Samatha Stosur and Sports Participation

I spoke in parliament today about Samatha Stosur's US Open win and the value of sports participation.
Samantha Stosur
21 September 2011

More often than not, when we rise in this place to praise a sporting hero it is in praise of a man. When I was a boy, my focus was on distance events so I looked up to people like long distance runner Steve Moneghetti, triathlete Greg Welch and race walker Simon Baker. As a participant in each of these sports, I admired the ability of these men to develop and sustain their physical and mental ability and to push the boundaries.

Not often enough in this place do we talk about the sporting achievements of women. It is harder for women to excel at sport at an elite level. There are not many elite sports for which women are paid a sufficient amount to dedicate their life to the sport. There are few women’s sports that attract television coverage and the associated sponsorship and endorsements. Smaller still are the number of women’s sports that attract prime-time television coverage and the even more lucrative sponsorship deals. Just a handful of women sports pay their athletes equivalent to men.

Tennis is an exception. In Australia, we have had a long history of champion female tennis players. Margaret Molesworth won the first-ever women's title at the Australasian Championships, now the Australian Open, in 1922. Margaret Court was dominant in the 1960s and 1970s. Evonne Goolagong Cawley was until now our most recent grand slam champion with her 1980 Wimbledon title.

Now we can add 27-year-old Samantha Stosur to the list. Stosur's story is inspirational. Her early career focussed on doubles. Sam was ranked No. 1 in the world in doubles by 2006. But she contracted Lyme disease in 2007. It was devastating. She was out of tennis for close to a year and a return to the game was difficult as the illness had left her weakened.

On her return, Sam had a renewed focus on her singles game and managed to creep up the rankings. We thought her loss in the 2010 French Open final might have been the closest she would ever come to winning a grand slam. But this year Sam demonstrated that she has the physical and mental strength to succeed at the elite level by winning the US Open. My staff had been talking in the office about little else apart from Sam for days leading up to her victory. I managed to watch the final few points myself. Not surprisingly, many Australians were late to work that morning. Famously, Sam remembers staying home from school to watch her idol Pat Rafter winning his title in 1997. Now, young Australian girls have seen one of their own achieve this feat. They can see that women are capable of achieving at an elite level too. So Sam, well done on your victory and may this be the first of many.

While I am speaking on the topic of sports participation, I use this chance to acknowledge the active sportswomen in my office who have helped me prepare these remarks: basketball and hockey player Louise Crossman; and netball and tennis player Angela Winkle. In the ACT, I also recognise the efforts of Karen Hardy to increase the participation of women in sport. Recognising the benefits of team sports, Karen has established her own scholarship. Having attained life membership of her hockey club, Karen no longer needs to pay fees so she is using her saved fees to personally pay for mothers returning to play hockey. Karen's scholarship aims to keep people, particularly women, playing sport. The benefit of sport is as a place to come together with people of all different ages, backgrounds and skill levels. Karen describes her team as:

'… a place where we can come and not be anything but ourselves. We don't have to be mothers or partners or workers or students or daughters. All we are is us.'

This camaraderie and shared experience—what some have called social capital—helps link people together and build bonds of trust. Yet in the period from 1993 to 2007, the share of Australians participating in organised sport fell from 33 per cent to 27 per cent. In this environment, world-beating sports stars such as Samantha Stosur, and local sporting heroes such as Karen Hardy, should be particularly applauded.
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What I'm Reading

A few articles that have caught my fancy over recent weeks.
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Global Fund Review

I spoke in parliament today about this week's report of the High-Level Independent Panel into the Global Fund's financial controls.
Global Fund Independent Panel
21 September 2011

Established a decade ago, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria has spent US$22 billion and saved six million lives. The Global Fund accounts for two-thirds of global spending on tuberculosis and malaria and one-fifth of global public spending on HIV and AIDS. These diseases are a real threat to Australia, as we saw with the recent outbreak of tuberculosis in the Torres Strait. In June I represented Australia at the Global Fund Partnership Forum in São Paulo, Brazil, where we discussed strategies and heard firsthand from some of the people who have benefited from Global Fund work.

This week the High-Level Independent Panel reviewing the Global Fund's financial controls handed down an important report. It is a major milestone in accelerating reform of the Global Fund to better prevent and detect fraud and ensure funding goes to those in need. It recommends improving financial oversight, strengthening the governance structure, simplifying the grant application process and putting in place a robust risk management framework. We should welcome this rigorous report. It accords with AusAID's ongoing work to improve risk management and value for money. It should not be an excuse to cut global disease funding.

Australia will attend the extraordinary meeting of the Board of the Global Fund on 26 September to consider the report's findings. This will ensure the Global Fund remains strong and continues to provide life-saving treatment for HIV, tuberculosis and malaria. This is a time for bold leadership, recognising that traditional Global Fund donors—the US, Europe and Japan—are in financial difficulty. To maintain AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria treatment for millions of people, the Global Fund will require tens of billions in the coming years.
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Canberra Youth off to CHOGM

I put out the following release today.
Fraser Commonwealth Youth Forum delegates ready to go
21 September 2011

“Two young people from the electorate of Fraser will be part of the 30-strong Australian delegation representing young Australians at the Commonwealth Youth Forum in October,” Member for Fraser Andrew Leigh said.

Andrew Leigh said Melissa Dimmick of Turner and Anthony Obeyesekere of Braddon have both been selected to provide youth-related recommendations to Commonwealth Heads of Government.

“This is a fantastic opportunity for both Melissa and Anthony to represent not only the ACT but our nation at an international forum,” Andrew Leigh said.

“I’m sure their recommendations will reflect the future aspirations of our country.”

The Commonwealth Youth Forum will run from 23 to 27 October in Fremantle and is an important event leading up to the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting (CHOGM) in Perth which will be held from 28 to 30 October.

The 30 Australian delegates will join up to 100 other young people from across Commonwealth nations to learn about the Commonwealth, debate issues to be put forward to world leaders at CHOGM, and benefit from skills-building and networking sessions during the forum.

Minister for Youth, Peter Garrett, announced the names of the 30 Australian delegates on Wednesday 21 September 2011. The delegates were selected via a national application process managed by the Australian Youth Affairs Coalition.

“Melissa and Anthony will both be working closely with youth delegates from around the world, discussing issues of importance and making relevant and creative recommendations,” Andrew Leigh said.

“The Australian Government is committed to supporting all young Australians to achieve their full potential, and the Commonwealth Youth Forum is a unique opportunity to do that.”

More information on the Commonwealth Youth Forum is available at
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UN General Assembly Reform

I spoke yesterday on the topic of reforming the United Nations' General Assembly.
United Nations General Assembly Reform
19 September 2011

In 1945, the establishment of the United Nations was a triumph of hope over experience. The League of Nations had failed to forestall World War II, yet the creation of the United Nations signalled optimism that such horrors could be avoided in the future—hope that succeeding generations, as the charter says, might be saved from 'the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind'.

I spoke a month ago in the adjournment debate about the challenges of reforming the United Nations Security Council and I want to follow up tonight by offering a few suggestions for reform of the United Nations General Assembly. Again, I am grateful to William Isdale for his assistance.

The General Assembly is the largest body of the United Nations. It is the place where all member nations are represented and have a say. It is supposed to be—and should be—a forum of great significance. Regrettably, the views of experienced observers are damning.

In his book on the United Nations, Australian Catholic University Professor Spencer Zifcak says the assembly 'is a body of only the most fleeting relevance to the conduct of world affairs ... a forum in which the agenda consists mainly of national grievances... the resolutions proliferate without review' and are 'almost impossible to translate into practical action'. For anyone who cares about issues that come before the General Assembly—which range from disease pandemics to nuclear proliferation and transnational crime to climate change—this is worrying stuff.

The United Nations' High-Level Panel has concluded that the central difficulty for the assembly is its lack of focus and procedure. For instance, its huge and inflexible agenda leads to repetitious discussion and the desire to achieve unanimity generates resolutions that are vague, vapid or represent the lowest common denominator. No fewer than 18 resolutions have been adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on the subject of its own revitalisation. Since this is the world's principal deliberative forum, it is time that some of these resolutions were acted upon.

For instance, smaller, more expert committees could help sharpen debate prior to them coming before the assembly. The general unwillingness to delegate to committees should be met with clearer guidelines as to when it is appropriate to do so. It is important that the General Assembly be a forum for the discussion of global issues that matter, not the minutiae of budgets and administration. We need to strengthen the office of the President of the General Assembly, a position held by HV 'Doc' Evatt from 1948 to 1949 when he was the United Nations' fourth president. The President should be able to prioritise the most important issues on the agenda and call debates on major issues.

When it comes to speeches, the floor should be opened to competing positions, not just to anyone who wants to speak, and time limits must be better enforced. Currently, delegates regularly go well over their allotted 15 minutes but are not stopped. In 2009 Muammar Gaddafi spoke for an hour and a half, causing his translator to break off mid-speech with the cry, 'I just can't take it anymore.' This is still short of Fidel Castro's 1960 effort of 4½ hours in the General Assembly and well below the United Nations Security Council's record for a speech—just under eight hours.

To make it more authoritative, the General Assembly should be better equipped to publicise its decisions and to monitor action taken on its resolutions. At present there is a tendency for resolutions to proliferate almost endlessly, without regard to what has been said before and with little follow-through.

The General Assembly, as the most representative organ, should also have a greater say in selecting the Secretary-General of the United Nations as a whole. The General Assembly has the formal power to appoint the Secretary-General on recommendation of the Security Council. But in practice the Security Council has assumed the decisive role by sending only one candidate for the assembly to approve. The Security Council should be encouraged to send the General Assembly more than one candidate to choose from. This would go some way towards democratising the United Nations by ensuring that the Secretary-General is someone that all nations have a say in appointing.

We expect a lot from the United Nations. It is indispensable in the world we now find ourselves in. The United Nations runs on less money than the Manhattan fire service — but reform need not be expensive. The United Nations’ value comes in providing a space for deliberation, not a world government. A concerted effort is required and a commitment to the realisation of the United Nations' central project: creating a safer, more prosperous world.
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My Australian Financial Review column today is on Google, and particularly its ability to forecast the present.
Google's on Top of Today, Australian Financial Review, 20 September 2011

Some days, it seems that everyone has a crystal ball. Bank economists boldly predict exchange rate movements. Political pundits use polls to predict the next election. And fund managers vie to be the best stock-picker.

Alas, many of these forecasts aren’t much good. Exchange rates are equally likely to rise as to fall. Polls years out from an election have little predictive power. And the typical managed fund underperforms the All Ordinaries index.

Faced with the dismal performance of forecasting the future, one firm is taking a more modest tack. The wonks at Google are hoping that their new project will tell us what’s happening today.

If it sounds unambitious, consider that economic statistics are typically released with a substantial lag. The Australian Bureau of Statistics produces unemployment figures about six weeks after the end of the month, inflation numbers about eight weeks after the end of the quarter, and growth numbers 12 weeks after the end of the quarter. As the saying goes, this makes counter-cyclical policy like driving a car down a winding road while watching out the rear vision mirror.

One of the main forces behind what Google calls its ‘nowcasting’ project is its chief economist, Hal Varian. Formerly at the University of California Berkeley, Varian is a doyen of the field known as ‘the economics of information’.

In a recent presentation to the Australian Conference of Economists, Varian showed how the firm went about creating ‘Google flu trends’, which provides real-time measures of influenza prevalence based on searches for flu-related terms (such as symptoms and medication).

Since the Australian Influenza Surveillance Reports generally appear with a two week lag, Google flu trends can provide early warning of a sudden spike in flu cases. Search data won’t beat government statistics for accuracy, but its value is to provide a decent proxy that’s available in real time.

In the realm of economics, UK house prices have been shown to track searches for ‘estate agents’, while Australian consumer confidence fits closely the number of searches for new vehicles (and, surprisingly, crime).

In the case of unemployment, searches for ‘welfare’ and ‘unemployment’ spiked in the US in mid-2008, just as the national jobless rate passed 5 percent. Before the welfare data and labour force surveys had been compiled, search data could have indicated to economic policymakers that storm clouds were gathering. And given the well-known lags in fiscal policy, search data is worth using anytime we’re worried about a future downturn.

A cute feature of using search data to look at joblessness is that it also points to distinct patterns of search terms among the unemployed – many of whom are young men. Varian finds that the first set of terms to spike are labour market related (eg. ‘jobs classifieds’, ‘unemployment benefits’). The second phase sees an increase in searches for new technologies (eg. ‘ipod apps’, ‘free ringtone’). The third stage of unemployment searches are for low-cost entertainment (eg. ‘guitar scales beginner’, ‘home workout routines’). The fourth stage of unemployment searches are for adult content (eg. ‘adult video’, ‘porn tube’).

Rivalling Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s ‘five stages of grief’, Google’s ‘four stages of unemployment’ is a touching story about how the US recession has affected everyday life. The stages of unemployment searches are as much a part of life as the fact that increased search volume for ‘vodka’ is followed by a spike in searches for ‘hangover cure’.

Some companies (such as credit card firms and travel agents) already use real-time data to monitor their businesses. But others might benefit from drawing on search data. For example, in a demand-driven system, universities should take notice if search volumes suddenly shift from ‘accounting ATAR’ to ‘engineering ATAR’.

Nowcasting is just one of the features that makes Google an interesting company to watch. In human resources, the firm has a policy of giving all employees a day each week to work on their own projects. In evaluation, it makes extensive use of randomised policy trials; as Varian points out, ‘any time you use Google you are in many treatment and control groups’. It runs many laboratory projects, including self-drive cars, which navigate using Google Street View.

It may not get everything right, but in its 13-year history, Google has shown itself to be one of the world’s most progressive companies. Its future is hard to forecast, but right now, the folks at Google are producing more than their share of the world’s innovative ideas.

Andrew Leigh is the federal member for Fraser.

See also a terrific piece (gated) by Michael Dwyer on this topic back in May.
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Lost Superannuation

I spoke today in parliament about the campaign that Chris Burke and I are running to help Canberrans find their lost superannuation.
Lost Superannuation
19 September 2011

According to the Australian Taxation Office, Australians have around $19 billion in lost superannuation accounts. That is a bit over $1,000 for every adult in the country. Lost superannuation accounts arise when people change jobs and forget to update their superannuation accounts or when they take a career break. When you have your money spread across more accounts, you might end up paying excess fees or having your money invested in the wrong assets. Many people never claim lost superannuation so they do not enjoy the standard of living in retirement that is rightfully theirs. If superannuation is a nest egg then lost superannuation is like those eggs at the bottom of the garden that you never find at the end of a treasure hunt.

To address the issue of lost superannuation, Chris Bourke MLA suggested that he and I run a campaign to let Canberrans know how to find their lost superannuation. Chris pointed out that lost superannuation is a particular problem in postcode 2615. In that postcode alone - which covers suburbs like Dunlop, Holt, Flynn, Melba, Spence and Macgregor - there is $45 million in lost superannuation. So we launched a campaign to let Canberrans know about the ATO SuperSeeker website and the hotline (13 28 65).

In Civic we chatted to a part-time actor, who had recently found $6,000 in lost superannuation from a previous job. In Kippax we met Kevin Rourke, who had read about our campaign in the Northside Chronicle. Kevin logged on to our laptop on Saturday and found lost superannuation for a job he had as a panel beater in the mid-1980s. The employer had died and Kevin had not known which superannuation fund he had put the money in. Thanks to the ATO's SuperSeeker website, Kevin has been reunited with his retirement savings from a quarter of a century ago.

My thanks go to Louise Crossman and Barbara Phi from my office and Margaret Watt from Chris Bourke's office, who came up with the idea. I am also grateful to Lisa Mosley from WIN News, who helped us publicise the campaign locally. Quote of the day went to a shopper outside Charnwood Woolworths. Chris Bourke said to her, 'Did you know there is $45 million in lost superannuation in this postcode alone?' Quick as a flash, she replied, 'I'll take it!'

Finally, I want to use this chance to mention Eddie Sharp, who had been selling the Big Issue magazine in Canberra for over a year, working through the Woden Community Service. Eddie came up to say g'day when we launched the superannuation campaign in Civic. We were shocked to learn that he died of a heart attack the next day. Eddie was just 44. My condolences go to his family and his large circle of friends for their loss.
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ACT Black Spots Announced

One of the jobs I most enjoy is chairing the ACT Black Spots consultative panel. The Black Spots program uses federal money to fix dangerous corners and intersections, with the proviso that we can't approve a project unless the public benefit is at least twice as big as the cost of doing the road work.

We've just announced eight new sites where work will be done, totaling $1.1 million (which means that the public benefit is at least $2.2 million).

  • intersection of Drakeford Drive, Summerland Circuit and O’Halloran Circuit at Kambah: $210,000 to upgrade traffic signals, provide additional pedestrian lighting and replace existing poles;

  • intersection of Hindmarsh Drive, Athllon Drive and Callam Street at Phillip: $187,800 to install traffic signal mast arms;

  • intersection of Tharwa Drive, Box Hill Avenue and Woodcock Drive at Conder: $63,000 for visibility enhancements, including improved directional signage, improved hazard signage and upgraded street lighting;

  • intersection of College Street and Haydon Drive at Bruce: $310,000 for improvements to the pavement surface and traffic signals; upgrade of existing light columns; and improvements to kerb, sign and line marking;

  • intersection of Southern Cross Drive and Kingsford Smith Drive at Belconnen: $161,800 to install traffic signal mast arms;

  • intersection of William Hovell Drive and Bindubi Street at Belconnen: $120,200 to install traffic signal mast arms;

  • intersection of Coppins Crossing Road and William Hovell Drive at Belconnen: $52,600 to reduce speed limit on William Hovell Drive; and

  • intersection of Girrawheen Street and Limestone Avenue at Braddon: $21,400 to move the limit lines forward to be flush with Limestone Avenue.

Thanks to all the members of the public who nominated sites for consideration. We're continuing our work, so please keep those nominations coming in to me - by mail, phone or email.
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Australia's First Early Childhood Randomised Trial

I spoke in parliament today about Australia's first randomised trial of an early childhood program.
Randomised Evaluation of Early Childhood Programs
15 September 2011

Improving the life chances of young Australians is a key priority for this government, and I acknowledge the important work done particularly by the Minister for Employment Participation and Childcare and the Minister for School Education, Early Childhood and Youth. Under this government, we have boosted the childcare rebate from 30 to 50 per cent. We have created the website. We first collected information for the Australian Early Development Index in 2009, and this census of five year-old children will be run again in 2012.

I would like to acknowledge the work of experts in this area, including Frank Oberklaid, from the Centre for Community Child Health, Royal Children's Hospital, Melbourne; Matthew Gray, from the Australian Institute of Family Studies; Lance Emerson, from the Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth (ARACY); and Pam Cahir, from Early Childhood Australia.

The Gillard government is committed to evidence based policy making. We know a lot about the importance of early years interventions but we still have much to learn. That is why I would like to pay particular tribute to the team that is running the Early Years Education Research Project: Nichola Coombs, Jeff Borland, Yi-Ping Tseng, Anne Kennedy, Janet Williams-Smith, Dave Glazebrook and Brigid Jordan.

This is Australia's first randomised trial of an early childhood program. It has received ethics approval and it is following in the footsteps of the great randomised early childhood evaluations: the Perry Preschool program, the Abecedarian Project and the Early Training Project – all begun in the 1960s in the United States. The Early Years Education Research Project will provide valuable lessons about what works in the early years. It will allow us to improve our policies and it will do it using the most rigorous evaluation methodology available. I wish the team all the best of luck.
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September 11 - A Decade On

I spoke in parliament yesterday about the tenth anniversary of the September 11 tragedy.
United States of America: Terrorist Attacks
14 September 2011

Last Sunday, Peter Negron once again stood before a crowd gathered in Lower Manhattan to remember and pay tribute to the victims of the September 11 tragedy. Two years after losing his father in the attacks, Peter, then a slight 13-year-old barely able to reach the microphone, had read the children's poem Stars, including the lines:

'I felt them watching over me, each one
'And let me cry and cry till I was done.'

The enduring acuteness of the loss and sorrow felt by the nation was captured by the boy's shaking voice.

At the time of the attacks, I was living in Boston. On the morning of 11 September 2001, standing in the atrium of the Littauer Building at the Harvard Kennedy School, I looked up at the television screen and saw smoke pouring out of the Twin Towers. Around me were students from all over the globe, including many Americans. Some had friends who had boarded flights leaving Boston at eight that morning—friends they would never see again.

That morning we were supposed to choose our classes. To help us decide, Harvard had each professor give a short overview of the course they were offering. By chance, I entered the room where Michael Ignatieff was presenting his overview. After a minute's silence to remember those who had died that morning, Ignatieff spoke eloquently about international law and the challenges of deciding when to intervene in another nation for humanitarian reasons. He balanced the head and the heart: the need to honour those we have lost while thoughtfully considering the circumstances to justify sending our military overseas. When I left his classroom, one of the Twin Towers had fallen. The second would fall minutes afterwards.

This week, Peter Negron spoke of how he has tried to be a father figure to his younger brother, and his plans for the future. Ten years have passed since Peter's father's death and, while the depth of his heartache was still visible, it was heartening to see the young man's fortitude. Nearly 3,000 families lost a son, daughter, sister, brother, father or mother on September 11.

Ten Australians are known to have died. From New South Wales, Alberto Dominguez, from Lidcombe, age 66, was a Qantas baggage handler; Yvonne Kennedy, 62, was on American Airlines flight 77, which crashed into the Pentagon; Craig Gibson, 37, from Randwick, was working in the World Trade Center's north tower, in the offices of insurers Marsh & McLennan; Steve Tompsett, 39, from Merrylands, was in the north tower; Elisa Ferraina, 27, from Sydney, who had just taken out UK citizenship, having been born in Australia, was in the north tower; and Lesley Thomas, 41, was also in the north tower. From Victoria, Leanne Whiteside, 31, a lawyer from Melbourne, was in the south tower; and Peter Gyulavary, 44, born in Geelong, was in the south tower. From South Australia, Andrew Knox, 29, from Adelaide, was in the north tower. I remember Andrew's friend Kirsten Andrews coming to stay with me in Boston shortly afterwards as she worked through the experience of losing such a close friend. From Queensland, Kevin Dennis, 43, from the Gold Coast, was a US based stockbroker with Cantor Fitzgerald, a firm which lost two-thirds of its employees on that fateful day.

In the 10 years after the September 11 attacks there has been something of a trend among academics and commentators to focus on where to place blame—blame for the initial attacks, blame for the subsequent fighting. Christopher Hitchens, while describing Osama bin Laden as 'the proud of beneficiary of the export of violence', highlights the indecency of trying to act as a mouthpiece of terrorists and engaging in apologist rhetoric. As Hitchens notes, there are legitimate grievances held by the Palestinian people. United States foreign policy is sometimes imperfect. But to link these with al-Qaeda's primeval, totalitarianism, misogynist, anti-modern ideology is deeply wrong. Hitchens points out that after Salvador Allende was murdered on 11 September 1973, the Chilean opposition had legitimate grievances against the United States. But the Chilean opposition never dreamed of pursuing their goals by committing atrocities against civilians on United States soil. Nothing justifies the mass murder of civilians.

Hitchens emphasises the duty we owe to others who continue to suffer, such as 'Afghanistan's people, whose lives were rendered impossible by the Taliban long before we felt any pain'. Australia has a proud history of upholding this responsibility by serving around the world as peacekeepers. Since 1947, more than 30,000 Australians have worked for the cause of international peace and security. Today marks the 64th anniversary of our involvement in international peacekeeping. I pay tribute to one of my predecessors as the member for Fraser, John Langmore, who has been a strong advocate for the global role played by Australian peacekeepers.

Our peacekeeping efforts were recently recognised by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who acknowledged the work of Australians in Africa, Europe, Central America, the Middle East and the Asia Pacific region. Australian peacekeepers saved lives, helped communities and worked to rebuild nations. Those efforts are continuing today in Afghanistan—about which I spoke in much more detail in parliament last October.

To say that September 11 changed the world is no exaggeration, but it also reinforced some absolutes. Australia continues to share the United States' vehement opposition to terrorism. Together we remember the lives that have been lost and together we will work to ensure that such a tragedy does not occur again, be it in our own country or elsewhere. It is our responsibility to ourselves and to the world to work towards a peaceful future.
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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.