Sky News Lunchtime Agenda 26 June 2012

On Sky Lunchtime Agenda, I spoke with David Lipson and Liberal Senator Arthur Sinodinos about the need to find a bipartisan solution on asylum-seekers, how emission trading schemes harness the ingenuity of the market, and the proper role of governments in providing industry assistance.
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Labor and Consumer Protection

I spoke today about payday lending, reverse mortgages, and Labor's history of consumer protection.

Consumer Credit and Corporations Legislation Amendment (Enhancements) Bill 2011
26 June 2012

Not all debt is bad. Many of us here have a mortgage. Many of us have taken a loan to buy a car. My own calculations using data from the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia Survey suggest that 60 per cent of Australian adults live in a household that has some debt and that the average is $100,000 of property debt. On average, debt levels rise with household net worth: if a household increases their net worth by $10, they will typically take another dollar of debt. Thanks to home loans, Australians are now able to buy houses at a much younger age than was the case in my grandparents generation. So credit in that sense has made us better off. Business loans also make the corporate sector grow faster; they help productive firms grow more rapidly. Car loans allow young people to take a job that requires four wheels. And although too many Australians probably carry unpaid balances on own credit cards, they are a handy source of finance to carry us through a tight spot.

It is only when sources of credit are made available to people in circumstances contrary to their interests that it becomes a problem. Care Inc., a financial counselling service in the ACT, told me the story of a client of theirs on a disability support pension, supporting her low income by selling the Big Issue magazine. She had sought assistance for a payday loan she had been paying for well over a year, and that was despite the initial loan being for one month. The client was regularly short of money to pay for food and utilities but continued to take out payday loans. Often a new loan would be provided with the outstanding amount being rolled in. That client felt trapped in a cycle of debt and felt great anxiety. Care Inc. told me that her limited understanding of budgeting and dependence on payday loans significantly affected her quality of life. Having an intellectual disability and mental health issues only compounded the issue.

The Minister for Financial Services and Superannuation referred in his second reading speech to documented cases of lenders charging $1,477 in interest and fees on a loan for $1,000 for 26 weeks, or $2,074 in interest and fees on a loan for $1,000 over the course of a year. So the Consumer Credit and Corporations Legislation Amendment (Enhancements) Bill 2011 introduces essential consumer protection reforms. It is about providing greater protection for those experiencing financial hardship, those who feel vulnerable and desperate and seek sources of credit ultimately to their own disadvantage. We need to make sure a financial rough spot does not lead to financial ruin. This bill also delivers on the reforms to reverse mortgages promised in the 2010 election. Through COAG those reforms will be national, so all Australians can benefit from the protections in the bill.

The Labor Party have a proud tradition of being the workers party, but we are also the party that looks after consumers. It was the Whitlam government that established the Prices Justification Tribunal. The Prices Justification Act 1973 was directed at foreign corporations and trading or financial corporations that had annual receipts over $20 million. Those companies were required to notify the tribunal when they proposed to raise the price of goods and services, and the penalty was a fine of $10,000. It was the function of that tribunal to inquire into proposed price rises to ascertain if they were justifiable or whether a lower price should be charged. Most companies did comply due to the likelihood of adverse publicity. It was later that year that Lionel Murphy began preparing a bill dealing with restrictive trade practices, monopolies and consumer protections, and the Trade Practices Bill 1973 went beyond the competition matters contained in earlier statutes.

In introducing the bill to the House, Kep Enderby, Minister for Manufacturing Industry said:

‘The Bill will also provide on a national basis long overdue protection for consumers against a wide range of unfair practices.’

…  …  …

‘In consumer transactions unfair practices are widespread. The existing law is still founded on the principle known as caveat emptor—meaning 'let the buyer beware'. That principle may have been appropriate for transactions conducted in village markets—‘

than for the modern, consumer oriented transactions of today. He continued:

‘The untrained consumer is no match for the businessman who attempts to persuade the consumer to buy goods or services on terms and conditions suitable to the vendor. The consumer needs protection by the law and this Bill will provide such protection.’

The Trade Practices Act 1974 became operative on 1 October that year. It was the first legislation to contain consumer protection provisions. It empowered consumers to take private action to enforce their rights. It was legislation introduced by a Labor government. Until that time, through those long salad days of the Menzies government, consumers had to rely on common law remedies in matters where there was evidence of duress, negligence or unconscionable conduct.

It is no accident that Australia's most efficient and commercially successful producers are those that have been subject to strong competition. The most competitive standards are those found in world markets. Suppliers of goods or services protected from international competition are not subject to the pressures that ensure efficient management and production techniques which require them to deliver high-quality products. They can get away with shoddy or overpriced goods and services without fear of loss of markets. The effect of this is doubly damaging and debilitating for the rest of the economy. It imposes higher prices and poorer services on Australian consumers. In this sense Labor's tariff cuts did as much to help Australian consumers through lower prices as they did to encouraging Australian companies to compete in the world stage and to raise their performance to a world level.

In 1995 under the Keating government the Independent Committee of Inquiry into a National Competition Policy reviewed the Trade Practices Act. Fred Hilmer's committee found that ordinary Australians benefited from the competition reforms in the way of price reductions, lower inflation, greater economic growth and more jobs. The key institution that came out of the Hilmer committee was the Australian Competition Commission, later the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission. Again, the Labor Party were looking after consumers. The tradition of protecting consumers from unconscionable business practices continues with this government. The changes proposed in this bill are part of a broader suite of reforms to increase fairness for consumers seeking credit, to better educate consumers about what they are signing-up for, to create a set of uniform laws across Australia. As the minister said in his second reading speech, this bill:

‘… is part of our commitment to always stand on the side of consumers.’

Today this bill is part of another Labor tradition of looking out for those who are vulnerable to poor consumer practices. It introduces reforms to the regulation of payday loans. These include: increasing the cap on short-term small-amount contracts to a 20 per cent establishment fee and a four per cent monthly fee; introducing a mid-tier cap of 48 per cent plus $400 for loans between $2,000 and $5,000 in terms of two years or less; a prohibition on loans of terms of 15 days or less; and a maximum 200 per cent total cap on charges for all lending. This bill enhances credit regulation and provides greater consistency between consumer leases and credit contracts. While access to credit can help manage unexpected expenses or see us through a rough spot, we need to remember that the most vulnerable members of our community are the ones least able to access legal advice to help them understand their rights and obligations of credit providers.

The reforms in this bill may have an impact on some lenders, and we have certainly heard from some of those lenders over recent months. We need to keep sight of the big picture. Research shows that over a third of all payday loan consumers have an annual income of less than $24,000. The majority have an annual income of less than $36,000. For those at the lower end of the income scale, the risk and consequences of getting caught in the debt spiral are all too real.

A client of Care Inc. in the ACT was a single female on the disability support pension. She had a number of health issues and had taken three short-term loans with separate credit providers. All of the loans were to cover medical and living expenses. Soon she was repaying by direct debit a third of her net pay. As a result there was not enough left to cover the rent and over a few months she had built up substantial arrears and was at risk of being evicted from her government rental property. In the meantime the credit card debt was increasing and that was exacerbating her existing health issues and she became stressed by it. With the assistance of a Care Inc. financial counsellor she was able to access emergency relief to buy food and negotiate an arrangement to repay her rental arrears. She eventually paid out the short-term loans, but not without considerable stress.

The bill also introduces statutory protections for those taking out a reverse mortgage. Just as a regular mortgage allows people to live in a house while they are paying it off to the bank, a reverse mortgage allows someone to live in a house while receiving regular payments from the bank. A regular mortgage ends when the house is paid off. A reverse mortgage ends when both members of a couple pass away. Reverse mortgages have the potential to allow older Australians to access the equity that is in their home for living expenses. But it is important that we put statutory protections around them. This bill introduces statutory protections against owing more than the value of the asset, effectively against negative equity, and puts in place additional precontractual disclosure requirements.

It was good to see in the chamber today the member for North Sydney claiming paternity for parts of this bill, which is certainly true. I have a press release of 3 April 2001 from the member for North Sydney when he was the Minister for Financial Services and Regulation in which he said, 'Payday lending is an insidious practice.' But it is Labor that finally brought these reforms home, as we have done with other reforms. The Howard government talked about education reform and structural separation of Telstra. I was reminded on reading the member for Moreton's ‘Moreton Report’ that it was the Howard government which in 2007 said:

‘In the years to come it will provide a model for other nations to follow. Being among the first movers in carbon trading in this region will bring new opportunities and we intend to grasp them.’

But, while John Howard just talked about pricing carbon, it is this government that has done it.

The Labor Party takes care of the vulnerable in our society, be it with the pension in 1909, Medicare in 1984 or the National Disability Insurance Scheme we are working towards today. It is what we do. Good government involves the economic and the social; they are not mutually exclusive. For pensioners and retirees taking out reverse mortgages, we understand the risks they take. For those who need payday lending, we understand that it is important to place protections around them. Taking the sharp edges off predatory business practices is a social responsibility that this government takes seriously.

In my electorate there are organisations working with people experiencing credit and debt problems. Some of the organisations doing this marvellous work include Moneycare, provided through the Salvation Army, and Care Inc., which includes the Care Inc. Financial Counselling Service and the Consumer Law Centre of the ACT. I have met with Moneycare at their Dickson offices and seen how hard they work to provide assistance to people in the community who are under pressure from their debts. Moneycare reminded me that many people suffering from financial difficulty are also experiencing high levels of depression or anxiety as a result—that financial pressure and financial stress can trigger a number of other burdens that reduce a person's quality of life.

Care Inc. are the main consumer law advocacy body in the ACT and also provide advice and assistance to consumers. They rightly point out that, even though low-income earners carry less debt than high-income earners, the potential for that debt to have a negative impact is far greater.

Moneycare told me of a client whose wife had an addiction and left him when the youngest of their four children was only a baby. Raising their four children by himself, he eventually got into another relationship. By his own admission, he was so in love with his new partner that he bought her whatever she wanted. Making purchases on multiple credit cards and short-term, no-interest loans, he accumulated a significant debt. His new partner then also left him. With $140,000 worth of debt and on a single income, he could not keep up with repayments. He became suicidal and tried to kill himself. He felt like a failure who was no good to anyone, but, with help from Moneycare, things are now going well for him and his children.

The history I have outlined demonstrates that it is vital to look out for the interests of consumers as well as the interests of the workers. This bill reflects the values of the Labor Party. Care, decency and respect are at the heart of decent, humane and responsible government. I commend the bill to the House.
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London Olympics

I moved a private member's motion in parliament today wishing our Olympians and Paralympians well in London.

2012 London Olympics
25 June 2012

To move—That this House:
(1) notes:
(a) that the 2012 London Olympics will take place from 27 July to 12 August and the Paralympics will take place from 29 August to 9 September, with London becoming the first city to host the modern Olympics on three occasions; and
(b) the diversity of the Australian team, comprising athletes from all parts of Australia;
(2) recognises the dedication and hard work of the extraordinary athletes that make up the Australian Olympic and Paralympic teams, and their coaches, friends and family;
(3) acknowledges the unique role played by the Australian Institute of Sport in preparing athletes for the Olympics and Paralympics; and
(4) wishes our athletes well in London.

Fraser is the sportiest electorate in Australia. In any Olympic sport, I would pit my electorate against the electorate of any other person in this place. Of course, it helps to have the Australian Institute of Sport! But it is also true that Canberra has plenty of non-elite athletes. Over 40 per cent of the ACT public plays some form of organised sport. The nation's capital is also its sporting capital.

In my time as member for Fraser, I have had the pleasure of allocating Local Sporting Champions grants. Local Sporting Champions assists young athletes aged 12 to 18 with the costs of competing at state, national or international competitions. Over the past 18 months, I have been joined by swimmer Sally Foster and Hockeyroo Anna Flanagan to award Local Sporting Champions grants to individuals and sporting clubs in my electorate.

Sally, who lives in the Fraser electorate and trains at the Australian Institute of Sport, is competing in the 200 metres breaststroke at her second Olympic Games. Sally also has a special connection to the Olympics. Her great-aunt competed in the 1936 Berlin games. On the six-week boat trip over to Germany, she and the other swimmers trained by having someone hold their arms while they kicked their legs in the small pool on board the ship.

Anna Flanagan is heading to London as part of the Hockeyroos squad, playing in the position of full-back. Anna debuted for Australia against Korea in 2010 and has scored six goals in 56 international matches. She plays for the Canberra Strikers in the Australian Hockey League, and she is also studying journalism. So who knows—at some point after her hockey career is over we may see her in this place as a journalist covering the nation's politics.

The AIS is a terrific facility that has been producing great athletes for many years. I know there are many athletes who live and train at the institute, each with their own unique story. I want to wish each of those AIS athletes the best for the games.

London hosted the modern Olympics in 1908 and 1948. In 1939 it was granted the 1944 games, but these were cancelled due to World War II. Had they held the Olympics in 1944, it would have been the 50th anniversary of the modern Olympics.

These Olympics will be held from 27 July to 12 August, followed by the Paralympics from 29 August to 9 September. It was a pleasure this morning to join the Prime Minister and the Minister for Sport, Kate Lundy, to farewell our Paralympians.

My own personal connection to the London games is courtesy of a childhood friend, Bronwen Watson. Bronwen also trained at the AIS and is representing Australia in the women's lightweight double sculls. The winner of four world championships, she is one of the fittest and most dedicated people I know. I wish her all the best and hope that she manages to come home with gold. Her dedication and that of all of our athletes are examples of what individuals, with the support of others, can achieve. It is witnessing athletes achieving gold medals or, in some cases, simply participating, that makes the Olympics such a special event.

I also want to take this opportunity to acknowledge the dedication and sacrifice of coaches, families and friends. No athlete makes it to the games alone and they rely heavily on the support of those close to them. So to those friends, families and support crews, I say thank you.

My favourite Olympic moment has to be Cathy Freeman's 400-metres victory at the 2000 Games: that look of steely determination and focus; that moment as she strode away to consolidate her lead as she came out of the final turn; the sight of her sitting on the track alone in a full stadium, the relief of having carried her own and a nation's expectations. For me that moment signified more than a nation celebrating the triumph of an individual athlete. For me it was also a great moment of unification between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians, one based on rejoicing our shared histories and cultures. It is my favourite moment because in that symbolic sense it managed to get the combination of Indigenous celebration and pathos.

Every Olympic Games produces moments of heroism, humanity and humility. Proposed in 1894 by Pierre de Coubertin, its motto Citius, Altius, Fortius—Swifter, Higher, Stronger—will again be on display by our athletes at the Olympics and Paralympics. I wish them, and in particular those from the ACT, every success and the experience of a lifetime.
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United Nations Public Service Day

I moved a private member's motion in the House of Representatives today on United Nations Public Service Day.

United Nations Public Service Day
25 June 2012

To move—That this House:
(1) recognises that:
(a) 23 June is the United Nations Public Service Day;
(b) democracy and successful governance are built on the foundation of a competent, career-based public service; and
(c) the day recognises the key values of teamwork, innovation and responsiveness to the public; and
(2) commends the Australian Public Service on continuing to be an international model of best-practice public service and providing outstanding services to the Australian community.

The United Nations General Assembly designated 23 June as United Nations Public Service Day. In the words of the UN, it is a day to celebrate the value and virtue of public service to the community. Public servants make an enormous contribution to the Australian community, and as a member for a seat based in the ACT I have the privilege of representing, meeting and working with a large number of public servants. Public servants form a significant portion of my community. In my electorate of Fraser we also benefit from a continual influx of people moving here to take up opportunities to serve the Australian public. We see this passion for community translated into a great benefit locally, the ACT having higher than average rates of volunteering and participation in sports and recreation—two indicators in which we top the nation.

Very rarely do we stop and appreciate the hard work performed by Australian public servants. Australian public servants have performed extraordinary acts. They headed into flood-affected Brisbane to make sure that people received their government payments, they developed a fiscal stimulus package to get us through the global financial crisis, they are in Australian workplaces making sure that Australian workers have good conditions, they are keeping infectious diseases out of the country and they are finding the most effective way to price pollution to protect our environment. None of these tasks would be possible without a public service to develop and implement policy and programs. We would all still be stuck with old-fashioned ways of running our economy and society if it were not for the public servants who continually review and refine what we do now and develop innovative approaches to public policy. I commend the Crawford School of Public Policy for its work through the HC Coombs Policy Forum in developing better policies.

Australia is at an exciting point in its history. The government is looking to the future to develop policies that will shape our place in the world and the way we look after the most vulnerable. Australians joining the public service today have the opportunity to form and influence Australia's future. This ties in with another aim of UN Public Service Day, which is to encourage young people to pursue careers in the public sector. Every year thousands of young and not so young people move to the ACT to take up jobs as graduates in the Australian Public Service. I encourage all young Australians to consider a career in the public service. In doing so they will be able to help address the challenges of today, and inform the decisions we make for Australia's future.

UN Public Service Day is also a time for us to reflect on and recognise that an efficient and effective public service helps to achieve international goals as well as national ones. The Australian Public Service is one of the most efficient in the world, which is how we are able, as a medium-sized power, to have a strong voice in the international community. One of the things that Australia does best as part of our foreign aid strategy is to assist countries such as Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands and East Timor set up transparent and accountable public services. Knowing our foreign aid dollars will be managed for the benefit of the entire community is important, and we also know that structures of government are a vital part of a robust democracy. Assisting with good governance is of long-term benefit in our region.

Successful nations are underpinned by successful public sectors. Those nations that were most successful in the last century were so successful because they had a capable public sector. In fact, progress as a nation is virtually impossible without a committed public service. It is vital for our region for Australia to continue to be an example, to provide practical assistance to those countries most in need. We are fortunate in Australia to have a public service offering frank and fearless advice to governments of all persuasions, and it is time we all took a moment to thank our hard-working public servants.
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20th Anniversary of the Mabo Judgment

I spoke in parliament today on the 20th anniversary of the Mabo judgment.

20th Anniversary of the Mabo Judgment
25 June 2012

Imagine the moment in 1974 when, talking with his friends, Eddie Koiki Mabo realised his land was owned by the Crown, not by him and his people. Noel Loos and Henry Reynolds recall: 'Koiki was surprised and shocked'. He had kept saying, 'No way, it's not theirs. It's ours.' It would turn out to be one of the most significant moments in Australian history. From then to the historic High Court decision of 3 June 1992 Eddie Mabo showed us that a deeper appreciation of Indigenous Australia is the responsibility of all Australians and that the recognition of Indigenous history and culture and the challenges it faces is not an optional part of being Australian but is essential to who we are.

Eddie Mabo Day, 3 June, helps us identify, acknowledge and celebrate all Indigenous Australians and their contribution to our nation. It is a critical part in the process of reconciliation. But it is also a great moment to celebrate the life of a great Australian and to remember a man of extraordinary vision, warmth and intelligence. Eddie Mabo's story is one in which I think Australians can take great pride. I think it is also a reminder that Australia is at its strongest when we remember the stories of Indigenous Australians.

One of the books that have made an impression on me is Stories of the Ngunnawal, a collection of stories of the local Ngunawal people. To me those stories reflect that so much of what Eddie Mabo was facing was also being faced here in the Canberra region. There had been suggestions in the middle of the 20th century that the last remnants of the Ngunawal people had gone. An article in the Canberra Times in 1985 said, according to the writers, it was felt the last remnants of the Aboriginal tribes of this area were gone by 1911 with the deaths of Ned and Lucy Carroll at the Edgerton mission station.  The article went on to say that reports of the extinction of the Ngunawal people had been greatly exaggerated 'according to a very much alive survivor, Mr Tom Phillips of Kambah'. Tom Phillips was indeed a character. One story has him being arrested while walking naked in the Namadji area. Apparently he was called into a courtroom with a blanket wrapped around him. The judge said, 'What are you doing, walking around like that? You can't walk around like that in front of people.' Mr Phillips said to the judge: 'Mate, I'm an Aboriginal. I was born naked, and I'll walk around how I want. I'm not going to sit here and listen to a man sitting there with a dead carcass on his head telling me I can't do this and that. I'll walk around how I want.'

Another great survivor of the Ngunawal people is Auntie Agnes Shea. She is a familiar sight to those of us who attend conferences in Canberra because she is one of the most frequent of those to welcome attendees to country. Auntie Agnes tells the story about how as a young girl she did not learn the Ngunawal language. She says: 'The elders decided that, if we kept using it at home, we wouldn't do it intentionally but automatically we'd use it if we were off down the town or somewhere, and it would get us into trouble.' By that, she means the risk of being taken away from her parents. Auntie Agnes says: 'So they forbade us to use our language, for our protection, and that's how we came to lose so much of the Ngunawal language. I was around seven or eight around then.'

It is a great source of pride to me to be a federal member representing the land of Ngunawal people, to be able to remember some of their stories and recognise the great strength of Indigenous Australia and that we are greater as a country thanks to that Indigenous heritage. This is, I think, broadly recognised by both sides of parliament, on this the 20th anniversary of the Mabo judgment, but it was not always thus. The Attorney-General, in a speech on 6 June, reminded her audience of some of the history of the Mabo case. She said:

'Disenfranchised by the Bjelke-Petersen government, Eddie Mabo, David and Sam Passi, Celuia Salee and James Rice, all from the Meriam people, set themselves the seemingly improbable task of literally creating a space for indigenous rights to land and waters—where previously this had been said to be an impossibility.'

She pointed out that the Bjelke-Petersen government dogmatically attempted to legislate away any prospect of native title, that Tim Fischer had said that native title was unnecessary as 'dispossession of Aboriginal civilisation was always going to happen' and that Hugh Morgan said that the High Court had thrown property law into chaos and 'given substance to the ambitions of Australian communists and the Bolshevik left for a separate Australian state'. She pointed out that Tim Fischer said: 'Mabo has the capacity to put a brake on Australian investment, break the economy and break up Australia—a brake, a break and a break-up we can do without,' and that John Hewson, after native title legislation passed the parliament, in December 1993, described it as a 'day of shame'. John Hewson said:

'The Coalition is totally opposed to this piece of legislation. It is bad legislation. It will prove to be a disaster for Australia. It goes way beyond the High Court. It introduces inequities into the Australian system. It consciously sets out to divide the Australian nation and there is only one thing you can do with bad legislation and that is to throw it out.'

The reason I quote all these statements made two decades ago by a business leader and prominent members of the opposition is that they remind us of what the Minister for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency has called the divide in Australian politics between the reformers and the wreckers. It reminds us that almost every reform that is now held dear in Australia was not gotten through bipartisan agreement but was hard-fought-for at the time. Great reform never comes easy. It is often opposed at the moment at which it is fought for. But in so many cases Australia can now look back to great Labor reforms like native title with a sense of pride. I believe it will be so for the great Labor reforms like a price on carbon, a mining tax, the National Disability Insurance Scheme and the National Broadband Network.

Reconciliation works best in Australia when it is not just self-flagellatory reconciliation—although there were great wrongs done—but when it also operates with a sense of pride. The moment in the 2000 Olympics when Cathy Freeman won gold and the moment when she lit the Olympic flame were moments that did as much for the cause of reconciliation as perhaps all the honourable speeches of this kind. There was the moment when Gough Whitlam poured sand into the hand of Vincent Lingiari and Lingiari said to him, 'We're all mates now'. These sparks of positive reconciliation are a great source of pride for all Australians, and it is with a great sense of pride that I remember the 20th anniversary of the Mabo judgment.
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Odious Debt

I spoke in parliament this morning on a private member's motion moved by Rob Oakeshott on debt forgiveness for developing nations, and the role of 'vulture funds'.

Debt and Vulture Funds
25 June 2012

Debt is not the most serious issue that developing countries face, but unsustainable debt burdens can, in certain cases, be a barrier to development. So the HIPC Initiative was launched in 1996 by the IMF and the World Bank, and its aim is to ensure that no poor country faces a debt burden that it cannot manage.

HIPC has a two-step process. The decision point requires that countries must fulfill the following four conditions: be eligible to borrow from the World Bank's International Development Association, countries must face an unsustainable debt burden, have established a track record of reform and sound policies, and have a Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper. Of the 39 countries that are eligible or potentially eligible for HIPC Initiative assistance, 32 are receiving full debt relief from the IMF and other creditors after reaching their completion points. We know that, for these countries, debt relief has freed up resources for social spending. Before the HIPC Initiative, eligible countries were spending a little more on debt service than on health and education combined. Now their expenditure on health, education and social services has gone up and averages five times what they spend on debt payment. For the 36 countries that have debt relief, debt service paid, on average, has declined about two percentage points of GDP over the noughties. So the HIPC Initiative has been successful.

I think it is important that in considering any issue of debt relief we bear in mind the purpose for which debt is acquired. Debt is not of itself a bad thing. Just as we would not want to shut off credit markets to low-income Australians, so too we want to make sure that any reforms in the area of debt do not shut off access to credit for well-managed developing country borrowers. In fact, what is particularly striking is that more finance is not flowing to the world's poorest countries. The return on capital ought to be highest for countries that are furthest behind the world average incomes, yet it has proven difficult to attract investors to these countries.

The concept that I find most attractive in this space is Michael Kremer and Seema Jayachandran's notion of 'odious debt'. They define odious debt as sovereign debt that is incurred without the consent of the people and not for their benefit. They give the example of debt incurred by apartheid-era South Africa. They argue that that debt should not be transferrable to successor governments. They argue that the development of an institution which could truthfully announce whether regimes were odious could create an equilibrium in which lenders have a strong incentive not to loan to odious countries but in which regimes in low-income countries that are spending borrowings for the advantage of their people could still obtain access to credit markets. To me, the notion of odious debt is particularly attractive, because it focuses on how the money is spent rather than on how much money is acquired. I would urge the House to do what it can to pursue the notion of odious debt.

The big shift since the creation of the HIPC initiative has been the rise of China as a donor. This is transforming overseas direct assistance. China currently operating largely outside the OECD DAC framework means that it is difficult for other countries to know what aid China is providing and to work in with that aid. So anything that we are doing in the space of odious debt, vulture funds or the HIPC initiative needs to take into account how the Chinese government will respond. To the extent we can, we need to bring China in to the community of nations that believes that overseas aid should be used to further the wellbeing of individuals rather than simply of regimes and leaders.
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The Changing Media Landscape

I spoke in parliament today about the changing media landscape, and its impact on those journalists who live in my electorate.
The Changing Media Landscape
21 June 212

I rise to speak about the policy and personal implications of changes in the media. In 1970 there were more daily newspapers sold than televisions in Australia; now for every daily newspaper sold there are four televisions. We used to say of the political coverage in Australia that the media cycle had become a cyclone, but that cyclone now seems to be sweeping across the journalists themselves. My heart goes out to the 1,900 Fairfax journalists whose jobs have been lost in the recent restructure. I am particularly aware of this, representing the north side of the ACT—the ACT being the jurisdiction probably more affected by media losses than anywhere else.

For many other people in this place, they probably only see journalists in the press gallery when they are working, but, as a local member of parliament, I can assure the House that journalists are very much part of the Canberra community. Without naming any names, I am thinking of the Age journalist who lives around the corner from me and whose kids we often play with at the local park, of the News Ltd Sundays journalist who often approaches me to discuss issues about local schools, of the Canberra Times journalist who is working to raise money for maternal health overseas, and of a Sky journalist who recently joined me on a fundraising run to raise money for local charities. Put another way, journalists are people too. The decline of the Canberra press gallery, from 283 working journalists in 1990 to around 190 now, has significant implications on a personal level and on a policy level.

I commend the minister for communications for commissioning the Finkelstein Media Inquiry and Convergence Review, which grapple with some of the issues in a changing media landscape, and I commend the member for Wentworth and the Minister for Communications on joining together to call on Gina Rinehart to sign the Fairfax Media Charter of Editorial Independence.

The concerns about Mrs Rinehart's involvement with Fairfax stem mainly from the concern that she may not be solely concerned with maximising the revenue of the brand. Magnates have of course owned media before but, unlike other media moguls, most of Mrs Rinehart's ownership is not in media, and that raises questions about how mining issues would be reported were Mrs Rinehart to take control of Fairfax. I call on Mrs Rinehart to sign the Fairfax Media Charter of Editorial Independence, which says, in part, ‘full editorial control of the newspapers, within agreed budgets, shall be vested in the editors.  They alone shall determine editorial content and appoint, dismiss, deploy and direct editorial staff.’ Labor's concern with Mrs Rinehart's involvement in the media is that it may threaten our democracy itself and the vibrancy of views that are so essential to an open society.
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Sky AM Agenda 21 June 2012

On Sky AM Agenda this morning, I spoke with host David Lipson and Liberal MP Kelly O’Dwyer. We discussed Gina Rinehart’s refusal to sign the Fairfax Charter of Editorial Independence, the reforms needed to put the Eurozone back on track, why Australia shouldn’t be ashamed of our economic strength, and the fact that Australia will this year join 25 other OECD countries in putting a price on carbon. At one point, Kelly O’Dwyer incorrectly claimed that the Australian carbon price is economy-wide, when in fact it covers around 60% of domestic emissions (you can argue about whether that’s good or bad, but it’s the simple fact).
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Frank Walker

I spoke in parliament last night about the late Frank Walker.

Frank Walker
19 June 2012

Frank Walker did more in public life than many of us can ever hope to do. During his time he suffered more than any of us probably ever will. He lost his two sons, Michael and Sean, to suicide. Both died at age 33, and he found both of them. But he contributed an extraordinary amount to our public life. He spent his first years in a Coogee housing commission home. His family moved to New Guinea in 1948 after his father, Jack Walker—a brickworks dragger and a member of the Communist Party of Australia—was black-listed. He was a campaigner for the underdog, and perhaps part of that was formed by those early years in Papua New Guinea, sitting alongside indigenous children in coastal villages.

In 1950s Australia, at the age of 13, he staged his first political act, sitting with segregated Aboriginals at the Sawtell picture theatre. He joined Charlie Perkins on the freedom ride to Mooree in 1965. He devoted decades of his life to public life, and it was in the latter years that I first came to know him. At university I decided I would write a paper on the New South Wales left. Frank was generous enough to give me two hours of his time sitting in his electorate office. I look back on my notes today and see that on 22 April 1994 I went to the Robertson electorate office and sat with him, talking through some of the old stories of the faction. Perhaps the one that caught me the most was when Jack Ferguson - the member for Werriwa's father - stepped down as Deputy Premier and there was a question as to whether Frank would succeed him. He did not. In somewhat controversial circumstances he was beaten out in that internal ballot.

He was a full participant in some of those very difficult times for the left. He voted for Paul Keating in both the leadership ballots and ran for the ministry without the support of the left. But he took stands on principle. When Prime Minister Bob Hawke spoke on the Iraq war, Frank Walker was one of a handful of members who left the chamber, earning themselves substantial opprobrium in the process.

I remember Frank very much as being generous with his time with me, a young whippersnapper and surely the least important thing on his agenda, but it was a reminder of how those of us in public life should behave when people come to learn from us. I enjoyed very much the story Senator Faulkner told in the other place about when he arrived in his office in Sussex Street to receive a Christmas present from Frank Walker—a New South Wales ALP rule book with every page blank because, as Frank's annotation read, the Sussex Street machine just ignored the party rules anyway. Senator Faulkner has lodged Frank's Christmas present in the National Archives of Australia.

My friend Macgregor Duncan, a family friend of Frank's, said the following:

‘… I would say that Frank lived his life with great dignity and nobility. As has been well documented, he suffered great sorrow and sadness in his life, enough to make most of us resign in despair and unjustified guilt. But Frank never gave into those emotions. He summoned the will to rise above it all. He was loyal, generous and kind to his friends. And he was an exemplary parliamentarian and minister. For a man who'd had so much taken from him, he gave so much back to his friends, family, community and country. And in a democracy, where we collectively rely on the private exertions of our public leaders, it's important that we celebrate those contributions when so noble and hard-fought.’

Vale Frank Walker.
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Showdown 19 June 2012

Peter van Onselen hosted Kelly O'Dwyer and me on his Showdown program last night. We talked about the excellent performance of the Australian economy under the guidance of the Gillard Government's economic team, the real spending cuts in the latest budget, and the worldwide move towards carbon pricing.

At one point in the interview, we discuss spending changes in the latest budget. From 2011-12 to 2012-13, spending rose from $373.7B to $376.3B. Kelly O'Dwyer argued that this should be seen as an increase, but when you take inflation into account, it's actually a 1.8% fall in real government spending. Put another way, government spending as a percentage of GDP fell from 25.3% to 24.3%. In over 20 years in office, the Fraser and Howard Governments never once cut real government spending.
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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.