What Do We Eat After the Low-Hanging Fruit? A Brief Economic History of Australia, With Some Lessons for the Future

I spoke today at the McKell Institute in Sydney on Australian economic history, with some ideas for the future. The speech is below.

What Do We Eat After the Low-Hanging Fruit? A Brief Economic History of Australia, With Some Lessons for the Future*

Andrew Leigh MP
Federal Member for Fraser

[email protected]

18 May 2012
McKell Institute, Sydney

In the Pacific Ocean, off the west coast of South America, sit the Galapagos Islands. Although they straddle the equator, the pattern of ocean currents have a cooling effect, making them an ideal breeding ground for tortoises, iguanas, penguins, finches, albatrosses, gulls, and pelicans.

Because the islands are volcanic, what’s striking about animal life on the Galapagos Islands is that all of it came originally by flying or floating nearly 1000 kilometres from Ecuador. And yet for the species that survived, life on the Galapagos Islands was perfect. Migrating birds lucky enough to be blown off course found an environment with few natural predators. Tortoises that floated here found beaches perfectly suited to their breeding environments. Life flourished.

Looking back across Australian economic history, I am often struck by the extent to which luck has similarly played a part in our success. Politicians are sometimes reluctant to talk about luck – preferring to focus on the things we can control than those we can’t. It is true that ‘chance favours the prepared mind’. But I think it’s still worth talking about the role that luck has played, if only to help understand what preparations we should be making. If we don’t do that, we’re like the Galapagos tortoise, which must have thought itself the luckiest species on earth, until British sailors discovered the islands in the late-eighteenth century, and ate them in their thousands.

Over the 2¼ centuries since European settlement, there have been half a dozen strokes of luck, each of which has tangibly boosted average living standards.[1] Let me take a moment to talk about them in turn.

Read more
Add your reaction Share

A BLOOMin' Good Exhibition

Canberra's paper of record has a terrific writeup of Gweneth's BLOOM exhibition. You can read it online here. The exhibition is on at the Gallery of Australian Design at Reconciliation Place until 9 June.
Add your reaction Share

On 2CC with Mark Parton

On 2CC this morning, I spoke with host Mark Parton and Liberal Senator Gary Humphries about the government's economic reforms, the importance of putting a price on carbon, and maintaining strong employment outcomes in the ACT. Here's a podcast.
Add your reaction Share

Dickson Community Forum

I enjoyed tonight's community forum at Dickson very much. Issues raised included human rights in China, development in Campbell, support for hearing-impaired people, support for mental illness, income taxes & intergenerational equity, government advertising, carbon pricing, minerals taxation, public sector jobs, superannuation, trust in government, and clean energy investment. In particular, I appreciated some of the people who were willing to share very personal stories about mental illness, disability support and human rights.

If you'd like to come along to a future mobile office or community forum, a full list of dates is here.
Add your reaction Share

Discussing the New ACT E-Waste Recycling Program

Add your reaction Share

Free National Television and Computer Recycling Scheme

Today I joined ACT Chief Minister Katy Gallagher and Senator Don Farrell in opening the ACT's own National Television and Computer Recycling Scheme station. Technology is developing at such a rapid rate that what was state-of-the-art only a few years ago soon becomes obsolete, and now households can recycle their unwanted televisions and computers. See media release below:
Senator Don Farrell
Parliamentary Secretary for Sustainability and Urban Water

Katy Gallagher MLA
ACT Chief Minister
Minister for Territory and Municipal Services

Gai Brodtmann MP
Member for Canberra

Andrew Leigh MP
Member for Fraser

15 May 2012


Australia today celebrates a major milestone in waste management with the first services under the National Television and Computer Recycling Scheme opening for business in the ACT.

Householders delivering unwanted TVs and computers to the Mugga Lane waste transfer station in Canberra this morning were greeted by Parliamentary Secretary for Sustainability and Urban Water, Senator Don Farrell, and ACT Chief Minister and Minister for Territory and Municipal Services, Katy Gallagher.

“This is an exciting first step for this important initiative, made possible by the Gillard Government’s landmark Product Stewardship legislation,” Senator Farrell said.

“People dropping off their unwanted televisions and computers for free here today, and in the future, can do so with the knowledge that these products will be recycled in an environmentally friendly way.

“Hazardous materials contained in these products, including lead, mercury and zinc, will be prevented from entering the environment through landfill. Valuable non-renewable resources, including gold and other precious metals will also be reclaimed for reuse.”

Services under the Scheme will be progressively rolled out across Australia, boosting television and computer recycling rates to 30 percent in 2012-13 and 80 per cent by 2021-22, providing a long-term solution to television and computer waste.

In the ACT, DHL Supply Chain (Australia) Pty Ltd is providing the free, ongoing recycling service, enabling households and small businesses to dispose of unwanted televisions, computers, and computer products such as printers, keyboards, mice and hard drives.

The scheme does not cover other electronic waste, such as mobile phones, which are already covered by the voluntary recycling scheme MobileMuster.

ACT Chief Minister Katy Gallagher said Canberra is at the forefront of innovation in recycling and waste management.

“I am delighted that the ACT is the first jurisdiction in the country to implement the National Television and Computer Recycling Scheme,” the Chief Minister said.

“The new scheme gives Canberrans the opportunity to dispose of their televisions, computers and computer products, free of charge, in a way that greatly reduces the risk to the local environment by stopping these products going into landfill,” she said.

“It is also hoped the scheme will help alleviate some of the ongoing issues in the ACT around illegal dumping, especially around charity bins.

“It is likely the Mugga Lane and Mitchell Transfer Stations will be very busy in the first few weeks of the new scheme. The ACT Government encourages residents to consider holding their items for a while longer to avoid long queues, especially on weekends. The free e-waste recycling service is a permanent arrangement so there is no need to rush.”

Member for Canberra Gai Brodtmann said she expected the service to be well used.

“Canberrans are great recyclers and this new scheme will be a popular, quick and easy way for families and small businesses to dispose of their unwanted TVs and computers,” she said.

Member for Fraser, Dr Andrew Leigh, said technology is developing at such a rapid rate that what was state-of-the-art only a few years ago soon becomes obsolete.

“The faster our computers and televisions keep improving, the more important it is that we have a good recycling program for e-waste,” Dr Leigh said.

From today, the DHL Supply Chain services will operate from the Mugga Lane and Mitchell Transfer Stations, which are open from 7.30am to 5pm, seven days a week.

The National Television and Computer Recycling Scheme is funded and implemented by the television and computer industry and regulated by the Australia Government under the Product Stewardship Act 2011 and the Product Stewardship (Televisions and Computers) Regulation 2011.

Further information on the scheme can be found at www.environment.gov.au/settlements/waste/ewaste/index.html

Further information about the scheme in the ACT can be found at http://www.tams.act.gov.au
Add your reaction Share

Are you a Boer War descendant?

On 31 May 2012, it will be 110 years since the signing of the peace treaty in the Boer War. The National Boer War Association has asked me to let descendants know about the memorial (the picture shows an artist's rendering), and that special 'descendants' and 'in memory' medallions have been struck in honour of veterans.

Anyone who thinks they might be a descendant is encouraged to go to the Ancestor Search function on the Boer War Memorial website, or to contact the National Boer War Memorial Association.
Add your reaction Share

Dad and Partner Pay

Before parliament rose last Thursday, I spoke in favour of a bill to provide dad and partner pay. In fact, mine was the last speech before parliament rose (with the exception of some guy who trash-talked the economy for half an hour).

Paid Parental Leave and Other Legislation Amendment (Dad and Partner Pay and Other Measures) Bill 2012
10 May 2012

The work we do in this place impacts on people's lives—often far more than we imagine at the time. This bill, the Paid Parental Leave (Dad and Partner and Other Measures) Bill 2012, is one such example. I want to start off by sharing with the House the story of a friend of mine, Damien Hickman, and how he felt about the two weeks leave that he took when his first child arrived. Liesel Grace Hickman arrived on 23 June last year. Damien said: 'I just did not want to be anywhere else. My whole world shrank to this tiny four-kilogram bundle and the three-hourly cycles.' He said: 'It was like nothing I had experienced or could have prepared for. I was placed under this spell. She was the ultimate timewaster. I would just stare at her and half an hour would go by like 30 seconds. To be there for my partner, look after the house and be there as an extra pair of hands and support was pretty special.'

Damien said: 'I wanted to be part of it all. I was Liesel's dad and I wanted to be with, and care for, my little girl. I can still remember how scared I was the first time I gave her a bath. I remember how she would fall asleep on my chest, so small her feet barely made it to my bellybutton.' Damien said that for him the joy of being a dad was being there for all of those firsts; being there with Liesel and Kate was a great privilege. Liesel probably will not remember any of this but it is a memory that Damien will take to his grave.

That is why this legislation is so important: it allows dads and partners to take time off work and be at home to support new mothers in those crucial early days. It builds bonds that will extend to a lifetime of love, encouragement and support for children. It is the kind of encouragement and support that all kids need as they venture into life and face the challenges and opportunities that it presents—opportunities that are the foundation of the ideas and innovations that will inevitably drive a nation's prosperity.

Before outlining the measures in this bill let me share with you why dads being there in the early days is so important to their newborns and partners. Research from children's experts has found that, the more dads are involved right from the start, the better it is for the dad, for the mum and, most importantly, for the baby. Hands-on dads are important in developing social skills, independence, a strong moral sense and intellectual skills. Parenting expert Pam Linke of the children's, youth and women's health service in South Australia says:

When a man holds a baby they get a sense of security that's quite different from a mother's. While Dad's role may be only a supporting one for things like breastfeeding, it's absolutely critical in a baby's development.

Dr Kyle Pruett, clinical professor of psychology at Yale University, says, 'What dads actually do with their kids matters more than how often they do it,' so it is important that every dad gets time in the lead role. Pam Linke's advice is 'let him change nappies', and I can attest to having changed plenty of nappies in my few years as a dad. In fact, studies show that sons who are nurtured by their fathers are more likely to be more hands-on with their own children. Fathers who interact with their daughters reduce the rate of emotional problems in those girls when they reach their teenage years. Dads help daughters, even when they are young, feel competent—an essential prerequisite for self-esteem.

For us politicians, bringing up young children can come with additional risks. It might be apocryphal, but the story goes that the member for North Sydney received a phone call at home from John Howard after one of the elections. The former Prime Minister said, 'What are you doing?' 'Changing nappies,' replied the member for North Sydney. Prime Minister Howard apparently then said, 'I have something similar for you—industrial relations.' As the Work Choices episode shows, the similarity is more than passing.

I have found my own role as a politician and a father to be a constant and at the same time delightful juggling act. There are many challenges and changes with a newborn baby, and it is vital that dads can be there to support the partner and the child; to share the joys of the new baby; to give some respite—some time-out—for the partner to do little things such as take a bath, have a cup of tea and relax in front of the TV; and to share the responsibility for what is, especially to first-time parents, a vulnerable and mysterious creature. Liesel's mum, Kate, told me, 'It was so good to be home together as a family—to see her and Damien just be together. To see her respond to his voice or be fast asleep on his chest was just magical.'

After the 2010 election, Labor made a commitment to give dads the chance to have two weeks off to support new mums at home. The government's historic Paid Parental Leave scheme has now benefited more than 150,000 new mums. Labor's Paid Parental Leave scheme is funded by the government and paid through employers, so employers can stay in touch with their long-term employees while they are taking time off to care for a new baby. That was the approach recommended by the Productivity Commission after their extensive inquiry. It reflects the fact that Paid Parental Leave scheme is a workplace entitlement, not a welfare payment. It is critical that we maintain that link to employment, and it is maintained in Labor's Paid Parental Leave scheme as the Productivity Commission recommended.

Under this bill, eligible fathers and partners will receive two weeks dad-and-partner pay at the same rate per week as paid parental leave is paid, which is currently $590 a week before tax. Dad-and-partner pay will begin on 1 January 2013. The eligibility criteria for dad-and-partner pay—including the income test, the work test and residency requirements—will be consistent with those for parental leave pay. Dad-and-partner pay cannot be transferred to the primary carer; it has a use-it-or-lose-it provision to encourage fathers to take more time off work. It also signals to employers that a father's role in caring for a new baby is important. The government expects that employers will retain their existing parental and paternity leave provisions and continue to set themselves apart as employers of choice for parents. We are working with employers to provide fathers the maximum opportunity to take time off work so that they can be involved in their child's care from an early age. The dad-and-partner payment gives families more options to balance work and family commitments. It is good for dads, it is good for mums and it gives newborns the best possible start in life.

For the last two years, I have held a welcoming-the-babies event, which was originated by the Treasurer in the electorate of Lilley. Welcoming the babies is a chance to recognise Canberra's new parents and for them to meet other parents, connect with community services and find out what is available. For last year's welcoming-the-babies event we had a terrific weather, and around 150 parents and children turned up. They grabbed a coffee or a sausage sandwich, enjoyed the sunshine and chatted to stallholders about playgroups, breastfeeding, maternal health, immunisation, toddler sports and other supports. First-time dad Tito Hasan told me: 'It's been great to see kids having fun. My wife and I see the range of things out there for first-time parents. I'm looking forward to coming back next year.'

This year we had horrendous rain and Commonwealth Park was closed on the weekend of welcoming the babies, so, in lieu of us having the event outside, around 30 parents and children enjoyed morning tea in my electorate office, shared stories and met with service providers. They all took home a baby pack and a formal certificate. As the saying goes, it takes a village to raise a child, and now dads can stay in the village for another two weeks and enjoy this special time without having to worry about the family finances.

I have a story to share about my own experience of being a new dad. I remember that first hour of my eldest son's life. It was an extraordinary period, because my eldest son was born by caesarean section. For those who have not seen a caesarean section performed, what is most amazing is how quick it is. From the first incision to when the baby comes out is only about seven minutes but then the remainder of the operation takes about an hour. So, as a dad, you then have an hour on your own with the newborn.

I remember being struck by how relaxed and peaceful my son was. I just talked away to Sebastian. I babbled away and started to think about the advice that a father should give a son. I had never given father-son advice before, so after about 10 minutes of babbling, I finally settled on the one thing I wanted most of all: I wanted him to be curious. Five years later the conversation sometimes floats back to me—when he asks questions like: dad, why is the sky blue?—and I wonder whether I should have encouraged him to be quite so curious when he is in his cupboard-opening mode.

Those first weeks are an extraordinarily precious time, and encouraging fathers to spend more time bonding with their sons is a critical thing to do. It is a great privilege to be a dad. It is really important that we as policymakers encourage that bonding. It is good for early childhood and it ensure that dads enjoy that precious time with newborns, because a newborn child is too important, too precious and too loved to miss out on those early weeks with their father.

I commend the bill to the House.

Debate adjourned.

(For ease of reading, I've omitted the three times that the chair had to ask the opposition to quieten down.)http://www.youtube.com/embed/hhoqOa8Lxp0
Add your reaction Share

Superfast Broadband in Canberra

The Chronicle this week has a story about one of the first Canberrans to be connected to the National Broadband Network. You can read it here.
Add your reaction Share

Charnwood & Kippax Mobile Offices

I'll be out and about with two mobile offices tomorrow morning, and a community forum next Tuesday. Do drop by and say g'day.

Mobile Offices - Saturday 12 May

  • Charnwood Shops (outside Woolworths), 10-11am

  • Kippax Fair (Hardwick Crescent), 11.15am-12.15pm

Community forum -Tuesday 15 May

  • Dickson Quality Hotel (Trevor Scott Room), 6pm

Times don't suit? More events 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.