Now Hear This - Friendship

In a somewhat unusual departure from my day job, I joined seven terrifying talented Canberrans last night to tell a story onstage as part of the ABC 666 'Now Hear This' event. The theme for the night was 'friendship'. I'll post a link to the video when it becomes available, but for now, you'll have to make do with the photos (individual, group), and my storytelling bio (over the fold).
Andrew Leigh - Growing up in Aceh

In the past, Andrew has worked as a paper boy, sports instructor, a lawyer, and an economist, and lived variously in Malaysia, Indonesia, the United Kingdom and the United States. Andrew and his wife Gweneth live in Hackett with their two boys, Sebastian and Theodore, who enjoy outdoor soccer, indoor food-throwing and rising before dawn. In 2002, Andrew co-edited a book titled The Prince’s New Clothes: Why Do Australians Dislike Their Politicians?, which carried on its cover a picture of one dog sniffing another dog’s backside. He currently serves in the Australian Parliament.

Thanks to the ABC 666 team - particularly Melanie Tait - for their hard work in putting the night together.
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Turning the Silly Season into the Social Season

My column for the local Chronicle newspaper is below.
The Social Season Begins
The Chronicle, December 2011

Whether it’s the proliferation of bare knees, the tinsel on the supermarket shelves, or the warm winds that assail our allergies, there’s no mistaking that the silly season is upon us. Some have just celebrated Diwali, others are about to celebrate Hanukkah, Christmas or Chinese New Year. For others, this time of year is less about religion, and more about simply appreciating time with family and friends.

But December is also a terrific chance to build up Canberra’s ‘social capital’ – the bonds of trust and reciprocity that bind us together as a community. So I want to encourage you to do two things this season.

First, consider holding a street gathering. According to one survey, a whopping 28% of Australians never mix socially with their neighbours. And yet by sharing a coldie or a cuppa in December, you’re more likely to get along for the rest of the year.  Knowing your neighbours makes life easier when you decide to replace the fence, host a noisy party, or hit a cricket ball into their yard. You’re also less likely to get burgled if your neighbours know you. If someone carries your television out the front door, who do you think is more likely to shout out: a neighbour who came to the party last year, or one you’ve never met?

Over the past decade, Gweneth and I have hosted a street party about every other year. I’m going to let you into a secret: it’s almost no work to organise. A few weeks beforehand, we print off an invitation and drop it into people’s letterboxes. And thanks to the magic acronym ‘BYO’, we simply provide our backyard as a venue.

Second, consider helping out a charity. For Canberrans who are doing it tough, this can be a time of tension. Parents have spoken with me about feeling inadequate when they can’t buy their children the same gifts that their school friends receive. For those who have recently lost a loved one, what ought to be a time of celebration can be a sad reminder of the empty chair in the corner.  And in a global sense, it’s a chance to remember how comparatively well-off most of us are, in a world where a billion people live on less than a dollar a day.

Among the local charities that are particularly active at this time of year are UnitingCare, the Smith Family, the YWCA, the Salvos and St Vinnies. All will welcome your money, your time, or both. If you want to assist an international charity, why not make a donation in the name of a family member? After all, there’s nothing like the look on Aunt Mabel’s face when you tell her that her Christmas present is a goat for a family in Mozambique. Many global charities, including Oxfam, World Vision and Plan Australia, allow you to buy a gift that gives twice. Let’s make sure the silly season is also the social season.

Andrew Leigh is the federal member for Fraser. His website is
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Visit to Pegasus Farm with Jenny Macklin

I visited Pegasus Farm today, a riding school for the disabled located in Holt in my electorate, with Jenny Macklin MP, Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs. We spoke with children, parents, teachers, disability service providers and volunteers about the opportunities available under the Gillard Government's plan for a National Disability Insurance Scheme.

Pegasus Riding for the Disabled of the ACT is a not-for-profit community organisation that provides equestrian activities for people with a disability. Pegasus's sporting, recreational and therapeutic programs provide physical, social and educational benefits for people with a disability.

Media Release



Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services

and Indigenous Affairs


Member for Fraser 



Progressing a National Disability Insurance Scheme


Today the Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, Jenny Macklin, joined the Member for Fraser, Andrew Leigh at Pegasus Farm to celebrate the Government’s commitment to a National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).

Ms Macklin and Mr Leigh met local children with disability from Monash Primary School at the riding school who could benefit from an NDIS.

The Prime Minister announced the Australian Government’s latest plans to progress a National Disability Insurance Scheme on International Day of People with Disability on Saturday. These include establishing a new agency to lead the Commonwealth’s design work for a launch of a National Disability Insurance Scheme and an additional $10 million for practical projects that look at how to support people with disability and their carers and disability service providers, including care workers, make the transition to an NDIS.

Ms Macklin updated staff and families at Pegasus Farm on the Government’s progress to lay the foundations for an NDIS.

“We know that people in Canberra strongly support reform of disability care and support. They support our work to lay the foundations for a National Disability Insurance Scheme,” Ms Macklin said.

“The Commonwealth, states and territories are putting our shoulders to the wheel on this one. We’ve all agreed to deliver the foundations we need for a scheme by mid-2013.”

Foundation reforms need to be delivered to make disability services “NDIS-ready”. They include a common assessment tool to determine eligibility for support, national quality standards and a strategy to boost the disability workforce.

Mr Leigh said he was pleased with the interest local residents had shown in an NDIS and was determined to keep the momentum going.

“An NDIS will mean better support for people with disability, their families and carers here in my electorate and right across Australia,” Mr Leigh said.

“It means people with disability will have more control over the support they receive, and are able to access care that meets their needs – so they can participate in school, work and the community to their full potential.

“This is a true Labor reform. We’ve always been about making sure no Australian is left behind, and that everyone has the opportunity to reach their potential.”
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Minister Bourke is Hiring

My friend Chris Bourke has four new ministries, and is hiring three new staff to assist him. Details below.

(And while I'm on the topic of jobs, I've been contacted recently by two constituents - a French-trained industrial designer, and an Irish-trained accountant - who are looking for work in the ACT. Email me - - if you'd like their CVs.)

Office Manager

The Office Manager position includes duties such as, but not limited to:

  • Managing the Minister’s diary and appointments;

  • Answering the office phone;

  • Managing post and electronic correspondence; and

  • Some event organisation.

The successful applicant will thrive in a busy environment and show initiative and commitment to the job. Previous experience in an administration position is preferred.  A total salary package of up to $68,000 is available depending on experience.


Applicants for this position will need to demonstrate the following skills:

  • Excellent written and oral communication;

  • High level research and policy analysis;

  • Ability to meet deadlines and work under pressure;

  • Ability to work as part of a small, busy team; and

  • Ability to liaise effectively at all levels.

The position is full-time and may involve extended hours and weekend work, particularly during sitting weeks and other periods. Experience in a political environment is desirable, but not essential.

A total salary package of up to $68,000 is available depending on experience.

Senior Communications Adviser

Applicants should have extensive experience in public relations or journalism. Experience in a political environment is desirable, but not essential.

Applicants for this position will need to demonstrate the following skills:

  • Excellent  written and oral communication;

  • Experience in media management;

  • Ability to work as part of a small, busy team;

  • Excellent office IT skills; and

  • Experience in speechwriting and use of social media.

This position is full-time and will require some weekend and after hours work. A total salary package of up to $102,500 is available for the right person.

An appreciation of how the Legislative Assembly functions, and an understanding of and commitment to the principles and policies of the Australian Labor Party would be an advantage in all positions.

An enterprise agreement is currently being negotiated.

Applications setting out relevant experience and addressing the list of desired skills for each position should be received by COB Friday 16 December 2011. A CV and contact details for referees should be included. Applications should be sent to the Minister’s Chief of Staff, Margaret Watt, at [email protected] Phone inquiries may be made to 6205 0541.
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ACT National Volunteering Awards

I had the pleasure this morning of being part of the ACT Volunteering Awards (where I spoke about Canberra's high volunteering rate, and the late Herb Feith).


Senator Kate Lundy
Senator for the Australian Capital Territory

Gai Brodtmann MP
Member for Canberra

Andrew Leigh MP
Member for Fraser


National awards recognise local heroes in the ACT

To celebrate International Day of the Volunteer Federal Labor Representatives Senator Kate Lundy, Member for Canberra Gai Brodtmann and Member for Fraser Andrew Leigh awarded ten outstanding local volunteers and volunteer groups with the National Volunteer Awards.

The Federal representatives partnered with Volunteering ACT to recognise local volunteers and their contribution to our community.

These awards say thank you to individuals who make an important contribution to the ACT community through volunteering.

“Volunteering is an essential part of the ACT community. Volunteering connects us, strengthens our sense of belonging and creates positive relationships that build a stronger community,” said Gai Brodtmann.

“Canberrans are more likely to volunteer than people in any other part of Australia. Our volunteers are the unsung heroes who give up their free time to deliver services, in the areas of sport, emergency services and community welfare,” said Andrew Leigh.

Senator Kate Lundy said “2011 marks the tenth anniversary of the International Year of Volunteers. The theme for the world-wide celebrations is ‘Inspire the Volunteer in You’ – recognising that everyone can be a volunteer and make a valuable contribution to their community.”

Maureen Cane, CEO of Volunteering ACT, said “International Day of the Volunteer thanks volunteers around the world for their efforts and to increase public awareness of the contribution of volunteers to society.”

To mark this special year we are recognising those individuals who work tirelessly as volunteers whose commitment to helping others goes above and beyond.

The following local volunteers and organisations received awards:

Name Award Nominated by
Robin Moore Winner, Individual Volunteer of the Year St Phillips Anglican Church
Sheila King Highly commended, Individual Volunteer of the Year Pegasus
Nellie Drent Winner, Long Term Commitment to Volunteering YMCA of Canberra
Pamela Mitchell Highly commended, Long Term Commitment to Volunteering Companion House
Anthony Zografos Winner, Under 25 Individual Volunteer of the Year Questacon
Radford College ‘teamSUPPORT’ Winner, Under 25 Team Volunteer of the Year YMCA of Canberra
OzHarvest Team Winner, Team Volunteer of the Year Award Communities @ Work
Hand and Foot Massage Team Highly commended, Team Volunteer of the Year Award The Canberra Hospital
Heather Karpinnen Winner, Innovation in Volunteering Award Calvary John James Hospital
ANU Volunteers Winner, New Volunteer Organisation Colin Taylor, Deputy Director, Alumni Relations and Philanthropy

These ten award winners received a custom-designed award pack which included a letter of recognition from the Prime Minister and the Minister for Social Inclusion, a certificate of appreciation for their volunteering efforts and an IYV+10 commemorative stamp and coin set.

The ACT National Volunteer Award ceremony also provided an opportunity for Volunteering ACT to announce a new partnership with Community CPS Credit Union called ‘Community Volunteers’, and to launch its new branding and website.

“We look forward to a long and positive relationship as partners with Community CPS Credit Union to promote and support volunteering in Canberra through the Community Volunteers initiative,” said Maureen Cane.

National Volunteer Award ceremonies will be held across the country today. Over 100 Federal Members of Parliament are participating in the awards.

The Gillard Government is working to acknowledge the important role volunteers play in the community.

Last week the Government launched the National Volunteering Strategy. The strategy sets out how volunteering will be encouraged, supported and recognised across the nation over the next ten years.

The strategy can be downloaded at

The Volunteering ACT website is now at
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ALP National Conference - Day 3

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ALP National Conference - Day 2

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ALP National Conference - Day 1

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Challenge Article on the Australia of 2032

I've written an article for the journal Challenge about the Australia of 2032. Full text over the fold.
Party Like It’s 2032
Challenge, Summer 2011-12

Physicist Niels Bohr once said that prediction is very difficult, especially about the future. In writing about the Australia of 2032, I can feel around me the ghosts of economist Irving Fisher (in 1929: ‘Stocks have reached what looks like a permanently high plateau.’), IBM chair Thomas Watson (in 1943: ‘I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.’), and Variety magazine (in 1955: ‘[Rock and roll] will be gone by June.’). Talk show pundits and crystal ball gazers will always be popular, but we should take any predictions with a handful of salt. Technological change moves in unexpected ways. Similarly, as Harold Macmillan famously noted, the biggest challenge for any political leader is ‘Events, my dear boy, events’.

Bearing all this in mind, allow me to take the safe route with my predictions: I’m going to identify three trends that I think will fundamentally change Australia in the future, because they have done so in the past. In essence, my approach will be to assume that lines which have sloped upwards in the past few decades will continue to slope upwards in the next two decades. I will leave it to braver souls to predict sudden turning points.

Three Predictions

The first change that I believe we will see is increasing affluence. It’s easy to forget that as recently as 1800, living standards were close to what they had been on the savannah. Even in Europe, most people ate around 2000 calories a day (the typical westerner now consumes 3000), life expectancy was 30-35, and everyone knew someone who had lost a baby in childbirth. In just two short centuries, economic growth has transformed our lives, and there are more transformations to come. According to a recent report, real household incomes in Australia grew at 3.6 percent per year from the mid 1980s to the late 2000s – twice the OECD average. We face the twin challenges of sluggish productivity growth and rising economic populism, but if the economy were to grow at the same rate for the next two decades, the Australians of 2032 would have real incomes nearly twice as high as ours.

The second change is that our nation will become more ethnically diverse and more enmeshed with Asia. Since the end of the White Australia policy, the share of our migrants coming from non-English speaking countries has continued to grow. The effects of this immigration can be seen in the diverse cuisine now available in our restaurants, but this is really only a superficial picture of how migration has affected the nation. In thousands of workplaces today, Australians are drawing on the culture and experiences of nearly every nation on the globe. At the same time, the growth of China and India is placing us closer than ever to the economic centre of gravity of the world economy. This isn’t just a mining story (Australia’s service exports to China exceed our coal exports), it’s a story that illuminates the evolution of our national character: Australians of two decades hence will be more likely to have been born in Asia, travelled to Asia, worked in Asia, or married someone from Asia.

The third change is that we will be more technologically busy. In a world of iPads, Wiis, Blackberries and Bluetooth, we’re more likely to be plugged into a device than ever before. Increasingly, people are getting their news from Twitter, finding love on RSVP, and watching television on iView. The National Broadband Network creates exciting possibilities for regional Australia, allowing the potential for things such as high-definition videoconferencing with a city medical specialist to diagnose an injury. But with only 24 hours in the day, technological engagement is also crowding out face-to-face engagement. Unlike prior generations, today’s teens have the option of playing a game of soccer on the Xbox rather than in the backyard. As I pointed out in Disconnected, this is one reason why community organisations such as churches, scouts, guides, Rotary, and the RSL are struggling to retain members.

Policy Implications

On balance, each of these changes – affluence, Asia-engagement, and technology – will be good for Australia. But they also present a particular challenge to the ALP, a political party born of the trade union movement, which carries a profound belief in the dignity and value of work. We must continue to campaign on economic issues – particularly when facing the most populist Opposition Leader in a generation. But we also need to recognise that rising affluence will bring a greater demand for social liberalism. Our party has a proud history of standing up for individual liberties. Past Labor governments outlawed discrimination on the basis of gender or race. This Labor government has removed from the statute books much of the explicit discrimination against same-sex couples, and strengthened disability discrimination laws. If they are to be successful, future Labor governments must continue to support small-L liberalism on social issues as on economic ones. This means a commitment to an Australian as Head of State, to marriage equality, and to the freedom to say unpopular things.

Growing engagement with Asia means that the ALP needs to keep increasing our Asia-literacy. At the federal level, we can be proud to have a Mandarin-speaking foreign minister and representatives of Asian descent such as Senators Penny Wong and Lisa Singh. Some of us have spent years living in Asia. But we have more work to do to ensure that our politicians continue to look like our voter base. We also need to do more to build Asia-literacy among the electorate and parliamentarians. Too few members of parliament speak an Asian language, too few are absorbed in Asian art and literature, and too few travel regularly in our region. There are plenty of parliamentarians who follow every twist and turn of US or UK politics, and but not enough who understand party politics in India and Malaysia. And to be blunt, the federal parliament could benefit from more Nguyens, Desais and Zhangs.

The rapid growth in technology has major implications for skills training in Australia. In The Race Between Education and Technology, Claudia Goldin and Larry Katz argue that inequality grows when technological development outpaces educational attainment, and shrinks when education outpaces technology. For those of us who care about the gap between rich and poor, it is vital that we raise both the quality and quantity of education in Australia. Lifelong learning isn’t just a white-collar concept – it matters for everyone. For example, a mechanic who only knows how to fix the cars of today will struggle to adapt to the electric self-drive cars of tomorrow. The rapid growth in technology is a major reason why Australia needs to boost our educational levels.

Political Impacts

Affluence, Asian engagement and technology confront our party structures as they do our policies. From its origins in Barcaldine and Balmain, the ALP has been built on grassroots engagement. Unlike the US Democratic Party, the ALP is a party where membership matters. Our party has traditionally relied primarily on face-to-face meetings, not rallies and donors. As Opposition Leader, Gough Whitlam famously used to fly back to Werriwa to attend his FEC. And on Prime Minister Gillard’s initiative, each Community Cabinet is now followed by a drinks event for local ALP branch members. Many of my colleagues emphasise the way in which branch meetings and community engagement make them better able to understand and represent their electors.

Yet for an increasingly affluent population, a meal at a nice restaurant or a night out at the footy may be more appealing than a branch meeting. Thanks to technology, you can read any Australian government report at, find any federal political speech at, or keep up to date with political gossip by checking the Twitter feed on your smartphone. Affluence and technology challenge the ALP, just as they do all mass-membership organisations. This means that if we want branches to remain relevant, they need to offer more than what’s available online. The branches of 2032 will need to offer members substantive engagement with policy and a stake in the political process. It isn’t good enough to have a one-way flow of information, or to regard party members merely as campaign footsoldiers. Labor’s ACT federal representatives (Gai Brodtmann, Kate Lundy and myself) have been arranging closed briefings at Parliament House, where ALP members can discuss current policy debates with federal ministers and share their ideas for reform. I have found these briefings to be more effective than online policy forums, but it is possible that the advent of high-definition video-conferencing will shift the balance.

Labor has been at our best when recognising the need for the economy, society and politics to adapt with the times. Unlike our conservative opponents, who like to say ‘no’ to everything, we recognise that reform is often in the interests of the most disadvantaged. Australia might not have created thousands of service export jobs if we had not engaged with the global economy. A generation of teenagers will benefit from a higher school leaving age and more places in higher education. And the right way to boost the life chances of Australians with a disability is to tackle discrimination and put in place a National Disability Insurance Scheme. The challenges of the future are significant, but I am confident that our policies and politics can adapt to meet them. That is the Labor way.

Andrew Leigh is the federal member for Fraser. His most recent book is Disconnected (UNSW Press, 2010), and his website is
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Voice Article on Randomised Policy Trials

With the ALP National Conference in full force this weekend, I'm pretty sure that I'm the only person with an article both in the journals of the left (Challenge) and the right (Voice).

The Voice piece is just a few hundred words, and it's below.
Policy Ideas for Labor - Randomised Policy Trials
Voice, Summer 2011

In politics, there are few hotter potatoes than drug laws. So when the NSW Labor Government in 1999 was faced with a suggestion that it deal with drug offenders through a ‘Drug Court’, there were plenty of vocal opponents. To deal with the challenge, the government did something that was both smart policy and clever politics: it set up a randomised trial.

Like a randomised medical trial, offenders were assigned to the treatment or control groups by the toss of a coin, making the two groups basically identical at the outset. A couple of years later, it was clear that those who went through the Drug Court were much less likely to reoffend than people who went through the traditional judicial process.

Internationally, randomised trials of early childhood intervention, job training, housing vouchers, health insurance and microcredit have produced similarly valuable results. Farmers have used randomised evaluations for centuries, while medical randomised trials date back to James Lind’s 1747 experiment showing that citrus fruits cure scurvy.

We should not lightly dismiss ethical concerns about randomised policy trials, but they are often overplayed. Many government policies are surely ineffective, and some may even be harming the people they were intended to help. Part of the reason is that we mostly use low-quality evaluations rather than randomised policy trials.

Like other forms of evaluation, randomised trials have their limitations. But my best estimate is that less than 1 per cent of all government evaluations are randomised trials (excluding health and traffic evaluations, the proportion is probably less than 0.1 per cent). Given that you can’t get a new pharmaceutical approved in Australia without a randomised trial, it seems odd that hardly any policies are subject to randomised trials. One option would be to learn from the US, where federal legislation sometimes sets aside funding for states to conduct randomised evaluations.

What we need in Australian policy today is not more ideologues, convinced that their prescriptions are the answer, but modest reformers willing to try new solutions, and discover whether they actually deliver results. As Labor Party members, we must always remember that what defines us is the light on the hill, not a particular path up the mountain. As US judge Learned Hand famously said, ‘The spirit of liberty is the spirit which is not too sure that it is right’.

Andrew Leigh is the federal member for Fraser. Web:
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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.