Indigenous Education

I spoke in parliament last week about some great things happening in Indigenous education.
Adjournment Speech - Indigenous Affairs
12 May 2011

Where kangaroos graze on an oval overlooking the Pacific Ocean lies the most picturesque school in my electorate. Founded in 1914, Jervis Bay Primary School serves children of Defence Force personnel serving at HMAS Creswell as well as children from the Wreck Bay community. Although it has the lowest ICSEA score of any school in my electorate, a like-schools comparison makes Jervis Bay Primary one of the top-performing schools in the ACT system.

Last week I visited the school and I was struck by the sense of community among the students and staff. With only 84 students, 63 per cent of whom are Indigenous, the school is quite small and everyone knows everyone else. As I walked through the K-2 room with two women who were active in the P&C, one of the boys said, 'What are you doing here, Mum?' My visit coincided with a meeting with Principal Bob Pastor, who had coordinated a Learning 4 Life meeting with representatives from Vincentia High School, the University of Wollongong, Noah's Ark, Booderee National Park, local preschools and childcare centres. The Learning 4 Life group promotes the value of education to Indigenous parents and students, with involvement right through the education spectrum from early childhood learning right up to TAFE and university.

Education's place in helping overcome inequality and disadvantage was also reinforced when I visited Cape York last year and earlier this year. Travelling with the House Economics Committee our task was, in part, to consider Indigenous economic development, so I used the chance to ask some of the witnesses about local schools. Phyllis Yunkaporta, a witness appearing before the committee, told me:

'The education system, as I knew it before, has been of low standard. The curriculum in the past, as it is in all cape Aboriginal communities, has been of very low standard. By the time our children go out to mainstream schools they are hardly there—a child in grade 8 still has the understanding of a child in grade 1. Speaking for Aurukun, I was one of the persons who were invited to the States last October; I went to New York and Los Angeles visiting African-American schools. What we have brought back to Aurukun is a new kind of teaching method and we are having that implemented in the school. Of course it took time. At the beginning it pretty much had been, in my words, chaos before that. Since having this new program come in, if you come to the classrooms in Aurukun the kids are fully focused. This new method of teaching has got them going. The teacher is full-on with the tasks given and you cannot believe it when you enter those classrooms—it is as if some of those kids are play-acting. They are not; they are just full-on, focused. I guess in time we have to have expectations for our children to be educated in a way where they have to balance both worlds—the Western world and the traditional way. Of course we want them to hang onto the traditional way because that is where they are going to be identifying themselves for the future. And with them having to venture out into mainstream, we want them to compete. It is a competitive world out there. We want our black little kids to start taking on the world. That is the aim of all this.'

Ms Yunkaporta was talking about Noel Pearson's Cape York Aboriginal Australian Academy, championed by the Minister for Families, Housing, Communities and Indigenous Affairs, Jenny Macklin. The program offered by the academy has four components focusing on Class, Club, Culture and Community.

Noel Pearson recently wrote that the Class program immerses students in numeracy and literacy using the Direct Instructions, DI, programs. Students need to achieve a mastery of 90 per cent at their level before they can move on. Tests are done every five to 10 lessons and both the students' and teachers' performances are carefully monitored.

Club ensures that kids do not miss out on those future opportunities, providing extracurricular activities that many children in my own electorate enjoy; including the hope to one day include foreign languages and Shakespeare classes.

Culture helps children learn the local Aboriginal languages and their culture and traditions.

In-school activities are supported by the Community program. School attendance and readiness for school are carefully monitored. A food program provides meals during the day and families are helped to manage funds to cover educational expenses. It is clear that there is something in the different models used by Aurukun and Jervis Bay schools that is working well, and I commend the hard work of all those involved—the principals, the teachers, the parents, the children and the whole school community for making something really special happen in these parts of Australia.
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Turning the Resource Curse into a Blessing

My AFR article today is on the Natural Resource Charter.
Break the Resource Curse, Australian Financial Review, 17 May 2011

One of the most robust results in development economics is the fact that developing nations who have more natural resources are more likely to be poverty-stricken dictatorships. This ‘resource curse’ arises because mineral endowments tempt despots into fighting their way into power and filching the wealth.  It’s difficult for an autocrat to steal incomes from farming, industry or services. But diamonds are a dictator’s best friend.

The curse can be seen today in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where conflict over the country’s minerals has grown particularly fierce since the mid-1990s, with bands of thugs murdering five million people, raping half a million women, and impoverishing a nation. The vast majority of Congo’s population would be better off if their country had no natural resources.

In The Plundered Planet, Oxford economist Paul Collier points out that if we can help developing nations to make better use of their natural resources, the resulting fiscal flows could help societies to transform themselves for the better. In developed nations, oil and mineral assets generally benefit the entire population (though we’re currently working to get all Australians an even better deal though the Minerals Resource Rent Tax). But in most low-income countries, the opposite is true.

If developing countries can benefit from their minerals, the payoff could dwarf anything that aid might hope to deliver. Collier points out that in rich nations (where geologists have carefully surveyed the land), the typical square kilometre has subsoil assets worth US$114,000. In all probability, the same is true for the developing world. On those figures, Africa’s natural resources would be worth $3.5 trillion, more than 70 times the amount of foreign aid it receives each year.

To help developing nations make better use of their natural resources, a group of ex-politicians and entrepreneurs (working with academics like Collier) have proposed a Natural Resource Charter, which they hope will be adopted by governments, businesses and NGOs. The Charter aims to go beyond the ideological slanging match that has characterised natural resource use in developing nations, and offer practical ways in which governments can ensure the people get a better deal.

First, the Charter proposes that financial flows be fully transparent. Mining generates relatively few jobs, so what happens to the royalties is critical. Through the Publish What You Pay campaign and the Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative, mining companies are encouraged to release information about the payments that they make to governments. This makes it harder for corrupt officials and politicians to siphon it off into private bank accounts, and enables citizens to pressure governments into spending the money on much-needed infrastructure, such as hospitals, schools and roads.

Second, the Charter argues that extraction rights should be sold by auction. Once a handful of bidders participate, it becomes difficult for them to collude, and the final price is likely to reflect what the rights are actually worth. Collier uses the example of the UK, which was on the verge of negotiating a £2 billion deal to sell mobile phone spectrum when it was persuaded to try an auction instead. The auction raised £22.5 billion.

Third, the Charter suggests that developing country governments should maximise the amount of information about the country’s subsoil assets. If governments or aid donors conduct geological surveys and make them publicly available, then the people of that nation are more likely to get a fair share of their natural resources. Another way to increase information is to require that auction winners begin prospecting within a fixed period of time. If one miner strikes it lucky, this will raise the sale price when nearby parcels are auctioned off.

Fourth, the Charter requires that local peoples should be made better off by mining. Before lending to extraction projects, the World Bank requires ‘free, prior and informed consent’: a principle that the Charter argues should also extend to the way that national governments manage local consultations. Provocatively, it also suggests that where mining companies promise to conduct environmental reclamation, they might be kept to their word via the use of an escrow account.

Since the Eureka uprising, Australians have been debating the best way of managing our natural resources. Both sides of politics won’t always agree on the specifics, but our position as a developed nation with bountiful mineral wealth means that we have much to teach low-income countries about how to handle underground assets. With the right policies, developing nations can turn the resource curse into a resource blessing.

Andrew Leigh is the federal member for Fraser. The Charter may be found at
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Congratulations to Chief Minister Katy Gallagher

Congratulations to Chief Minister Katy Gallagher on becoming the Australian Capital Territory’s 6th head of government and the 3rd woman to lead our nation’s capital.

In her time as Deputy Chief Minister and Treasurer, Ms Gallagher strengthened social equality through economic growth. With the nation’s best-performing economy Ms Gallagher delivered funding for vital social and community programs, giving assistance and support to many in the ACT.

As Chief Minister, Ms Gallagher will bring an understanding of the economic and social needs of our city, driven by a spirit of optimism and a determination to make Canberra the envy of the nation’s other capitals.

Thanks to the efforts of Katy Gallagher and her deputy Andrew Barr, we enjoy a first rate school system and record investment in health care ensuring quality care for all Canberrans. 

The pride Katy and Andrew have in Canberra makes them the perfect choice for a new generation of leaders that symbolise our diverse, modern and vibrant city.

I believe Canberra is the best city in Australia. I look forward to working with Katy, Andrew and their team to grow our city and ensure equality, opportunity and services for all Canberrans. 

Andrew Leigh

Federal Member for Fraser
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I gave a short speech to parliament on Thursday about the challenge of loneliness, an issue that gets less policy attention than it probably deserves.
Loneliness, 12 May 2011

A recent article in the Australian noted that one in four Australians suffer from loneliness as a serious problem. In fact, loneliness is one of the fastest-growing contemporary issues in modern Australia. Many of us here know Professor Adrian Franklin as a panel member on the ABC's Collectors program. But he is also one of the country's leading sociologists and has recently conducted extensive research on housing, loneliness and health. Loneliness is a grim reality that I know the member for Wakefield has also written about.

Between 1986 and 2006, the share of people living on their own rose from 9 per cent to 13 per cent. People who report being lonely are twice as likely to experience poor health as those who do not. As our population ages, more elderly people will be living alone. Loneliness exacerbates anxiety and depression, already the leading cause of disability in young Australians. If we are not careful, we may be caught in a classic pincer movement where  loneliness and its physical, mental and social implications will affect more and more Australians, both young and old.

So I would encourage us to continue our efforts to engage with marginalised and vulnerable members of our communities. It is something I do in my own electorate of Fraser. As I wrote in Disconnected, 'A smiley face emoticon isn't much of a substitute for a smile.'
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Mind the Gap

I've written a guest post for 'Insider' (the blog at current affairs website Inside Story) on the topic of inequality.
Mind the Gap

In a new report on inequality, the OECD has tracked income changes in several developed nations including Australia. It finds that from the mid 1980s to the late 2000s, the average rate of real household income growth among developed nations was 1.7 per cent per year. But while incomes grew at an average rate of 1.4 per cent for the bottom 10 per cent of households, they grew at 2.0 per cent for the top 10 per cent.

In Australia, real household incomes grew faster than the OECD average. Average incomes grew at 3.6 per cent per year over the period. But, as in most other developed nations, these decades were a better time for the rich than the poor. For the top-earning 10 per cent of Australians, incomes grew at 4.5 per cent. For the bottom tenth, they grew at 3.0 per cent.

These results accord with my own work, co-authored with Oxford’s Tony Atkinson, while I was an economics professor at the Australian National University. Our research looked at how the income share of top income groups in Australia had changed, going right back to the 1920s. One way of looking at this is to look at the income share of the richest 1 per cent of Australians – people who in 2007 had earnings of $197,000 a year or more (see chart). In 1921 that top 1 per cent of Australians had 12 per cent of all household income. Then we saw a compression: the top earners’ income share steadily dropped until 1980, by which time that group had about 5 per cent of all national income. Then we saw a rise again, and by 2007 the top 1 per cent had 10 per cent of household income, double the share in 1980.

We see an even starker pattern if we look at the top 0.1 per cent – the richest 1/1000th of Australian adults. In 2007, members of this group were earning at least $693,000, and their income share of the Australian pie followed a similar trajectory. In 1921, they had 4 per cent of all household income. That fell by 1980 to 1 per cent, and then rose again so that, by 2007, the richest 1/1000th of all Australians again had 4 per cent of household income.

There will always be considerable debate about whether policy should try to reduce inequality, and if so, how. Yet work by the OECD reinforces the finding that the gap between rich and poor has widened in Australia over recent decades. True, the incomes of the poorest tenth of Australians have improved. But top incomes have increased faster still.

Andrew Leigh is the Federal Member for Fraser.
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McMullan -> EBRD

Congratulations to my predecessor Bob McMullan, who will shortly be off to the London-based European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, continuing his long-running interest in foreign affairs and international development.


Nomination of Australian executive director to the european bank for reconstruction and development

Australia has nominated Bob McMullan to the role of Executive Director to the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD).

Mr McMullan would represent a constituency comprising Australia, the Republic of Korea, New Zealand and Egypt. Pending a vote by constituency members, Mr McMullan will be appointed by the EBRD for a term ending in July 2012.

Australia has been a member of the EBRD since it was established in 1991. The EBRD is an international financial institution that supports projects in 30 countries from central Europe to central Asia. It is owned by 61 countries and two intergovernmental institutions.

The Government considers that the continued uncertainty surrounding the global outlook, including concerns about the economic situation in Europe, warrant continued involvement in the EBRD.

Mr McMullan brings a strong record of reform and a wealth of experience to the position. His understanding of the international environment will lend distinction to Australia, our constituency and the EBRD. Mr McMullan is a former Minister for Trade and is currently an Adjunct Professor at the Crawford School of Economics and Government at the Australian National University.

Mr McMullan has agreed that the EBRD position be treated as if it were an ‘office of profit’ for the purposes of the Parliamentary Contributory Superannuation Scheme (PCSS). Consistent with the rules governing the PCSS, Mr McMullan will have his parliamentary pension reduced to take account of the remuneration received from the office of profit.

Mr McMullan will replace Dr John Eyers who is not seeking re-election at this year’s EBRD Annual Meeting.

On behalf of the Government, I would like to thank Dr Eyers for the significant and valued contribution he has made during his term as Executive Director.
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Canberra and the Federal Budget

Federal ACT Labor Representatives, Kate Lundy, Gai Brodtmann, and Andrew Leigh, have welcomed 2011-12 Budget investment in Canberra.

To mark the capital’s Centenary celebrations, the Budget delivers over $68 million to partner with the ACT Government to deliver a program of Canberra Centenary celebration for all Australians.

Labor’s responsible Budget will strengthen Australia’s economy, create more jobs, and generate training opportunities in Canberra and the region.

The 2011-12 Budget delivers for Canberrans, key highlights include:

  • $82.2 million for road infrastructure this financial year

  • $30.6 million for the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation building

  • $6.1 million increase in base funding for the High Court

  • $33.9 million increase over four years for the Australian War Memorial

  • $1.7 million seed funding for the Australian War Memorial to commence planning for a new permanent exhibition on the first World War to commemorate the Centenary of ANZAC

  • Additional $2 million this financial year for the completion of the National Gallery of Australia building refurbishments and enhancement project

  • $2.3 million dollars to improve critical outreach and training in health

  • 6700 local families eligible for an extra $4200 per child between 16-19 years old to assist with the cost of living

  • 7397 apprentices will be eligible for the Trade Apprentice bonus scheme

The Budget builds on Labor’s strong economic record and will ensure we are back in black by 2012-13.

There is a renewed focus on creating opportunities for all Australians, focusing on jobs and skills for Canberrans.

Labor also continues to support families and young people in the ACT by investing in training, education and job creation.

This budget builds on Labor’s core values, particularly our commitment to strong employment.
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Welcoming the Babies 2011

I spoke in parliament yesterday about my 'Welcoming the Babies' event, held last March.
Welcoming the Babies
11 May 2011

On 27 March this year I held Canberra's inaugural 'Welcoming the Babies' event at Stage 88 in Commonwealth Park. Over 150 mums, dads, bubs, brothers and sisters enjoyed a perfect Canberra autumn morning while taking the time to engage with local services and other families. As a parent of two young boys myself, I know the challenging moments that one has in raising a family: endless nappy changes, throwing food at dinner time and early wake-ups. For example, my one-year-old arose at 4.15 this morning. That is why I believe it is important to celebrate being a parent and to share survival tips.

I want to thank ACT Playgroups, ACT Health and the breastfeeding initiative, senior child health policy and immunisation officers, Anglicare, the Breastfeeding Association, Bundle Baby Ultrasound, Cafe 2U, DJ Dennis, Gymbaroo, Kidsafe, Kings Swim School, Junior Entertainment, Monkey Mania, Players Football Club, Post and Ante Natal Depression Support and Information, Soul Yoga, MC Laurie McDonald and guest speaker Pam Cahir, and my staff and volunteers from the ACT Labor Party for cooking sausages, staffing our tent and helping other stallholders. I would also like to thank Treasurer Wayne Swan, who pioneered this kind of event, making him 'the father of Welcoming the Babies'. As first-time dad Tito Hasan told me, 'It's been great to see kids having fun. My wife and I see the range of things out there for first-time parents. I'm looking forward to coming back next year.'
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Refugees and Asylum Seekers - Expanding Protection

I spoke last night on legislation that deals with 'complementary protection'. Its effect is to update our 1950s-era refugee legislation so that it expands the existing categories to include asylum-seekers who would face persecution based on their sexuality, or who would face domestic violence. Astonishingly, the opposition are opposing it.
Migration Amendment (Complementary Protection) Bill 2011
11 May 2011

As a child, four years of my childhood were spent in Malaysia and Indonesia, including attending primary school in Banda Aceh. I was there because my father was working on an AusAID project to improve education in Indonesia. As the only white child in my class, I came to appreciate perspectives and cultures quite different from my own. It also does not hurt to have the experience of being the outsider.

Australia is a modern nation. Our humanitarian ethos has advanced considerably since 1951, when the Refugee Convention was originally drafted. Our moral attitudes towards asylum applicants can no longer be bottlenecked by a convention written in the context of post-war Europe. Those who require humanitarian refuge but fall outside the 1951 convention include individuals who are at risk of being subjected to the death penalty, such as a woman at risk of an 'honour killing' or domestic abuse, or a person who would be prosecuted on the basis of their sexuality. These are all people of whom the vast majority of Australians would feel that the federal government has a duty to protect. Does the coalition really believe that someone who would be jailed for being gay in their home country does not deserve our protection? Is a woman who is at risk of an honour killing really a woman who is making a vexatious refugee claim?

The Migration Amendment (Complementary Protection) Bill 2011 will provide an international standard complementary protection regime for those individuals seeking protection visas under Australia's non-refoulement (non-return) obligations. The bill will ensure that Australia continues to meet non-return obligations in a transparent and compassionate fashion, according with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment; and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

The current bill reasserts the government's position to ensure that Australia meets its international legal and moral obligations. Rather than relying on an informal system employed at the discretion of the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, the new complementary protection legislation reflects the Gillard government's commitment to humane and just treatment of asylum seekers. This amendment will update an outdated law—a law that is now over two decades old. A number of legal academics, human rights lawyers and local and international humanitarian groups have noted that relying on a regime which is non-reviewable, non-compellable and wholly dependent on personal discretion is far from ideal. Under current arrangements, those seeking complementary protection are referred to the minister through section 417 of the Migration Act. After review criteria are met, the minister may then exercise his or her discretion to intervene and grant the individual a protection visa.

It is well-known that this process is inefficient and time-consuming. It adds stress to the applicants. The discretionary role of the minister in this process causes excessive uncertainty and delays for applicants seeking protection. Over the years, a broad consensus has formed over the need for complementary protection provisions to be explicitly incorporated into domestic legislation. Groups supportive of such a legal codification include: the United Nations; the Australian Human Rights Commission; Amnesty International; the Uniting Church; the Law Council of Australia; and the Refugee Council of Australia.

I would also note that the codification of complementary protection has been recommended by several parliamentary committees, the most recent being the 2009 Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee. The passage of this bill would place Australia along with nations such as Canada, the United States, New Zealand and 27 member states of the European Union. All of these nations have already moved to create harmonized, legal approaches to non-refoulement by codifying complementary protection within domestic laws. his is not a risky reform. This is not a radical reform. This is a commonsense reform. The bill ensures transparency, due process and consistent humanitarian outcomes and removes concern regarding the use of a non-codified system to address complementary protection obligations.

This government does not believe that introducing a legislated complementary protection framework will increase people-smuggling. The single procedure process, already in place in the UK, the Netherlands, Canada and Ireland, will assess all claims for protective asylum, first against the refugees convention, and only then move to assessment under complementary protection criteria. Nor will this bill increase the number of protection places allocated to new arrivals. It should be remembered that those granted protection asylum, who are not recognised as refugees under the 1951 convention but still owed complementary protection, are dealt with under the existing discretionary arrangement. This bill acts only to improve the system.

The bill also saves administrative resources and relieves some of the pressure put on decision makers within the Department of Immigration and Citizenship and the Refugee Review Tribunal. In a recent editorial in the Australian, the member for Cook stated that the legislation runs the risk of 'creating a further policy incentive for people-smuggling', while the current discretionary system should be retained because it promotes what he called 'flexibility'. This stands in stark contrast to his predecessor as the member for Cook, the Hon. Bruce Baird, who rightly said: 'This is not the way we should be treating the weakest and most vulnerable in our community.'

The member for Cook, in his ongoing efforts to make political capital out of Australia's humanitarian and refugee programs, has in the past managed to confuse visa subclasses and erroneously introduced a private member's bill that accused the government, wrongly, of ignoring female applicants for the Woman-At-Risk visa. He argues that any amendment to our migration laws is a confession that 'push factors' do not matter. By this logic, Labor's fiscal stimulus in 2008-09 must have been an admission that Australia caused the global financial crisis. It is a strange view indeed.

By blocking this bill, the opposition would be showing a callous attitude to women fleeing domestic violence, physical abuse and sexual assault who come to Australia to seek refuge. Too often we hear deliberate inflammatory language from our political opponents, rhetoric that is entirely divorced from reality. We must never forget that behind every statistic there is a human story. My grandparents lived in Victoria in Seaholme in a two-bedroom house with their four children. Their house was constructed by my grandfather, who was a boilermaker and not a carpenter, so there was always something that needed fixing around the home. Living by the seaside did not exactly help as the cold blustery winds were forever finding their way inside.

My mother tells the story of her father, my grandfather, going down to the local tip to get some more building materials, where he met an Egyptian migrant woman who had three children with her; she was just there at the tip. The woman said they did not have a place to stay in, so my grandfather invited them back to his own home—a two-bedroom home that already housed six people. My mother said that as a little girl, when she saw this new family of four coming into her home, she wanted to cry as she was so angry with her father. But her father said, 'Well, if they're not staying with us, they may not have a place to stay.' My mum told me how she was initially envious of the Egyptian refugees, people who had less than her but who, from her point of view, were taking 'things away' from her and the other kids in the family. All my mum could see was that she lived in a rickety, cramped, cold house with hardly any possessions and these people who were staying the night were taking something away from her. But later she went on to see the need that the immigrant family had.

Being able to see the big picture—to see that refugees are not taking something but, rather, are giving back to our community—is fundamental to the success of the Australian multicultural story. The great success of multiculturalism in Australia has been the way that suburban Australians have, without fuss, accepted successive waves of new migrants into our neighbourhoods. As a local member of parliament, one of the things I most enjoy is to stand in a school assembly—amidst children from all ancestries in the world—and sing with them those terrific lines from the national anthem: 'For those who've come across the seas/We've boundless plains to share'. Australia is a big country with a big heart. This bill reflects that fact. It harmonises our laws with our international responsibilities. It ensures we meet our moral obligations. It demonstrates that we in the Labor Party are committed to a humane and just approach to migration, and that we are not prepared to let the opposition's tub-thumping and incendiary rhetoric stand in the way of long-overdue reform.
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Refugees and Asylum Seekers - The Big Picture

I spoke in parliament yesterday in response to the opposition's latest tub-thumping on migration.
Refugees and Asylum Seekers - The Big Picture
10 May 2011

The issue of refugees and asylum seekers is a global challenge. According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, in 2009 there were 43.3 million forcibly displaced people throughout the globe and, of those, 15.2 million were refugees. These are vast numbers for the international community to deal with and there are also huge numbers around the world who are affected by the challenge of asylum seekers. Just to give you a sense of the scale of the number of internally displaced people and refugees, Mr Deputy Speaker, I want to quote a couple of statistics from a Parliamentary Library paper by Janet Phillips. She points out that, in 2006, over 72,000 people arrived by boat on the coasts of Italy, Spain, Greece and Malta alone. In 2007, that number was 51,000.

The arrival numbers in Australia are actually very small compared to global asylum seeker applications. The paper makes the point that, in 2009, Australia received 6,170 asylum seeker applications, which is just 1.6 per cent of the 377,160 applications received by the 44 industrialised nations for which the UNHCR tracks figures. Of those 44 nations, Australia was ranked 16th overall and 21st on a per capita basis. It is critical to put the numbers into perspective and to remember that Australia has a long and proud history of accepting refugees for resettlement.

Many people who have come to Australia and made vast contributions to our wellbeing—I am thinking back here to people like Frank Lowy and the many people who came to Australia at the end of the Vietnam War—have made valuable contributions to our society. Australia is better off for being a destination that has welcomed refugees into our midst. There are only about 20 developed nations that formally participate in the UNHCR refugee resettlement program and we are one of those nations. But those developed nations do not house the majority of the world's asylum seekers and refugees. The majority of the world's asylum seekers and refugees are indeed housed in developing countries with the millions of people that already live in some of these developing countries. Pakistan currently hosts approximately 1.7 million refugees, Iran hosts over a million refugees and some 115,000 asylum seekers and refugees are in Thailand. Malaysia hosts around 100,000 asylum seekers and refugees and Indonesia faces significant numbers of irregular migrants moving through its territory.

It is critical that we keep the global challenge in perspective. The Minister for Foreign Affairs said in Bali early this year that worldwide transnational crime represents a business of two-thirds of $1 trillion a year and a large portion of that is the crime of people smuggling and human trafficking. That is the challenge that Labor's policy is aiming to address. We are aiming to address the challenge even within our own region of the 3.9 million refugees amongst us. It is important to recognise that Labor's policy happens in a global environment. Those opposite would very often like us to think that Australia exists in a little bubble and that the rest of the world does not affect us. But we know that is not the case.

There are international institutions set up to deal with the challenge of refugees and asylum seekers and we are marking the 60th anniversary of the convention of the status of Australia as a refugee country by the UNHCR and the 60th anniversary of the International Organisation for Migration. These two great international institutions have played a major role and Australia is looking to work with those institutions. But beyond the statistics there is also a set of very personal stories that accompany them. I spoke in my maiden speech about my own experience with my mother's parents, a boilermaker and a teacher, who always lived by the credo that if there was a spare room in the house it should be used by someone who needed the space. As a child, I remember eating at their home with Indigenous families and new migrants from Hong Kong, Papua New Guinea, Chile, Cambodia and Sri Lanka. That early experience informed my lifelong passion for Australia's multiculturalism.

Last year I attended a prize-giving ceremony for an art competition held as part of Refugee Week and first prize went to a Korean-Burmese woman who had woven a traditional crimson tunic. Because she did not have a proper loom the woman had taken the mattress off her bed and fashioned a loom from her pine bed base. It is hard not to be overwhelmed by the courage and spirit of Australia's migrants. That brings me to the announcement that was made on the weekend by the Prime Minister and the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship. It was an announcement aiming to do two things: to put people smugglers out of business, to ensure that fewer people are put on those boats, particularly women and children, to brave a dangerous and unnecessary sea journey to Australia; and it is also trying to ensure that Australia resettles more refugees than it has in the past.

As the minister has set out, the next 800 irregular maritime arrivals, who arrive in Australia after the date on which the agreement comes into effect, will be transferred to Malaysia. In return Australia will resettle an additional 4,000 refugees currently residing in Malaysia. Australia is going to fully fund that agreement and, importantly, it will be overseen by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, which is playing a more active role in Malaysia than it has ever done in the past.

This increase in asylum seekers will be the largest increase in the asylum seeker-refugee intake that has occurred since Labor was last in office. That increase of 1,000 a year reflects the fact that Australia is a generous country which is able to resettle refugees. I think that bipartisan commitment to resettling refugees has in the past—alas, not so much now—been a hallmark of Australia's social fabric.

What we are doing is not a bilateral deal. It is the beginnings of a regional framework. We recognise that refugees and asylum seekers are a global challenge. We recognise the way to tackle that challenge is through a regional agreement. That is very different from the bilateral deals that we saw under the Howard government and the temporary protection visas. Temporary protection visas did not work. They were introduced in October 1999 and, following the introduction of TPVs, the number of irregular maritime arrivals spiked.

By contrast the current policy proposal that the government has put forward has been welcomed. The UNHCR's regional representative, Richard Towle, said:

'I think in that sense it has the potential to ... make a significant practical contribution to what we're trying to achieve in the region. And if it's a good experience other countries can look at it and say "yes, that's a positive way of managing these issues. Perhaps we want to embark on similar or other initiatives under a regional cooperation framework".'

He also said:

'Well the core on which I think everyone agrees on and that's ... what we call the principle of non-refoulement: that's non-expulsion of asylum seekers and refugees out of the country to face persecution. We would want to see that and I think we are seeing that as a commitment from both Governments.'

By contrast the opposition on the issue of refugees has taken the narrow and parochial road. They are the ostriches of the Australian political system. They are willing to put their head in the sand and pretend the rest of the world does not exist. We have seen this through a spate of issues.

During the global financial crisis we saw the opposition's refusal to support the stimulus and their willingness to talk now as though the GFC never happened. On climate change we saw their startling readiness to reject both the science and the economics. On migration we saw the return of Hansonism wrapped in a blue ribbon. Whereas the former member for Cook, Bruce Baird, would stand up for principle, the current member for Cook is only willing to stand up for the spreading of fear.

Migration has strengthened Australia. Refugees have strengthened Australia. What this policy seeks to do is to increase our humanitarian intake and, in an equally humanitarian way, to discourage the dangerous sea journey and to see fewer young children set adrift in leaky boats to brave a dangerous sea journey to Australia. In those twin regards this is a humanitarian policy and one that I am proud to support as a member of the Labor Party.
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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.