International Volunteers Day

Speaking of social capital, today is International Volunteers Day. If you'd like to volunteer, check out:
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'N Sync

A constituent at my Charnwood mobile office on Saturday made the suggestion that fiscal and monetary policy are working against one another. Since this isn't the first time I've heard this suggestion, I thought it was worth a short post. In fact, both fiscal and monetary policy are currently working in a contractionary direction. Here's the relevant quote from part 1 of the Mid-Year Fiscal and Economic Outlook, released on 9 November:
Fiscal and monetary policy stimulus is also being withdrawn. As robust growth in private sector activity is taking hold, the fiscal stimulus is being phased out as planned and monetary policy stimulus has been withdrawn. The withdrawal of the fiscal stimulus started to detract from economic growth in the March quarter 2010, and is expected to reduce real GDP growth by 1 percentage point in 2010-11 and ½ of a percentage point in 2011-12.
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'Why Deakin would be in the ALP today' - Fabians December Lecture

I'll be giving a lecture in December to the ACT Fabians.  For more details see flyer overleaf.

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My video blog about the end of Parliament for 2010

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My Mobile Office on 27 November @ Dickson Shops and Civic

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House Economics Committee

The RBA Governor Glenn Stevens appeared before the House Economics Committee on Friday, to be quizzed by the seven members, myself included. One of the things that struck me most was his comment that when he attends meetings of central bank governors, he looks around the room at his 40-50 colleagues, and there's none that he'd choose to change places with. A transcript of the hearings is available via Parlinfo.

This week, the Committee will be holding hearings into Indigenous economic development in Queensland, particularly as it balances with the preservation of the area's wild rivers. Parliament-permitting, I'll be spending Tuesday to Thursday in far north Queensland. If you'd like to make a submission to our inquiry, details are here.
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What I'm Reading

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Podcast Test

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Frank Fenner

I spoke in Parliament on Thursday about the death of Professor Frank Fenner.

Professor Frank Fenner
25 November 2010

I wish to speak today on the loss of Emeritus Professor Frank Fenner, the audacity he demonstrated throughout his life and the monumental contributions he made to Australia and the world. A distinguished Australian microbiologist, he passed at the age of 95. His legacy has been cemented by years of advocacy regarding public health and his successes in various theatres of medical and scientific life. Spanning virology, immunology and microbiology, his battles against virulent pathogens in the name of science and humanity are world renowned, including his work on the World War II battlefields of Egypt and Papua New Guinea in the Australian Army Medical Corps where virtually he alone was equipped with crucial life-saving knowledge regarding the malaria virus.

Underpinning his work were strong values and principles and his promotion of mass vaccinations was directly related to his concern for public health. The active engagement he consistently showed with his research reached exceptional levels. The account of him injecting himself and his colleagues with enough myxoma virus to kill up to 1,000 rabbits in order to prove its benign effects on humans is legendary. The virus escaped in the early 1950s and killed millions of rabbits, alleviating the devastation the pests had caused to the agricultural industry. It coincided, however, with an outbreak of encephalitis and so they acted to put the public’s mind at ease by proving the disease was unrelated and to respond to the local hospital manager’s challenge that they do so if they were so confident of that fact.

When he became director in 1967 of the John Curtin School of Medical Research here in Canberra, Professor Fenner was unwilling to continue scientific research. He wished to be thoroughly involved in the process, not through students and not through assistants. As he asserted in a radio interview:

I am temperamentally unable to do research without being personally involved, hands-on at the bench.

From genetics at a molecular level to epidemiology, Professor Fenner’s work has provided the foundations for a plethora of research and knowledge. Even though there has been a sharp fall from the mortality rate of 99 per cent in the rabbit population since the release of the myxoma virus, the research carried out pertaining to changes in virulence provided about the only example of an extended period of study on genetic resistance and continues to be a reference for modern genetic understanding.

Professor Fenner’s work has been and continues to be duly acknowledged. His death has made international headlines and the awards he has received over the years evoke a sense of a decorated veteran or war hero. He was made a member of the Order of the British Empire in 1945 following his work combating malaria, and he was awarded the Britannica Australia Award for Medicine, as well as the Prime Minister’s science prize in 2002. The World Health Organisation medal of 1988, however, is a veritable symbol of Professor Fenner’s outstanding accomplishments and contribution to the world. He led the battle against the devastating smallpox virus as chairman of the Global Commission for the Certification of Smallpox Eradication. In an interview with Peter Thompson he said that announcing to the UN’s World Health Assembly in 1980 the eradication of the virus, a monumental victory and honour, was his proudest moment.

Professor Fenner had been an important voice on matters ranging from health to the environment to the fate of humankind. He was strongly interested in the consequences of health impacts in the environment and as foundation director of the Centre for Resource and Environmental Studies at the ANU, where he worked until his retirement in 1979, he advocated the development of a socially and environmentally sustainable population. His last interview with the Australian is not only thought-provoking but an impetus for further research and work. His assertion that humankind was facing imminent extinction stemmed from his dismay at the inaction regarding climate change and the delays in cutting greenhouse gas emissions. As a pioneer and fighter for humanity, the absence of a strong and rousing response to the environmental threats to our existence was understandably disappointing to him.

However, I relate to the words of Stephen Boyden, a long-time friend of Professor Fenner. He said:

Frank may be right, but some of us still harbour the hope that there will come about an awareness of the situation and, as a result, the revolutionary changes necessary to achieve ecological sustainability.

I believe we are on the cusp of such revolutionary changes and that by taking action, acknowledging the science and looking out for the future health of Australia this government can assist in avoiding the imminent extermination that Professor Fenner predicted.

His insight and legacy, however, is of far-reaching value. Professor Fenner’s legacy lives on in the plethora of books he has written, the students he has taught and the words of warning about caring for the world in which we live and for the health of one another. In response to his colossal achievements, he modestly replied, ‘You just have to live a long time.’

In closing, on his last day of sittings, I would like to take the opportunity to acknowledge my staff—Rick Youssef, Lyndell Tutty, Shobaz Kandola, Alex Cubis and Ruth Stanfield—and three hardworking volunteers in my office—Damien Hickman, Sigourney Irvine and Emily Murray. To each of them I say, ‘I literally could not have done it without you'.
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Electric Cars

I spoke in Parliament on Wednesday on the topic of electric cars.

Electric Cars
24 November 2010

I rise today to update the House on the imminent launch of Australia’s first electric car network in Canberra in 2012 and to explain how the electric car will benefit Australia’s economy, health, foreign relations and environment. Last week, Australians paid an average of $1.24 per litre for unleaded petrol. Soon, they won’t have to. Aside from the heavy burden that the price of petrol places on families, sourcing oil from regions with a history of being politically unstable will inevitably result in volatile petrol prices for Australians. The introduction of hybrid and electric cars presents an opportunity that benefits our health, environment and economy. Petrol-consuming passenger vehicles account for nearly half the total of Australia’s liquid fuel consumption, but we will soon have the opportunity to shift these vehicles’ power source from petrol to electricity.

Producing electricity for travel in hybrid and electric cars through current national electricity generation methods would release less greenhouse gas emissions than combustion in petrol cars. Indeed, an electric car powered by electricity from a coal fired power station emits less greenhouse gas than a petrol car. But we can do even better if the electricity comes from renewables. Currently, Australia generates 15,000 gigawatt hours of renewable energy, sufficient to supply a fleet of five million electric cars without any ‘well to wheel’ greenhouse gas emissions. The Gillard government is committed to generating 20 per cent of Australia’s electricity from renewable sources by 2020, which will equate to 45,000 gigawatt hours of renewable energy annually—enough to supply an entire national electric car fleet without any greenhouse gas emissions.

The health benefits of electric cars are also significant. Unlike petrol vehicles, electric cars have no tailpipe emissions only precombustion emissions which, unlike those from petrol vehicles, include virtually no carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons or particulate matter emissions and only a quarter of the nitrogen oxides that are released by petrol vehicles. The total reduction of air pollutants in electric vehicles’ emissions compared to petrol vehicles’ emissions ranges between 10 and 20 grams per kilometre.

The emissions produced throughout the life cycle of electric cars in the manufacturing and disposal processes are difficult to predict, due to the ever-evolving and highly complex automotive manufacturing industry and its supply industries. At this stage, research from MIT indicates that electric cars require 20 per cent less lifecycle energy and associated greenhouse gas emissions than petrol vehicles. Electric vehicles will also require less maintenance, as they have 70 per cent fewer moving and consumable parts which is estimated to halve maintenance costs over ten years.

Australia’s power generation and distribution infrastructure will most likely not need to be expanded to produce extra electricity for electric cars. The power produced by renewable solar and wind sources varies over the day. Therefore, electric cars will charge during the time required by the driver at charging rates that vary according to the current electricity available and demand for distribution. This minimises the impact of the cars on the energy infrastructure and allows cars to collect and store up to seven kilowatts of energy, generated in times of low electricity demand, that would otherwise be wasted. A car can then later return any surplus energy to the grid in periods of high demand to power the community or other cars that require immediate charging—greatly reducing the demand for additional energy generation to charge electric cars.

By capturing, saving and then returning excess energy to the grid—excess energy that Australia generated but would not otherwise have used or stored—each electric car could enable, for example, the retention of 43 megawatt hours of renewable wind energy annually, while each electric vehicle would require only 2.7 megawatt hours of electricity to recharge over a year. With each car effectively saving 40 megawatt hours of energy that would otherwise be lost, a fleet of one million electric vehicles would, therefore, allow the realisation of the 45,000 gigawatt hours of renewable energy required by the Federal Renewable Energy Target.

The introduction of the electric car to Canberra in 2012 presents Australia with an unprecedented opportunity to increase our international independence and economic stability, to decrease car maintenance costs and increase the health of Australians, and the possibility of greatly reducing Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions. This is an opportunity we must grasp with both hands—an opportunity that our nation cannot afford to miss.
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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.