Have your say on Majura Parkway

The initial stages for the Majura Parkway are now underway and ACT Chief Minister Katy Gallagher and I invite Canberrans to have their say on the proposed design.

Our media release is copied below.
Drop-in session to showcase proposed design of Majura Parkway


ACT Chief Minister Katy Gallagher and Federal Member for Fraser, Andrew Leigh, have invited Canberrans to attend a drop-in information session next week to view the proposed design and alignment of Majura Parkway.

"Drop-in information sessions will be held from 4:00pm to 7:00pm on Thursday 23 and Friday 24 February 2012 at the Ainslie Football Club," Mr Leigh said.

"Project consultant SMEC Australia Pty Ltd, who has been engaged to develop the Forward Design, will present the proposed design plans for Majura Parkway and answer any questions from the community.

"The information session will showcase the road layout, intersection arrangements and locations of the bridges and underpasses along the route.

"Information will also be provided on some of the measures incorporated in the design to help mitigate flooding of the surrounding area as well as decrease traffic noise and the visual impact of the road through the use of bridge screens."

The Chief Minister said feedback provided at the drop-in sessions would be incorporated where possible into the final design.

"The two drop-in information sessions complement a series of stakeholder consultation meetings that have been held in recent months with rural leaseholders, businesses and other users of this part of Majura Valley," the Chief Minister said.

"Completion of the final design will result in a formal Development Application being lodged with the ACT Planning and Land Authority in March. A construction contract is planned to be let mid-year with construction works commencing late-2012.

"Jointly funded in 2011-12 by the Commonwealth and ACT governments, the Majura Parkway is a $288 million investment in our regional transport network and is the single largest road infrastructure investment ever made in the ACT.

"I encourage all interested people to drop in to one of the public information sessions on Thursday or Friday to learn more about this exciting transport infrastructure project," the Chief Minister concluded.


For more information about the Majura Parkway project visit http://www.majuraparkway.act.gov.au/
Add your reaction Share

E-Health

I spoke in parliament yesterday about the benefits of e-health; telling the story through the prism of 80 year-old Canberran Pat Douglass.
Personally Controlled Electronic Health Records Bill 2011
16 February 2012


On 14 December last year, I had the honour of assisting Pat Douglass to sign up to Calvary eHealth as the first patient in the ACT and southern New South Wales. It was a delight to meet Pat Douglass. She is 80, still living independently, a bright person and a wonderful contributor to the north Canberra community. Mrs Douglass had a fall in the street near her home and acquired a brain injury. Her experience of her care and her health records demonstrate why e-health is such an important development. Mrs Douglass was confined to hospital for 10 weeks. After undergoing rehabilitation she returned home, but none of her regular doctors knew that she had been in hospital. None of her doctors knew about her injury or how she had been progressing. Similarly, the hospital was unaware of Mrs Douglass' regular health requirements. Any information on normal medicines or routine check-ups that Mrs Douglass might have required during her time in hospital was not available to the doctors at Calvary.

Mrs Douglass told me that she thought it was a bit ridiculous that none of her doctors could share information about her previous conditions or about her current conditions. It all seemed, to her, to be unnecessarily complex. I could not but agree. Mrs Douglass wanted all of her doctors who look after different aspects of her health to be fully informed. They can be fully informed by being connected to one another through e-health records. I am delighted to host in my electorate of Fraser one of the 12 national projects that are pretesting elements of the personally controlled electronic health record system. I personally was so impressed with the set-up that I became the third person to sign up for Calvary eHealth, just after Mrs Douglass and Calvary CEO, Ray Dennis, who also took the opportunity to sign up at the launch in December. I am a great fan of technology. For the time it was in existence I signed up to the Google Health electronic health system. In principle, that was a great idea. But, as Google learned, you need a consistent system and one which is common across patients and doctors. I am excited by e-health and I am also, in general, excited by the possibilities of technology for our healthcare system. The National Broadband Network will improve access to medical specialists, particularly in rural and regional Australia. That will mean people will get better quicker. It will mean that rural and remote communities will have access to better medical care than they did before the NBN. That is a productivity benefit. That is people getting healthier and getting back to work or whatever they were doing before they fell ill.

E-health records are a great example of how technology can improve health care. It is an easy way for people to be on top of all their health requirements and an easy way for patients to enable their doctors and allied health professionals to share information. Your GP will be able to know what your dietician has recommended. Your chiropractor and physiotherapist will understand the different types of treatments you are undertaking. You will not need to explain your allergies, medicines and immunisations every time you see a different doctor.

E-health records will not contain every single detail but they will contain information people need to be shared between their health providers. A Calvary eHealth record contains the following: a shared health summary, including basic information such as name, date of birth, address, contact details, allergies, immunisations and the medicines the patient is currently taking; a summary of each consultation; medical conditions; referrals; specialist letters; discharge summaries following hospital admissions; diagnostic reports, such as X-ray results; and shared care plans agreed between GPs and participating healthcare professionals.

Looking after the wellbeing of Australians through a terrific health system is what the Labor Party does. This is, after all, the party that created Medicare. Because this government cares about the issues that matter most to Australian families we are implementing e-health. That means that when a member of a family becomes ill they can get the help they need from their local hospital, irrespective of their circumstances or location. It is not going to matter anymore if you are out travelling when you fall ill; your e-health record will be there with you. We are continuing today to make health care more accessible and more affordable, ensuring our modern healthcare system upholds the great Labor traditions of equity, fairness and dignity. The Labor Party is the party of reform, and this is as true in the area of health care as anywhere.

E-health records are particularly important for a number of disadvantaged groups. They are important for young adults who have moved away from home and are finding a new GP. They are important for older Australians, because we tend to have more complex health needs the older we get. They are important to people with lower levels of literacy, who might have more difficulty relaying information provided by one health provider to another.

My electorate is younger than the average Australian electorate. The median age in my electorate is just 33. That is because, in large part, many young people move to Canberra to take advantage of the excellent educational and career opportunities this city has to offer. That also means that many of those young people have moved away from their normal health provider. E-health records will enable them to have their previous GP share the information with their new GP.

Older Australians, as was so well illustrated by the case of Mrs Pat Douglass, might be seeing a gerontologist as well as a GP and a chiropractor or other allied health professionals. They might have a fall and end up in hospital. E-health records will help older Australians to better manage the flow of information between their existing health providers to ensure that nothing gets missed. It will also mean that health professionals are aware of exactly what medications people are taking and will mean there is no mistake in prescriptions where a patient is mistakenly prescribed medications that cannot be taken together.

For Australians who struggle with literacy, there will be less of a need to fill in complex and confusing forms every time they see a new health professional. Instead, they will be able to let their health professionals see the information in their health record and share their medical history without needing to recall complex details. In fact, e-health records will be of benefit right across the Australian community.

I have two young and energetic boys. They always seem to be either catching lurgies or falling off things, so I have spent far too much time over recent years sitting in hospital emergency departments or paediatric wards. If it happens interstate, it is enormously frustrating to have to retell a child's medical history, fill out the same forms again and go back through the same family history that you have gone through with another doctor.

Economists know that sometimes the simplest reforms are the most effective. I have spoken before in this place about the reforms to encourage doctors to wash their hands and the many lives that saved in public hospitals. Similarly, the simple answer of sharing information between medical practitioners will lead to better health care.

I am told that 190,000 hospital admissions each year are due to medication errors. Better sharing of information about current medicines will reduce these sorts of unnecessary admissions, freeing up doctors and emergency rooms for other life-threatening occurrences. Better information sharing can also lead to reduced time and cost spent addressing avoidable medical errors or avoidable degradation of chronic conditions. As demonstrated by the example of Mrs Pat Douglass earlier, Calvary hospital was unaware that Mrs Douglass was taking additional medications and needed to see her specialist during that time. If Mrs Douglass had had an e-health record, all that information would have been available to her doctors. Economists hate waste and duplication. If our health system is sharing more information, we are reducing the amount of time and money spent on unnecessary and duplicated procedures such as diagnostic testing. Put simply, patients will spend less time explaining and more time getting the care they need from their health professionals.

E-health records are also a great development for patients as consumers. It is an opt-in system—I repeat that for the member for Paterson: it is an opt-in system—and that means no-one will be forced to have an e-health record. Opt-in is important for privacy and important for making sure patients understand what they are signing up for.

By making the health records personally controlled and managed by the patients, we are giving power to consumers. Consumers are the ones who will be able to take better management of their own health and will be able to decide whether they show their information to family members and what they do to reduce avoidable adverse events.

We are getting patients to make better informed decisions about their health care and the access to their health records. Patients can also give family members permission to access and share their health records as necessary. Going back to Mrs Douglass: she might have allowed her children to share her information in the event of an adverse health occurrence such as her fall.

This is a great development, but it is a reform that only the Labor Party is brave enough to commit to. The Labor Party is the party of reform and development. We are the party of health reform. We are also the party of equity, making sure that the most disadvantaged in our community are able to access all of the developments technology has to offer. That is true in our rolling out of the National Broadband Network to all Australians and it is true in our providing all Australians with the opportunity to have an electronic health record. This reform is proudly in the Labor tradition.

I would like to take the opportunity here to make a point on a related issue on health. On ABC TV's Q&A program last week, the member for North Sydney mentioned the employees of the Department of Health and Ageing as an example of some of the 12,000 public servants he would like to make redundant if Tony Abbott were to become Prime Minister. The concept of e-health records, and the legislation we are debating now, would not be possible without the hard work of public servants from the Department of Health and Ageing using their knowledge and expertise to come up with a system that is appropriate for the Australian context. Making sure the right privacy controls are in place is the responsibility of those public servants. Monitoring the testing sites and seeing where we can make improvements is the responsibility of those public servants.

Those opposite have said they are going to support this legislation, but apparently they think you can have e-health without a department of health. It does not make much sense to me. The member for North Sydney thinks that, just because there might be no patients taken care of by the department of health directly, the people in the department of health are not performing important work. But it is only through their expertise and their willingness to drive reform that we are able to get health reforms that will save money, save time and produce better health care.

Important health reform and agreements between the Commonwealth, the states and the territories are only possible thanks to the highly experienced public servants who administer these programs and this funding. Many of the public servants performing this work live in my great electorate of Fraser, and I know how hard they work and how devastating it would be for the broader Canberra economy if the coalition were to come to office and make 12,000 Canberra public servants redundant. We saw in 1996 and1997 what happened when the Howard government came to office, when the Public Service was slashed and burnt to a much greater extent than had been anticipated by John Howard when he was Leader of the Opposition.

I commend the bill to the House. E-health is an important reform for Australia's future, and maintaining a strong Public Service will ensure that e-health becomes a reality.
Add your reaction Share

Sky AM Agenda - 16 February

I was on Sky's AM Agenda program this morning with Kelly O'Dwyer and hosted by Kieran Gilbert. Topics discussed today included contrasting the Labor Party's strong record on economic and productivity with the Liberal Party's plans to cut wages and conditions. We also talked about the Prime Minister's statement on Closing the Gap.

http://www.youtube.com/embed/0KCyNI_Kj1Q
Add your reaction Share

At the Canberra Multicultural Festival, speaking with Greg about the future

At last weekend's Canberra Multicultural Festival, I met Greg, a wardsman at the local hospital. He spoke with me about the importance of making long-term decisions for the sake of future generations.

Add your reaction Share

Australia's Economic Performance

I spoke in parliament yesterday about Australia's economic performance.
Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2011-2012, Appropriation Bill (No. 4) 2011-2012
14 February 2012


It is with great pleasure that I rise today to speak on these appropriation bills—important legislation to support the reforms that this government is implementing. The Gillard government's economic reforms take place in a context in which the performance of Australia's economy among the best in the world. Jorg Decressin of the IMF said last month:

'There is no advanced economy—or maybe there are one or two—that is as well placed as Australia in order to combat a deeper slow down, were such a slowdown to materialise, and that's because you still have room to cut interest rates if that was necessary and you also have a very strong fiscal position.'

Anoop Singh of the IMF said, on 2 February 2012, that 'despite the global slowdown, Australia is facing good times'. The IMF's article IV analysis of Australia in October 2011 described our performance since the onset of the global financial crisis as enviable.

Australia's fiscal position is no accident. It is the result of a timely, targeted and temporary response to the global financial downturn—a response that is very different from what those opposite would have put in place. Those opposite have been very clear over recent weeks that they would not have allowed the Commonwealth budget to go into deficit when the global financial downturn hit.

So we are talking about two very different perspectives. Ours is that it was appropriate to take on a small debt load. Less than 10 per cent is where Australia's debt will peak—about the amount a typical household would take on to buy a small car, for example. But those opposite would not have taken on that debt. Those opposite are of the firm view that they would not have allowed the Commonwealth budget to go into deficit. That would have meant that as the revenues fell—and let us remember that the main reason for the Commonwealth debt is revenue downgrades, not spending increases—those opposite would have cut government spending. While our fiscal stimulus saved a couple of hundred thousand jobs and tens of thousands of small businesses, those opposite not only would have failed to put a stimulus in place but also would have instituted cuts. We have a precedent for that. It is what Herbert Hoover did in the teeth of the Great Depression. It is what caused the Great Depression to take a decade rather than a couple of years. And that is the economic recipe of those opposite.

Those opposite continue to maintain their policy of economic vandalism. They oppose a carbon price and suggest again a policy of direct action, a policy that finds no support among a single credible economist in Australia. Their policy of direct action will amount to a new tax—$1,300 a household—that goes straight for polluters. Under our scheme, nine out of 10 families will get assistance; under theirs there will be no assistance for households. Theirs is of course a non-market-based scheme, one of picking winners and in which there are no incentives for innovation. Ours is a market based scheme, because that is what the experts tell us is going to be the most effective and efficient way of reducing Australia's carbon pollution. It will achieve the targets, cutting carbon pollution by five per cent by 2020 and achieving an 80 per cent cut by 2050. Those opposite have an expensive and inefficient scheme, with no idea of what they will do past 2020.

At the same time, we on this side of the House are continuing to invest in the productivity-boosting reforms that are essential for Australia's future prosperity. Productivity is an ugly word, but ultimately that is what underlines increases in living standards. It is why Australian's real living standards have more than doubled since I was born, and I hope will more than double again in the generation to come. Those productivity-enhancing investments are things like more education and higher quality education. Our investments in schools, backed by the transparency of the My School website, My School 2.0, now opposed by those opposite, will ensure that Australian kids learn more in every year of school.

We are building trades training centres, which will ensure that when children are at high school, looking and casting around and thinking about maybe taking on a trade, they can dip their toe in the water. They can engage in trades training within the comfort of the school environment. We are investing also in universities. More Australians are attending university this year than ever in the history of this great nation. We are doing that because the one certainty of the labour market of the future is that is going to be different from the labour market of today. The right investments in productivity are investments in the human capital of future generations. They are investments that ensure that young Australians have the skills to adapt to a changing labour market. This is recognised by the IMF article IV analysis of Australia. They have recognised Labor's investment in skills and participation.

At the same time we are investing in infrastructure. We have doubled the roads budget and increased tenfold the rail budget. We have put more into urban public transport than all the other federal governments since Federation put together. We are building a National Broadband Network. I noticed the member for Hasluck has one complaint about the National Broadband Network, and that is because it is not happening fast enough. I understand that objection. That is an objection that I hear in my mobile offices and community forums. My constituents in the electorate of Fraser want the NBN. I do not blame them for wanting it faster. But it is pretty rich for those opposite to walk in here with their string and tin cans alternative to the NBN, suggesting that the Labor government is somehow to blame for not bringing on the NBN fast enough.

In schools, we have invested in the Building the Education Revolution program. It is a program which is not just about providing better school halls—although they are sometimes needed—but is about providing better classrooms too. Amaroo Primary School, in my electorate of Fraser, now has classrooms with dividers that can be opened up between them that allow teachers to team teach together. You can have a teacher who is great at literacy paired with a teacher who is great at numeracy. They can learn from one another. I have seen a new school hall in Black Mountain Special School in my electorate. It now has ramps that lead up to the stage that allow children who are in wheelchairs to go up on the stage and receive their awards in the same place as students who are not in wheelchairs.

In speaking to the appropriations legislation, I do want to rebut some suggestions that have been made by the member for Goldstein in this parliament and which have been announced over recent weeks. The member for Goldstein suggested that government accruing very low net debt—as I have mentioned, it will peak at less than 10 per cent of GDP; that is less than a tenth of the average of major advanced economies—will influence the interest rate that Australian businesses pay. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Opposition members interjecting—

Dr LEIGH: Those opposite are now denying this suggestion? That is interesting. If those opposite would like to stand up and rebut the member for Goldstein, you would be more than welcome to. God knows, there have been plenty of your colleagues that have disagreed with the member for Goldstein. Indeed, the member for North Sydney has disagreed many a time with the member for Goldstein on the issue of the coalition's black hole. But let me take him to task on this issue of interest rates. It is simply not the case that government borrowing in Australia drives up the interest rate. The interest rate is set by a combination of factors including the world interest rate. In a small, open economy we typically think of world savings as driving the price of funds and it being driven by the independent central bank. But the suggestion that a modest level of government borrowing affects the interest rate for small businesses is wrong and scurrilous, and it continues as part of a scare campaign run by those opposite.

Those opposite seem to be happiest when they are talking down the Australian economy, when they are trying to reduce consumer confidence in this country. But they cannot change the simple facts. In Australia unemployment is 5.2 per cent, in the US it is 8.3 per cent and in Europe it is now over 10 per cent. Our economy has grown to seven per cent since the GFC. Others have just recovered, lost ground or are struggling to recover.

I notice that members opposite would like to make comparisons with the past. Well, let us do so. When we came to office we faced higher inflation, higher interest rates and higher income taxes than we have today, but we now have a gold plated AAA credit rating from all three major agencies.

Mr Baldwin interjecting—

Dr LEIGH: And, yes, we have debt, because we know the alternative to taking on debt. The alternative to taking on that debt would have meant hundreds of thousands of Australians thrown on the scrap heap of unemployment. We on this side of the House know what unemployment means, and we will fight to prevent that unemployment. You on that side of the House are clearly happy to have more unemployment in Australia if it means that you can refuse to take on a skerrick of debt. Those on the other side of the House are like a family who, as the floodwaters are rising, say, 'Oh, no, we couldn't possibly put a lifeboat on the credit card; we don't want to take up any credit card debt; let's just let the floodwaters rise.'

When the Leader of the Opposition went to London, he said, 'Australia has serious bragging rights. Compared to most developed countries, our economic circumstances are enviable.' If you want to hear from a more economically literate member of the opposition team, you could have the member for Wentworth speaking to a Liberal Party convention about 'the current success and strength of our economy against the troubles of so many others'. Our economy stands head and shoulders above other developed countries, and it is about time that those opposite stop trash-talking the Australian economy and began to speak honestly with the Australian people about the strength of the Australian economy. It is about time they began to speak honestly about the benefits for Australians and about good economic policies like a profits based tax on mining. A profits based tax on mining is economically sensible, because it recognises that, as mineral prices rise, mining companies ought to be able to afford more taxes going back to the people of Australia. Those mining resources can be dug up only once, and the Australian people are right to demand their fair share of the mineral resources that are theirs. So, yes, we are putting in place a profits based tax on minerals and we are putting in place a price on carbon pollution. These are key economic reforms laying the foundation for Australia's prosperity.

We are raising the compulsory superannuation contribution rate from nine per cent to 12 per cent. Those opposite are going to vote against it, as they voted against the introduction of compulsory superannuation. History proved them wrong then; history will prove them wrong again. At least they have a sense that they are going to be on the wrong side of history with this one, because they have said they will not try to wind it back if they were to win office. They have admitted that the increase in compulsory superannuation is good for Australian workers. It recognises that more Australians should be able to retire in dignity, and higher compulsory superannuation will allow them to do so. These appropriation bills are good economic management, part of the strong economic management that is the hallmark of this government.

In closing, I am pleased to note that the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Economics yesterday discharged the reference of the appropriation bills to our committee, an utterly bizarre reference. I am not sure, in the history of this parliament, whether the appropriation bills have ever been referred to the House economics committee, but those opposite decided that they wanted to play their political games, and the House economics committee has sent back that reference. What would an inquiry look like? Perhaps the member for Wright can enlighten us as to what such an inquiry would have looked like if the coalition had gone ahead with it. Thankfully, cooler heads have prevailed. I commend the bills to the House.
Add your reaction Share

Australian National Botanic Gardens

I spoke in parliament yesterday about the splendid Australian National Botanic Gardens in my electorate.
Australian National Botanic Gardens
14 February 2012


The Australian National Botanic Gardens is one of my favourite places in my electorate of Fraser. It is not only a national institution; it is also a key part of the local community. The first plantings in the gardens took place in the 1940s, but it was not until 1970 that then Prime Minister John Gorton officially opened the Australian National Botanic Gardens. It was the first botanical institution to specialise in Australian native flora and has grown to be the world's most comprehensive display of Australian living native plants. Today the gardens have about a third of all Australian plant species represented.

But the Australian National Botanic Gardens is more than just a display of Australian native plants. It is also a chance for people with an interest in Australia's native flora, our environment and our environmental heritage to meet up and share those interests. The group Friends of the Australian National Botanic Gardens started up in 1990 and now has more than 1,600 members. It supports the work of the Australian National Botanic Gardens by funding new projects and facilities and also by providing support for activities within the gardens. The summer concerts, botanic art activities—like one I was pleased to open last year—exhibitions, student and community photographic competitions and volunteer guiding are some of the activities run by Friends of the Australian National Botanic Gardens, making this national institution a part of the community. It demonstrates how we can use these facilities to build community.

The Australian National Botanic Gardens recognised the activities of volunteers on 5 December 2011 as part of the International Volunteer Day celebrations. I was honoured to present awards to the following people, who volunteered for 10 years: Catherine Busby, Maryna Goodwin, Paul James, Richard Schodde, Michael Todd and Jo Whitten. I also thank Warwick Wright and Shirley McKeown, who have each given more than 15 years of service.

On 23 January I had the honour of opening the Snakes Alive exhibition, a display of reptiles and amphibians hosted by the ACT Herpetological Association and held in the gardens. The exhibition showed the importance of snakes to the Australian natural environment and how they are part of Australia's delicate ecological balance. The event was a natural fit for the Australian National Botanic Gardens, with both having a focus on Australia's natural environment. I would like to thank Geoff Robertson and Dennis Dyer from the ACT Herpetological Association for putting on such a fantastic event, and executive director of the gardens, Judy West. And I would like to thank Steven Holland for his work as a sculptor in preparing some extraordinary sculpted snakes for the event. I was fortunate to be joined by my two sons, who were fascinated as a python was placed around my neck and who happily reached out to touch the sides of the snake—much to the horror of my wife, I must confess. The Australian National Botanic Gardens is a national treasure, and I am proud to represent it.
Add your reaction Share

National Sorry Day

I spoke in parliament yesterday, recognising National Sorry Day.
National Sorry Day
13 February 2012


It was William Faulkner who said: 'The past is never dead. It's not even past.' Today, we are so reminded of how apt that line is in considering the national apology. The national apology to the stolen generations on 13 February 2008 saw the Australian parliament acknowledge the pain and suffering caused by previous policies and finally say, 'We are sorry'. It is an honour for me to follow in this debate the member for Hasluck (Ken Wyatt), somebody who I have a great admiration for on this issue and many others. I count myself among those in this place who has been fortunate to have benefited from his wisdom, and I hope to learn more from him during our times here.

Today is a day to remember but it is also a day to acknowledge the need for continued action to close the gaps. Today the minister launched a testimonies website, www.stolengenerationstestimonies.com. It is a moving website on which Australians can see many of the stories of people from the stolen generations—an important way of ensuring that what is past continues to be remembered for a portion of our history. I want to acknowledge today the work of the National Stolen Generations Alliance and the National Sorry Day Committee in doing so much to recognise the stolen generations.

One of the things that I would like to speak about today is the important role that education can play in closing the gaps in Australia. When I was an academic at the ANU, one of the projects I worked on was looking at the Indigenous test score gap in Australia. My co-author, Xiaodong Gong, and I found that, when Indigenous children reach school, they are on average a year behind their non-Indigenous peers but that by the end of primary school, the gap has widened to two years. That is in some sense a depressing message, because we can see Indigenous children falling behind their non-Indigenous counterparts. But, on the other hand, it is an optimistic message because schools, frankly, are easier to fix than the complexities of family background.

When I was up in Cape York as part of the House Economics Committee's inquiry, we heard much about the work that is being done in Cape York to improve schools, to take the best of what is occurring elsewhere in the world. One witness, Phyllis Yunkaporta, from Noel Pearson's Cape York Aboriginal Australian Academy, told the committee:

'I guess in time we have to have expectations for our children to be educated in a way where they have to balance both worlds—the Western world and the traditional way. Of course we want them to hang onto the traditional way because that is where they are going to be identifying themselves for the future. And with them having to venture out into the mainstream, we want them to compete. It is a competitive world out there. We want our black little kids to start taking on the world.'

I commend to the House Noel Pearson's Quarterly Essay on education, 'Radical hope', which speaks so articulately on the importance of high standards and the importance of combining good literacy and numeracy education with high-quality cultural education as well. It is also an essay which speaks very carefully to the balance between teacher quality and curriculum, an important balance to get right in Indigenous communities, as in non-Indigenous communities.

Another form of educational investment that can help close the gaps is in the area of higher education. It was my pleasure on 7 November last year to represent the Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Jobs and Workplace Relations in presenting Indigenous higher education staff scholarships. Among the recipients of those scholarships were Ann-Maree Hammond, from the University of Southern Queensland; Luke Halvorsen, from the Wollotuka Institute at the University of Newcastle; Catherine Taylor and Wayne Applebee, from the University of Canberra; James Charles and Elizabeth Cameron, from the University of Newcastle; Cheree Dean, from Charles Sturt University; and Jonelle Green, from La Trobe University. It was terrific for me to hear their stories and how they are helping to transform Australian higher education for the better.

On the evening, there were also awards presented to elders for their outstanding contribution to the higher education of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Awards were presented to Aunty Ruth Hegarty, from the Australian Catholic University; Aunty Rosmund Miriam Graham, from Griffith University; Aunty Joan Vickery, from Monash University and the University of Melbourne; and Ms Rose Guywanga and Reverend Dr Dinyini Gondarra, from Charles Darwin University. Waymamba Gaykamangu, a retired lecturer from Charles Darwin University, was also presented with a 2010 Elders award. All of these awards are part of ensuring that Indigenous higher education is as good as it can be.

We are speaking today about Sorry Day, but I want to end with a message of optimism. One of the great things about this country is our Indigenous heritage. For me as a non-Indigenous Australian, it is a great source of pride to live in a country which has a people with the oldest continuing link to the land. We need to speak about the wrongs that have been done but we also need to speak about how great it is for us as Australians all to participate in part of that culture.

There are many Indigenous constituents of whom I am enormously proud. Peter Radoll, Director of the Tjabal Indigenous Higher Education Centre of the Australian National University, is a font of great stories about Indigenous success at the ANU. Julie Tongs, the director of the Winnunga Nimmityjah Aboriginal Health Centre, in Narrabundah, has done extraordinary work to improve the health of Indigenous people in the ACT. Mr Duncan Smith, the Wiradjuri artist who I understand carved an artwork that was presented this morning, is an amazing role model to Indigenous youth in the ACT and somebody from whom I have learned a great deal in the time that I have known him. Matilda House is a wonderful Indigenous woman who is there at so many functions in the ACT, reminding us of the importance of welcoming to country. That is a reminder which I particularly see opening the eyes of overseas visitors, who are sometimes hearing about the tradition of welcoming to country for the first time and, in the case of some US visitors, will turn around afterwards and say, 'Why don't we do more of that back home?'

So it is a day to say sorry but it is also a day to look forward with optimism to an Australia that closes the gaps and engenders a great sense of pride in our extraordinary Indigenous heritage.
Add your reaction Share

A Strong Public Service

I've put forward a private members' motion in parliament this week on the importance of public services jobs, and am hoping it'll be debated in the coming weeks.
Public Service

That this House:

(1) recognises the important role played by the Australian Public Service in upholding and promoting our democracy and its key role in ensuring stable government;

(2) commends the Australian Public Service on continuing to be one of the most efficient and effective public services in the world; and

(3) condemns plans by the Opposition to make 12,000 public servants redundant.

Moved: Andrew Leigh. Seconded: Gai Brodtmann
Add your reaction Share

National Year of Reading

To encourage more Australians to dive into a book, the federal government supports the National Year of Reading. There will be events in libraries, bookshops and community venues, working to raise reading levels across Australia. I was pleased today to attend the official launch by the Prime Minister, at the National Library.

[caption id="attachment_2214" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="With ACT Reading Ambassador Marion Halligan & Centenary of Canberra Creative Director Robyn Archer"][/caption]

[caption id="attachment_2215" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="With my friend and colleague (& National Reading Ambassador) Dick Adams MP"][/caption]

Also, for dads with 3-5 year-old kids, Dickson Library are holding a reading event this Saturday. Details here.
Add your reaction Share

Same-Sex Marriage - Supporting Reform

I spoke today in parliament on a motion relating to same-sex marriage. Stephen Jones also tabled a private members' bill today, which will come up for a vote in the coming months.
Same-Sex Marriage - Supporting Reform
13 February 2012


This is the third time I have spoken publicly on same-sex marriage. In August 2011, I reported back to parliament on the views of my constituents for and against same-sex marriage. Within Labor Party forums I have also spoken out in favour of changing our part platform. But this is the first time I have spoken in parliament since the Labor Party changed its national platform. That platform now reads:

'Labor will amend the Marriage Act to ensure equal access to marriage under statute for all adult couples irrespective of sex who have a mutual commitment to a shared life.'

The Labor Party platform also states that on this issue 'any decision reached is not binding on any member of the Party'.

I hope that over the coming months many members on both sides of this place will support a change to the Marriage Act to allow same-sex marriage. Same sex marriage is not about gay versus straight, conservative versus progressive, left versus right. It is about social justice, equality for individuals and the recognition and protection of fundamental political and civil rights. Throughout this great country, people watch Ellen DeGeneres and Erik van der Woodsen, Matt Lucas and John Barrowman, Jodie Foster and Stephen Fry; we listen to Elton John and KD Lang. Equality for same-sex couples is not unfamiliar to everyday Australians.

Ce Ce of Hawker told me:

'I have just heard you "come out" in support of marriage equality and I wanted to express my gratitude. My partner and I registered a civil partnership earlier this year—our society needs more civilisation—I still wait for the day that we might be married. There is something lacking in referring to my civil partner rather than to my wife. Please do not underestimate how much it means.'

Warren and Grant of Aranda have been together for 27 years and believe marriage would be the ultimate legitimation of the equality of their relationship. As they told me:

'Our marriage would not undermine heterosexual marriage—quite the opposite—our desire to be married reflects our deep respect for the institution of marriage.'

Many of the opponents of same-sex marriage are devoutly religious. I respect their faith, but I say to them that it is possible to support marriage equality without undermining marriage, family or religion. Today, two-thirds of marriages in Australia are conducted by civil celebrants—a figure that is steadily rising. And same-sex marriage is supported by many religious leaders, including Lin Hatfield-Dodds, Reverend Bill Crews, Reverend Rowland Croucher, Reverend Matt Glover, Reverend Roger Munson and Father Dave Smith.

I say to my colleagues on the other side of the parliament that there is nothing in same-sex marriage that should offend Liberals and conservatives. Libertarians are among the most prominent advocates of same-sex marriage. As United Kingdom Prime Minister David Cameron has said:

'Conservatives believe in the ties that bind us; that society is stronger when we make vows to each other and support each other. So I do not support gay marriage despite being a Conservative. I support gay marriage because I'm a Conservative.'

In 1967, my parents were married in New York. They celebrated their 45th wedding anniversary last Saturday. But if they had been of different races, there are 16 US states that would not have allowed them to get married in February 1967. It was not until June 1967 that the US Supreme Court case of Loving v Virginia outlawed bans on miscegenation. These bans were thought natural—and some argued that they were supported by scripture. That matters today because, in the words of Mildred Loving in 2007:

'... not a day goes by that I don't think of Richard and our love, our right to marry, and how much it meant to me to have that freedom to marry the person precious to me, even if others thought he was the "wrong kind of person" for me to marry. I believe all Americans, no matter their race, no matter their sex, no matter their sexual orientation, should have that same freedom to marry.'

In closing, let me quote the words of former Washington state representative Betty Sue Morris. Washington is shortly to become the seventh US state to permit gay marriage. Ms Morris spoke of a vote she cast against same-sex marriage in 1996. She said that in December 1998 her daughter, Annie, had come home for Christmas and told her she was gay. In the days that followed Ms Morris said she remembered her vote and 'felt like she had denied her something. A wholeness. A freedom.' Former Representative Morris told Frank Bruni of the New York Times:

'Whenever someone opposes this, I always counsel: you never know. You never know when it will be your child or your grandchild. And you will eat your words.'

I hope members of the House will support the legalisation of same-sex marriage.
Add your reaction Share

Stay in touch

Subscribe to our monthly newsletter

Search



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.