Painting on a Big Canvas - Speech

PAINTING ON A BIG CANVAS
Institute of Public Accountants & Canberra Business Chamber 2024 Federal Budget Breakfast
Great Hall, Parliament House, Canberra
15 May 2024

I acknowledge the Ngunnawal people, the traditional owners of these lands, and pay respects to all First Nations people present. Thank you to the organisers, the Institute of Public Accountants, and the Canberra Business Chamber, for the opportunity to address you following this year’s Federal Budget. I also acknowledge my parliamentary colleagues who are here today. Apologies in advance that I cannot stay for the whole event – we have a scheduled crossbench briefing at 8.15am where I am presenting on upcoming legislation.

By my rough count, this is the seventh time I’ve addressed this breakfast – a great chance in the Great Hall to talk about whether last night’s budget meets our great expectations. It’s not just a moment to talk numbers, but also an opportunity to consider Australia’s place in the world, and whether we’re making the right calls to shape a fairer society and a stronger economy.

If you need reminding that each of us are inheritors of past traditions and custodians of the future, take a look at the tapestry at the end of the room. In designing it, Arthur Boyd wanted to refer to one of history’s great tapestries, the Bayeux Tapestry that shows the events leading up to the 1066 Norman Conquest. Halley’s Comet is in that 1066 tapestry. In 1986, when the tapestry was being made, Halley’s Comet was in the sky again. So the weavers suggested that Boyd include it, as a way of acknowledging the history of those weavers from nearly a millennium ago.

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2CC Canberra Drive with Leon Delaney - Friday 10 May - Transcript

SUBJECTS: Australian Institute of Sport Funding; Canberra Stadium; Ironman; Budget; Cost of Living relief; making HECS fairer; Commonwealth Prac Payment; Hamas-Israel Conflict; University Protests; High Court decision

LEON DELANEY (HOST): First up today the Federal Member for Fenner, the Assistant Minister for Competition, Charities, Treasury, Employment and probably a few other things that we don't know about. Andrew Leigh. Good afternoon.

ANDREW LEIGH: Good afternoon, Leon. I have to reassure you and your listeners there's no secret ministries with me.

DELANEY: I'm very relieved to hear that. Canberra's been getting a lot of love in the last couple of days. Obviously, we saw earlier this week the report from the committee inquiry into making Canberra great again, because I find that, as a phrase, much easier to remember than the actual name of the inquiry. And there were a lot of positives to come out of that. Today, of course, we've seen the announcement of $250 million for the revitalisation of the Australian Institute of Sport. What will that pay for?

LEIGH: Well, this is going to pay, Leon, as you said, for important investments in making sure that the AIS is ready for Brisbane 2032. That'll include the accommodation and the work around that precinct. The AIS, formed in 1981, was fundamental to Australia's success in the Sydney 2000 games. And we're investing again, eight years out from Brisbane in order to make sure that this facility is world class. That reflects the Federal Government's commitment to Canberra. You've had the investment in the National Art Gallery, the National Museum, in light rail. We are a government who takes Canberra seriously and recognises that investing in Canberra, is investing in the nation and investing in the nation's capital. This is really exciting. It was great to be out there this morning and chatting away with some of the sports people, including triathlete Zoe Clarke and runner Michael Roeger, as well as others in various sports who are going to be part of the future of elite sport.

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Sky News with Kieran Gilbert - Wednesday 8 May - Transcript

SUBJECTS: Naval Interaction with PLA Fighter, Budget, Supermarket Competition, Peaceful protests

KIERAN GILBERT (HOST): Let's bring in the Assistant Minister for Treasury, Competition and Charities, Andrew Leigh, who's live in the studio. Andrew, pointing out that there's been no Ministerial contact yet, but the Prime Minister reiterating that whenever they have an opportunity that will be raised to their concerns about the near miss last week.

ANDREW LEIGH: Yes, Kieran, this isn't just an issue of safety for our defence personnel. It's also a question of maintaining international law and the freedom of our military to operate in international airspace. So, we are concerned and we've made those representations at the appropriate levels.

GILBERT: It's an interesting paradox, though, because during Beef Week, where we're seeing all sorts of export deals done, Chinese representatives there, along with others from across the region. So, on the one hand, the trade relationship back on even keel, but some instability elsewhere.

LEIGH: This will be true throughout our lifetimes, Kieran. If you go back 100 years, our biggest trading partner was Britain, which was instrumental to the founding of the Australian colonies. Then we had the United States, with which we had a defence relationship. But now and for the foreseeable future, our largest trading partner is going to be a country with which we're not always lockstep in military sense. So, this is the new normal for Australian politics.

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Transcript - HIT 1047 Wilko and Courts Monday 6 May 2024

E&OE TRANSCRIPT
RADIO INTERVIEW
HIT104.7 WILKO AND COURTS
MONDAY, 6 MAY 2024

SUBJECTS: Port Macquarie Ironman, Making HECS-HELP fairer.

NEIL WILCOCK (HOST): I know that a lot of people who are listening might have student debt if obviously you racked it up while you're at school and then maybe, like, you've just been in the workforce for a little while, but you haven't been earning enough to start paying things back, so maybe you've got quite a lot there. So, we've got MP Andrew Leigh on the phone. Good morning, Andrew.

ASSISTANT MINISTER ANDREW LEIGH: G'day. Great to be with you.

WILCOCK: Oh, there you are. Andrew, quickly, we know that you're away at the moment, so you're not in town. Is it because you're going to be an Ironman? Is that what you were doing?

LEIGH: Yes. I raced the Port Macquarie Ironman yesterday as my third Ironman. So, I think that now makes me the only politician stupid enough to have done all three Australian Ironman races.

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Transcript - Sky Newsday with Kieran Gilbert Thursday 2 May 2024

E&OE TRANSCRIPT
TV INTERVIEW
SKY NEWSDAY WITH KIERAN GILBERT
THURSDAY, 2 MAY 2024

SUBJECTS: Government’s responsible cost-of-living relief, impact of spending from the states on inflation, lack of competition in the beer industry, applications open for advocates to become designated complainants, Port Macquarie Ironman.

KIERAN GILBERT: Joining me live now in the studio is the Assistant Minister for Competition, Charities and Treasury, Andrew Leigh. Thanks for your time. Is this a bit of a worry, the cash splash from the states, Queensland in this case, when it comes to the inflation challenge the Government and the country faces right now?

ANDREW LEIGH: Well, Kieran, I think all relief is welcome for households and all those Queensland households will be seeing tax relief on 1 July, as we put in place a tax cut for all taxpayers. In our last Budget we had the federal support for energy bill relief. That's something we believe is a responsible, targeted cost-of-living measure as we look to work in concert with the Reserve Bank to reduce inflation.

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Media Release - Consumer and Small Business Advocates to have Special Powers to Raise Complaints

The Hon Julie Collins MP
Minister for Housing
Minister for Homelessness
Minister for Small Business

CONSUMER AND SMALL BUSINESS ADVOCATES TO HAVE SPECIAL POWERS TO RAISE COMPLAINTS

Applications are now open for interested consumer and small business advocates to apply to become a designated complainant – allowing them to submit complaints to the competition and consumer watchdog for response within 90 days.

Labor knows that consumer and small business advocates play an important role in identifying and bringing attention to governments, policy makers and the community on significant and systemic issues impacting Australians.

Designated complaints functions have operated successfully in the United Kingdom for some time, where they are known as ‘super-complaints’.

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Experimenting For Excellence: Randomised Trials In Human Resources

EXPERIMENTING FOR EXCELLENCE: RANDOMISED TRIALS IN HUMAN RESOURCES
HR Leaders Forum 2024
Sydney, Tuesday 30 April 2024

I acknowledge the Gadigal people of the Eora nation, and all First Nations people present today. Thank you to the organisers for the chance to address you on a topic that is a passion of mine – using better evidence to create a fairer society and a stronger economy.

As we navigate an era marked by rapid technological advancements and shifting workforce dynamics, the role of human resources has never been more critical. HR is the backbone of organisations, ensuring not just compliance and management, but also fostering a culture of growth, inclusion, and innovation. At its best, HR helps unlock workers’ full potential, aligns individual aspirations with organisational goals, and builds resilient structures that thrive in the face of future challenges. HR is not just a support function, but a driver of organisational success.

Yet for HR to succeed, you need more than gut instinct. As the cliché goes, ‘In God we trust; all others must bring data’. If your company faces no competitors for your products and employees, you might be able to get away with formulating HR policies based on feelpinions. For mere mortals, evidence matters.

In this short address, I want to run you through a few of my favourite examples of evidence-based policymaking in human resources, presenting some surprising findings from a succession of randomised trials. I will then turn to why randomised trials should typically be given more weight than other forms of evidence, and how we are seeking to use them in government.

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ABC Canberra Drive with Ross Solly - April 22 2024

E&OE TRANSCRIPT
RADIO INTERVIEW
ABC CANBERRA – DRIVE WITH ROSS SOLLY
MONDAY, 22 APRIL 2024

SUBJECTS: AI SCAMS, VIOLENT CONTENT ON SOCIAL MEDIA PLATFORMS, SOCIAL MEDIA AND MENTAL HEALTH, CANBERRA TO SYDNEY RAIL

ROSS SOLLY (HOST): Andrew Leigh, good afternoon to you.

ANDREW LEIGH: Good afternoon, Ross. Great to be with you.

SOLLY: And you too. Andrew Leigh, your government has picked a fight here with Elon Musk. Are you comfortable with taking him on and demanding that he remove videos from his social media platform?

LEIGH: Look, absolutely. Being a billionaire doesn't put you above the law. And in this case, X, formerly known as Twitter, is clearly in the wrong. It should abide by the decision of the eSafety Commissioner. Julie Inman Grant is somebody with immense experience in this field, and X comes to this with a very poor track record. There's a recent report by Reset Australia which looked at the ability of these platforms to spread misinformation in one particular area that was around eating disorders and found that they weren't filtering their ads and indeed they were targeting young people with information that encouraged eating disorders. We know there's political misinformation being spread on these platforms. Simply, they can't be above the law. They need to be abiding by basic standards of decency, not making fun of Australia's content standards in the wake of two terrible tragedies.

SOLLY: Where is the line on this, though? If Elon Musk says that this is attack on free speech, that it's censorship, where do we draw the line? And is it a slippery slope? Andrew Leigh, if we sit there and say, ok, you've got to remove this, where do we go next with that?

LEIGH: I remember when we were doing this in law school, Ross, one of the classic lines was that free speech doesn't extend to the right to shout fire in a crowded theatre. There's no notion that free speech is absolute. It needs to be balanced against the interests of, in this case, the victims of these terrible crimes. We also need to make sure that we're strengthening the laws here. Our government is reviewing the Online Safety Act. We want to give more powers to ACMA to scrutinise the systems and processes to make industry rules. Hopefully, the coalition will come along with us on that. They've flip flopped a bit. They need to now come on board and holding big tech to account.

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Labor’s Making Merger Law Fit For A Modern Economy - Op Ed

  Labor’s Making Merger Law Fit For A Modern Economy - Op Ed

Economists know two big facts about mergers. On the upside, size can bring economies of scale. Larger firms can deploy their network to produce goods and services more efficiently.

On the downside, monopoly isn’t just an infuriating board game. When firms control a market, they tend to cut back output and raise prices. There’s a reason that much of corporate strategy is devoted to keeping competitors out: when you’re the only player, the game looks a whole lot sweeter.

Encouraging firms to enjoy economies of scale while curbing monopoly power is at the heart of merger laws. Most mergers are not anti-competitive, and can be beneficial to the economy. But some mergers deserve closer scrutiny, to ensure that they are providing real benefits.

Unfortunately, Australia’s current system for scrutinising mergers is unfit for a modern economy. Analysis from the Australian Treasury’s Competition Taskforce finds that there are around 1400 mergers taking place annually. Yet the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission only sees around 300 of these mergers. Three out of four mergers fly under the radar.

This system looks even odder in an international context. Almost every advanced country, including the United States, Japan, Canada and all European Union members, has a system that requires the compulsory notification of mergers. Australia is an outlier in not requiring merger notification. The result is that our competition watchdog is flying blind.

It’s hard to imagine anyone arguing that if we were building a merger approval system from scratch, Australia’s current system is optimal. There are no less than three pathways, which contributes to needless confusion and delays and can create an opportunity for strategic behaviour to avoid detection.  And for the most part it isn’t transparent, with only a fraction of mergers reviewed by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission every year done so publicly. There is too little available data on mergers and acquisitions, in an age where companies themselves are relying heavily on data.

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2CC Canberra With Stephen Cenatiempo - 16 April 2024

E&OE
RADIO INTERVIEW
2CC CANBERRA WITH STEPHEN CENATIEMPO

TUESDAY, 16 APRIL 2024

SUBJECTS: Recent stabbing attacks in Sydney, Food and Grocery Code of Conduct, merger reform, divestiture powers, competition and productivity.

STEPHEN CENATIEMPO (HOST): This morning joining us to talk all things federal politics is the Assistant Minister for Competition, Charities and Treasury, and the Member for Fenner, Andrew Leigh. Andrew, have we become unrecognizable as a country?

ANDREW LEIGH: It’s certainly two shocking tragedies, isn't it Stephen. And my heart goes out to the victims of the Bondi Junction and Wakeley incidents. I mean they're really both shocking. And, you know, in the case of the Bondi Junction one, I suppose I only take solace from the fact that there were so many ordinary Australians who ran towards danger. The bloke with the bollard, the heroic police officer who ultimately shot the offender dead, the many people who stepped in and acted as first responders, surely saving lives in the process. So you saw some of the worst of Australia and some of the best in that incident.

CENATIEMPO: The difference between the two incidences, we’re led to believe that there were mental health issues with the stabbings in Bondi Junction. Given that there were obviously communication issues between Queensland and New South Wales, we’re led to believe that this bloke was from Queensland and had moved to New South Wales, do we need to take a Federal approach to the way we handle mental health and reporting of these kinds of things. Because we seem to see too many things fall through the cracks between, and I know we're a federation, but you'd like to think that it was a bit more cohesion.

LEIGH: Yeah, I mean there will certainly be full inquiries, and which will go to issues such as the one you've raised Stephen. I know there's considerable engagement between the New South Wales Police, who have the chief responsibility, and also the Australian Federal Police. But I'm sure questions such as management of mental health cases, will be part of how the Minns government looks into the inquiry.

CENATIEMPO: Now, competition is one of your portfolio responsibilities. We've been talking quite a bit about that in recent times, particularly with the supermarkets. The Food and Grocery code of conduct, last week we had the interim report handed down. So explain to us what we're going to do here to try and create more competition in the grocery, Food and Grocery sector.

LEIGH: Right now, Stephen, there's a voluntary code which governs relationships between the supermarkets and their suppliers. That means that it's a code without teeth, which can't be enforced by the competition watchdog. The proposal from Craig Emerson, who’s the independent reviewer, is that it be made mandatory. And that would be the most significant change to the code since the Coalition put a voluntary code in place in 2015. It then means that we've got better checks and balances on how the supermarkets engage with suppliers, and that reflects their considerable market power. Australia's supermarket sector is one of the most concentrated in the world. We want to make sure that farmers and shoppers get a fair deal.

CENATIEMPO: So, when you talk about having teeth, and you're effectively talking punishment, what sort of penalties can be handed down here? Because the reality is that the major supermarkets are already signed up to this code of practice. Now, as you say, it's voluntary, I understand that, but is the code of practice in and of itself going to change?

LEIGH: Craig Emerson is also looking at those questions. But you asked about penalties directly there, Stephen, if you brought it straight into the Competition Act, then the penalties there are threefold: the greater of $10 million, 10% of turnover, or three times the ill-gotten gains. Now, if you're talking about companies which have more than $50 billion turnover annually, you're talking about potentially serious penalties. Craig Emerson's final report will look at precisely how those penalties might apply.

CENATIEMPO: The other thing I want to talk about, and you and I disagree on this point, that I think we do need to have the option of divestiture powers, like other similar economies do as a, as a deterrent to monopolies or duopolies is in this case. But you've talked, there are also going to be changes to the mergers and acquisitions capabilities of these supermarkets, how will that actually work?

LEIGH: Well, mergers laws are the most important part of curbing excessive market concentration, Stephen, and our merger system just isn't fit for purpose. There's three different pathways that you can go through if you're looking at merging, and we don't require compulsory notification to the competition watchdog. And that's pretty unusual. Most other countries – United States, Canada, Japan, the European Union – require merging parties to notify the competition watchdog. But you don't have to in Australia, which means that the competition watchdog here doesn't see three out of four mergers, and you can't block what you can't see. So our proposed reforms would have a single administrative pathway, more transparent, quicker, simpler, more efficient, and allows the competition watchdog to put its energies on assessing the mergers that really matter.

CENATIEMPO: My only difficulty with this is that who is there left to merge?

LEIGH: There's always mergers going on in the economy and you've …

CENATIEMPO: I’m talking specifically in the Food and Grocery sector.

LEIGH: No, that's right. I mean, that's a sector which has aggregated through mergers under different merger laws than we have now. Coles and Woolworths started off about 20% market share between them back in the 1950s, and a series of mergers saw them grow to their current scale. You can't unscramble the egg. But what we're arguing for is a set of merger laws that would bring Australia up to international best practice, which would ensure that the competition watchdog is able to bring data to bear in a way that it just never has before.

CENATIEMPO: But you can unscramble the egg with divestiture powers.

LEIGH: These powers are very rarely used Stephen. I mean, look at the United States. You've got Standard Oil a century ago, you've got Bell Telephone 40 years ago, and then basically you don't have another serious divestiture in the last generation. The Microsoft breakup never went ahead.

CENATIEMPO: They're rarely used because they are there as a deterrent. And if you look at, and the Food and Grocery sector is a is a classic example of this, particularly if you look at, say the UK and the US, the market share of the big players over there is significantly lower than ours are. So they don't have to use them, but they're there as a deterrent.

LEIGH: I don't think they've acted as a significant deterrent. I don't know there’s much economic evidence for that. I don't see any evidence that there are countries that are breaking up supermarkets or that supermarkets in other countries are scared by the prospect of divestiture powers. They're just such a rarely used tool.

CENATIEMPO: Well the markets here would suggest otherwise.

LEIGH: Yeah, I mean, we certainly have a highly concentrated sector in supermarkets, but the United States economy has become more concentrated over the course of the last generation, despite the presence of divestiture powers. Which is why they too, like us, are looking at serious competition reforms. And ultimately, Stephen, this is all about turbocharging productivity, which was languishing under the former Coalition government when productivity languished and living standards languished. So if we want to boost wages and boost household incomes, competition is a big part of that.

CENATIEMPO: Andrew, I always appreciate your time. We'll talk again in a couple of weeks.

LEIGH: Likewise, thanks Stephen.

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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.