Celebrity Suburb Names

With Monday 12 March 2012 marking the 99th anniversary of Canberra, Robyn Archer and her team have a plethora of highbrow projects ready to go in the centenary year. But at the same time, I thought it was important to have some lowbrow ones as well.

Some time ago, Maryann Mussared dropped me off a list of 'celebrity suburb names' she'd devised. Here's the game: come up with a celebrity after whom your suburb could have been named. The more outrageous the better.

For example, you might decide that Hackett was named after the Triple J 'Hack' program, or Braddon is named after Brad Haddin.

Here's Maryann's list:

  • Ainslie - Ainslie Gotto

  • Bruce - Bruce Willis (or the Australian Bruces)

  • Campbell - Glen Campbell (singer)

  • Casey - Ben Casey (TV actor)

  • Cook - Masterchef

  • Dunlop - Tyres

  • Florey - Original home of Floriade

  • Forde - Harrison Ford (actor) or Ford Prefect (fiction character)

  • Franklin - D. Roosevelt

  • Fraser - Tammie Fraser

  • Harrison - Rex Harrison (actor)

  • Higgins - Missy Higgins (singer) or Henry Higgins (fiction character)

  • Latham - Mark Latham

  • Macgregor - Euan Macgregor (actor) or Farmer Macgregor (fiction character)

  • Macquarie - Pass

  • Melba - Peach Melba

  • Mitchell - Warren Mitchell

  • O'Connor - Des O'Connor (actor)

  • Page - Elaine Page

  • Reid - Chopper Reid

  • Russell - Russell Crowe

  • Scullin - Oarsome Foursome

  • Spence - Bruce Spence (actor)

  • Turner - Ike & Tina

  • Watson - Dr Watson (fictional character)


Of course, most Canberra suburbs are still missing, so can you add to the list? If so, post your suggestions in comments below, or tweet them with the tag #celebcanberra.

Let's see how many we can come up with between now and the 99th birthday of our fine city.
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Opening of Lena Karmel Lodge

[caption id="attachment_2315" align="alignright" width="300" caption="Opening Lena Karmel Lodge with ANU Vice-Chancellor Ian Young and Lena Karmel. Photo by Stuart Hay."][/caption] I was delighted to join ACT Chief Minister Katy Gallagher and ANU Vice-Chancellor Ian Young to open the Lena Karmel Lodge at the Australian National University today.

This follows on from the opening of Weeden Lodge at the University of Canberra last week. Both of these projects were funded through the National Rental Affordability Scheme, which has proven to be a great way to keep more Canberrans in work in the construction industry while also providing much-needed rental accommodation for students.

The media release is below.


CHIEF MINISTER FOR THE AUSTRALIAN CAPITAL TERRITORY
KATY GALLAGHER MLA

MINISTER FOR HOUSING & HOMELESSNESS
HON. BRENDAN O’CONNOR MP

MEMBER FOR FRASER
ANDREW LEIGH MP

JOINT MEDIA RELEASE

550 more students to get affordable accommodation

ACT Chief Minister Katy Gallagher today joined Member for Fraser Andrew Leigh and ANU Vice-Chancellor Professor Ian Young in opening the Australian National University’s newest student accommodation - Lena Karmel Lodge, which will provide even more affordable accommodation for Canberra’s growing student population.

Located in the City West precinct, the development was supported by contributions from the ACT and Commonwealth governments through the National Rental Affordability Scheme.

“Just last week I was pleased to open Weeden Lodge – which is already home to up to 220 University of Canberra students in the refurbished Cameron Offices in Belconnen. It is great to follow that this week by opening Lena Karmel Lodge, for a further 550 ANU students.

“Both of these new spaces for students deliver an affordable accommodation option at a discounted rent of at least 20 per cent below the market rate. This means that studying in Canberra remains an attractive option for current and future students,” the Chief Minister said.

Minister for Housing Brendan O’Connor said Lena Karmel Lodge was part of the Gillard Government’s $4.3 billion investment to increase the supply of affordable housing across the nation through the National Rental Affordability Scheme.

“The Gillard Government recognises that people are struggling to find rental properties around Australia,” Mr O’Connor said.

“That’s why we are helping to build 50,000 new rental properties nationwide, allowing households to save thousands of dollars each year in rent.

“Investing in building projects like Lena Karmel Lodge also helps support local builders and tradies and keeps the economy strong,” Mr O’Connor said.

Dr Leigh said Lena Karmel Lodge was further evidence of the Gillard Government’s commitment to Canberra.

“Education is Canberra’s second largest export, and these extra beds mean we can continue to attract and educate Australia’s future workforce, while freeing up rental properties for other Canberrans,” Dr Leigh said.

As well as providing new accommodation for the 550 ANU students, the facilities also house a conference room, a cafeteria, small gym and ground floor shops.

The Chief Minister congratulated the ANU on nearing completion of its objective of building 1,033 new units through the National Rental Affordability Scheme.

“Significant additions of student accommodation are not only important to the ANU, but also bolster Canberra’s reputation as one of Australia’s leading cities for obtaining further education.

“The Territory Government, together with the Commonwealth is extremely proud to have contributed to these affordable rental units, which will also help improve overall rental affordability, which means fewer students are competing for accommodation in the private rental market,” the Chief Minister concluded.
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Opening Lena Karmel Lodge with ANU Vice-Chancellor Ian Young and Lena Karmel

Photo by Stuart Hay
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Sky AM Agenda - 1 March 2012

A surprisingly congenial discussion with Kieran Gilbert and Simon Birmingham about politics and policy.



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Welcoming the Babies Postponed


MEDIA ALERT
Andrew Leigh MP
Member for Fraser


THURSDAY 1 MARCH 2012


‘Welcoming the Babies’ Postponed


Member for Fraser Andrew Leigh’s annual ‘Welcoming the Babies’ event has been postponed due to poor weather.

“Unfortunately, we’ve had some bad news. The National Capital Authority advised me that I’m unable to have the event at Stage 88 this weekend due to poor weather and concerns for safety,” said Andrew Leigh.

“With many babies already registered for this event, and knowing how important it is to connect families with community services, I’m still going ahead with a modified version of Welcoming the Babies.”

Here are the new details:

Date: Monday 26 March 2012

Time: 10:00am-11:00am

Venue: Andrew Leigh’s electorate office, 1 Torrens St, Braddon (at the corner of Torrens and Cooyong Streets)

“The best thing about having it in my office is that we can be sure it won’t be rained out! Parents should feel welcome to drop in, even if it’s just for a short time.”

A light morning tea will be provided. Parents will also still have a chance to connect with community service providers and one another, with many service providers either in attendance or providing materials. RSVPs are strongly recommended.

For more information or to RSVP email Andrew.Leigh.MP<@>aph.gov.au or phone 6247 4396.
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A Twitter Randomised Trial - The Results

At the start of February, I began a randomised trial of twitter. I said that I was a twitter-sceptic, but plenty of people (including Louise, Joshua & Holly) had been pushing me to give it a go. So picking up an idea of Justin Wolfers, I decided to use a randomised trial to test whether twitter made me happier and more productive. I figured that if I was going to move a motion in parliament calling for more policy randomised trials, the least I could do was to experiment on myself.

The experiment worked like this. At the end of each day, I rated my happiness and productivity on a 1-10 scale, and then tossed a coin to decide to tweet the following day.

Yesterday, the 29-day experiment ended. Over the month, my average happiness was 6.9, and my average productivity was 6.5. Out of curiosity, I began by looking at how both metrics related to the two big shifts in my week: parliamentary sittings and weekends. Though the difference isn't statistically significant, the data suggests that weekends find me happier and less productive, while sittings find me less happy and more productive.

But how about tweeting? The graphs below show my average happiness and productivity on tweeting and non-tweeting days. It looks like tweeting makes me happier, but less productive. However, neither difference is statistically significant.



Sure, I hear you saying - but how does it look in a multiple regression? Well, the answer is not much different. Here are regressions that hold constant the weekend and parliamentary sittings effects.

Happiness regression


































































































Source SS df MS Number of obs = 29
F( 3, 25) = 0.85
Model 2.21812111 3 .739373702 Prob > F = 0.4777
Residual 21.6439479 25 .865757914 R-squared = 0.0930
Adj R-squared = -0.0159
Total 23.862069 28 .852216749 Root MSE = .93046
happiness Coef. Std. Err. t P>t [95% Conf. Interval]
tweet .2048417 .3766625 0.54 0.591 -.5709093 .9805927
weekend .1638734 .460441 0.36 0.725 -.7844226 1.112169
sittings -.409311 .4069081 -1.01 0.324 -1.247354 .4287319
_cons 6.90689 .3286612 21.02 0.000 6.23 7.583781

Productivity regression


































































































Source SS df MS Number of obs = 29
F( 3, 25) = 0.33
Model 1.48123033 3 .493743445 Prob > F = 0.8059
Residual 37.760149 25 1.51040596 R-squared = 0.0377
Adj R-squared = -0.0777
Total 39.2413793 28 1.40147783 Root MSE = 1.229
productivity Coef. Std. Err. t P>t [95% Conf. Interval]
tweet -.3929236 .4975091 -0.79 0.437 -1.417563 .6317155
weekend .0856611 .6081666 0.14 0.889 -1.166882 1.338204
sittings .2633147 .5374585 0.49 0.628 -.8436018 1.370231
_cons 6.633147 .4341073 15.28 0.000 5.739086 7.527208

Nothing's statistically significant, but the confidence intervals remain pretty tight, with the 95% confidence interval for the tweeting coefficient lying between -0.6 and +1 in the happiness regression, and between -1.4 and +0.6 in the productivity regression. While I wouldn't be sanguine about a daily 1-point hit to productivity, it doesn't look like tweeting does much harm (or good) to my output and life satisfaction. If you'd like to play with the data yourself, here it is in Excel format (or you can go to the raw data).

Add to that the fact that tweeting over the past month has brought a tad more attention to some of my speeches and writings, and a little frivolity to my life (did someone say #AusPolValentines?).

So I think that decides it. From now, I'm officially tweeting.

If you'd like to follow me, just click the button below.


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Brad Runs North

I spoke in parliament today about 22-year old Canberran Bradley Carron-Arthur, and his 4000 km run to raise money for and awareness of mental illness.
Brad Runs North
1 March 2012


Running is one of my favourite pastimes and over the years I have managed to put in a reasonable number of kilometres, but nothing like the local Canberra boy Bradley Carron-Arthur. Twenty-two year old Brad is running from Canberra to the far tip of Australia, past Cairns, past Cooktown, ending east of Punsand in Cape York, a journey of 4,000 kilometres. Brad is raising money for the Australian Foundation for Mental Health Research. To date he has raised $9,450 of his $20,000 target. Having left Canberra on New Year's Day this year, Brad has so far travelled over 2,284 kilometres. According to the latest update two days ago, he had covered 22 kilometres that day and he was in Bundaberg. His trip has not been without its dramas. Apparently the batteries in his headlamp died just before he had to swim across a swollen creek that was cutting across the road. He made it across and arrived safely in Bundaberg, but I do not envy him with the rain that is going on at the moment.

Brad is raising money for mental illness. He points out that one in five Australians suffer a mental illness. A staggering 60 per cent of them do not seek support. Over the past decades there have been great efforts to reduce the stigma of mental illness by people like Brad, the former Premier of Western Australia Geoff Gallop, former Premier of Victoria Jeff Kennett, ex Wallabies winger Clyde Rathbone and many others. This government has a strong commitment to reducing the stigma of mental illness and investing in mental health, and we are delighted to have people like Brad raising money and raising awareness of these important issues.

Brad's run north has been made possible through the contributions, efforts and support of many people in Canberra and along the way. It is a demonstration of the positive power of social capital, which gives a sense of connectedness, wellbeing and purpose in our day-to-day lives. I would urge those in the chamber and those watching this speech to join me in supporting Brad. Just go to his website, www.bradrunsnorth.com, and make a donation or send him a message of support. Brad's efforts inspire all of us to help work on worthy causes and also to get out there for an occasional or a regular run. I am a great fan of Brad and his efforts inspire many of us. Like many Canberrans, I wish him all the best as he makes his way to the tip of Cape York.
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Using Markets to Address Environmental Challenges

I spoke briefly in parliament today about the use of market-based mechanisms to deal with environmental challenges.
Market-Based Environmental Mechanisms
29 February 2012


Yesterday it was my pleasure to meet in this House with members of a Chinese-Australian Leadership Award Fellowship delegation—about 15 Chinese visitors, led by Jiao Xueli of the National Development and Reform Commission, coming to Australia to learn from Sydney University Professor Alan Randall about our experiences of using market based mechanisms to deal with environmental challenges.

As the Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities pointed out in a speech to the Sydney Institute last year:

'Some commentators have suggested there is an irony in Labor being the party which is backing the market system—'

in dealing with environmental regulation. But, as the minister said, that view is dead wrong. The major market reforms in Australia's history have all been Labor reforms—banking deregulation, floating the dollar, competition policy and, in the area of agriculture, the abolition of the AWB monopoly and the reform of drought policy.

So it is not surprising that, in the area of the environment, it is Labor which is using market based solutions as the most efficient and effective way of dealing with environmental challenges. That is true in pricing carbon rather than taking the approach of direct action. It is true in putting a price on water. Market based mechanisms have choice at their core and they ensure that we use the best available science and the best available economic research in order to achieve the environmental targets we all aspire to.
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Trade Liberalisation & Anti-Dumping

I spoke in parliament yesterday about trade liberalisation and anti-dumping.
Customs Amendment (Anti-dumping Improvements) Bill (No. 2) 2011
28 February 2012


It is my pleasure to rise to address the Customs Amendment (Anti-dumping Improvements) Bill (No. 2) 2011, a piece of trade legislation that sits proudly in a Labor legacy of trade reform. The opening up of Australian markets which has been so much to the benefit of Australia's workers and consumers is fundamentally a Labor story. It was Gough Whitlam in 1973 who first cut tariffs, and then Bob Hawke and Paul Keating who continued through the tariff cuts. They did so with a view that open markets would be good for Australia, but that that process of dropping the tariff walls would entail transition costs. So they put in place a car industry plan and TCF plan, recognising that industry would need time to adjust. Those changes have been enormously beneficial for Australian families. They have put on average $3,900 per annum into the pockets of Australian households according to a report by the Centre for International Economics. Open markets have also meant that Australian industry has become more competitive. That has meant more export jobs. It has meant more opportunities for Australian workers.

But it is also important that the government ensure that Australian companies are protected from unfair trade practices by other countries. This legislation is making the most important improvements to Australia's antidumping regime for more than a decade. The improvements will include an increase in Customs staff working on antidumping by 45 per cent. It will include increased funding to hire experts and to assist Australian manufacturers in lodging applications for remedies against injurious dumping or subsidisation. The government has established an International Trade Remedies Forum that will provide advice to the government on the effectiveness of the improvements to the antidumping system and will report on options for further improvements. That forum has met a number of times, considered various discussion papers and worked in cooperation to develop an anti-circumvention framework.

Underlying all of this is our compliance with Australia's World Trade Organisation obligations. It is absolutely critical that we comply with WTO laws, because those WTO deals underpin our future prosperity. I am proud to say that I worked for 18 months for the late Senator Peter Cook, who for Australia negotiated the last WTO round of tariff cuts, the Uruguay round. I am equally proud to say that it was my predecessor as the member for Fraser, Bob McMullan, who stepped into Peter Cook's shoes at the very end and whose signature appears for Australia on the Uruguay round agreement. Trade talks can sometimes seem a little arcane, but underpinning them is the notion that we are taking rocks out of harbours. It is good for us to take the rocks out of our own harbours; it is better yet if we can get the rocks out of the harbours of other countries.

But the opposition seem not to recognise this. They have announced that they intend to reverse the onus of proof in antidumping cases, in clear breach of Australia's international obligations. The sharper knives in their drawer know that this cannot be done without risking other countries taking us to the WTO for retaliatory action. They know that they would involve punitive tariffs on Australia's agricultural or manufacturing exports. When you are allowed to impose punitive tariffs, countries think pretty hard about how to hit their neighbours. There is a famous World Trade Organisation case in which the European Union was allowed to impose retaliatory tariffs on the United States for a breach of WTO rules. It was an election year, so the Europeans decided to impose their retaliatory tariffs on exports from key swing states like Florida orange juice concentrate. It did not take long before the Americans capitulated and complied with WTO obligations.

Much the same would happen if Australia were targeted with retaliatory tariffs. In a public submission to the Senate committee looking at this issue in May last year, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade was unequivocal in its advice. It said:

'Australia cannot impose an onus on the importer to prove the goods have not been dumped ...'

The opposition claims that, from two months into an investigation, Preliminary Affirmative Determinations can create a shift in the balance of an investigation requiring the foreign producer, rather than the Australian company that believes it has been damaged by the dumping, to prove its conduct has not hurt Australian industry. That is not correct. PADs are already used in accordance with Australia's WTO obligations, but these obligations make it clear that it is still necessary to make a preliminary finding that there is dumping and consequent injury to a domestic industry.

The opposition have a desire to ride roughshod over our international obligations when it comes to antidumping. It is just one of a series of incidents in which the opposition have threatened to tear up the international trading rulebook—the rulebook which has done so much to bring prosperity to Australia; the rulebook which has ensured that Australia could export almost $300 billion worth of goods and services to the world last year.

Last August, the coalition supported an anti-trade private member's bill on compulsory palm oil labelling. That would have breached Australia's obligations under the World Trade Organisation. It would have slugged Australian businesses with compliance costs of $150 million. Just before that, the shadow agriculture minister drafted a bill which sought to overturn a World Trade Organisation ruling that New Zealand apples be allowed into Australia, subject to scientifically based quarantine conditions. Had that private member's bill gone ahead, as the opposition well knows, it would have put Australian trade in jeopardy. It is just another piece of the puzzle as to how the Leader of the Opposition has consistently taken the antimarket view. He has taken the antimarket view on climate change, the use of voluntary water buybacks to alleviate desalination of the Murray-Darling Basin, the use of countercyclical fiscal policy to save Australia from recession when the global financial crisis hit, and the use of good economics that tell you that when you go to an election you should have an independent parliamentary budget office look at your costings rather than a team of accountants that has been fined or a catering company. Each day it is more and more clear that the opposition have lost all economic credibility and are willing to put at risk Australia's trading relations for simple pointscoring.

I turn to some observations which have been made on the issue of antidumping by the Chairman of the Productivity Commission, Gary Banks, when he spoke at the annual dinner of the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry on 23 November last year. I have to say that Mr Banks is not particularly complimentary about antidumping, but it is important to look to his statements to see where he regards the real problem lies. He said:

'In its recent report on anti-dumping, the Commission nevertheless recognised that notions of unfairness had become so entrenched that retaining some form of anti-dumping system was inevitable, and on balance may serve to prevent something worse (as is sometimes said of FIRB). We therefore opted simply to moderate its potential to impose costs on Australian industry and consumers ...'

Mr Banks goes on to talk about some of those costs. He then goes on to say:

'However, no such ambiguity is to be found in the Opposition’s recently announced policy, which pushes the boundaries of allowable restrictions. Getting the right balance in anti-dumping policy between addressing perceptions of fairness and avoiding actions that would be costly domestically—and harmful to our bilateral relationships (including with China)—is a very difficult challenge for policy makers and always has been. Unfortunately the Opposition’s policy falls well short of the balance required, and has now made harder the Government’s own efforts to hold the line.'

Mr Banks has highlighted the real problem with the coalition's economic populism in the area of trade—that is, it not only threatens our economic prosperity but threatens our diplomatic relations. In this century, the Asian century, we are—

Mr Craig Kelly:  Mr Deputy Speaker, I rise on a point of order going to relevance. This is about antidumping. I do not know what the speaker is talking about, referring to the coalition's policy.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER:  There is no point of order. I have been listening to the member for Fraser. He has been talking about customs tariff. I have noted the first reading speech and the member for Fraser is in order.

Dr LEIGH:  I refer again to the speech on antidumping by the Chairman of the Productivity Commission. That speech highlighted the very real risks of the opposition's strategy—the opposition's growing economic populism. Getting the balance right on antidumping is critical in this century, the Asian century. It is absolutely vital that we preserve strong economic and diplomatic relationships with the countries in our region. We are enormously fortunate that growth moves in the world from Europe and North America to Asia, to be concentrated in the fastest growing region of the world. The Asian century presents challenges to Australia, to be sure, but the opportunities are far greater—the opportunities to engage in strong trading relationships with countries of our region. We have great potential in services exports, education, finance, law and architecture—all of these sectors will benefit greatly from our strong trading relationships with the countries of our region. Getting the balance right on issues such as antidumping is absolutely critical. Australia's trading relationships are critical to our economic prosperity.

In 2011, our exports to North Asia rose 18 per cent, with shipments to China rising 24 per cent, to Japan rising 16 per cent and to ASEAN countries rising 23 per cent. Australia's trade is projected to more than double by 2025. This strong trade performance is only made possible in a rules based trading system.

Australia is a founding member of the global trading system, and we play by those rules. Just as we may not like it when we lose the Ashes, but we still play by the rules of cricket, so too do we not always like every decision which is made by the World Trade Organisation. But, if we take our bat and ball and go home, we hurt the jobs and the prosperity of many Australians.

There are now over 150 members of the World Trade Organisation, and many more are joining up. It is a rare country in the world that wants to thumb its nose at the World Trade Organisation, but that what those opposite want to do. They have chosen the low road, the economic populist road, at every possible turn. Australia's alternative Deputy Prime Minister, the Leader of the Nationals, condemned the Trans Pacific Partnership as a 'thought bubble'. Well, Deputy Speaker Scott, I can tell you it is a thought bubble that is being advocated by President Obama and something that should seriously be considered for the welfare of Australia. The day after the Deputy Leader of the Opposition said the government should accelerate negotiations on a trade deal with China, the Leader of the Opposition repudiated her and said it should be put on the backburner. It really reflects the fact that those opposite are not that interested in economics or the fundamental reforms which will raise the prosperity of our nation.

Estimates by the Centre for International Economics found in 2009 that one worker in seven in Australia was involved in the production of exports and one in 10 in import related activity. That makes one in five workers involved in trade related activity—exports, imports or both. Just imagine a set of policies that would lose one in five workers their job, that would shut off Australia's trade with the world and that would jeopardise our international trading relationships. That is what we face with the economic populism from those opposite. They are willing to say anything in order to win a vote but not willing to have the long-term conversation with Australians about the great benefits that will come to this nation in the Asian century. I commend the bill to the House.
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Wrong Time for a Sovereign Wealth Fund

I spoke today in parliament on a Greens motion proposing a sovereign wealth fund (curiously, while Malcolm Turnbull and Josh Frydenberg have both publicly argued for one, they didn't come along to support Adam Bandt's motion today).

My speech draws heavily on an opinion piece I had published in the AFR last year.
Private Members' Business: Sovereign Wealth Fund
28 February 2012


It is always a pleasure to follow one of the modest members in this place! Opened in 1880, the Melbourne Royal Exhibition Building is widely considered a national treasure. It was the first building in Australia to achieve World Heritage listing. It was made possible by the discovery of gold in the 19th century. If you want to see the legacy of the first Australian mining boom, you just need to look around central Melbourne. The question we are facing today is effectively this: would Victoria now be better off if the Victorian government of the 19th century had saved the money rather than building infrastructure? That is basically the argument made by those who argue that the right policy response to today's mining boom is a sovereign wealth fund. One of those sovereign wealth funds has various advocates. I have certainly heard the members for Wentworth (Malcolm Turnbull) and Kooyong (Josh Frydenberg) in the popular press making strong arguments in favour of sovereign wealth funds.

There are typically three arguments made by proponents of sovereign wealth funds and it is worth going through those in turn.

First of all, some say that with the Australian dollar at historic highs we ought to amass greenbacks as a form of insurance against a currency slump. It is certainly true that a currency slump would be a shock to the economy, but it is not the only one we have to guard against. Governments have to anticipate and react to natural disasters, fiscal shocks and even unexpected technological change. We have already got substantial foreign holdings. The Future Fund has $75 billion, of which about a quarter is in overseas equities, and Australians have $1.3 trillion in superannuation, of which about a fifth is overseas assets.

The second argument made for a sovereign wealth fund is that it would cure Dutch Disease, which occurs when a mining-induced currency rise hurts other export industries such as manufacturing, tourism or higher education. Most likely it is true that saving a greater share of mining tax revenues would lead to an easing in monetary policy and therefore a lower exchange rate, but the effect would be modest, particularly under current mining tax rates. If your top priority is to cure Dutch Disease, a sovereign wealth fund is more of a bandaid than a vaccine.

The third argument for a sovereign wealth fund is that we need to boost national savings. It has got a virtuous ring about it, but it misses the fact that Australians already save a great deal. In 2010 our gross national savings rate was 25 per cent - higher than Japan's. The current federal government's fiscal consolidation is one of the fastest on record and a significant share of government investment is a down payment on future productivity. That is what we are doing with the National Broadband Network, education and transport. If you believe that Australia needs to save more, you need to say which taxes you would increase or which spending you would cut. A sovereign wealth fund without deposits has all the usefulness of a pub without beer. To put it another way, a sovereign wealth fund is in simple terms a piggy bank that contains foreign currency. It is not much use if it is empty.

At its core the debate over a sovereign wealth fund comes down to intergenerational equity. Most economists and philosophers believe our generation has an obligation to hand on to our children at least as much wealth as we inherited. We do not need to preserve every hill and rock, but if we use up an asset we should replace it with one at least as valuable. That affects how we think about the climate change debate. The Great Barrier Reef has extremely high value, so it merits urgent action by our generation to preserve it. But intergenerational equity also reminds us that future generations will be richer than us and not necessarily any more public spirited, so there is no philosophical obligation to leave our children an overstuffed piggy bank rather than, say, a good education and a well-functioning rail network. Indeed, if we were to slash spending on skills and infrastructure and save the proceeds, future generations might well condemn us as short-sighted scrooges.

This is not to say that there is not a strong case for a sovereign wealth fund sometime in the future. Maybe in the future we might be able to think about a Norwegian-style fund to build a stock of assets to the future or a Chilean-style fund to implement counter-cyclical fiscal policy, which was so sorely missing for much of the Howard years. But in the current economic environment it is hardly a high priority. If you are concerned about future generations, let us focus on the top priorities: a price on carbon pollution, shifting from the outdated mineral royalties scheme to a profits-based mining tax, and investing in skills. These are the sorts of long-term investments that future generations will thank us for. In my view, the notion of a sovereign wealth fund can go in the safety deposit box for now.
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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.