The ACT Community Language Schools Association has asked me to publicise their language schools day on 22 Oct. Details below.Add your reaction Share
ACT Community Language Schools Association
18th ACT Community Language Schools Day
Displays, Cultural Performances and International Food
To celebrate Children’s Week, ACT Community Language Schools Association Inc will host our 18th Community Language Schools Day; this day gives the association’s 40 member schools an opportunity to share their experiences and achievements with each other and the wider community. Youth and staff will showcase the languages they are teaching and learning through performances, displays and games. There will also be several CaLD liaison teams from community organisations around Canberra available for you to meet.
Date: Saturday 22 October 2011
Time: 10.00 am – 3.00 pm
Venue: Dickson College
For any enquiries contact Jacqui on 6230 5191 or via email admin <AT> actclsa.org.au
I put a private members' motion on the notice paper this week on the topic of crime and incarceration rates. Hopefully it'll be selected for debate in the coming weeks.Add your reaction Share
Thanks to intern Jess Woodall for her help drafting the motion.
Update: Here's my speech in the debate, which took place on 21 November 2011.
Dr LEIGH: to move:
That this House:
(1) recognises that:
(a) the Australian incarceration rate has risen from 117 prisoners per 100,000 adults in 1991 to 172 prisoners per 100,000 adults in 2010;
(b) since the Indigenous Deaths in Custody Report was released in 1991, the Indigenous incarceration rate has risen from 1739 prisoners per 100,000 adults to 2303 prisoners per 100,000 adults; and
(c) an increasing number of Australian children have a parent behind bars; and
(2) encourages governments at all levels to pursue innovative policies to reduce crime and incarceration rates, including:
(a) investing in early intervention programs to deter young people from crime;
(b) where appropriate, considering alternatives to incarceration such as weekend detention, periodic detention, restorative justice and drug courts;
(c) employing smart policing strategies, such as using real-time crime statistics to identify and target crime hotspots;
(d) establishing in-prison education, training and rehabilitation programs aimed at reducing recidivism and improving family relationships for prisoners with children; and
(e) implementing randomised policy trials (akin to the 1999 NSW Drug Court randomised trial) to rigorously evaluate the impact of criminal justice interventions.
Thanks to intern Jess Woodall for her help drafting the motion.
Update: Here's my speech in the debate, which took place on 21 November 2011.
I spoke today on the government's amendments to the Migration Act.
Migration Legislation Amendment (Offshore Processing)http://www.youtube.com/embed/tTb49HAMbH4?hl=en&fs=1
22 September 2011
On 18 October 2001 an Indonesian fishing boat left the port of Bandar Lampung. There were 421 people on board, including at least 70 children. The boat was just 20 metres long and four metres wide, so people were tightly packed on board. The next day, about 70 kilometres south of Indonesia, the boat encountered heavy seas, took on water, listed violently to the side, capsized and sank within an hour. There were life jackets on board but none of them worked.
As a Senate committee, chaired by the late, great, Senator Peter Cook concluded, there were at least 70 children aboard when SIEV X sank. Only three survived. Two hundred adults also lost their lives. As the International Organisation for Migration pointed out, the tragedy was due to 'the way the people smugglers pack these boats'.
Nine years later, on 15 December 2010, a boat carrying around 90 asylum seekers sank off the coast of Christmas Island. Thirty bodies were recovered, including those of four juveniles and four infants. Up to 20 others are missing, presumed dead. The report of the Joint Select Committee on the Christmas Island Tragedy quoted Raymond Murray, the first person to arrive at the scene. He told the committee:
'Standing right out on the edge of the rocks, there were times when that the boat was closer than you are to me now. I will never forget seeing a woman holding up a baby, obviously wanting me to take it, and not being able to do anything. It was just a feeling of absolute hopelessness. It was like it was happening in slow motion. A wave would pick the boat up and almost hit the rocks and then go back again, and then finally it was like it exploded.'
Over the past decade or so there have been 414 confirmed drownings by asylum seekers at sea. For example, apart from those I have mentioned, five were drowned on 16 April 2009, 12 on 1 November 2009 and 12 on 15 June 2010.
Apart from this, there have been over 500 more unconfirmed deaths by asylum seekers at sea. There were reports of a vessel carrying 200 people that disappeared in March 2000. There were reports of another vessel carrying 100 people, that disappeared—presumably with the loss of everyone on board—in October 2009. We will never know how many asylum seekers have died at sea in attempting to reach Australia, but we do know that those people certainly number in their hundreds and perhaps in their thousands.
Quite often the asylum seeker debate focuses on people who arrive by boat, but that is only a portion of the refugees we take. We also take refugees from offshore processing, people who in many cases have spent years in refugee camps. The more onshore arrivals we take the fewer offshore arrivals we take.
To provide a more complete picture, I want to say something about the refugees that are resettled from these offshore camps. The Department of Immigration and Citizenship has a vast network of offices, which work in cooperation with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to process refugees. Our offices include those in Amman, Beijing, Cairo, Moscow and Warsaw. Once recognised as a refugee by the UNHCR a person is referred to the Department of Immigration and Citizenship for resettlement.
Australia is unusual in this. We are one of only about 20 nations worldwide that participate formally in the UNHCR's resettlement program and accept quotas of refugees on an annual basis. For the last year for which I was able to obtain statistics, Australia had the third largest number of refugees for resettlement under this UNHCR program. We were outranked by the United States and Canada, but on a per capita basis we take more UNHCR refugees than either of those two countries. Of course, the numbers that we take are small. Our total humanitarian quota was 13,750 in past years, increasing now to 14,750. But that is a small share of the world's 15 million refugees, 10½ million of whom are under the UNHCR's mandate.
The world as a whole needs to do more to take in UNHCR refugees. Last year there were only 539,170 refugees recognised or resettled under the UNHCR. Of these, only 98,761 were resettled from other countries. What we need is a regional approach to a global problem. This approach began through the Bali meeting in March, bringing together countries in our region to discuss the challenge of refugees. Labor's approach has always been one of multilateralism. That is as true for immigration as it is for trade and foreign policy. The coalition, on the other hand, have a tendency to focus on unilateralism, striking particular deals with single countries. They do it in trade and they do it in migration. We believe it is the wrong approach. Modern Labor's approach will always be a multilateralist one.
Yet while I am proud of modern Labor's multilateralist approach on refugees, it is important to also acknowledge my party's history. That history has not always been a great one.
We were a party formed to protect the rights of Australian workers, and, partly for that reason, there were Labor representatives in this place who played a shameful role in restricting the intake of Jewish refugees fleeing persecution in Europe in the 1930s. They did so because of a mix of anti-Semitism and anti-capitalist radicalism. Labor Senator John Armstrong in 1938 said:
'I urge the Government to take steps to prevent the unrestricted immigration of Jews to this country …'
This meant that Australia took only 5,000 Jewish refugees before the outbreak of war. Later, under the White Australia Policy, Labor immigration minister Arthur Calwell was shocked when the High Court ruled that he could not deport an Indonesian woman who had six children with her Australian husband. Calwell thought it was right that that family be torn apart.
But Labor's role is fundamentally a proud one. In 1945, at the San Francisco conference to establish the United Nations, Jessie Street—the only woman on the Australian delegation—argued for the removal of restrictions on Jewish migration and for an increased intake of Jewish refugees to Australia. In 1948, as the fourth President of the UN General Assembly, HV 'Doc' Evatt was a key drafter of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a document that says, in article 14(1):
'Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.'
This set the foundation for the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, which was originally to address the problem of the millions of Europeans displaced by World War II and was then updated in 1967 to apply to refugees generally.
Today, the issue of immigration is a proud Labor issue. In my first speech, I mentioned my mother's parents—a boilermaker and a teacher—who lived by the credo that, if there was a spare room in the house, it should be used by someone who needed the space. I remember as a little kid eating in my grandparents' home with new migrants from Hong Kong, Papua New Guinea, Chile, Cambodia and Sri Lanka.
Last year, I attended a prize-giving ceremony for an art competition run as part of Refugee Week. First prize went to a Karen Burmese woman who had woven a traditional crimson tunic. Because she did not have a proper loom, the woman had taken the mattress off her bed and fashioned a loom from her pine bed base. It is hard not to be overwhelmed by the courage and spirit of Australia's migrants.
In referring to refugees in my first speech, I was not unusual. If there is a defining characteristic about first speeches by Labor members and senators, it is that they almost invariably include a migrant's tale.
Part of what we are doing in the agreement with Malaysia is trying to ensure better treatment for refugees currently in Malaysia. The challenging protection environment in Malaysia makes it difficult for the UNHCR to fulfil its mandate in the country. The UNHCR registers asylum seekers, determines their status claims and provides them with documentation. Our agreement will allow the UNHCR access to persons seeking asylum, including to assess their need for protection. It will strengthen the relationship between the UNHCR and Malaysia, not just for those refugees who come from the Malaysian camps to Australia but for the nearly 100,000 refugees who are in those camps. In the words of the UNHCR:
'It is UNHCR’s understanding that the Arrangement will with time deliver further protection dividends in the two countries, as well as the region …'
Lasting improvements in the region's response to asylum seekers and refugees necessarily involve countries, like Malaysia, that are not yet party to the convention. The arrangement with Malaysia is subject to oversight by committees involving representatives of the Australian and Malaysian governments, the UNHCR and the International Organisation for Migration.
There are no simple solutions. As the old Max Weber line goes, public policy is like 'slow boring through hard boards'. Nowhere is this truer than with migration. As the Parliamentary Secretary for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency Mark Dreyfus has pointed out, this is not about being compassionate; it is about 'competing compassions'.
I reject attacks on public servants in the Department of Immigration and Citizenship that we have heard in recent weeks. Public servants have a difficult task, and we should respect the long hours that they put into crafting policy. I respect the many constituents of mine who work in the Australian Public Service and I will defend their impartiality.
I also reject the claim that some have made that this is a new ‘Pacific solution’. There are two reasons this is wrong. Firstly, the Howard government's Pacific solution saw no increase in the total refugee intake. Under this policy, we are taking an additional 1,000 refugees per year. The second reason is that the Pacific solution had no involvement from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Ours has a strong involvement from that body.
As a Labor member of parliament, I believe that the neediest people should be given the first priority. In our offshore processing centres in Africa, Asia and the Middle East, working with the UNHCR, we take people who have nothing. Those who come by boat are invariably those who have enough money to pay a people smuggler. In saying this, I am not reflecting on those who come by boat. In their shoes, I might well make the same decision. But we have a fixed humanitarian quota: 13,750 now, which will increase to 14,750. I believe it is appropriate to prioritise those who are selected in our offshore processing centres.
This is a hard debate, and I have had many conversations and email exchanges with people in my electorate about what is the right thing to do. I respect those who disagree with the government's position on this. But no-one has a monopoly on compassion.
In closing, I pay tribute to those in the ACT who work with refugees, as my maternal grandparents did with refugees in their home. I want to acknowledge the work of the Multicultural Youth Services in settling young refugees, often those who are orphaned or who only have one parent. The work they do to help newly arrived migrants develop friends and social networks is valuable work indeed. I recognise Companion House, which works with the victims of torture and trauma. It is hard and important work. They provide health care and social services. I acknowledge those who work in these organisations and the many other bodies that assist refugees in the ACT. Their compassion is a great credit to them and it is one of the reasons why I hope that in the future Australia will be able to take still more refugees than we do today.
I spoke in parliament today about Samatha Stosur's US Open win and the value of sports participation.
21 September 2011
More often than not, when we rise in this place to praise a sporting hero it is in praise of a man. When I was a boy, my focus was on distance events so I looked up to people like long distance runner Steve Moneghetti, triathlete Greg Welch and race walker Simon Baker. As a participant in each of these sports, I admired the ability of these men to develop and sustain their physical and mental ability and to push the boundaries.
Not often enough in this place do we talk about the sporting achievements of women. It is harder for women to excel at sport at an elite level. There are not many elite sports for which women are paid a sufficient amount to dedicate their life to the sport. There are few women’s sports that attract television coverage and the associated sponsorship and endorsements. Smaller still are the number of women’s sports that attract prime-time television coverage and the even more lucrative sponsorship deals. Just a handful of women sports pay their athletes equivalent to men.
Tennis is an exception. In Australia, we have had a long history of champion female tennis players. Margaret Molesworth won the first-ever women's title at the Australasian Championships, now the Australian Open, in 1922. Margaret Court was dominant in the 1960s and 1970s. Evonne Goolagong Cawley was until now our most recent grand slam champion with her 1980 Wimbledon title.
Now we can add 27-year-old Samantha Stosur to the list. Stosur's story is inspirational. Her early career focussed on doubles. Sam was ranked No. 1 in the world in doubles by 2006. But she contracted Lyme disease in 2007. It was devastating. She was out of tennis for close to a year and a return to the game was difficult as the illness had left her weakened.
On her return, Sam had a renewed focus on her singles game and managed to creep up the rankings. We thought her loss in the 2010 French Open final might have been the closest she would ever come to winning a grand slam. But this year Sam demonstrated that she has the physical and mental strength to succeed at the elite level by winning the US Open. My staff had been talking in the office about little else apart from Sam for days leading up to her victory. I managed to watch the final few points myself. Not surprisingly, many Australians were late to work that morning. Famously, Sam remembers staying home from school to watch her idol Pat Rafter winning his title in 1997. Now, young Australian girls have seen one of their own achieve this feat. They can see that women are capable of achieving at an elite level too. So Sam, well done on your victory and may this be the first of many.
While I am speaking on the topic of sports participation, I use this chance to acknowledge the active sportswomen in my office who have helped me prepare these remarks: basketball and hockey player Louise Crossman; and netball and tennis player Angela Winkle. In the ACT, I also recognise the efforts of Karen Hardy to increase the participation of women in sport. Recognising the benefits of team sports, Karen has established her own scholarship. Having attained life membership of her hockey club, Karen no longer needs to pay fees so she is using her saved fees to personally pay for mothers returning to play hockey. Karen's scholarship aims to keep people, particularly women, playing sport. The benefit of sport is as a place to come together with people of all different ages, backgrounds and skill levels. Karen describes her team as:
'… a place where we can come and not be anything but ourselves. We don't have to be mothers or partners or workers or students or daughters. All we are is us.'
This camaraderie and shared experience—what some have called social capital—helps link people together and build bonds of trust. Yet in the period from 1993 to 2007, the share of Australians participating in organised sport fell from 33 per cent to 27 per cent. In this environment, world-beating sports stars such as Samantha Stosur, and local sporting heroes such as Karen Hardy, should be particularly applauded.
A few articles that have caught my fancy over recent weeks.Add your reaction Share
- Will 65% of school kids end up in a job that hasn't been invented yet?
- What Wikileaks and News of the World have in common
- Google's self drive cars (NYT, Atlantic)
- Do 'No Excuses' schools perform better?
- Do school uniforms help grades and teacher retention?
- Do higher stipends encourage EU parliamentarians to attend?
- The IPA attacks Tony Abbott's protectionist tendencies (and Saul Eslake's 'I'm not a protectionist, but...')
- Understanding the suicide statistics
- Would People Behave Differently If They Better Understood Social Security? (combines randomisation and behavioural public finance - what could be better?)
- When Dutch people win lotto, their neighbours buy a better car
- New reviews on randomised experiments generally , with firms, and even in internet dating
- Why we need a National Disability Insurance Scheme
- A special issue of the Australian Economic Review looks at funding of public and private schools, and minerals resource rent taxation
- What economists know about corruption in developing countries
- Cash on delivery aid (2010, but I only just stumbled across it) and product development partnerships for development
- Are political orientations genetically transmitted? (2005, but - embarrassingly - new to me) (HT: Tony Shields)
- Do economic beliefs explain rising imprisonment?
- The cost of increased security since 2001
- Are beautiful people happier?
- How does discrimination vary over the economic cycle?
- The impact of foreclosure on mental health
- How much does foreign aid spending reduce insurgent attacks?
- The era when CEO pay fell
- PerCapita thinks the cost of living may not be rising so fast after all
- What happens to students' grades when stricter antidepressant warnings are put on medication?
- A thoughtful Parliamentary Library analysis finds little relationship between IR regulation and productivity
- Does the RBA care more about inflation or growth?
- Tom Nelson and Tristan Cooke from Humans in Design redesign Westpac's mortgage statement (part II)
I spoke in parliament today about this week's report of the High-Level Independent Panel into the Global Fund's financial controls.
Global Fund Independent Panelhttp://www.youtube.com/embed/yMyqANqOK6U?hl=en&fs=1
21 September 2011
Established a decade ago, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria has spent US$22 billion and saved six million lives. The Global Fund accounts for two-thirds of global spending on tuberculosis and malaria and one-fifth of global public spending on HIV and AIDS. These diseases are a real threat to Australia, as we saw with the recent outbreak of tuberculosis in the Torres Strait. In June I represented Australia at the Global Fund Partnership Forum in São Paulo, Brazil, where we discussed strategies and heard firsthand from some of the people who have benefited from Global Fund work.
This week the High-Level Independent Panel reviewing the Global Fund's financial controls handed down an important report. It is a major milestone in accelerating reform of the Global Fund to better prevent and detect fraud and ensure funding goes to those in need. It recommends improving financial oversight, strengthening the governance structure, simplifying the grant application process and putting in place a robust risk management framework. We should welcome this rigorous report. It accords with AusAID's ongoing work to improve risk management and value for money. It should not be an excuse to cut global disease funding.
Australia will attend the extraordinary meeting of the Board of the Global Fund on 26 September to consider the report's findings. This will ensure the Global Fund remains strong and continues to provide life-saving treatment for HIV, tuberculosis and malaria. This is a time for bold leadership, recognising that traditional Global Fund donors—the US, Europe and Japan—are in financial difficulty. To maintain AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria treatment for millions of people, the Global Fund will require tens of billions in the coming years.
I put out the following release today.Add your reaction Share
Fraser Commonwealth Youth Forum delegates ready to go
21 September 2011
“Two young people from the electorate of Fraser will be part of the 30-strong Australian delegation representing young Australians at the Commonwealth Youth Forum in October,” Member for Fraser Andrew Leigh said.
Andrew Leigh said Melissa Dimmick of Turner and Anthony Obeyesekere of Braddon have both been selected to provide youth-related recommendations to Commonwealth Heads of Government.
“This is a fantastic opportunity for both Melissa and Anthony to represent not only the ACT but our nation at an international forum,” Andrew Leigh said.
“I’m sure their recommendations will reflect the future aspirations of our country.”
The Commonwealth Youth Forum will run from 23 to 27 October in Fremantle and is an important event leading up to the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting (CHOGM) in Perth which will be held from 28 to 30 October.
The 30 Australian delegates will join up to 100 other young people from across Commonwealth nations to learn about the Commonwealth, debate issues to be put forward to world leaders at CHOGM, and benefit from skills-building and networking sessions during the forum.
Minister for Youth, Peter Garrett, announced the names of the 30 Australian delegates on Wednesday 21 September 2011. The delegates were selected via a national application process managed by the Australian Youth Affairs Coalition.
“Melissa and Anthony will both be working closely with youth delegates from around the world, discussing issues of importance and making relevant and creative recommendations,” Andrew Leigh said.
“The Australian Government is committed to supporting all young Australians to achieve their full potential, and the Commonwealth Youth Forum is a unique opportunity to do that.”
More information on the Commonwealth Youth Forum is available at www.youth.gov.au/cyf
I spoke yesterday on the topic of reforming the United Nations' General Assembly.
United Nations General Assembly Reformhttp://www.youtube.com/embed/2HMOysfsVws?hl=en&fs=1
19 September 2011
In 1945, the establishment of the United Nations was a triumph of hope over experience. The League of Nations had failed to forestall World War II, yet the creation of the United Nations signalled optimism that such horrors could be avoided in the future—hope that succeeding generations, as the charter says, might be saved from 'the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind'.
I spoke a month ago in the adjournment debate about the challenges of reforming the United Nations Security Council and I want to follow up tonight by offering a few suggestions for reform of the United Nations General Assembly. Again, I am grateful to William Isdale for his assistance.
The General Assembly is the largest body of the United Nations. It is the place where all member nations are represented and have a say. It is supposed to be—and should be—a forum of great significance. Regrettably, the views of experienced observers are damning.
In his book on the United Nations, Australian Catholic University Professor Spencer Zifcak says the assembly 'is a body of only the most fleeting relevance to the conduct of world affairs ... a forum in which the agenda consists mainly of national grievances... the resolutions proliferate without review' and are 'almost impossible to translate into practical action'. For anyone who cares about issues that come before the General Assembly—which range from disease pandemics to nuclear proliferation and transnational crime to climate change—this is worrying stuff.
The United Nations' High-Level Panel has concluded that the central difficulty for the assembly is its lack of focus and procedure. For instance, its huge and inflexible agenda leads to repetitious discussion and the desire to achieve unanimity generates resolutions that are vague, vapid or represent the lowest common denominator. No fewer than 18 resolutions have been adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on the subject of its own revitalisation. Since this is the world's principal deliberative forum, it is time that some of these resolutions were acted upon.
For instance, smaller, more expert committees could help sharpen debate prior to them coming before the assembly. The general unwillingness to delegate to committees should be met with clearer guidelines as to when it is appropriate to do so. It is important that the General Assembly be a forum for the discussion of global issues that matter, not the minutiae of budgets and administration. We need to strengthen the office of the President of the General Assembly, a position held by HV 'Doc' Evatt from 1948 to 1949 when he was the United Nations' fourth president. The President should be able to prioritise the most important issues on the agenda and call debates on major issues.
When it comes to speeches, the floor should be opened to competing positions, not just to anyone who wants to speak, and time limits must be better enforced. Currently, delegates regularly go well over their allotted 15 minutes but are not stopped. In 2009 Muammar Gaddafi spoke for an hour and a half, causing his translator to break off mid-speech with the cry, 'I just can't take it anymore.' This is still short of Fidel Castro's 1960 effort of 4½ hours in the General Assembly and well below the United Nations Security Council's record for a speech—just under eight hours.
To make it more authoritative, the General Assembly should be better equipped to publicise its decisions and to monitor action taken on its resolutions. At present there is a tendency for resolutions to proliferate almost endlessly, without regard to what has been said before and with little follow-through.
The General Assembly, as the most representative organ, should also have a greater say in selecting the Secretary-General of the United Nations as a whole. The General Assembly has the formal power to appoint the Secretary-General on recommendation of the Security Council. But in practice the Security Council has assumed the decisive role by sending only one candidate for the assembly to approve. The Security Council should be encouraged to send the General Assembly more than one candidate to choose from. This would go some way towards democratising the United Nations by ensuring that the Secretary-General is someone that all nations have a say in appointing.
We expect a lot from the United Nations. It is indispensable in the world we now find ourselves in. The United Nations runs on less money than the Manhattan fire service — but reform need not be expensive. The United Nations’ value comes in providing a space for deliberation, not a world government. A concerted effort is required and a commitment to the realisation of the United Nations' central project: creating a safer, more prosperous world.
My Australian Financial Review column today is on Google, and particularly its ability to forecast the present.Add your reaction Share
See also a terrific piece (gated) by Michael Dwyer on this topic back in May.
Google's on Top of Today, Australian Financial Review, 20 September 2011
Some days, it seems that everyone has a crystal ball. Bank economists boldly predict exchange rate movements. Political pundits use polls to predict the next election. And fund managers vie to be the best stock-picker.
Alas, many of these forecasts aren’t much good. Exchange rates are equally likely to rise as to fall. Polls years out from an election have little predictive power. And the typical managed fund underperforms the All Ordinaries index.
Faced with the dismal performance of forecasting the future, one firm is taking a more modest tack. The wonks at Google are hoping that their new project will tell us what’s happening today.
If it sounds unambitious, consider that economic statistics are typically released with a substantial lag. The Australian Bureau of Statistics produces unemployment figures about six weeks after the end of the month, inflation numbers about eight weeks after the end of the quarter, and growth numbers 12 weeks after the end of the quarter. As the saying goes, this makes counter-cyclical policy like driving a car down a winding road while watching out the rear vision mirror.
One of the main forces behind what Google calls its ‘nowcasting’ project is its chief economist, Hal Varian. Formerly at the University of California Berkeley, Varian is a doyen of the field known as ‘the economics of information’.
In a recent presentation to the Australian Conference of Economists, Varian showed how the firm went about creating ‘Google flu trends’, which provides real-time measures of influenza prevalence based on searches for flu-related terms (such as symptoms and medication).
Since the Australian Influenza Surveillance Reports generally appear with a two week lag, Google flu trends can provide early warning of a sudden spike in flu cases. Search data won’t beat government statistics for accuracy, but its value is to provide a decent proxy that’s available in real time.
In the realm of economics, UK house prices have been shown to track searches for ‘estate agents’, while Australian consumer confidence fits closely the number of searches for new vehicles (and, surprisingly, crime).
In the case of unemployment, searches for ‘welfare’ and ‘unemployment’ spiked in the US in mid-2008, just as the national jobless rate passed 5 percent. Before the welfare data and labour force surveys had been compiled, search data could have indicated to economic policymakers that storm clouds were gathering. And given the well-known lags in fiscal policy, search data is worth using anytime we’re worried about a future downturn.
A cute feature of using search data to look at joblessness is that it also points to distinct patterns of search terms among the unemployed – many of whom are young men. Varian finds that the first set of terms to spike are labour market related (eg. ‘jobs classifieds’, ‘unemployment benefits’). The second phase sees an increase in searches for new technologies (eg. ‘ipod apps’, ‘free ringtone’). The third stage of unemployment searches are for low-cost entertainment (eg. ‘guitar scales beginner’, ‘home workout routines’). The fourth stage of unemployment searches are for adult content (eg. ‘adult video’, ‘porn tube’).
Rivalling Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s ‘five stages of grief’, Google’s ‘four stages of unemployment’ is a touching story about how the US recession has affected everyday life. The stages of unemployment searches are as much a part of life as the fact that increased search volume for ‘vodka’ is followed by a spike in searches for ‘hangover cure’.
Some companies (such as credit card firms and travel agents) already use real-time data to monitor their businesses. But others might benefit from drawing on search data. For example, in a demand-driven system, universities should take notice if search volumes suddenly shift from ‘accounting ATAR’ to ‘engineering ATAR’.
Nowcasting is just one of the features that makes Google an interesting company to watch. In human resources, the firm has a policy of giving all employees a day each week to work on their own projects. In evaluation, it makes extensive use of randomised policy trials; as Varian points out, ‘any time you use Google you are in many treatment and control groups’. It runs many laboratory projects, including self-drive cars, which navigate using Google Street View.
It may not get everything right, but in its 13-year history, Google has shown itself to be one of the world’s most progressive companies. Its future is hard to forecast, but right now, the folks at Google are producing more than their share of the world’s innovative ideas.
Andrew Leigh is the federal member for Fraser.
See also a terrific piece (gated) by Michael Dwyer on this topic back in May.
I spoke today in parliament about the campaign that Chris Burke and I are running to help Canberrans find their lost superannuation.
19 September 2011
According to the Australian Taxation Office, Australians have around $19 billion in lost superannuation accounts. That is a bit over $1,000 for every adult in the country. Lost superannuation accounts arise when people change jobs and forget to update their superannuation accounts or when they take a career break. When you have your money spread across more accounts, you might end up paying excess fees or having your money invested in the wrong assets. Many people never claim lost superannuation so they do not enjoy the standard of living in retirement that is rightfully theirs. If superannuation is a nest egg then lost superannuation is like those eggs at the bottom of the garden that you never find at the end of a treasure hunt.
To address the issue of lost superannuation, Chris Bourke MLA suggested that he and I run a campaign to let Canberrans know how to find their lost superannuation. Chris pointed out that lost superannuation is a particular problem in postcode 2615. In that postcode alone - which covers suburbs like Dunlop, Holt, Flynn, Melba, Spence and Macgregor - there is $45 million in lost superannuation. So we launched a campaign to let Canberrans know about the ATO SuperSeeker website and the hotline (13 28 65).
In Civic we chatted to a part-time actor, who had recently found $6,000 in lost superannuation from a previous job. In Kippax we met Kevin Rourke, who had read about our campaign in the Northside Chronicle. Kevin logged on to our laptop on Saturday and found lost superannuation for a job he had as a panel beater in the mid-1980s. The employer had died and Kevin had not known which superannuation fund he had put the money in. Thanks to the ATO's SuperSeeker website, Kevin has been reunited with his retirement savings from a quarter of a century ago.
My thanks go to Louise Crossman and Barbara Phi from my office and Margaret Watt from Chris Bourke's office, who came up with the idea. I am also grateful to Lisa Mosley from WIN News, who helped us publicise the campaign locally. Quote of the day went to a shopper outside Charnwood Woolworths. Chris Bourke said to her, 'Did you know there is $45 million in lost superannuation in this postcode alone?' Quick as a flash, she replied, 'I'll take it!'
Finally, I want to use this chance to mention Eddie Sharp, who had been selling the Big Issue magazine in Canberra for over a year, working through the Woden Community Service. Eddie came up to say g'day when we launched the superannuation campaign in Civic. We were shocked to learn that he died of a heart attack the next day. Eddie was just 44. My condolences go to his family and his large circle of friends for their loss.