electoral roll.

I am proud of the fact that my own electorate of Fraser has a lower informal voting rate than the national average, but I am concerned by the fact that that informal voting rate has risen—from 2,679 voters in 2007 to 5,171 voters in 2010. I do not want to represent an electorate in which everyone has not had their say. I want that informal voting rate to be as low as possible. I want Australians to be participating in the democratic process.

In Disconnected I encourage civic engagement, contacting politicians and participating in the political process. In recent elections we have seen one out of 10 Australians failing to participate in the electoral process, even those who are on the roll—either failing to show up to the polling booth or spoiling the ballot paper. That is emblematic of a wider disengagement across other aspects of civic participation. In Australia it is a democratic right and responsibility to cast a vote and have your voice counted in the choice of government.

The next election will be a critical election for our nation's future. It will be one in which the Australian people have a clear choice between the economic management that saw us through the global financial crisis and an approach to economic management that says, 'When downturns hit, governments should cut back and cause Australia to slide into recession.' We have an opposition with a $70 billion black hole—$70 billion of undisclosed cuts—and whose first priority will be to cut taxes on the most carbon-polluting goods, to cut taxes for the big miners and to reinstate a private health insurance rebate for millionaires and billionaires but who, when asked about an issue like a national disability insurance scheme, say, 'Well, we don't know if we can do that straight away; that's not a priority for us.' The opposition, if elected, would cut 12,000 Public Service jobs, and they have said that the axe would swing hardest on the ACT. The member for North Sydney talks about making 12,000 Canberra public servants redundant. When the issue arose, we heard the member for Kooyong interject, 'And that's just for starters.'

We are proud of our record. We are proud to go to the Australian people. We want to go to the next election with the biggest rolls possible—with as many Australians as possible on the rolls and eligible to participate. Ours is not a philosophy that the franchise should be restricted—that it should be kept to only the right sort of people. We want those 1½ million eligible Australians to be able to cast their vote at the next election, because we believe in the fundamental values of equality, democracy and fairness. I commend this bill to House.
Add your reaction Share

Centenary of Canberra

I spoke in parliament last night about the Centenary of Canberra in 2013.
Centenary of Canberra
20 March 2012

One hundred years ago Walter Burley Griffin said that he wanted to design a city for a nation of 'bold democrats'. On 12 March 2013 Canberra will celebrate its centenary, a celebration that all Australians can be proud of. Tonight I want to speak about two exciting aspects of Canberra's centenary. The first is the opportunity to speak in greater depth about what our history means and where it has been going. It is my pleasure this evening to engage in one aspect of this—a forum hosted by the Australian Institute of Landscape Architects entitled 'Sex in the city' in which noted architecture writer Elizabeth Farrelly presented her views on gender and urban development. I would like to thank Paul Costigan, Diane Firth, my fellow commentator, Gary Rake, and many others for an important discussion about where a great Australian city is to go. Better understanding your own city is the first step towards improving it.

The second aspect that Canberra's centenary will highlight is the importance of understanding our local communities. When I wrote a book on social capital - the community ties that bind us together - it turned out that Canberra was the place in Australia with the strongest social ties, and I think part of this harks back to our strong urban form. But there are still worrying trends. For example, from 2007 to 2010 the number of informal votes in my electorate rose from 2,679 to 5,171. That is more than 5,000 people whose votes did not affect the outcome of the election. It is important to re-engage Australians with our polity, and part of that will be through the Portrait of a Nation process. I am pleased to be the patron of Portrait of a Nation, which will involve Canberrans coming to better understand their suburbs.

Canberra suburb and street naming is unique to the nation's capital. Most of the suburbs and streets are named after famous, sometimes forgotten, Australians. Portrait of a Nation will be a chance for Canberrans to delve deeply into the history of their suburb, whether that be holding a street party on the birthday of the person after whom their suburb is named or simply getting friends and family together for a street party. I have found that street parties are enormously valuable in improving the social bonds that tie us together. My wife, Gweneth, and I have held our street's party in three of the last six years. We have found it is a great way of getting to know our neighbours better and getting to know those who have moved into the street over the previous year.

The Centenary of Canberra also involves many other important events. For the centenary the motto of the ever-energetic Robyn Archer is 'seed now, blossom in 2013, flower for another hundred years'. One of the events will be You Are Here, a 10-day curated festival showcasing the energy, innovation and talent from Canberra's thriving creative and independent scene. Dollars for Dili recognises the sister city relationship between Canberra and Dili and will focus on building the capacity and education of young people. It is based on the principle that it is better to give than to receive.

There was an exhibition entitled 'Devotion, Daring and a Sense of Destiny', launched by Mr David Headon, which showcased the key role played by surveyors in the early history of Canberra.

There are many other projects that are being discussed as part of Canberra's centenary. I know that you, Mr Speaker, have ideas as to how the quarter-centenary of this very building could be incorporated as part of the centenary of Canberra. It will be an exciting year for Canberrans and an exciting year for all Australians. I urge all Australians to be part of this tremendously important celebration of our nation's capital.
Add your reaction Share

Great Northside Places - Part I

Following my praise of the northside of Canberra, my southside colleague Gai Brodtmann has fired back a couple of recent salvos. So I've decided that only empirical evidence will settle our north versus south dispute.

As a first step, let's answer a simple question: is the coffee better or the northside or southside? To test this, Gai and I will each nominate our favourite cafe. We'll subject ourselves to the decision of a trio of members of the fourth estate.

So if you're a coffee-loving journalist, and would be willing to judge, please get in touch. And if you're a northsider with a favourite cafe, please let me know.

I find it hard to imagine that any cafe in the south can hold an empty coffee mug to Roasters, Wilburs or Black Pepper, but we'll soon find out what some independent assessors think.
Add your reaction Share

Chris McElhinny

I spoke in parliament today about the late Chris McElhinny.
Chris McElhinny
19 March 2012

Dr Chris McElhinny, Senior Lecturer in Silviculture at the ANU Fenner School of Environment and Society, died on 18 February 2012. Chris's first career was as a craftsman and teacher in wood. He taught at the then Canberra—now ANU—Institute of the Arts from 1983-1991. Amongst other distinctions in that role, he made the furniture for the Parliament House suite of the President of the Senate.

My neighbour Brian Turner tells me that Chris's curiosity led him to then enrol in an undergraduate forestry degree. He flourished in a brilliant second academic career, being awarded the Schlich Medal for his undergraduate studies in 1998, a University Medal on completion of his Honours degree in 1999 and a PhD in 2004 for his research on the structural complexity of woodlands. Chris joined the academic staff of what is now the Fenner School in 2005 and his capacity to engage and motivate students, to help them learn and to challenge them to excel were inspiring to his colleagues and students. So too were his talents to help his students publish the results of their work and the quality and collaborative spirit of his own insightful research about Australia's forests and woodlands. Chris's courage and good humour in the face of an untimely and ultimately terminal illness were equally characteristic.

I extend my sympathy to his wife, Sarah, and their children and family. Chris's professional legacy endures in the many graduates of his courses, through those he supervised in his and their publications and in the beautiful woodwork that helped catalyse his interest in Australia's forest and woodlands.
Add your reaction Share

Reframe @ ANU

On 4 April, I'm speaking at an ANU event around Eric Knight's book Reframe.

Details, details:
Venue: Molonglo Theatre, JG Crawford Building 132, Lennox Crossing, ANU
Date: 4 April
Time: 5:30 pm - 7:00 pm
Add your reaction Share

The Politics of Fear

I have an article on the ABC Drum website today about the politics of fear.
Power-seeking politicians walking the low road on fear
ABC The Drum Opinion, 19 March 2012

For centuries, power-seeking politicians have recognised that scaring the public is an effective tactic to win support.

Today, with ready access to a media that's hungry for shocking stories, any parliamentarian who wants to whip up fear will usually find a ready audience.

Nowhere is this truer than in the case of fear of crime. Most Australians – particularly those whose major source of information is talkback radio – believe that crime is high and rising. And yet as a report earlier this month from the Australian Institute of Criminology showed, most categories of crime in Australia have been falling over time.

Alas, some members of the Federal Opposition this week decided that they would take the low road, and exploit community fear of crime for partisan ends.

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott spoke of a 'reign of terror on the streets of Sydney'. For anyone who missed the first dog-whistle, Scott Morrison added, 'If you can't stop the boats, you can't stop the guns'. Neither admitted that officers from customs and police – working with their European counterparts – had successfully shut down an attempt to smuggle guns into the country. Spreading misinformation on any issue is damaging, but it's particularly harmful in the case of crime.

Indeed, it was the great legal scholar Jeremy Bentham who first suggested that crime might have an impact on non-victims. A violent crime, Bentham suggested, did a 'primary mischief' to its victim. But it also caused a 'secondary mischief'. As reports circulated, people would go out of their way to avoid the spot where it happened. Some might spend money to protect themselves. Others could be too scared to leave their homes at all. Bentham's work showed that the ripples of crime spread out well beyond the event itself.

A few years ago, as an economics professor at the Australian National University, I carried out a study with UK economist Francesca Cornaglia in which we aimed to test Bentham's theory in Australia. Matching up surveys of mental wellbeing with data on police crime reports, we found that an increase in crime was associated with lower levels of mental wellbeing for people who were not a victim of any crime. When crime surged, people in the neighbourhood who hadn't been victims tended to experience more emotional problems, nervousness and depression.

Moreover, we found that media reports of crime act as a 'multiplier' – causing crime to have an even larger negative impact on mental wellbeing. This suggests that misleading media reports – including those fuelled by self-serving politicians – could lower people's mental wellbeing.

On crime, perhaps more than any other issue, there is a tendency for increases to be reported more than decreases. Good education results make a perfectly decent newspaper story, but no TV news reporter ever started off the evening bulletin with saying 'There weren't any murders today'. Yet because of the impact that crime reports have on mental wellbeing, accurate crime reporting matters.

That puts the onus on to politicians to act in the national interest, and speak responsibly about crime rates. Every time a politician gets a sound-grab on the evening news that misleads people into thinking that crime is rampant, thousands of Australians reassess their evening plans.

As we know, political fear campaigns run by people like Pauline Hanson and Jean-Marie Le Pen weren't brilliant tactical manoeuvres – they just reflected a willingness to walk the low road. Frightening the public isn't difficult – it's just an approach that most politicians choose not to adopt.

Andrew Leigh is the Federal Member for Fraser and you can find his website here.
Add your reaction Share

Stay in touch

Subscribe to our monthly newsletter


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.