Address to Public Sector In-House Counsel

On behalf of Attorney-General Nicola Roxon, I addressed the Public Sector In-House Counsel Conference this morning.

Andrew Leigh MP on behalf of
The Hon Nicola Roxon MP

8th Annual Public Sector In-House Counsel Conference 2012
30 July 2012

Ministerial Keynote Address:
In-house counsel: Delivering the benefits while avoiding the risks


First, may I acknowledge the traditional owners of the land we meet on – and pay my respects to their elders, both past and present.


It is a pleasure to join you here today for the 8th Public Sector In‑House Counsel Conference.

I regard myself as a lapsed lawyer, having practiced for only a short period in the mid-1990s, for Sydney law firms Coleman & Grieg and Minter Ellison. My last job in the legal profession was as Associate to former High Court Justice Michael Kirby.

Justice Kirby once told the story of how he became an in-house counsel. He had been offered a job at the firm Ebsworth & Ebsworth, but they withdrew the offer when one of the partners lost his seat in the federal election and had to take his old office back. (Politics has always had a little less job security than most occupations!)

Michael Kirby then took up a job with Hickson, Lakeman and Holcombe. He said of this experience: ‘Bruce Holcombe wanted me to be a kind of in-house counsel for the firm.  ...  I began appearing in court as advocate for a growing number of insurance companies willing to use a young solicitor in place of unloved barristers.  ...  It was very demanding.  Returning to the office at the end of a hard day of advocacy before a judge, I had to pick up the threads of my work as a solicitor.  I had to see witnesses and draft subpoenas.  I came to realise that, without support within the firm, it is very difficult to combine the life of an advocate with the ordinary life of a solicitor. ’

My time as associate to Michael Kirby was vital in shaping who I became in later life. Who knows – perhaps if the work of in-house counsel had been less demanding, he would never have joined the bench, and I might not be standing before you today!

The Commonwealth Attorney-General, Nicola Roxon, has asked me to pass on her apologies for not being able to join you today, and she passes on her best wishes for a productive conference.

She actually referred to you as having a difficult, challenging and potentially dangerous job… not unlike lion tamers. I’m not sure who are the lions in that analogy – perhaps a few people come to mind for you!

Nicola has set a clear agenda in her seven months as the Commonwealth Attorney, ranging from improving access to justice for one-off litigants, and expanding diversity within the judiciary, through to consolidating and harmonising anti-discrimination law and strengthening Australia’s cyber security.

But she is also focussed on her role overseeing legal conduct, and legal expenditure, by the Commonwealth. And of course the expanding in-house legal teams across government have a big impact on government legal costs and legal capacity.

And those costs are significant: in the 2010-11 financial year, Commonwealth legal expenditure reached $676 million, split roughly evenly between internal and external spending.

That’s why I’ve titled my speech “Delivering the benefits while avoiding the risks”. There are undeniable reasons why in-house teams make sense, not least the efficient use of taxpayer dollars. But there are risks, too – maybe the lions I mentioned earlier – that you face every day: potential compromises to your independence and objectivity that mean in-house teams and Counsel must be always on guard against complacency.

And beyond your own team and agency, it is a task for Government to ensure the benefits of in-house teams are not simply short-term savings leading to long-term costs.

This includes recognising that a strong, cost-effective, sustainable Australian Government Solicitor remains vital to government legal work. In-house teams and the AGS must complement each other, in a competitive environment – a balance that is sometimes difficult to achieve in practice.

This morning I’d also like to discuss recent examples of where in-house teams have contributed strongly to the Government’s policy agenda, and responded swiftly to major decisions.

And I want to outline some structures this Government is putting in place that will ensure you are able to work in a strong, supportive environment with appropriate oversight and career development opportunities.

The role of in-house government lawyers

As Government lawyers you are uniquely placed, both within the legal profession and within the Australian Public Service. The expectations on you, and the environment in which you operate, sets you apart from your colleagues in the legal profession more broadly.

In recent years, there has been significant growth of in-house government legal practices. Your practices provide vital services to agencies and to the Commonwealth more broadly. However, as recent reviews of government legal expenditure have acknowledged, the largely uncoordinated expansion of government in‑house practices has also created some problems.

For example: potential inefficiencies and duplication of legal advice.

This in no way intends to undermine the importance of independent practices within Commonwealth agencies. Government lawyers are critical in supporting individual agencies strategic objectives.

You have an intimate understanding of your agency’s business, and can contribute significant value to your legal advice using your subject matter expertise.

However, the Attorney considers the Australian Government as a whole must be better equipped to draw on your expertise. The key, as always, is to ensure that lawyers across the Commonwealth are better connected to each other and to the role of the Attorney-General as First Law Officer.

Government lawyers should be connected with their practice area and agency’s executive – that’s the best way to ensure you are responsive and providing high-quality, reliable advice – but more broadly be connected with the government legal profession and the Commonwealth.

Recent action involving in-house teams

The Attorney-General, as First Law Officer of the Commonwealth, is the government’s principal legal advisor, with a special obligation to ensure the government complies with the law.  This of course makes her role quite distinct from that of any other Minister, with additional requirements and considerations to take into account.

This combination of Ministerial and First law Officer duties was brought into sharp relief in the Government’s response to the High Court’s decision in Williams.

I think more than a few of you are still having nightmares about this decision and its aftermath!

For those of you without a shiver going up your spine at its mere mention, Williams involved a challenge to the constitutional basis for the Commonwealth's activities and expenditure in relation to the National School Chaplaincy and Welfare Program.

The Government conducted extensive contingency planning for a wide range of possible outcomes, particularly analysis by in-house teams as to portfolio programs potentially at risk in the event of an adverse decision.

In the event, the High Court judgment invalidated an agreement made by the Commonwealth under the National School Chaplaincy Program by a 6:1 majority – but with split reasoning amongst the majority.

The Williams decision overturned the understanding on which the Commonwealth had acted since federation, that the Commonwealth could develop and administer spending programs without the need for legislative authority for those programs.

To put it frankly, this was not the result the Government expected – but it was one that the government was prepared to address.

The Attorney recently referred to the Government’s response, involving drafting and enacting legislation within 8 days of the decision, as extraordinarily efficient, and sensibly pragmatic - but a bit lucky too.

The efficiency lay with the in-house teams at the forefront of the response, alongside colleagues from AGS and the acting Solicitor-General, and parliamentary drafter (apparently drafting in shifts, which creates a vision of a Dickensian workhouse!).

The Attorney, of course, had a dual role of interpreting the implications and leading the Executive response to the decision.

And the luck resided in the timing of the decision itself, with a week of Parliament to go ahead of a long break. Had Parliament not been sitting for an extended time, what would the public officials spending money on these other programs have done?

Another of the topical issues facing government lawyers right now is the Government’s defence of legal challenges to the plain packaging of tobacco products, a world first tobacco control reform which the Government introduced last year.

This is an excellent example of where in-house teams, AGS and counsel have worked together for a common goal.

The Tobacco Plain Packaging Act 2011 requires all tobacco to be sold in drab dark brown packaging, with no industry logos, brand imagery, colours or promotional text, from 1 December this year.  Plain packaging eliminates one of the last remaining avenues for tobacco companies to market their products.

As you will no doubt be aware, the tobacco industry has launched a concerted legal campaign to fight plain packaging.

The Government is defending itself in the High Court, WTO and the Permanent Court of Arbitration.

While investor-State disputes are relatively common in other regions, this is the first time one has been brought against Australia.  This is just one example of the sorts of evolving issues being faced by government lawyers in AGD, DoHA and DFAT.

Commonwealth Legal Services Reforms

Figures on Commonwealth legal services expenditure have captured the media’s attention over the last couple of years.

As mentioned earlier, the 2010-11 Commonwealth Legal Services Expenditure Report showed that Commonwealth agencies spent  $676 million on legal services in the last financial year.  To break this figure down, Commonwealth agencies spent $365 million on external legal services and $311.5 million on internal services.

This is taxpayers’ money and it’s important we ensure that we actively pursue whole-of-government reforms to reduce that expenditure.

I acknowledge that this raises a significant challenge – on the one hand we need to reduce what we spend. While on the other, we need to ensure that the Commonwealth continues to receive high quality advice, delivered on time, and on budget.

The Legal Services Multi-Use List is a key part of the reforms the Australian Government is rolling out to enhance the delivery and management of legal services.

Ultimately, this reform will help the Australian Government get value for money when purchasing its external legal services through cutting red tape and driving cost-efficiency.

You might be familiar with the Gruen report. The report found that in the 2009-10 financial year, a staggering 89% of professional fees were earned by just 10 law firms.

The Gruen report suggested that the high proportion of fees to such a small number of firms was largely due to the way legal panels acted as a barrier to entry into the Commonwealth legal services market.

This situation led to duplication in tendering costs with some 72 legal services panels being established across the Commonwealth. It is estimated that each panel cost agencies an average of $120,000.

The Legal Services Multi-Use List addresses this unnecessary duplication by centralising the pre‑qualification of legal services providers to the Australian Government.

It should also make your job easier – instead of your agency or team having to go through extensive tendering for each piece of work, the list will allow to spend more time ensuring work is allocated efficiently and according to expertise internally and externally.

While many of you will not be required to start using the List immediately, this new-found flexibility will allow you to scope the market and start to draw on the benefits of the List during the transition period.

Another key feature of the List is that it provides a platform for sharing information at a whole-of-government level. Agencies from across the Commonwealth can now easily exchange notes on the performance of listed law firms.

Increasing information sharing will enhance the Commonwealth’s role as an informed purchaser of legal services. Becoming an ‘informed purchaser’ of legal services is yet another example of the unique set of skills government lawyers are required to possess.

Government Legal Network

Another key element of the reforms includes the establishment of an Australian Government Legal Network. This reform is designed to enhance existing legal and practice management skills across government, and to attract the best lawyers to the public sector.

I am very pleased to announce today, on behalf of the Attorney, the appointment of nine members who will make up the first Australian Government Legal Network Board. They are:

Ms Libby Carroll - Principal Lawyer, Murray Darling Basin Authority;

Air Commodore - Paul Cronan – Director‑General, Australian Defence Force Legal Service;

Mr Anthony Field - Chief Lawyer, Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs;

Ms Elissa Keen - Deputy General Counsel, Australian Competition and Consumer Commission;

Ms Liesl O’Meara - Special Counsel to CEO Defence Material Organisation;

Mr Cliff Pettit - Executive Director, Legal, Office of the Fair Work Building Industry Inspectorate;

Ms Janean Richards - Assistant Secretary, Attorney-General’s Department;

Ms Janine Webster - Chief Counsel, Office of the Fair Work Ombudsman;  and

Mr Brett Walker - General Counsel, Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation.

The appointed members have an impressive range of skills to bring to the Board.  I congratulate them on their appointment and welcome their contribution to establishing the Network.

While there is still a way to go to build a better practice model in the Commonwealth and this Government is committed to progressing important reforms to delivery of legal services both by, and to, government agencies.

The introduction of the Legal Services Multi-Use List and the establishment of a network for government lawyers are obviously steps in the right direction.

Court and AAT reform

The last significant reform I would like to touch on today is reform of our judicial and administrative review systems.

Many of you engage in litigation on behalf of your agency, so you have a direct interest in a strong, functioning, reliable and efficient court system.

The Attorney have been working with the federal courts to implement a reform agenda to foster openness and transparency, accessibility, efficient administration and timely resolution, as well as introducing legislation to establish the new Military Court of Australia, and Bills to provide a clear complaints-handling process against Judges.

You may also be aware that the Government recently released the Skehill review into agencies within the Attorney-General’s portfolio, including the AAT.

The Government supports the Review’s recommendation to establish a forum encompassing the five major Commonwealth merits review tribunals to identify initiatives for further efficiencies between them.

The Attorney has also appointed a new President of the AAT, the Hon Duncan Kerr SC, to lead this forum and to take an active role in spreading best practice amongst all Commonwealth administrative tribunals, as well as leading culture change within the AAT itself.


With that, let me bring my remarks to a close.

You have a splendid lineup of speakers ahead over the next two days. Your next presenter, Christopher Behrens, has kindly shared with me his paper on Alternative Dispute Resolution and its role in timely resolution of disputes. He will make some powerful points about the impact of delays – a reminder of Gladstone’s great maxim: ‘Justice delayed is justice denied’. Christopher’s discussion of how effective ADR operates also made me recall a quip my ADR lecturer used to describe high-powered contract mediations in Sydney. To choose a mediator, each party writes down in order the ten people they would most like to have facilitate their dispute. Then they choose Sir Laurence Street.

On behalf of the Attorney, I thank you for your hard work and dedication in delivering high-quality legal services to your portfolio and the Government. We appreciate the time that goes into preparing various reports, such as reporting on significant issues to the Attorney-General’s Department.

The key message I would like to leave you with today, is that there is one government legal profession. As individual lawyers and practices across the Commonwealth, we must work more collaboratively with our colleagues in other agencies to continue to provide world-class legal services to Government.

Thank you and enjoy the rest of the conference.
Add your reaction Share

Six Score Years On

In the ACT ALP journal Lobby, I have a piece with Will Isdale about the party's achievements since 1891.
Andrew Leigh & William Isdale, 'Labor's Proud History', Lobby, July 2012

There is no unambiguous birth certificate for the ALP, but the most common account is that during a bitter pastoral strike in 1891, some 3000 shearers came together and formed the party under the speckled shade of a gum tree that came to be known with affection as the ‘Tree of Knowledge’, in Barcaldine in rural Queensland.  On other accounts, the party sprung to life in bustling Balmain in the same year – an area known for its shipbuilding and boilermaking.

As Nick Dyrenfurth and Frank Borgiono put it in A Little History of the Australian Labor Party, whichever story is true, “the party of the legendary bushman also belonged to his sturdy city cousin”. The authors tell the story of Billy Hughes in 1895 being moved to tears when three Irish migrants approached him at a campaign event and offered him £150 – all their combined savings – as a commitment to the cause of getting working people represented in parliament.

Labor candidates contested their first general election in New South Wales only a few months after having formed. Astonishingly, we won 35 of the 141 seats on offer in the Legislative Assembly.  This explosion onto the political scene occurred at a time of great change in Australian society, as the economy continued to transition from pastoral to industrial. Work that had previously been done in small workshops or as one’s own boss was now done in large factories, often in Dickensian working conditions. The rise of the Labor party, then, was part of a greater cause: that of ensuring working people could live a civilized existence at a time when state support for citizens was largely non-existent.

A global depression in the 1890s further convinced workers of the need to protect their rights and living standards as wages were slashed and many went hungry. In the words of New South Wales Labor MP George Black in 1891, Labor had set as its agenda, not to “support government or oppositions” but “to make and unmake social conditions”.

By 1899 Labor was the second-largest party in Queensland. There, later that year, a former miner, Anderson Dawson, formed the world’s first Labor government. Alas, it lasted only a week. Nonetheless, Labor was by now a movement that was recognized and respected throughout the country. At the first election for the new national parliament, Labor won 24 of the 111 spots available in the House of Representatives and Senate. Like so many before them, they came from often unexpected backgrounds: one was a felt hatter, another an insurance salesman. There was even a clergyman among them. As Dyrenfurth and Borgiono point out, 13 of those 24 men were born overseas.

The Labor movement now also had the support of branches that had sprung up all over the country. The branches involved ordinary people in the political process. Their grassroots engagement, debating of ideas and policy, and support in campaigning and fundraising, was hugely successful in advancing the Labor cause. Between 1901 and 1903, when the second Federal election was held, Labor’s primary vote almost doubled. One year later, on 27 April 1904, John Christian Watson became Prime Minister in our first national Labor government.

The Australian Labor Party was never a revolutionary party, which frustrated some on the left. Disheartened by the early Labor reformers, William Lane and 220 of his followers sailed to Paraguay in 1893 to set up a socialist colony called ‘New Australia’. Twenty years later, Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, the father of the Russian Revolution, criticized the Labor Party for the fact that it did not aim to overthrow capitalism. Lenin may have over-egged the pudding when he called the ALP a ‘liberal-bourgeois party’, but he was fundamentally correct that the ALP was a party that sought to temper the excesses of the market, not replace it with a socialist state.

The ALP has outlasted ‘New Australia’ by more than a century and the USSR by two decades. And while we should recognize the part played by early Labor governments, it’s also worth noting that the mould for a successful Labor government was truly forged in the 1940s. In NSW, William McKell’s government improved workers compensation and the right to bargain, gave annual holidays to workers who had not been guaranteed one before, built thousands of new homes, and founded the Kosciuszko National Park.

Federally, the 1940s saw John Curtin stand up to Churchill and demand that Australian troops return to defend the homeland. Curtin also laid the foundations of our modern economy, with universal taxation introduced to fund a major expansion of the social security system, and a recognition that open markets drive economic growth. In their own way, all successful state Labor governments are heirs of McKell, and all successful federal Labor governments are heirs of Curtin.

Our founders weren’t perfect (we cringe to read their praise for White Australia and the condemnation of working women). But in many respect they were well ahead of their time.  Thanks to the determination of people like Prime Minister Andrew Fischer, who started off in life as a child miner; and Dorothy Tangney, who overcame all odds to become Australia’s first female Senator, Australians have come to enjoy some of the highest living standards in the world.

If you’re a member of the ALP, you’re part of the party that won reforms like the 44-hour week, child endowment and widows’ pensions, and fought continually for higher wages, better industrial conditions, regular holidays and decent housing. The Labor Party is the party that brought in the Racial Discrimination and Sex Discrimination Acts, created Medicare and built major national infrastructure projects like the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric scheme.

Ours is the party that abolished the imperial honours system and helped bury the White Australia policy. The economic reforms of Hawke and Keating – trade liberalization, floating the dollar, competition policy and enterprise bargaining – laid the foundations for the productivity surge of the 1990s. The Rudd and Gillard governments have built on that legacy, saving hundreds of thousands of jobs in the Global Financial Crisis, building a better education and health system, and putting a price on carbon pollution.

In its fundamentals, the history of Australia is largely the history of the Australian Labor Party. As we celebrate passing the Labor Party's 120th anniversary milestone, it’s time to reflect on all that we’ve achieved so far and all that we stand for today.

Andrew Leigh is the federal member for Fraser & William Isdale is a law student at the University of Queensland. This is an extended version of their article in Lobby Magazine.
Add your reaction Share

Go forth, and be unreasonable

Today's Australian runs a version of my ANU graduation speech in the Higher Education section.
Progress rarely plane sailing but dare to do it anyway, The Australian, 25 July 2012

In 1931, the British air ministry decided to experiment by commissioning a new fighter aircraft. The bureaucrats wanted aviation engineers to abandon past orthodoxies and create something entirely new.

The initial prototypes were disappointing. But then a company called Supermarine approached the ministry with a radical new design. A public servant by the name of Henry Cave-Browne-Cave decided to bypass the regular process and order it. The new plane was the Supermarine Spitfire.

The Spitfire was one of the greatest technological breakthroughs in aviation history.

One British pilot called it "a perfect flying machine". It fundamentally changed aviation wisdom, which had been that countries should focus on bomber fleets.

It's no exaggeration to say that without the Spitfire, Britain may not have been able to fight off the Luftwaffe to win the Battle of Britain. Asked what he needed to beat the British, a German ace told Hermann Goering, "I should like an outfit of Spitfires."

As economist Tim Harford points out, without the Spitfire, Germany might have occupied Britain. The course of world history was changed because a public servant decided to experiment with something new.

I am interested in the virtues of experimenting and taking risk, and their flipsides: making mistakes and being wrong. Having doubt is a good thing. As US judge Learned Hand famously said, "The spirit of liberty is the spirit which is not too sure that it is right."

IN 1984, a young psychologist called Philip Tetlock had the job of summing up expert opinion on how the Soviet Union might react to Ronald Reagan's Cold War policies. He was struck by how often the leading US experts flat-out contradicted one another, so he designed an experiment.

Tetlock asked 300 expert commentators to make specific forecasts about the future. Then he waited to see their results.

From nearly 30,000 predictions, he found the experts were as accurate as dart-throwing monkeys.

Among these professional pundits, the least accurate were those who viewed the world through the lens of a single idea - what philosopher Isaiah Berlin once called hedgehogs. As new facts came in, these pundits stuck inflexibly to their initial views. Those who did a better job were the group that Berlin called foxes, who based their analysis on observing as much as possible. They were much more willing to change their analysis as the world shifted.

While we should remember what we've said in the past, we shouldn't be slavishly bound to it. If it helps, remember that there are virtually no atoms in our body that were there seven years ago.

It's OK to change your mind. And when you do, you might as well admit it. As John Maynard Keynes once put it when asked why he had changed his position on monetary policy during the Great Depression: "When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?'

Investor Nassim Taleb argues when it comes to adjusting to a changing world, some people are better than others. Entrepreneurs are very good at it. Senior businesspeople are often too reluctant to admit a mistake. Politicians, Taleb argues, are the worst of all.

In her splendid book On Doubt, ABC journalist Leigh Sales writes that "Politics is littered with the carcases of the indecisive". In 2004, US president George W. Bush used the flip-flopper tag to devastating effect on rival John Kerry. Yet it's hardly radical to imagine that the world would be a better place if Bush had been a little more self-reflective.

A good way of achieving this is to surround yourself with people who disagree with one another. Abraham Lincoln is one of the greatest leaders in history, partly because he chose a cabinet who argued among one another, what historian Doris Kearns Goodwin called "a team of rivals".

And yet it is too easy to see groupthink on all sides of politics. Take the case of anthropogenic climate change, where scientific evidence has grown stronger while political support has weakened.

As psychologist Jonathan Haidt puts it, "once group loyalties are engaged, you can't change people's minds by utterly refuting their arguments".

It shouldn't be this way. Any politician who is truly committed to evidence-based policymaking ought to be willing to admit when their policy doesn't work.

In her book Being Wrong, Kathryn Schulz compares the feeling of being wrong about something fundamental to feeling like a toddler lost in Manhattan.

But if you can master the art of experimentation and learning from your mistakes, you'll achieve a great deal. Without the willingness to risk failure, you may never truly succeed.

You should also be open to serendipity. Accidents can lead to breakthroughs. In 1928, Alexander Fleming's dirty laboratory led to him discovering the world's first antibiotic in a contaminated petri dish. Serendipity is literally in our DNA.

Evolution is a series of random experiments carried out by nature. Each of us is the product of millions of years of experiments by nature.

When experiments succeed, the result can be an extraordinary breakthrough like the Spitfire. But very often, experiments fail. That shouldn't stop you from pursuing life with a spirit of sceptical experimentation.

Apply the same principles to those around you. Don't try to surround yourself with people who are infallible, but with people who try to learn from their errors. In your workplace, try to create an atmosphere in which people are able to take risks.Being sceptical doesn't mean lacking passion. You can be passionate about the change you want to see in the world yet willing to be guided by evidence on the right way to achieve your ideals.

Sales points out that many of the great breakthroughs in history have begun from a position of scepticism. Copernicus asked whether the earth sat at the centre of the universe.

Martin Luther asked whether God's forgiveness could be purchased with money.

Mary Wollstonecraft asked why women didn't have rights. Nelson Mandela asked why South African blacks were kept separate. Each refused to accept the prevailing wisdom.

As the saying goes, the reasonable person adapts to the world; the unreasonable person adapts the world to him or her. Therefore all progress depends on unreasonable people. So go forth, and be unreasonable.

Andrew Leigh is the federal member for Fraser. This is an edited extract of his address to graduating students at the Australian National University.
Add your reaction Share

More funding for NBN local services in Gungahlin

Today I announced more funding for Gungahlin Library as part of the National Broadband Network roll-out, this time for services to put people in touch with their local government. The funding comes on top of over $800,000 announced last week to provide NBN training facilities also at Gungahlin Library. It's exciting to see the development of a 21st century library; using local community facilities to connect with the world's knowledge.

Senator the Hon Stephen Conroy
Minister for Broadband, Communications
and the Digital Economy

Katy Gallagher MLA
ACT Chief Minister

Dr Andrew Leigh MP
Federal Member for Fraser


Gillard Government provides $360,000 to the ACT Government to deliver NBN enabled local services

Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Senator Stephen Conroy, and the Member for Fraser, Dr Andrew Leigh MP, today announced that $359,951 will be provided to the ACT Government to develop improved local services using the National Broadband Network (NBN).

The ACT Government will use the funding to deliver better support services for ACT residents using high-definition videoconferencing technology that takes advantage of the fast broadband provided by the NBN. The project will deliver enhanced online services, enabling Gungahlin residents to engage and transact more easily with the ACT Government.

“The NBN allows local governments to put residents and ratepayers at the heart of local government service delivery-where they should be. Ultimately, this means better, more accessible and more convenient services, delivered more efficiently and with less hassle,” Senator Conroy said.

“Delivery of improved online local government services is yet another way the NBN is now starting to benefit Australians. The ACT Government is to be congratulated for realising the benefits that the NBN can provide to its residents,” Dr Leigh said.

The funding is in addition to the $827,709 from the Gillard Government announced earlier this month for Gungahlin Library to run NBN training services for individuals, small businesses and not-for-profit organisations.

“Thanks to this funding, Gungahlin Library is the model of what a twenty-first century library should be: a friendly and accessible facility, connected to the world’s knowledge,” Dr Leigh said.

ACT Chief Minister, Katy Gallagher, said the ACT Government contribution of $132,948 to the Digital Local Government project through in-kind support would assist the project to develop its online community engagement portal.

“When the project comes on-line, Gungahlin residents will have another contemporary channel through which to engage with Legislative Assembly members and government officials via interactive video platforms. The project will also provide the necessary infrastructure for new online services and forums, starting initially in Gungahlin, but moving across the ACT as the NBN is rolled out.

“It is great to see new technologies becoming more widely available for community engagement, building on our commitment to Open Government processes,” the Chief Minister said.

Under the three year rollout plan, construction of NBN fibre services will have started or be completed for 152,400 homes and businesses across the ACT by mid-2015.* This includes the Fibre Serving Areas (FSAs) of Belconnen, Civic, Crace, Deakin, Kambah, Manuka, Monash, Queanbeyan and Scullin. Residents of the ACT who live outside the NBN fibre footprint will be able to connect to the NBN via next generation fixed wireless or satellite.

The $17.1 million Digital Local Government program is providing funding to local governments in communities that are among the first to get the benefits of the NBN. The program helps these local governments to use the NBN to improve the quality, availability and timeliness of services provided to homes and businesses.

For further details on the Digital Local Government program visit:

* Note: this figure may include premises located in neighbouring local government areas that fall within the same FSAs.
Add your reaction Share

Speech to ANU Crawford School Public Policy Week

On 20 July, I spoke to 60 'rising star' academics at the ANU Crawford School’s Policy Priorities Luncheon. The theme of the session was: what is government NOT thinking about in public policy priorities over the next decade that it should be thinking about?
Add your reaction Share

Sky AM Agenda 19 July

I was on the Sky AM Agenda program this morning with Kelly O'Dwyer, hosted by Kieran Gilbert. We talked about how Tony Abbott has taken his negativity to the US, and we discussed asylum seeker policy, including former defence chief Admiral Chris Barrie’s scathing criticism of the Liberals' policies to turn boats around on the high seas.
Add your reaction Share

2012 Fraser Lecture

Just a week until Anne Summers delivers the Fraser Lecture. Details below.
Anne Summers
The Good Fight or the Wrong Fight: Directions for 21st Century Feminism
2012 Fraser Lecture

Venue: Fred Daly Room, Belconnen Labor Club
7.30pm, Wednesday 25 July

Entry by gold coin donation

The lecture is open to the Canberra community. Please RSVP to [email protected] or 6247 4396.

About Anne Summers

Dr Anne Summers AO is a best-selling author, journalist and thought-leader with a long career in politics, the media, business and the non-government sector in Australia, Europe and the United States.  She is author of several books, including the classic Damned Whores and God’s Police, first published in 1975, Ducks on the Pond, her autobiography in 1999, The End of Equality, (2003) On Luck (2008) and her most recent book The Lost Mother published in 2009 by Melbourne University Press.

About the Fraser Lecture

Originated by former member Bob McMullan, and now continued by Andrew Leigh MP, the Fraser Lecture is a chance to hear a high-profile Australian speak about his or her vision for Australia’s future. Past speakers have included Julia Gillard, Sharan Burrow, Kevin Rudd and Clare Martin. This is the 12th Fraser Lecture.
Add your reaction Share

Tall Poppies in the Land of the Fair Go

My Drum article today is on inequality.
Tall Poppies in the Land of the Fair Go, The Drum, 18 July 2012

Since 1980, 14 per cent of all personal income growth in Australia has gone to the richest 1 per cent.

That group - currently those individuals earning over about $200,000 - have received 14 times their share of Australia's economic growth in the past generation.

With Oxford University's Tony Atkinson, I have been compiling data on the income share of the rich in Australia over the past century. Our new estimates, which now run from 1912 to 2010, show that for most of the twentieth century, the top 1 per cent earned less than 1 per cent of all economic growth.

From the 1910s to the 1970s, the share of income earned by the super-rich steadily shrank. But the pattern over the past generation has been quite different.

The share of income earned by the top 1 per cent has doubled. The income share of the richest 0.1 per cent - the top 1/1000th of adults - has tripled. The ratio of CEO salaries to the salaries of average workers has risen dramatically.

True, we still remain relatively equal when compared with the United States. Over the past generation, the top 1 per cent share in both countries has doubled. The result has been that we have ended up about where they were in 1980.

And while median US incomes have barely budged in two decades, the typical Australian household has enjoyed steady income growth over the same period. Since 1993, more than half of US growth has gone to the top 1 per cent. For Australia, the figure is about one-eighth. Little surprise that the cries of 'We are the 99 per cent!' were heard more loudly on the other side of the Pacific Ocean.

And yet the drivers of top income inequality are quite similar in both nations. Computerisation and the internet revolution have disproportionately boosted incomes at the top: an effect that economists have termed 'skill-biased technological change'.

Under governments of all political stripes (but particularly under Hawke and Reagan), top tax rates were cut dramatically. And in 'superstar' labour markets like CEOs, lawyers, and sports stars, a global search now means that those at the top of their game earn a global wage.

Top income inequality is not without its benefits. For example, the vast rewards to making it big in America is probably one reason why the US produces so many entrepreneurs. And America's famously generous philanthropists are partly a product of a nation with extremely large fortunes at the very top.

But inequality also has its costs. At its heart, economics is about maximising wellbeing, not money. Because a dollar buys more happiness for a pauper than a millionaire, a more equal distribution of income probably raises the average level of wellbeing.

Another reason to favour equality is that human beings exhibit a strong preference for equality. I recently asked my five-year-old son whether he'd prefer that his brother got three biscuits and he got two, or both of them got one biscuit apiece. He chose the latter.

Adults share this taste for equality. In a famous experiment called the 'Ultimatum Game', the first player gets to choose how to divide a sum of money, and the second player decides whether they both get these suggested shares, or both go home with nothing.

If the second player didn't care a whit about inequality, she should accept any amount of money at all. But in a host of different contexts, players routinely reject offers of less than 20 per cent. As economist Lester Thurow once put it, a more equal income distribution is like a 'public good'.

Finally, inequality may carry costs to society. Seven-figure donations to political parties raise the risk that policy outcomes can get skewed to the very rich. In addition, more inequality probably means less social mobility. The larger the gap between rich and poor, the more the circumstances of a child's birth is likely to determine their life outcomes.

Andrew Leigh is the Federal Member for Fraser. This is an edited version of his Young Economist Award keynote address to the 2012 Australian Conference of Economists. View his full profile here.
Add your reaction Share

Politics and the Media: A New Spin?

I'm speaking at the Centre for Independent Studies in Sydney on 7 Aug, on the topic 'Politics and the Media: A New Spin?'. Details below.
Politics and the Media: A new Spin? - Dr Andrew Leigh & Thomas Tudehope

Where: The Centre for Independent Studies

Level 4, 38 Oxley St, St Leonards, Sydney 2065

Date: 07 August 2012

Time: 6:00 pm - 7:30 pm

Register here.

With the rise of social media, the chattering classes have become the twittering classes, and we are seeing its increasing impact on politics. Social media has been embraced by US politicians, particularly in the lead-up to the November election, but less keenly – and more awkwardly – by their Australian counterparts. Why is this? Will Twitter, Facebook and the like change the political landscape in Australia – and to what extent? Is social media making us more educated about policy matters or simply more prone to knee-jerk reactions? And how is the speed and scale of this style of communication affecting policy and party decisions?

Dr Andrew Leigh Before his election in 2010 as the federal Member for Fraser, Dr Andrew Leigh was a professor of economics at the Australian National University. Andrew has written extensively on a range of subjects, including education, taxation and social policy. He also writes regularly for the Australian press. Andrew holds a PhD in public policy from Harvard and graduated from the University of Sydney with first class honours in law and arts. He has worked as a lawyer (including a stint as associate to former High Court Justice Michael Kirby) and principal adviser to the Australian Treasury. Andrew is a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Social Sciences; in 2011, he received the 'Young Economist Award', a prize given every two years by the Economics Society of Australia to the best Australian economist under 40. Andrew has been a member of the Australian Labor Party since 1991.

Thomas Tudehope is one of Australia's most recognised social media experts. Thomas pioneered the use of social media and online activism in Australian politics through his work with Malcolm Turnbull, Member for Wentworth. Turnbull's online presence during his time as cabinet minister and leader of the opposition was regarded as best practice and officially recognised by the Australian Internet Industry Association. Thomas has also worked in America with Republicans and Democrats on digital outreach and online activism. Before joining SR7, Thomas was a Digital Producer at Sky News specialising in current affairs, business and technology. He has extensive experience managing small and large social media campaigns that seek to raise awareness, drive sales, and increase exposure. Thomas also conducts social media workshops to educate stakeholders on social media best practice, handling dissent, and the benefits of monitoring social media. Thomas regularly appears as a commentator across all TV networks on issues such as social networking, politics and media. He also regularly contributes to The Drum and The Punch.
Add your reaction Share

Blackfriars Lecture - 'The Eye of the Needle: Why Inequality Matters'

I'm giving a Blackfriars Lecture at the Australian Catholic University on inequality next Monday night. Details here (and flyer below).

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.