Media and Politics in the Digital Age

I'm speaking at the University of Canberra on 1 August, on the topic 'The Naked Truth? Media and Politics in the Digital Age'. Details below.
'Challenge Your Mind' University of Canberra Public Lecture Series:

'The Naked Truth? Media and Politics in the Digital Age'

Event details:

Date: Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Time: 11:30 AM - 12:30 PM

UC Location: Ann Harding Centre, Building 24, University of Canberra


About the Talk: Has the media cycle become a cyclone? Are dead-tree publications being crowded out by Twitter? How should politicians and journalists who want a serious conversation about ideas respond to the technological changes of our age? Dr Leigh will speak about these challenges, and discuss with the audience how we can work together to forge a healthier civic conversation.

About the Speaker:  Dr Leigh was elected as the Federal Member for Fraser in 2010. Prior to this, he was a professor of economics at the Australian National University. Dr Leigh has written extensively on a range of subjects including eduation, taxation and social policy. He also writes regularly for the Australian press. Dr Leigh holds a PhD in public policy from Harvard, having graduated from the University of Sydney with first class honours in Law and Arts. He has previously worked as a lawyer (including a stint as associate to former High Court Justice Michael Kirby), and as a principal adviser to the Australian Treasury. Dr Leigh is a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Social Sciences, and in 2011 received the 'Young Economist Award', a prize given every two years by the Economics Society of Australia to the best Australian economist under 40.

Register by Monday 30th July at
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Capital Hill 12 July

Julie Doyle hosted me and Liberal Senator Mitch Fifield on ABC 24’s Capital Hill program yesterday. Topics discussed include Tony Abbott’s ambiguous position on penalty rates and protection for workers, the efficiency of pricing carbon to improve environmental protection, and the transition to the carbon price.
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The Spirit Which is Not Too Sure It’s Right

I addressed graduating ANU students today, speaking about doubt and uncertainty, scepticism and risk-taking, experimenting and being prepared to make a mistake.

‘The Spirit Which is Not Too Sure It’s Right’
ANU Graduation Address
12 July 2012

In 1931, the British air ministry decided to experiment by commissioning a new fighter aircraft.[1] 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-Brown-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 Göring, ‘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.

Today I want to speak with you about the virtues of experimenting and taking risk, and their flipsides: making mistakes and being wrong. I want to argue that having doubt is a good thing; that a little modesty is a smart way to live. 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.[2] Then he waited to see their results. Across nearly 30,000 predictions, he found that the experts were about as accurate as dart-throwing monkeys.[3]

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.

It’s fun to laugh at the inaccuracy of professional pundits, but Tetlock’s findings have lessons for us too. You should remember what you said in the past, but you shouldn’t be slavishly bound to it. If it helps, remember that there are virtually no atoms in your 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 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 that when it comes to adjusting to a changing world, some people are better than others.[4] 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.’[5] 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’.[6]

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.[7] As psychologist Jonathan Haidt puts it, ‘once group loyalties are engaged, you can’t change people’s minds by utterly refuting their arguments’.[8]

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.[9]

* * * * *

Looking out over this audience, I know that each of you have the best education that time, money, and Australia’s national university can deliver for you. You are extraordinarily well-prepared.

And yet for all that preparation, none of you has the guarantee of where you will end up. Each of your careers will be shaped by luck.

So you should enter the world of full-time work with a willingness to experiment, and a recognition that the optimal job match may not be the first one you try.

My friends who work on the economics of marriage argue that the same principles apply there too.

On the social side, join more than one club. If you want to invest, buy shares in more than one company. In 1990, Harry Markowitz won the Nobel Prize for his work on portfolio investment strategies – formalising the old adage ‘don’t put all your eggs in the one basket’. It’s not bad advice in other contexts too.

Allow yourself some safety to experiment. When things don’t work out, learn from the experience. You must ‘make peace with your losses’.[10] This isn’t easy. In her book Being Wrong, Kathryn Schulz compares the feeling of being wrong about something fundamental to feeling like a toddler lost in Manhattan.[11]

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.[12]

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. Never assume that the most senior person in an organisation has nothing to learn from the most junior.

You may have driven your parents and your lecturers crazy by asking ‘Why? Why? Why?’. Don’t stop now – it’s always worth asking whether things can be done better.

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.

Leigh 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 themselves to the world; the unreasonable person adapts the world to them. Therefore all progress depends on unreasonable people. So go forth, and be unreasonable.

[1] This account is drawn from Tim Harford, 2011, Adapt: Why Success Always Starts with Failure, Hachette, London.

[2] Philip Tetlock, 2005,  Expert Political Judgment: How Good Is It?  How Can We Know? Princeton, NJ.  Princeton University Press.

[3] The phrase ‘dart-throwing monkeys’ comes from a review essay by Louis Menand, 2005, ‘Everybody’s an Expert’  New Yorker, 5 December 2005.

[4] Nassim Taleb, interviewed by Russ Roberts on EconTalk, 16 January 2012.

[5] Leigh Sales, 2010, On Doubt, Melbourne University Publishing, Melbourne.

[6] Doris Kearns Goodwin, 2006, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, Simon & Schuster, New York.

[7] From 2006 to 2012, the share of Australians who agree that ‘global warming is a serious and pressing problem. We should begin taking steps now even if this involves significant costs’ has fallen from 68% to 36%, while the share who say ‘until we are sure that global warming is really a problem, we should not take any steps that would have economic costs’ has doubled from 7% to 18%: The Lowy Institute Poll 2012: Public opinion and foreign policy

[8] Ezra Klein, ‘Unpopular Mandate’, New Yorker, 25 June 2012, pp.30-33.

[9] For one example, see Andrew Leigh, ‘Lessons Important For Us All’, The Chronicle, 3 July 2012.

[10] Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, quoted in Tim Harford, 2011, Adapt: Why Success Always Starts with Failure, Hachette, London. Another way of putting this is that you should avoid the sunk cost fallacy.

[11] Kathryn Schultz, 2011, Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error, Granta Books, London (cited in Tim Harford, 2011, Adapt: Why Success Always Starts with Failure, Hachette, London).

[12] Had time permitted, I would at this point have embarked upon a lengthy paean to randomised policy trials.
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Army Assessors, Tax Refunds and Education

Here's my Chronicle column for this month.
Lessons Important for Us All, The Chronicle, 3 July 2012

In his splendid new book, Thinking, Fast and Slow, psychologist Daniel Kahneman talks about how reluctant we are to change our minds. To illustrate his point, Kahneman tells the story of how and his fellow psychologists would evaluate candidates for leadership in the Israeli army. They would set difficult challenges – such as one in which a team of eight soldiers had to use a long log to get each of them over a six-foot high fence without touching the fence. At the end of the exercises, the psychologists were confident that they had determined which of the soldiers had leadership potential.

Every few months, the assessors had a feedback session, in which they could compare their ratings with the opinions of commanders in the field. It turned out that the expert ratings were ‘largely useless’ – yet the psychologists kept on with the exercise nonetheless. They knew that as a general rule, their ratings were only slightly better than chance. Yet on an individual level, the psychologists still held to the belief that their method worked.

As a rule, politicians are not known for their willingness to change course when confronted by evidence that a government program isn’t working. John Maynard Keynes apparently said, ‘When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?’. But a parliamentarian who changes his or her position risks being lambasted as a flip-flopper.

Yet occasionally, we politicians do change our minds. Take the case of the Schoolkids Bonus. In 2007, Federal Labor went to the election promising to introduce an Education Tax Refund, which would let parents eligible for Family Tax Benefit Part A to claim some educational expenses back on their tax return.

Because the scheme ran through the tax system, parents only got the money if they could produce receipts showing that they’d bought educational items. It sounded like a good plan, but it turned out that remarkably few parents received it. Of the 1.3 million who were eligible, 1 million failed to claim the full amount of the refund.

When we looked across postcodes, it turned out that the claim rates were lowest in the most disadvantaged parts of Australia. It looked like many parents were forgetting their receipts, failing to file a tax return, or both. What sounded like a good program wasn’t working for the neediest.

So from last month, we’ve decided to scrap the Education Tax Refund, and replace it with a guaranteed payment called the Schoolkids Bonus. Eligible families will receive an annual payment of $410 for each child in primary school, and $820 for each child in high school. Parents will still spend more than that on their child’s education, but we now know that the money’s getting to the neediest.

Admitting error isn’t easy, but in creating the Schoolkids Bonus, I’m really pleased we’ve learned our lesson and improved the program. Most importantly, I’m glad we’ve helped the neediest Australian kids with their lessons too.

Andrew Leigh is the Federal Member for Fraser, and his website is
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Inequality & Mobility on Saturday Extra

On ABC Radio National's Saturday Extra program, I spoke with Geraldine Doogue about rising inequality and unchanged (for now) social mobility. Here's a podcast.

At one point in the podcast, I mentioned an article of mine which found that a majority of High Court associated in the period 1993-2000 attended just three universities (Sydney, UNSW and Melbourne). Full article here.
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Mobile offices

Mobile offices tomorrow (Sat 30 June): 10am at Gungahlin (Hibberson St outside Big W), and 11.15am at Dickson Woolies.

Drop by and say g'day.
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I spoke in parliament yesterday about getting Australians a better deal on Kindle books.’s Kindle Pricing Policies
House of Representatives, 28 June 2012

Access to many and affordable books is an important component of a civilised society. It is through books that children are exposed to new ideas and it is through books that many of us as adults broaden our experience. Indeed, one of the last things I wrote while as an academic was a survey of the books that federal parliamentarians were then reading which turned into an article with my friend Macgregor Duncan. Reading opens new worlds and makes us better people. It is in that vein that I urge the House to place pressure on to provide better and cheaper access to books through the Amazon Kindle.

I draw the House's attention to three ways that Australians are restricted in their access to one of the world's largest collections of e-books. The first is limitations on access to the Kindle itself. While Australians have access to some Kindle models, others—the Kindle Fire, for example—will not be delivered to Australia. Such is the limitations that Amazon has placed on its deliveries that third parties have now set up with the sole purpose of forwarding on Amazon products from US addresses to Australian addresses. It should not be that way. Australians should have access to the Kindle Fire as well.

More important is access to the range of books that are provided on the Kindle. According to Delimiter figures, if one looks at fiction books, a United States Kindle reader can access 501,610 books; an Australian reader, 456,237 books—a difference of 45,000 books available to US readers but not Australian readers. For nonfiction, the gap is larger: US readers get access to 930,139 titles; Australians to 723,852 titles—a difference of 206,000 titles. For magazines: 450 titles available to US readers and 183 for Australian Kindle readers—a difference of 267. So fewer books are available to Australian readers. Australian Kindle readers are unable to access the full Amazon catalogue.

In addition, some books are more expensive for Australian readers than they are for United States Kindle readers. For example, quoting prices in US dollars: Gone with the Wind, $14.05 for an Australian reader, $13.99 for a US reader, $12.71 for a UK reader; The Colour Purple, $12.04 for an Australian reader, $8.50 for a US reader, $7.94 for a UK reader; and, appropriately enough, The Book Thief, $12.93 for an Australian reader, $9.99 for a US reader, $7.83 for a UK reader. Some books are cheaper in Australia, but the analysis done by suggests that for many books Australians are paying higher prices than Europeans, Latin Americans and people in the United States.

Expanding access to a larger catalogue of Kindle books is absolutely essential since the world is moving to an e-book world. Paper books will exist for some time to come, but increasingly younger readers will begin on e-books and that will be their entire experience. Having access to the world's knowledge at an economical price is important for our education system and also for the strength of the Australian economy. Part of the problem is the limitations of copyright law that allow territorial restrictions imposed by e-book retailers seeking to limit access; however, part of it is simple differential pricing, and I urge Amazon to abandon it. I commend the member for Chifley for his work on access to digital products for Australians in general and urge the committee that has been established on his instigation to include e-books in its remit. Access to the world's knowledge is as important as access to the world's music, and Australians have a right to be treated equitably by

A few weeks ago, I wrote to Amazon seeking comment on these issues, but received no response.
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Personal Explanation

I made a personal explanation today about a deliberately deceptive advertisement posted online by the Liberal Party this week.
Personal Explanation
28 June 2012

In a Liberal Party ad posted online yesterday, I’m quoted as saying ‘I think my colleagues, like me, are looking forward to the tax which is coming on the 1st of July’.

This is an incorrect transcript of my statement. In fact, I said that ‘my colleagues, like me, are looking forward to the tax switch that’s coming on the 1st of July’.

The incorrect transcribing in the Liberal Party ad isn’t an accident. The ad is clearly aimed at deceiving the viewer. The Liberal Party operative who transcribed my words would also have heard my next sentence: ‘taxes on big polluters going up, taxes on workers going down’.

Not only are we pricing pollution, we are also cutting income taxes for many Australian workers. This tax switch will help our economy and improve our environment.

It’s about time the Liberal Party focused on the facts rather than peddling untruths.
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Welcome to Australia Day

I spoke in parliament this morning about the ACT Welcome to Australia Day.

Welcome to Australia Day
27 June 2012

Last Saturday, it was my pleasure to join a significant group of Canberrans on the Welcome to Australia walk. Welcome to Australia walks were organised throughout Australia on Saturday. They recognise that there are thousands of Australians who do not care much for politics and do not know a great deal about immigration policy but do know that they care about people. Welcome to Australia began as a conversation between a number of individuals and not-for-profit organisations who believed that there needed to be a positive voice in the conversation around multiculturalism. Last Saturday was certainly a positive experience. The speakers included Henry Sherrell, the tireless organiser; MLA Joy Burch; Mark Kulasingham; Claire Doube; Dr Kim Huynh, from ANU, who told a wonderful story in which he used the analogy of tomato soup, salads and stir fries to describe the three alternative visions of multiculturalism; and Greens MLA Amanda Bresnan. Chris Bourke and Katy Gallagher from the ACT Legislative Assembly were also there.

I want to acknowledge David, a local Canberra resident and volunteer from Amnesty International ACT; Brad Chilcott, the national organiser of Welcome to Australia; the major sponsors, Amnesty International Australia and Mission Australia; as well as the National Capital Authority and the ANU student society. I also want to recognise the member for Hindmarsh, for his spearheading of Welcome to Australia walks within this parliament.

As we were walking down to the assembly area, my five-year-old son, Sebastian, said, 'Dad, what's a refugee?' I said, 'It's someone who's been treated badly in the place where they grew up and so they've gone somewhere else to find a safe space.' He paused for a moment and he said, 'So it's a bit like Harry Potter then.' I thought it was a nice analogy.

It was my great pleasure to attend the Migrant and Refugee Settlement Services of the ACT career and housing expo in the Theo Notaras Multicultural Centre on 7 June. I pay tribute to Dewani Bakkum, the CEO of MARSS, for her work in providing opportunities for newly arrived migrants and refugees in the ACT to access those two critical pathways into Australia society: good quality housing and a fulfilling job. Those around the room, whether they were from the University of Canberra, from rental services, or from the employment agencies, were all there united to help ACT refugees blend into the Canberra community whilst still retaining that great spark of the individual societies from which they come. Australia is a stronger nation for our migrants and refugees, and I am proud to have been a part of these events.
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Maths & Science

I spoke in parliament this morning about evidence-based policies to boost the number of students studying maths and science.
Higher Education Support Amendment (Student Contibution Amounts and Other Measures) Bill 2012
27 June 2012

Graham Freudenberg recalls in his book A Certain Grandeur Gough Whitlam was asked for concrete example of equality. Whitlam replied, 'I want every kid to have a desk with a lamp in his own room to study.' One can argue that for Whitlam the light on the hill shone from that lamp on the desk. I would like to think that at some of those desks they would be studying the sciences and mathematics, fulfilling their curiosity and passion for new insights and a deeper understanding of the world, building and developing skills that will enable them to make new discoveries, create innovations and be part of breakthroughs that will revolutionise our way of life. The sciences and mathematics are vital fields of knowledge for our prosperity and for our place in the world. Labor recognises this, which is why we are taking evidence based steps to ensure we foster the critical thinking, reasoning and creativity the sciences engender.

I want to outline the importance of supporting study in the sciences and mathematics and how this bill targets incentives for study in these areas. The Mathematics, Engineering and Science in the National Interest report noted:

'There is a global perception that a workforce with a substantial proportion educated in Mathematics, Engineering and Science (MES) is essential to future prosperity.'

But it noted that Australia's graduation rates in maths, engineering and science are low by international comparison. Globally, policies are emerging that focus on science and technology recognising that Australia, like the rest of the world, needs to increase our investment in sciences and mathematics. I commend Chief Scientist Ian Chubb, formerly my vice-chancellor at ANU, for his activism on these issues.

The Chief Scientist recently published a paper comparing Australia's science, research and innovation system with other developed nations. He found we had a similar percentage of researchers in our workforce compared to North America and Europe. We have a low number of researchers working in business enterprises with relatively high numbers working in higher education. So the bulk of Australia's research and development in these areas takes place in universities. We are fortunate to have that base in universities, but the challenge for Australia is to capitalise on this and build more researchers and innovators in industry. The more students we have educated in maths and science, the more workers we will have in the workforce who are pursuing research in these areas.

I recently visited the ANU Research School of Physics and Engineering. Prof. Stephen Buckman, the director of the school, invited me to visit and to see the research taking place there. ANU physics is built around three big picture themes: quantum science and technology; advanced materials and technology; and energy and environmental science and technology. I got a chance to see Australia's largest accelerator and the H1-NF National Stellarator Facility. They are doing impressive work at the ANU.

Earlier this year Prof. Brian Schmidt, winner of the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics, made the following comment when talking about funding extension of his research. He said that hiring extra staff at the facility allowed him to spend more time promoting science as a career prospect for young Australians. He said:

'Science is a great career and I think we undersell it. There's this misbelief within the community that somehow by being a scientist, you're making a sacrifice. We are very well supported in this country right now ... and I think it really shouldn't be anything other than the first choice for our best young men and women across the country.'

This was an optimistic vision from Prof Schmidt when he took time from his busy schedule to speak to a cross-parliamentary group of members and staff organised by myself and the member for Bowman. At the announcement of the extension of the Prof. Schmidt's laureate fellowship, the minister Senator Evans commented:

'Everyone understands that we've had a drop off in interest in science. It's been true of most western democracies and advanced industrial societies and what we've got to do is try and arrest that decline in the learning of science, in the promotion of science, in the engagement with the community. And one of the greatest vehicles we've got for that is using Brian's abilities to communicate and his standing in science.'

I want to take a moment to note a few other innovations in this area. Melodie Potts Rosevear, Teach For Australia's founder and CEO, and Tanya Greeves, a teacher at Lanyon High School, came to parliament this week to speak with members of staff about the Teach for Australia program, which is, I think, one of the great ways of getting talented scientists into high school classrooms.

Indeed, in the 2012 Public Education Excellence Awards in the ACT it was a Teach for Australia teacher, Igraine Ridley-Smith of Calwell High School, who received the New Educator of the Year award—a testament to the ideas that she is conveying to her science and mathematics students.

Australia is fortunate to be hosting the International Olympiad in Informatics in July 2013, at the University of Queensland. I commend Dr Benjamin Burton and his colleagues for the work they are doing to organise that important international event. Last week in this House the Parliamentary Friends of Women in Science, Maths and Engineering was convened by the members for Kingston and Higgins. The guest speaker was Professor Elizabeth Blackburn. I had the pleasure of chatting with Carola Vinuesa, Mahananda Dasgupta and other scientists in the ACT about the research they are doing.

Mathematics, statistics and science are classified as national priority units of study, so students are charged a reduced maximum student contribution amount for those units. But the 2008 Bradley Review of higher education found that there was no evidence that lower student contributions had a positive impact on student demands. We thought when we were setting this policy up that it would have a positive effect, but the evidence found otherwise. We are therefore changing the policy. I would call on those opposite to likewise listen to the evidence when it is as clear as it is in this case. The policy was found not to be well targeted. It did not deliver value for money. Accounting for growth in the higher education sector, it was estimated the government paid over $150,000 for each place gained through transitional loading in 2010.

This bill amends the Higher Education Support Act 2003 to increase the maximum student contribution amount for mathematics, statistics and science units of study for all students from 1 January 2013. The maximum student contribution for students enrolled in science and maths units will increase to $8,363 in 2013. We will be using the savings from that to support additional investments in the new demand driven funding system for universities.

Just as the expansion of Australia's universities supported by HECS in the 1980s and 1990s brought about a revolution in higher education, so too will demand driven funding under this government expand the number of students who go to university. It is always pleasing to me when I meet a student who is the first from their family to attend university. There will be many more of those students thanks to these reforms. The total level of funding provided to universities for these units will be maintained with the government reinstatement of the maximum student contribution amounts for students who enrol in mathematics, statistics and science units.

As priority units of study, we still want to encourage and provide incentives for students to study mathematics and sciences. In this year's budget we announced $54 million for a range of measures to encourage the study of mathematics and sciences. Graduates from a natural and physical sciences course with a HECS-HELP debt who work in a relevant field can have their compulsory repayments reduced by more than $1,600. Those who work as a maths or science teacher—as Ms Ridley-Smith does—may qualify for both the HECS-HELP benefit for maths and science graduates and the HECS-HELP benefit for teachers. They can have their compulsory repayments reduced by more than $3,000. We believe these measures will be more cost-effective than allowing students to pay a reduced student contribution amount and having the government paying transitional loading to universities. We are moving from policies that did not work to policies that will.

The government does not believe it is appropriate that students residing overseas continue to receive large subsidies towards obtaining a higher education degree from an Australian university. So the residency amendment ensures government assistance is restricted to study predominantly completed within Australia. I am somebody who benefited from overseas study, but I believe it is appropriate that the Australian taxpayer support higher education that takes place in an Australian university. The funding priority should be those students who are most likely to pursue a career in Australia, to commence repayment of their HELP debt and use their education to benefit Australia's workforce and economic needs.

The number of students currently enrolled with an Australian providers and not residing in Australia is relatively small. In 2010, for example, there were only about 1,000 full-time students enrolled in Commonwealth supported places or accessing FEE-HELP who resided overseas. With the growth in Commonwealth supported places under the demand driven model for university funding and the growth in online delivery, it is important to clarify eligibility conditions before there are further increases in the number of students being assisted by the government who do not live within the borders of this country.

The bill removes eligibility for Commonwealth supported places and the HELP schemes for Australian citizens who commence a course of study on or after 1 January 2013 where a higher education provider reasonably expects the person will not undertake any of their course of study in Australia. Students undertaking study as part of a formal exchange or study abroad program for some of the units in their course, including those students receiving assistance through the OS-HELP system, will not be affected by this change. The amendments ensure that government assistance is restricted to people who will retain a strong attachment to Australia.

The reduction in student contributions for mathematics, statistics and science units has not been effective in substantially increasing the number of students undertaking study in these areas at university. This government has a passion for education and we have a passion for evidence. Because of those two goals, we have doubled investment in school education. We are providing more information to parents than ever before through the MySchool and MyUniversity websites. We now have an additional 150,000 students attending university. It is absolutely vital that we support the study of mathematics and science. It is critical education policy and is vital to Australia's productivity in the future. But we must have the right tools to do the job.

The third year university students who dedicate their summer holidays to work at the CSIRO and be part of new research and innovation show that the passion for mathematics and science is still there. You only need to take a stroll through Questacon to see the excitement in science among young Australians. We need to encourage that excitement at school through such things as: Teach For Australia; at university, the hard work of groups such as the ANU physics school; here in the parliament, groups such as the Parliamentary Friends of Women in Science, Mathematics and Engineering; and the right, effective policies at our universities.

The light of opportunity Whitlam spoke of as shining from a desk lamp is for our maths and science students also the light of discovery, of innovation, of prosperity. This government wants the light to shine even brighter. I commend the bill to the House.
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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.