Drug Action Week 2011

My speech at the launch of Drug Action Week 2011.
Launch of Drug Action Week 2011
(themed ‘Looking After Your Mind’)

Thank you for braving a Canberra winter morning to be at Parliament House for the launch of Drug Action Week 2011.

We weren’t taught about it in primary school, but European settlement to Australia was inextricably linked to substance abuse.

So important was rum in the early colonies that it took the place of currency.

According to Russell Ward in The Australian Legend, ‘no people on the face of the earth ever absorbed more alcohol per head of population’ than Australians in the 1800s.

Indeed, Australia’s only successful armed takeover of government is the ‘rum rebellion’ of 1808, in which William Bligh was deposed.

It says something about the place of alcohol in this country, doesn’t it?

While the British have the Magna Carta, the Irish have their Easter Rising, and the Americans have the Boston Tea Party – we have the rum rebellion.

And yet Australia hasn’t always been behind the rest of the world when it comes to drugs and alcohol.

We were one of the first countries in the world to introduce Random Breath Testing, which has saved thousands of lives over recent decades.

We were among the first to introduce a Drug Court – recognising that you’re more likely to cut crime if you treat addiction as well as punishing wrongdoing.

That pragmatic approach – let’s see what works – is the hallmark of a successful treatment strategy. And it’s sensible, evidence-based policies that we’re pursuing today.

Drug Action Week

That brings me to Drug Action Week. This year, Drug Action Week will run from Sunday 19 June to Saturday 25 June.

The Australian Government has supported this very worthwhile annual event over a number of years and we are pleased to be involved once again.

Events such as these are valuable in helping improve awareness of the harm associated with drugs and alcohol, and their effects on our families, friends and the community.

Drug Action Week 2011 will see about 700 events taking place in the coming days.

These will include conferences, theatre events, youth group activities, remote Indigenous community concerts, outdoor movies, sporting events and other festival events.

This year’s theme is Looking After Your Mind. The aim is to draw attention to the links between drug and alcohol abuse and mental illness.

The risks to young Australians and to vulnerable communities of a binge drinking culture also feature in Drug Action Week 2011.

All of us – health workers, NGOs, governments, and the general public – must recognise the needs of people whose health is affected by both drugs and mental illness.

The facts speak for themselves: 35 per cent of people who use drugs also suffer from mental illness.

This Government has delivered on mental health, with a record $2.2 billion five-year reform package to drive fundamental reform in our system so that more lives are not needlessly lost.

A highlight of Drug Action Week 2011 will be the National Drug and Alcohol Awards in Sydney on Friday 24 June.

The awards will recognise and promote the achievements of those who work to reduce drug-related harm.

These awards, which this year are being coordinated by the Australian National Council on Drugs, are supported with funding from the Australian Government.

National Drug Strategy and related initiatives

Awareness activities like Drug Action Week support Australia’s National Drug Strategy.

The aim of the strategy is to build safe and healthy communities by minimising the health, social and economic harm related to alcohol, tobacco and other drugs.

It lays the foundation for a broad range of Government initiatives to reduce the demand for alcohol and other drugs, to reduce their supply, and to minimise their harm.

This is the year of action on mental health – and it will be a major factor in the Government’s second-term health agenda.

Investments in mental health in this year’s Budget build on existing arrangements by the Council of Australian Governments to improve services for people with drug and alcohol problems and mental illness.

In the sphere of drug and alcohol treatment services, the Australian Government is working towards the development of a new quality framework and funding model for services, including in the area of comorbidity where mental illness and substance use issues coincide.

In addition, the Government is investing in improved infrastructure and service delivery so that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people living in regional and remote areas will have better access to drug and alcohol treatment services.  The plan is to both expand existing services and establish new ones.


Ladies and gentlemen, drugs and alcohol affect all parts of Australian society, and it takes a collective effort to reduce their harmful effects on our family, friends and community.

Those Rum Corps roots that I spoke about will always be part of Australia’s history.

But so is that spirit of restless innovation – that finds problems, talks about them openly, and looks for practical solutions. We see that spirit in Australia’s traditional owners, and in those migrants that have come to this land since. That same can-do attitude underpins my belief that we can do more to reduce the harm done by drugs and alcohol – and that we will do so guided by good sense. Facts and evidence – not ideology and dogma – are the Australian way.

I commend the work of ADCA and its partners in bringing together  organisations and individuals across Australia to collaborate in this effort, and have great pleasure in officially launching Drug Action Week 2011.
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My AFR op-ed today is on dental care.
The Economics of a Smile, Australian Financial Review, 14 June 2011

The smile is one of the great puzzles of evolutionary psychology: why should people indicate pleasure by showing their teeth? Among chimps, a silent bared-teeth display is used to appease dominant members of the troop. But humans are the only species that also use smiles to signal happiness.

Yet what if the sight of your teeth makes people recoil? A 2006 New York Times article quoted Laurie Abbott, a 51 year-old diabetic lost all her teeth and could not afford to replace them. ‘Since I didn't have a smile,’ she said, ‘I couldn't even work at a checkout counter.’

Tooth decay begins when bacteria – fed by mouth sugars – eats through the enamel. As writer Malcolm Gladwell describes it, the cavity blossoms as it enters the dentin. When it hits the centre of the tooth, an insistent throbbing begins and the tooth starts to turn brown. Left unchecked, the tooth eventually becomes soft enough that a dentist can scoop parts away with a hand tool. Tooth decay has been described as one of the worst pains imaginable.

Some people say that the only reason they began abusing alcohol or hard drugs was to get momentary relief from their aching teeth. Dental problems can have other knock-on effects too. When your teeth are hurting, you’re less likely to have a good night’s sleep or eat fresh fruit – potentially compounding other health problems.

Although plenty of researchers have speculated about the relationship between dental health and earnings, few studies have been able to demonstrate causality. The poor are less likely to see a dentist, so it’s hard to know whether tooth decay causes poverty – or whether it is simply a marker of disadvantage.

In ‘The Economic Value of Teeth’, Columbia University economists Sherry Glied and Matthew Neidell use an incisive strategy to bite into the problem. Across the United States, the decision to fluoridate was driven primarily by local politics, not the initial quality of people’s teeth. The researchers find if you grew up drinking fluoridated water, you were more likely to have all your teeth as an adult (the subjects in their study grew up before fluoridated toothpaste or supplements became commonplace).

Using this natural experiment, Glied and Niedell then go on to analyse earnings. They find that women who drank fluoridated water during childhood earn more than women who did not, with the effect concentrated among those from the most disadvantaged backgrounds (puzzlingly, the researchers found no impact on men’s wages). The impacts are large, with the researchers estimating that losing a tooth costs the typical woman 3% percent of her hourly wage – largely because of consumer and employer discrimination. Bad teeth may be one reason why economists have documented a clear relationship between physical beauty and wages.

Such research implies that one way of reducing earnings inequality would be to improve dental care for low-income people Australians. Yet the historic trend has been in the opposite direction. In a recent paper, Sydney University’s Edmund FitzGerald and coauthors look at whether people had visited a dentist in the previous 12 months. They find that among teens from affluent households, the share who saw a dentist has stayed steady about three-quarters of the population since the 1970s. But among the poorest teens, the share that saw a dentist dropped from 56 percent in 1977 to 33 percent in 2005.

Given the evidence on how much teeth matter for earnings, it’s vital for policy to help fill the gaps.

One solution would be to stop asking low-income and middle-income Australians to fund the dental care of the rich. Under the 30 percent Private Health Insurance rebate, the taxpayer pays nearly one-third of a millionaire’s dental bill. This inequity is one reason that we are moving to put a means test on the rebate – a reform that has so far been blocked by the Opposition.

At the same time, the government is moving to improve public dental care by closing a poorly-targeted federal dental program to fund one that’s targeted at low-income households, and by funding more internships in public dentistry.

If we were creating a national health insurance system from scratch today, there would be a good case for it to cover dental care. But given the system we’ve inherited, getting from here to there would be an operation akin to pulling out all the teeth and replacing them with a set of dentures. Fixing the cavities is likely to be a better option.

Andrew Leigh is the federal member for Fraser.

I couldn't manage to work in Bryan Caplan's blog post on the topic, but highly recommend it nonetheless.
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Facts of the Day

on average in each working hour around 1,550 people move from being jobless to being employed, and about 1,530 people leave employment and become jobless

At the same time in any given period very large numbers of people move into different jobs, and from full to part-time work (and vice-versa), without actually changing employment status. This means that the extent of changes in the labour market must be much greater than even that suggested by these simple gross flows data.

(From Bruce Chapman and Kiatanantha Lounkaew, How many jobs is 23,510, really? Recasting the mining job loss debate.)
I AM a huge fan of randomised trials. Last year at Google the search team ran about 6,000 experiments and implemented around 500 improvements based on those experiments. The ad side of the business had about the same number of experiments and changes. Any time you use Google you are in many treatment and control groups.

(From Hal Varian, discussing randomised policy trials)
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Launch of Herb Feith biography

On 6 July, I'm launching Jemma Purdey's biography of the late Herb Feith. Herb was an extraordinary man who founded the organisation now known as Australian Volunteers International. He also happened to be a family friend.

All welcome - details here and below.
The 2011 Herb Feith Memorial Lecture & Book Launch

Herb Feith came to Australia as a Jewish refugee from an Austria reeling from the shock of Kristallnacht and a sense of impending doom and went on to become a renowned and passionate scholar of Indonesia. He died tragically in Melbourne in 2001. An inspiring figure, Feith was a pioneer in relations between Australia and Indonesia; a volunteer and civil servant working alongside Indonesians; a leading scholar, analyst and teacher; and an activist fighting for a better outcome for the impoverished and oppressed in Indonesia and around the world. He pioneered the influential program now known as Australian Volunteers International.

The launch of Jemma Purdey's book, “From Vienna to Yogyakarta: the Life of Herb Feith”, will be introduced by Andrew Leigh MP in Canberra on July 6, and will accompany the 2011 Herb Feith Memorial Lecture at Monash University on August 2 by HE. Kirsty Sword Gusmão.

Book launch by Andrew Leigh MP, Federal Member for Fraser and speech by Jemma Purdey, author of the Herb Feith biography (PDF brochure)

When: Wednesday, 6 July 2011, 6 pm – 7 pm

Where: Parliament House, Canberra
* Meet at Main Entrance at 5.45 pm sharp to sign in for a 6 pm start.

RSVP: Wednesday 29 June, 2011
Nik Feith Tan, 02 6261 2081
nik.feith.tan@ gmail.com
* RSVP compulsory for visitor passes to Parliament House.
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Young Canberrans Call for a Carbon Price

Media Release
Young Canberrans Call for a Carbon Price
7 June 2011

Andrew Leigh, Federal Member for Fraser, today received a petition signed by 700 Canberra students asking for a price on pollution.

The petition was presented by 23 young Canberrans as part of the Australian Youth Climate Coalition’s (AYCC) campaign encouraging young people to have their voice heard in the carbon pricing debate.

“These students are just some of the many who care deeply about acting on climate change,” said Andrew Leigh.

“They understand pricing carbon is the right thing to do both environmentally and economically.

Students from Campbell High School, University of Canberra, and the Australian National University discussed with Andrew Leigh why pricing carbon pollution was important to them and their peers.

Andrew Leigh said “Young people stand to lose the most if a price on carbon is not implemented.”

“Young people want a substantive debate on policy, not the endless negativity that we see from Liberals driven by their denial of the science.

“Labor’s plan to price carbon pollution for the 1000 biggest polluters will drive innovation. Labor will also compensate households.

“In contrast the Liberals want to tax householders and use this money to subsidise polluters. Their plan won’t achieve emissions reductions.

“Canberrans understand the science is settled and want to see a price on pollution.

“I’m proud to be standing with Canberrans from all walks of life for a price on carbon,” concluded Andrew Leigh.

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Sky Am Agenda 6 June 2011

Transcript - Sky News AM Agenda - 6 June 2011


E & OE


Subjects: Carbon tax, live cattle exports, asylum seeker policy



Good morning and welcome to AM Agenda. Joining me from Melbourne is Shadow Minister for Disabilities Mitch Fifield, good morning Mitch.


Good morning Kieran.


And with me here in the Canberra studio is Labor MP Andrew Leigh. Andrew, good morning to you.


G’day Kieran.


I want to start with you, if I can, on the carbon tax poll. I touched on it briefly with Bob Katter, but let’s go through some of the numbers, and I’ll put them up on the screen for our viewers. 64% support an early election, and just over 20% believe that the Prime Minister has a mandate for the carbon tax. This is an overwhelming number here for Tony Abbott, supporting his call for an election on this issue.


Well Kieran, we’ve spoken before on this program about the fact that polls two years out from the election have absolutely no predictive power. So I can understand why Mr Abbott is focussing on polls and running around the country doing a scare campaign, talking about an early election. Put yourself in Mr Abbott’s shoes, this is the problem that you have; you can’t talk about the past, because the past is Workchoices and ripping Australian jobs and conditions. You can’t talk about the future because you don’t have a plan for schools, for hospitals, for dealing with climate change. So all you can do is talk about elections and run around breathlessly fear mongering. And that’s all we’ve seen…


But Andrew, what we saw there in the numbers is 58% opposing the tax. That was the number – nearly 60% oppose the tax as it stands. 46% believe it’s going to have a minor impact on the environment. You have an enormous task ahead of you, don’t you – the Government must prosecute this.


Kieran it’s true, we’re up against a master of negative campaigning. But you’ve got to look at the policy here. This is a policy which will put a price on pollution for the thousand biggest polluters, and provide generous assistance to Australian households. And that stands in stark contrast to Mr Abbott’s policy, which, on the days that he has one at all, seems to be to subsidise big polluters. And we have to do this because it’s a core economic reform as well as being a core environmental reform. The Australian economy is a very carbon intensive one, so we need to make sure we’re not left behind by the rest of the world as we move towards putting a price on carbon pollution.


Senator Fifield, this poll follows yesterday’s protests around the country in support of the carbon tax. There were thousands out at protests around the capital cities; Melbourne, Perth, Sydney – there were some big crowds there. And if you look at this poll, nearly thirty per cent support the carbon tax, even despite the Government’s poor sales effort thus far. So they’ve got a base there to work with.


Well there were massive crowds protesting the dismissal of the Whitlam Government, but it still didn’t stop people voting for the Coalition in overwhelming numbers. The most interesting thing about this poll is that two thirds of the respondents think that there should be an election before a carbon tax is considered. The Australian people feel betrayed. Julia Gillard went to the last election and said that there would be no carbon tax under a government that she led. The other interesting thing in the poll is that three quarters of respondents believe that they would be worse off under a carbon tax; that they wouldn’t be able to afford to pay the extra impost on their household budgets. I think the reason the voting public think that is they just don’t believe Julia Gillard. She says that they’ll be better off, but she’s lied to them before; she lied to them before saying she wouldn’t introduce a carbon tax. So the Government really does need to heed this survey. It doesn’t matter how many celebrities are deployed in the field, or how many actors or actresses try to explain this, the Australian public aren’t convinced. I think the Australian public are sick and tired - when they express their concerns about cost of living pressures, when they express their concerns about a carbon tax – they’re sick and tired of being labelled climate change sceptics. Australian households are doing it tough. They don’t need an added burden on their household budgets, and it’s time this Government started to listen.


Senator Fifield, you know, though, that when these polls are done, and compensation is included, the support number goes well up. This poll doesn’t have that compensation question in there. When that’s asked, the number invariably does go up, according to the polls that we’ve seen.



When I move around the community talking to people, no one believes that the compensation is going to adequately recompense them for the increase in petrol prices, for the increase in electricity prices. People just don’t buy it.



But what happens when the tax cuts are implemented? You’ve run this campaign against the tax and the compensation, but when the government can say, ‘there are the dollars in your pocket,’ then you’ve got to argue that you’re rolling that back. It’s a lot more difficult.



We’re conceding nothing. We’re still fighting to stop this tax being introduced, and we’re going to keep fighting to stop this tax from being introduced. I think that the Australian public are going to make their feelings known, not just through this poll, but to their local Labor MPs. I think that the message will get through, and I think the Government would be well advised to see a sign in front of them that says ‘wrong way, turn back.’



Let’s look at a few other issues, if we can – the live cattle exports. Andrew Leigh, it looks like the Government is considering - according to the Herald today - restricting the exports to just a handful of abattoirs. There will be pressure remaining to ban this trade altogether, but would that be an encouraging start - to restrict it to just 10 or so abattoirs as opposed to the 100 where cattle are currently exported to?


Well Kieran I’ve seen the reports as well, and we’ll have to wait and see what the Minister has to say about that. But certainly, like many of your viewers I’m sure, I was shocked to see those images of how Australian cattle are being so horrendously treated in Indonesian abattoirs. Having the independent reviewer is important, we’ve shut down immediately exports of Australian cattle to those abattoirs, and I’m looking forward to other moves…



Does more need to be done?


Look I think it’s important to work through it with the assistance of the independent reviewer, having that independent outside eye on this is absolutely critical, making sure we set in place a solution that isn’t just some short term fix but actually is a substantive solution for the long-term.



Senator Fifield, do you think that it would be enough to restrict exports to only those that are guaranteed? I think the number was 10 or so, the Herald reported this morning?



We don’t want to make this an area of partisanship. Those images on Four Corners were truly horrific. No one wants to see that suffering by animals. We also have to consider the livelihood of Australian producers who rely on exports. I think the producers have shown themselves to be extremely responsible; they care equally about animal welfare. So look, we’re willing to work with the Government in this area. We don’t want to take pot shots. We want to see a situation where we have animals not suffering, but where we can also see a continued export industry.


One area where there isn’t bipartisan support is asylum seekers. The deal with Malaysia is facing a lot of criticism, Andrew Leigh, now within your own Party. Melissa Parke, the Member for Fremantle, says she’s not going to back a plan if unaccompanied minors are being sent back to Malaysia. She wants a full endorsement from the United Nations, as a former UN lawyer herself. This is being criticised right across the board. Julian Burnside, Marion Le – people are now saying that Nauru is a better option than what your Government is trotting out.


Well Kieran I think there’s been a lot of misinformation around about unaccompanied minors. So let me just try to be absolutely clear about where the Government is coming from on this. We have said that there shouldn’t be a blanket exemption. If you set up a blanket exemption – you say that some category of people are automatically going to be exempted – that just encourages people smugglers to put that category of people on the boat. A boatful of unaccompanied minors – we could imagine the tragedy that occurred in Christmas Island being repeated in that circumstance. The UNHCR agrees with us on this, there shouldn’t be a blanket exemption. That doesn’t mean the Minister doesn’t retain his powers on a case by case basis to allow individual unaccompanied minors into the country. But the blanket ban is just a recipe for trouble. It fails to break the business model of the people smugglers…


You say you want to clear it up for us, but to be honest, it’s been as clear as mud for the first few days. Because the Minister said unaccompanied minors will be sent to Malaysia, and then he said the next day that it would be case by case. It seems like your changing your position on a daily basis.


No, that’s not right Kieran. What the Minister has said is that there cannot be a blanket exemption. The UNHCR agrees with this. If you want to break the business model of the people smugglers, you want to make sure that they don’t send kids to Australia and see a repeat of burying young children as we had to do after Christmas Island, then it’s important you don’t have a blanket exemption. But you can be compassionate….


Well let’s talk about compassionate. Julian Burnside, Marion Le - these refugee advocates – even Melissa Parke, one of your own MPs, they don’t think you’ve got it right.


Well Kieran I’m proud of what we’ve done as a Government on refugees. We’re increasing the refugee intake by 4000 – the biggest increase since the Keating Government. We’ve stopped temporary protection visas, we’ve taken kids out from behind razor wire. And this is about trying to break the business model of the people smugglers. It’s not straightforward, no one thinks that this is an easy problem to solve. There are 15 million refugees around the world, and so Australia needs to be part of finding a regional solution to a global problem.


OK, Senator Fifield – this issue looks like it’s going to be finalised within a couple of weeks – the deal with Malaysia. If it does slow the boats, as the Government is hoping it will, will you continue to oppose this as an option?


Well Kieran, you’re more optimistic than I am. We heard a lot about the East Timorese solution. Nothing eventuated. The Government continued in that fantasy that that was going to eventuate. We heard a little bit about a PNG solution for a while, but nothing came from that. I’m yet to be convinced that the Malaysian solution will actually be signed in ink.

But Kieran, I’ve got to say, if I hear a Labor Member of Parliament say one more time, ‘we’ve got to break the business model,’ I’ll scream. It’s the Australian Labor Party that designed this business model. It’s the Australian Labor Party that gave the people smugglers the product that they are currently selling. It’s the Australian Labor Party who - through the abolition of temporary protection visas and through their refusal to continue the Nauru processing centre - have given the people smugglers the product that they are selling. So when the Labor Party say that they want to break the business model, it’s their own model that they’re looking to break.

The only way they can break this business model is by adopting the Coalition’s policies. Re-opening Nauru – pick up the phone, call the President of Nauru. Re-introduce temporary protection visas. Let’s stop this absolute farce that even Robert Manne recognises is a farce. That even Julian Burnside recognises is a farce. That even Marion Le recognises is a farce. This Government is operating in a parallel universe. They’re talking to themselves. No one is listening to them. No one believes them. It’s time to end this ridiculous situation and introduce temporary protection visas and pick up the phone, call the President of Nauru. Let’s get over this ridiculous situation.


OK gentlemen, unfortunately we’re out of time. Senator Fifield and Andrew Leigh, good to see you both, appreciate it.


Thanks Kieran.


Thanks Kieran.


That’s all for this edition of AM Agenda.http://www.youtube.com/v/2CEYPyR_-Jg?version=3&hl=en_US
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Chris Bourke MLA is hiring

Newly minted MLA Chris Bourke is looking for an electoral assistant. Job ad below.

Electoral Assistant

Adviser Level 1 - $51,867 - $54,544

Dr Chris Bourke MLA, Labor Member for Ginninderra, is seeking a hard working and enthusiastic person for his Legislative Assembly office.

Core responsibilities will include:

-       Responding to constituent enquiries;

-       Office administration;

-       Reception duties;

-       Diary management; and

-       Policy research.

Applicants for this position will need to demonstrate the following skills:

-       Well developed oral and written communication skills;

-       Strong organisational ability;

-       Ability to work as part of a small, busy team;

-       A passion for community engagement; and

-       Excellent office IT skills.

An appreciation of how the Legislative Assembly functions, and an understanding of and commitment to the principles and policies of the Australian Labor Party would be an advantage.

For more information, contact Margaret Watt on 6205 0541 or at margaret.watt@ parliament.act.gov.au

Applications setting out relevant experience and addressing your suitability against the above list of desired skills should be forwarded to:

Dr Chris Bourke MLA

ACT Legislative Assembly

GPO Box 1020

Canberra  ACT  2601

Or email bourke@ parliament.act.gov.au by COB, Friday 17 June 2011.
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Young Women in Politics

Emma O'Sullivan from Parliament House's International & Community Relations Office is running a forum to encourage young women to get involved in politics. Here's the blurb - more information at www.wcomm.org.
Nominations are now open for the first ever w.comm forum to be held at Parliament House in Canberra on August 21 and 22, 2011. Women aged between 18 and 25 are invited to put their hand up to take part in the two-day forum, which aims to find ways to encourage more women to become engaged in democratic processes and build careers in politics. The forum has been established by a group of female MPs from across the country who are part of the Commonwealth Women Parliamentarians Australian region steering committee. Ten women from across the country will be chosen to participate in the forum with female politicians from Australian parliaments. Participants will be flown to Canberra where they will take part in a range of activities and workshops at Parliament House while it is sitting. Those interested in participating need to send in a presentation about themselves and can use text, photos, audio and video to tell their story. Nominations close on June 24.
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Human Rights in Syria

I spoke in parliament last night about recent human rights abuses in Syria.
Syria, 1 June 2011

Syria is a nation not unlike ours. We both have a population of approximately 22½ million people. We both have long and ancient cultures that are internationally recognised as cradles of civilisation. We both have abundant energy resources in the form of natural gas and oil. But that is where our stories diverge.

Unlike our fellow countrymen and women, Syrians are being killed and arrested for wanting a voice in the government of their country, for wanting their government to be based on democratic principles such as freedom of speech, the right to peacefully assemble, equality under the rule of law and the right to choose one's own leaders. These killings and arrests have to stop. The Syrian human rights organisation, Swasiya, estimates the number of civilians killed to be at least 1,100 since pro-democracy protests started in Deraa on 18 March.

In May, Syrian security forces went into the central city of Homs to suppress pro-democracy activists. A 12-year-old boy was killed as a result of the use of tanks and machine-gun fire against civilians. The situation has continued to worsen. Recently, Reuters reported that 27 civilians were killed over three days as Syrian security forces used tanks to crack down on pro-democracy protesters in the Lebanese border town of Tel Kelakh.

The tragic irony is that the Syrian constitution guarantees in article 25 that freedom is a sacred right. It also promises that the role of the state is to protect the personal freedom of its citizens and to safeguard their dignity and security. The killing of civilians and acts of intimidation and violence are intolerable and must stop. The Australian government has taken a number of steps to pressure the Syrian regime to cease the violence and implement genuine political and economic reform with imposed targeted financial sanctions against those responsible for ordering human rights abuses and the lethal suppression of peaceful protests.

We are bringing pressure to bear against key regime figures responsible for this violence and suppression and have imposed an embargo on arms and other equipment used in the repression of Syrian civilians. We have co-sponsored a resolution in the United Nations Human Rights Council condemning the use of lethal force against protestors. The foreign minister today wrote to the President of the United Nations Security Council referring the Syrian leadership to the International Criminal Court.

Since protests began, diplomats and human rights activists say that as many as 8,000 people have been jailed or are simply missing. Leading dissident Riad Seiff was arrested and imprisoned in 2001, 2008 and, most recently, on 6 May this year. His supposed crime? To build a new political movement—through the Damascus Declaration—to compete with the ruling Ba'ath Party. His movement is based on human rights, pluralism, press and academic freedoms and the building of a civil society.

The right to express one's views and protest peacefully is a right we in Australia take for granted. It is such a part of our heritage and national values that to question our right to do so meets with fierce opposition. Yet in Syria this fundamental democratic and human right comes at a deadly cost. The Syrian people have shown remarkable courage in demanding this for themselves. As one Syrian man, Mohammed al-Dandashi, told journalists, 'They are punishing us for demonstrating against the regime.'

President al-Assad should stop the brutal and fatal suppression by his security forces and support the legitimate democratic aspirations of Syrians by making simple yet profound choices: stability over instability, growth over decay, peace over violence, trust over suspicion and confidence over fear. These are the characteristics of a modern nation that is a responsible global citizen and whose people are empowered to take advantage of the opportunities this century presents. These are the choices now faced by President al-Assad.

I am proud to be part of a government that, when it sees abuses and violations of human rights here or overseas, takes decisive action because it is the decent thing to do. Perhaps Syrian poet and dissident Faraj Ahmad Bayrakdar best described the overwhelming desire of his people for democratic and universal human freedoms when he wrote from within Saydnaya prison, 'Freedom is a homeland and my country an exile.'

By coincidence, Joe Hockey spoke on the same topic straight after me. His speech is well worth reading.http://www.youtube.com/v/SQPhUa2dpBw?version=3&hl=en_US
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Safety at Work

I spoke in parliament yesterday in favour of new legislation that restores workers' compensation coverage to public servants who are injured during recess breaks.
Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2011
1 June 2011

In 2006, a Commonwealth public servant in Queensland told the story of having sprained an ankle just two metres from the front door of his building while going out for a lunch break. Would any of us reasonably think that that was not a workplace accident? Would any of us reasonably seek to deny someone who suffered such an injury fair compensation? The Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2011 may look technical, but in its essence it is about fairness and it is about equity. If you have ever been injured at work, you know that it can be a time of incredible stress and uncertainty. This bill provides greater assurance to employees covered by the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Act about their rights and entitlements. This bill also expands the application of the SRC Act to ensure that people deployed on dangerous missions, whether here or overseas, have greater certainty about their workers compensation coverage.

The recess breaks amendment reinstates a previously held entitlement to workers compensation insurance coverage for workers on unpaid recess breaks. Leaving work for a coffee, for lunch or for an appointment during your own time currently leaves public servants without workers compensation coverage. This means that public servants participating in a lunchtime stroll around Lake Burley Griffin are left without workers compensation coverage, even when the walk is part of a charity activity supported by their department. People who slip on the frosty Canberra grass on a winter's morning on their way to warm up with a coffee or a hot chocolate are denied coverage for any injury they sustain.

Under current arrangements, workers on a recess break may only claim some compensation through their motor vehicle insurance. So the workers who are punished by these Howard government reforms removing coverage for recess breaks are those workers who are being more socially and environmentally responsible. Restoring this coverage to workers covered by the Comcare scheme is important to me as the member for Fraser, not just because of the significant number of Australian Public Service employees living in my electorate but also because the Comcare scheme covers employees of the Australian Capital Territory government. Additionally, employees of non-Commonwealth licensees that self-insure under the Comcare scheme will see those rights restored to their working conditions. The rights restored by this bill apply to ACT government employees as well as Australian government employees. Unusually for public sector workers, ACT government employees are not able to lobby or negotiate with their direct employer over their workers compensation arrangements. In that respect, as their representative here in the big house in Canberra, I feel an additional duty to ensure that the rights of these workers are improved.

Workers compensation coverage is a basic right in Australia. Most voters would reasonably expect that if an employee is injured by their work or while carrying out their work then they should be compensated for their injury. I need to be clear here and stress again to the House that workers compensation coverage for employees on recess breaks is not a new entitlement. It restores a right previously held by Commonwealth and ACT government employees from the introduction of workers compensation insurance in 1988 right up until 2006 when, as a part of then Prime Minister John Howard's broader attacks on the rights of workers, the Liberal and National parties saw fit to deny their own public servants rights enjoyed by workers across other jurisdictions in Australia. In fact, South Australia and Tasmania are the only two jurisdictions aside from those in the Comcare scheme that do not provide workers compensation coverage for their employees during recess breaks. It is a right enjoyed by most Australian workers that must be restored to workers covered by the Comcare scheme.

As well as restoring rights, extension of workers compensation coverage to recess breaks removes a substantial number of grey areas. Think about the following situations: an employee leaves work for a coffee with their supervisor to discuss a range of work related issues; an employee takes a work related telephone call on their lunch break; an employee runs into a contact or a colleague on their lunch break and proceeds to have a long conversation about a work related matter; and a group of employees attend a work lunch. Restoration of workers compensation coverage for recess breaks means that workers at workplaces that do not provide on-site lunch facilities are not offered different treatment to workers lucky enough to have on-site lunch facilities. Similarly, work sponsored health and fitness activities that occur off-site during breaks currently leave employees exposed to situations where they are not covered by workers compensation, and have left employers reluctant to encourage off-site health initiatives. I am proud that my local public sector workplaces encourage their employees to get out of the workplace during their unpaid lunch break to undertake community activities, healthy activities and fitness activities. But I am disappointed that the current law acts as a disincentive for people to participate in these healthy activities.

There are plenty of examples around Canberra of healthy lunchtime activities. There are walking clubs, there is netball, Tai Chi, Pilates and Zumba. Department of Defence employees use onsite gyms, badminton courts and pool facilities, participate in lunchtime competitions including volleyball, touch football, basketball and softball, and participate in lunchtime classes including aerobics, weights, resistance training and ballroom dancing. The way the laws currently stand, it is unclear whether the employees would be covered for workers compensation purposes in these situations. Breaks during the working day cannot always be divided neatly into 'working' and 'not working'. We need laws that recognise the diversity and flexibility of working arrangements.

As to time limits, this bill adds further benefits and protections to workers by introducing statutory time limits for the determination of claims. Procedural rights can be just as important as substantive rights to allow people to access their entitlements. Without time limits an application for compensation could technically be allowed to sit with a decision maker for days, weeks, months or years on end before a decision is finally made. Administrative law has long recognised the need for decisions by government to be made in a timely manner. Introducing time limits provides assurance to workers in the Comcare scheme that their claim will be dealt with by a particular date. Making these limits a statutory right rather than an administrative process means that these rights are given greater prominence and certainty. Claimants can rely on the laws to remain constant and reliable.

For those that have suffered an injury at work, uncertainty about their workers compensation claim can cause considerable distress. People who suffer an injury at work, and are unable to attend work as a result, are forced to sit at home and wonder about when they will be able to return to full health and return to work. It can be an incredibly distressing time and it allows plenty of time for the injured worker to worry about their claim and their entitlements. Providing as much assurance and certainty as we can about when and how a worker will know their precise entitlements is a key step forward in ensuring that our workers compensation system is as effective as possible at getting people back into work. Evidence in the Comcare review showed that Comcare had a much lower rate than the national average for assessing and determining claims. Providing statutory time limits should encourage Comcare to provide the same level of service to workers covered under that scheme as workers from other jurisdictions.

I have long supported the principle of policy based on considered evidence. The changes to time limits proposed in the bill arose from the review of Comcare conducted by the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations. Statistics about these time limits leave me convinced that without an adequate statutory requirement workers will continue to be denied important rights with respect to their workers compensation.

One new aspect of this bill, which was not a part of the Comcare review, is the extension of workers compensation coverage to particular areas or particular classes of employees. The bill amends the SRC Act to provide workers compensation coverage for injuries sustained while an employee is working in a 'declared place' outside Australia. This is above and beyond any existing extraterritoriality provisions and will provide additional certainty for employees on overseas postings about their workers compensation entitlements. This means that the relevant minister can declare high-risk places, such as Afghanistan and Iraq, to be places where workers compensation coverage will be continuous for all Commonwealth employees. The very act of being in a dangerous situation, as determined by the minister, means that a worker is deemed to continuously be at work and any injuries sustained while in that dangerous place as a result of work will be compensable.

The changed coverage also applies where a person is a member of a 'declared category' of employees whose work requires deployment to places outside Australia. The need for this flexibility arises specifically in relation to the establishment of the Australian Civilian Corps, who will assist in disaster relief, stabilisation and postconflict resolution in developing countries and failed states. The effect of these changes will be to provide 24/7 coverage under the SRC Act for employees exposed to unusually high risks while working outside Australia.

I spoke recently at the Lowy Institute about the need for targeted, effective foreign aid. The Australian Civilian Corps is very much in this mould. It will provide expertise where it is most needed: after natural disasters or in times of acute stress. We have a duty to help our neighbours and an obligation to provide our expertise on a global scale. But in providing this aid we should recognise that the Australian government still has a role in protecting its people who are sent into these dangerous situations and should ensure that their workers compensation is assured and not left open to interpretation or confusion. Providing continuous workers compensation coverage for such groups will also assure them, both before and during their deployment, that there is a safety net in case anything goes wrong during their deployment.

I am proud to be part of a political party that always seeks to look after the rights of workers. I am proud to be part of a political party that looks after the substantive and procedural rights of people who are unfortunate enough to be injured at work. This bill goes some way to undoing the damage of the Howard years on public servants in Canberra and throughout Australia—those working for the Australian government or the ACT government, as well as non-Commonwealth licensees. I am also proud to be a part of a political party that recognises its obligations when new and challenging situations arise for people carrying out work in our name in places of high risk or danger. I commend this bill to the House.
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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.