My SMH op-ed today is on the economic phobophobics.
Nothing to fear but merchants of gloom, Sydney Morning Herald, 7 June 2012

In the 1970s, psychologists uncovered an unusual phobia: patients who were scared of the possibility of having a panic attack. They called the condition phobophobia – a phobia of having a panic attack. It could be debilitating. One sufferer quit his job, and refused to leave his home.

Opening the business pages of the Australian press some days, it feels like some of the noisier voices in the land are suffering from phobophobia. This is despite the fact that unemployment, inflation and the RBA cash rate are below 5 percent (a rare thing in the post-war era). The prices of what we sell to the rest of the world – relative to the prices of what they buy from us – are at once-in-a-century highs. For the first time, Australia has a AAA rating from the three major credit agencies.

Internationally, the OECD and IMF have lavished praise on Australia’s economic policy settings. Like Paul Keating, Robert Rubin and Manmohan Singh before him, Wayne Swan won Euromoney magazine’s prize for the Finance Minister of the Year. In a hearing of the House Economics Committee, I asked RBA Governor Glenn Stevens to put our economic performance into a global context. He replied ‘I sit around the table with my counterparts from 40 to 50 countries a number of times a year, and I have not yet found one whom I would want to swap places with.’

But you wouldn’t know it from listening to a few of Australia’s more vocal business leaders. Retailer Gerry Harvey claims that the government has created a climate where people have ‘no faith’. Lender John Symond says ‘Business confidence is at its lowest and what sort of commitment can business have based on promises by this government and Wayne Swan? There’s no confidence whatsoever.’

Even among miners, the cry ‘we’ll all be rooned’ is sometimes heard. After making a record $23 billion profit last year, BHP’s Jac Nasser suggests that the Australian taxation system is neither competitive nor stable. Rio’s David Peever says ‘We are at the mercy of the global economy’. Clive Palmer claims that the federal government is ‘destroying the wealth of this country’. Fortunately, half a trillion dollars of planned investment proves that these views are in the minority, but a provocative sound-bites have a way of finding their way into the media.

And yet most of the economic policies of Federal Labor have been straight out of the textbook. When Tony Abbott said in 2009 ‘If you want to put a price on carbon, why not just do it with a simple tax?’, he was reflecting the basic insight that carbon is a negative externality, and the best way to have less pollution is to put a price on it. A profits-based mining tax was a central recommendation of the Henry Tax Review – indeed it was the Minerals Council of Australia who proposed it. Taking on some debt to save jobs in 2008-09, and then paying it back after the crisis, is straightforward Keynesian macroeconomics.

Business confidence isn’t like a cake that the federal government bakes in the oven, slices up, and hands out. It is the product of responsible governments, responsible oppositions, and responsible business leaders. The minority of corporate leaders who choose to score points rather than present a balanced argument may find that they’re kicking own goals.

As for the federal opposition, they seem to be doing less scrutineering and more scaremongering. Virtually all of their policies are secret, they asked few questions at the latest Senate Estimates hearings, and they have reneged on the promise to put their costings through the Parliamentary Budget Office. Whipping up fear about Australia’s economic fundamentals isn’t hard to do - it’s just that most politicians choose not to play the fear card. Scaremongering may play well in the short-term, but in the long-run all of us have to live with the consequences of diminished business confidence.

Everyone is entitled to their own opinions about government policy; what they are not entitled to is their own set of facts. In Australia’s case, those facts must include our low debt, unemployment and inflation, the fact that we have cut real government spending (something the Howard Government never did), and the fact that our economic reforms sit squarely in the economically liberal agenda of Hawke and Keating.

As Franklin D. Roosevelt once said, ‘the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance’.  It’s time the phobophobics took a few deep breaths.

Andrew Leigh is the federal member for Fraser, and his website is
Add your reaction Share

Family, Friends and Fate

My Chronicle column this week is about the late Nicole Osuch-Helsham.
A Life That is a Lesson for All of Us, The Chronicle, 5 June 2012

During the 2010 election campaign, one of the suburbs I doorknocked was Harrison. Before going door-to-door, I sent out a letter letting residents know I’d be in the area, and inviting people to contact me if they had any issues.

Nicole Osuch-Helsham phoned me up to say that after I’d finished doorknocking, her daughter Paige would like to interview me about politics. Nicole promised to provide coffee and cake.

When I arrived after an afternoon of doorknocking, a delicious cake had just come out of the oven, and 8 year-old Paige had a battery of questions. They were deeper questions than most professional journalists had been asking on the campaign trail: things like ‘So why are you in the Labor Party rather than the Liberal Party?’. (The following week, Paige also interviewed Liberal candidate James Milligan.)

After the interview was over, I told Nicole how impressed I was with Paige, but was also curious as to why she had invited me to pop by. It was then that Nicole told me that she had been diagnosed with secondary cancer – ‘not the Kylie Minogue kind of breast cancer, but the Jane McGrath kind’. The cancer had come back, and Nicole knew that she wouldn’t be around to share the teenage years with Paige and her younger sister Sierra. So she had quit her job, and was ‘packing all the parenting she could’ into the time remaining.

After I won the election, Nicole and her husband Gavin brought the girls along to my first speech. A few months later, she arranged for me to go to Harrison School with my friend Andrew Laming – a Liberal MP from Queensland. The ‘two Andrews talk politics’ event was a hoot. It showed me that anyone who thinks primary school kids are apathetic about politics needs to spend more time in the classroom.

Shortly afterwards, I launched my ‘Big Ideas Competition’ at Harrison School. When the WIN TV crew turned up, I introduced Paige to the journalist as my ‘Youth Adviser’. That night, I smiled as the title appeared beneath her name on the television screen.

Cancer finally claimed Nicole on 7 May 2012, aged 43. The funeral service was held the day after Mother’s Day, so Paige and Sierra drew cards for her, and placed them on the coffin.

In one eulogy, Nicole was described as a goddess. She had established a support group for people with secondary cancers. Nicole had spent time with friends, and had devoted herself to her daughters. Her closest friends and fellow goddesses, Louise Talbot and Catherine Gladman said that Nicole managed to ‘lick the plate of life clean’. On the funeral program were the words ‘You cannot prevent the birds of sadness from passing over your head. But you can prevent them from making nests in your hair’.

Cancer reminds us of how awfully unfair life can be. But the way that Nicole lived her final years – devoted to friends and family, engaged with her community, and telling jokes until the end – has a lesson for all of us. Rest in peace, Nicole Osuch-Helsham.

Andrew Leigh is the Federal Member for Fraser.
Add your reaction Share

Ockham's Razor talk

Ever since I was a kid, I've enjoyed ABC Radio National's science program Ockham's Razor. This week, host Robyn Williams was kind enough to ask me to reprise my Sydney University talk on Five Science Breakthroughs That Could Change Politics. You can podcast it here.
Add your reaction Share

Intergenerational Disadvantage in Canberra

I spoke in parliament about my latest community conversation on disadvantage, which focused on intergenerational poverty.

Fraser Community Summit, 31 May 2012

Every six months or so I hold a conversation to talk about disadvantage in the Fraser electorate. On Tuesday, 29 May I was pleased to welcome 10 representatives from local community sector groups up to Parliament House for an early breakfast conversation. I call it a community summit, but really it is more of an informal conversation with people I regard as my brains trust on poverty.

The focus of this conversation was on intergenerational disadvantage and how to stop the cycle of poverty from replicating itself across generations. One of the attendees at the summit made the point that disadvantage itself is now more complex than it was in the past and is often interrelated with issues such as mental illness, poor health, substance abuse, domestic violence and addiction. Another attendee told the story of a child whose parents were addicted to hard drugs and who was never given anything by his parents; all he had were the things that he had found or stolen. Another spoke about families who eat McDonald's every meal because it is simpler to get takeaway than to prepare a meal. Attendees were concerned about the impact of imprisonment on the children of those who are behind bars.

A central focus of many of the attendees was education. One community sector leader gave the example of students who say to her: 'I'm the first in my family to finish year 10. My parents won't come to my graduation. Will you?' Encouraging more young Canberrans to finish school is vital in reducing disadvantage. This may involve intensive work with students such as one-on-one reading support, even for high schoolers. Within schools it is important to set high expectations for young people. Australian universities need to attract more students who are the first in their family to obtain a degree. This requires working closely with students as early as year 8 to encourage them to consider higher education. While there are many active parents involved in low-SES school communities, it is generally the case that P&Cs in high-income schools tend to be more engaged. Attendees mentioned the importance of involving parents in low-SES schools and of encouraging high-SES schools to form partnerships to help the more disadvantaged members of the community.

Mentoring programs also have promise. Attendees spoke about the FaHCSIA funded SuperGrands, who work with parents to develop skills around budgeting, preparing a nutritious meal or developing regular bedtime routines. Another mentoring program, which is run by UnitingCare Kippax, connects youth in years 10 to 12 with adult mentors who range in age from 22 to 64. In the Alexander Maconochie Centre, there are several mentoring programs to help prisoners. The Australian Indigenous Mentoring Experience is a mentoring program for Indigenous high schoolers, which attendees commended.

One attendee reminded us of the valuable role that grandparents can play in cases where the parents have complex needs. Another made the important observation that social capital matters. As US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton once noted, 'It takes a village to raise a child.' Sporting programs targeted at disadvantaged youth, such as the sailing program Buoyed Up, which is run in collaboration with Canberra Yacht Club, can help improve fitness and self-esteem. But attendees argued that there are not enough of these kinds of programs. My own observation with the federally funded Local Sporting Champions grants is that students from affluent backgrounds are often more likely to hear about the program than are students from poor backgrounds.

Attendees referred to a range of other programs that they felt had been successful in breaking the intergenerational cycle of poverty. These include: the Home Insulation Program for Parents and Youngsters, HIPPY, a parenting and early childhood program targeting families with young children; programs in schools to encourage respectful relationships; anger management courses to help young people; classes run by Nutrition Australia to teach people to prepare meals that include more fruit and vegetables; and the the Jobs, Education and Training Program JET, program, which provides childcare at 10c an hour and which several attendees argued should be available for a longer duration. We also briefly discussed the 2012 ACT targeted assistance strategy which was chaired by Gordon Ramsay and which looked at what the ACT government can do to better deal with hard-core disadvantage in our city.

I thank the 10 attendees: Fiona MacGregor, Carmel Franklin, Gordon Ramsay, Jenny Kitchin, John Goss, Simon Rosenberg, Camilla Rowland, Kiki Korpinen, Jess Aulich and Lynne Harwood. I also thank members of my staff Claire Daley and Damien Hickman for helping to organise the event. As one attendee put it, breaking the intergenerational cycle of disadvantage is about 'instilling a sense of hope'. I thank the attendees for another valuable conversation about tackling poverty in Canberra.
Add your reaction Share

Local School named finalist for World Environment Day Awards

Congratulations to the Gold Creek School for being nominated for the United Nations Association of Australia World Environment Day Awards.


1st June 2012

The Hon Bill Shorten MP
Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations
Andrew Leigh MP
Federal Member for Fraser


The $3.4 million Gold Creek Environment Centre, built as part of the Gillard Government’s Building the Education Revolution (BER), has been named as a finalist in this year’s United Nations Association of Australia World Environment Day Awards.

Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations Bill Shorten today congratulated the Canberra’s Gold Creek school community, the architects, builders and the ACT Government, which part funded the facility, on the construction of this environmentally sustainable building.

“Gold Creek School have set the standard for environmentally sustainable design,” Mr Shorten said.

“Although the impacts of climate change are global, we know the solutions are local, and that young Australians will need to carry on the work we are doing now to make Australia more environmentally sustainable.”

Local Member for Fraser, Mr Andrew Leigh congratulated everyone involved in the development of this facility and wished the Gold Creek School community all the best in the awards.

“It is wonderful that our schools are encouraging environmental responsibility. By educating and engaging younger generations in this field, we are safeguarding Australia’s future.”

The Gold Creek School environment centre is one of only three school buildings in Australia to have achieved a 6-star rating under the Green Star Education Design IV.

The Centre features photovoltaic panels producing more power than required to run the building. Rainwater and grey water tanks capture water for use in toilets and the irrigation of garden beds and a thermal chimney provides passive cooling during summer.

Systems in the Centre allow students to monitor in real time readings for energy and water use.

Students of Gold Creek School and Holy Spirit Primary School share the Environment Centre along with the library, canteen, gymnasium and artificial sportsground as a great example of the Australian Government’s Local Schools Working Together Program.

The World Environment Day Awards recognise innovative and outstanding environmental programs and initiatives. They are held as part of the United Nations’ World Environment Day (5 June) which this year celebrate the International Year for Sustainable Energy.

The winner will be announced at the United Nations Association of Australia World Environment Day Award Ceremony in Melbourne in 8 June.

Add your reaction Share

What Will the NBN Do?

A couple of short videos give some ideas.

Add your reaction Share

Australian Exceptionalism & Tax Reform

A short speech on our economic strength and the importance of tax reform.
Tax Laws Amendment (2012 Measures No. 3) Bill 2012
Income Tax (Seasonal Labour Mobility Program Withholding Tax) Bill 2012
Tax Laws Amendment (Income Tax Rates) Bill 2012
30 May 2012

On a blog post on 8 December last year, Possum Comitatus—aka Scott Steel—wrote of 'Australian exceptionalism'. He wrote:

'Never before has there been a nation so completely oblivious to not just their own successes, but the sheer enormity of them, than Australia today.'

It is within the context of that extraordinary economic performance—unemployment, inflation and the cash rate each below 5 per cent for the first time in 40 years—that we are considering this package of bills.

Time does not permit me to go into the many features of this package of bills that the Assistant Treasurer has pulled together, so let me simply note: that the Seasonal Labour Mobility Program builds on the successful Pacific Seasonal Worker Pilot Scheme; that the government is realigning the tax rate schedule for non-residents to align it better with marginal tax rates that Australian residents face; that the government is removing the ability of children to access the LITO to discourage income-splitting between adults and children; that we are introducing technical amendments to ensure that legislation does not impose unintended consequences on taxpayers; and that we are scaling back large tax concessions for generous executive salary packages that are simply not available to many low- and middle-income earners. It is a terrific package of bills and I commend them to the House.
Add your reaction Share

Dob in a Black Spot

I called today for Canberrans to 'dob in a Black Spot'.


30 May 2012

Andrew Leigh MP
Federal Member for Fraser


Each year, the ACT Black Spot consultative panel allocates over $1 million of Australian Government funding to make local roads safer. Safety measures include better line markings, upgraded traffic signals and improved lighting.

Chair of the ACT Black Spots Consultative Panel, Andrew Leigh, is again calling for Canberrans to suggest hazardous locations that require attention.

‘Our local drivers are best placed to identify dangerous spots on ACT roads,’ said Dr Leigh. ‘With your help, we can improve the conditions and safety of our roads and help protect the lives of our drivers.’

‘The Black Spot program has funded over eighty projects in Canberra to date, including some that have been nominated by the community. By working with the local community through taking site suggestions, these achievements will continue.’

To qualify for inclusion under the program, a location must have suffered at least one traffic accident. Work is only funded under the program if the benefits (in reduced deaths, injuries and property damage) are at least twice as large as the costs of doing the work.

Nominations may be emailed to^@^, or by telephoning Andrew Leigh on 6247 4396. For consideration in the 2013-14 Black Spots funding round, nominations must be sent by the end of June.
Add your reaction Share

Video Competition: “Your Passion, Our Nation. Volunteer Now!”

Volunteering is a strong tradition in Australia, nowhere more so than in the ACT. More than 6 million Australians volunteer each year - about 36% of the population. This number has grown significantly in the last decade and I hope we can raise it again this year.

To boost youth volunteering in our communities, the Gillard Labor Government is calling on budding young film makers aged 15 to under 25 to enter the volunteering video competition for young people.

Entrants are asked to create a video that will promote ways for young people to be involved in their community and capture the enjoyment, fun, and social interaction that volunteering brings.

The theme for this competition is "Your Passion, Our Nation. Volunteer Now!"

The competition closes 5pm on Sunday 22 July.

Find out more at the competition website.
Add your reaction Share

Mabo Day

This Sunday is the 20th anniversary of the High Court's Mabo judgment. Because parliament is sitting, I won't be able to attend Mabo Day celebrations being organised tonight by the ACT Torres Strait Islanders Corporation at the National Museum of Australia. But here's the statement I've prepared to be read out.
Statement from Andrew Leigh, Federal Member for Fraser

Born on Murray Island one can only imagine what it would have been like to witnesses the moment Eddie Koiki Mabo realised that his land was owned by the Crown and not him and his people.

Noel Loos and Henry Reynolds recall of that moment in 1974: “Koiki was surprised and shocked”. They remember him saying “No way, it’s not theirs. It’s ours”.

From that moment to the High Court decision of June 3rd 1992, Eddie Mabo showed us that understanding is the responsibility of all Australians.

That an appreciation and understanding of Indigenous Australia, its history, culture and challenges is not an optional part of being Australian. It is essential to who we are.

Eddie Mabo Day helps further the understanding that is critical to reconciliation, through acknowledging and celebrating all Indigenous Australians and their contribution to our nation.

It is an opportunity to celebrate the life of a great Australian, to remember a man of extraordinary vision, warmth and intelligence. It encourages us to reflect upon a national identity with Aboriginality as a central and distinguishing theme.

With Indigenous stories taking their place as fundamental parts of the Australian story.

My apologies for not being able to be with you today to celebrate the remarkable contribution and life of Eddie Koiki Mabo.
Add your reaction Share

Stay in touch

Subscribe to our monthly newsletter


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.