Are you a Boer War descendant?

On 31 May 2012, it will be 110 years since the signing of the peace treaty in the Boer War. The National Boer War Association has asked me to let descendants know about the memorial (the picture shows an artist's rendering), and that special 'descendants' and 'in memory' medallions have been struck in honour of veterans.

Anyone who thinks they might be a descendant is encouraged to go to the Ancestor Search function on the Boer War Memorial website, or to contact the National Boer War Memorial Association.
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Dad and Partner Pay

Before parliament rose last Thursday, I spoke in favour of a bill to provide dad and partner pay. In fact, mine was the last speech before parliament rose (with the exception of some guy who trash-talked the economy for half an hour).

Paid Parental Leave and Other Legislation Amendment (Dad and Partner Pay and Other Measures) Bill 2012
10 May 2012

The work we do in this place impacts on people's lives—often far more than we imagine at the time. This bill, the Paid Parental Leave (Dad and Partner and Other Measures) Bill 2012, is one such example. I want to start off by sharing with the House the story of a friend of mine, Damien Hickman, and how he felt about the two weeks leave that he took when his first child arrived. Liesel Grace Hickman arrived on 23 June last year. Damien said: 'I just did not want to be anywhere else. My whole world shrank to this tiny four-kilogram bundle and the three-hourly cycles.' He said: 'It was like nothing I had experienced or could have prepared for. I was placed under this spell. She was the ultimate timewaster. I would just stare at her and half an hour would go by like 30 seconds. To be there for my partner, look after the house and be there as an extra pair of hands and support was pretty special.'

Damien said: 'I wanted to be part of it all. I was Liesel's dad and I wanted to be with, and care for, my little girl. I can still remember how scared I was the first time I gave her a bath. I remember how she would fall asleep on my chest, so small her feet barely made it to my bellybutton.' Damien said that for him the joy of being a dad was being there for all of those firsts; being there with Liesel and Kate was a great privilege. Liesel probably will not remember any of this but it is a memory that Damien will take to his grave.

That is why this legislation is so important: it allows dads and partners to take time off work and be at home to support new mothers in those crucial early days. It builds bonds that will extend to a lifetime of love, encouragement and support for children. It is the kind of encouragement and support that all kids need as they venture into life and face the challenges and opportunities that it presents—opportunities that are the foundation of the ideas and innovations that will inevitably drive a nation's prosperity.

Before outlining the measures in this bill let me share with you why dads being there in the early days is so important to their newborns and partners. Research from children's experts has found that, the more dads are involved right from the start, the better it is for the dad, for the mum and, most importantly, for the baby. Hands-on dads are important in developing social skills, independence, a strong moral sense and intellectual skills. Parenting expert Pam Linke of the children's, youth and women's health service in South Australia says:

When a man holds a baby they get a sense of security that's quite different from a mother's. While Dad's role may be only a supporting one for things like breastfeeding, it's absolutely critical in a baby's development.

Dr Kyle Pruett, clinical professor of psychology at Yale University, says, 'What dads actually do with their kids matters more than how often they do it,' so it is important that every dad gets time in the lead role. Pam Linke's advice is 'let him change nappies', and I can attest to having changed plenty of nappies in my few years as a dad. In fact, studies show that sons who are nurtured by their fathers are more likely to be more hands-on with their own children. Fathers who interact with their daughters reduce the rate of emotional problems in those girls when they reach their teenage years. Dads help daughters, even when they are young, feel competent—an essential prerequisite for self-esteem.

For us politicians, bringing up young children can come with additional risks. It might be apocryphal, but the story goes that the member for North Sydney received a phone call at home from John Howard after one of the elections. The former Prime Minister said, 'What are you doing?' 'Changing nappies,' replied the member for North Sydney. Prime Minister Howard apparently then said, 'I have something similar for you—industrial relations.' As the Work Choices episode shows, the similarity is more than passing.

I have found my own role as a politician and a father to be a constant and at the same time delightful juggling act. There are many challenges and changes with a newborn baby, and it is vital that dads can be there to support the partner and the child; to share the joys of the new baby; to give some respite—some time-out—for the partner to do little things such as take a bath, have a cup of tea and relax in front of the TV; and to share the responsibility for what is, especially to first-time parents, a vulnerable and mysterious creature. Liesel's mum, Kate, told me, 'It was so good to be home together as a family—to see her and Damien just be together. To see her respond to his voice or be fast asleep on his chest was just magical.'

After the 2010 election, Labor made a commitment to give dads the chance to have two weeks off to support new mums at home. The government's historic Paid Parental Leave scheme has now benefited more than 150,000 new mums. Labor's Paid Parental Leave scheme is funded by the government and paid through employers, so employers can stay in touch with their long-term employees while they are taking time off to care for a new baby. That was the approach recommended by the Productivity Commission after their extensive inquiry. It reflects the fact that Paid Parental Leave scheme is a workplace entitlement, not a welfare payment. It is critical that we maintain that link to employment, and it is maintained in Labor's Paid Parental Leave scheme as the Productivity Commission recommended.

Under this bill, eligible fathers and partners will receive two weeks dad-and-partner pay at the same rate per week as paid parental leave is paid, which is currently $590 a week before tax. Dad-and-partner pay will begin on 1 January 2013. The eligibility criteria for dad-and-partner pay—including the income test, the work test and residency requirements—will be consistent with those for parental leave pay. Dad-and-partner pay cannot be transferred to the primary carer; it has a use-it-or-lose-it provision to encourage fathers to take more time off work. It also signals to employers that a father's role in caring for a new baby is important. The government expects that employers will retain their existing parental and paternity leave provisions and continue to set themselves apart as employers of choice for parents. We are working with employers to provide fathers the maximum opportunity to take time off work so that they can be involved in their child's care from an early age. The dad-and-partner payment gives families more options to balance work and family commitments. It is good for dads, it is good for mums and it gives newborns the best possible start in life.

For the last two years, I have held a welcoming-the-babies event, which was originated by the Treasurer in the electorate of Lilley. Welcoming the babies is a chance to recognise Canberra's new parents and for them to meet other parents, connect with community services and find out what is available. For last year's welcoming-the-babies event we had a terrific weather, and around 150 parents and children turned up. They grabbed a coffee or a sausage sandwich, enjoyed the sunshine and chatted to stallholders about playgroups, breastfeeding, maternal health, immunisation, toddler sports and other supports. 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.'

This year we had horrendous rain and Commonwealth Park was closed on the weekend of welcoming the babies, so, in lieu of us having the event outside, around 30 parents and children enjoyed morning tea in my electorate office, shared stories and met with service providers. They all took home a baby pack and a formal certificate. As the saying goes, it takes a village to raise a child, and now dads can stay in the village for another two weeks and enjoy this special time without having to worry about the family finances.

I have a story to share about my own experience of being a new dad. I remember that first hour of my eldest son's life. It was an extraordinary period, because my eldest son was born by caesarean section. For those who have not seen a caesarean section performed, what is most amazing is how quick it is. From the first incision to when the baby comes out is only about seven minutes but then the remainder of the operation takes about an hour. So, as a dad, you then have an hour on your own with the newborn.

I remember being struck by how relaxed and peaceful my son was. I just talked away to Sebastian. I babbled away and started to think about the advice that a father should give a son. I had never given father-son advice before, so after about 10 minutes of babbling, I finally settled on the one thing I wanted most of all: I wanted him to be curious. Five years later the conversation sometimes floats back to me—when he asks questions like: dad, why is the sky blue?—and I wonder whether I should have encouraged him to be quite so curious when he is in his cupboard-opening mode.

Those first weeks are an extraordinarily precious time, and encouraging fathers to spend more time bonding with their sons is a critical thing to do. It is a great privilege to be a dad. It is really important that we as policymakers encourage that bonding. It is good for early childhood and it ensure that dads enjoy that precious time with newborns, because a newborn child is too important, too precious and too loved to miss out on those early weeks with their father.

I commend the bill to the House.

Debate adjourned.

(For ease of reading, I've omitted the three times that the chair had to ask the opposition to quieten down.)
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Superfast Broadband in Canberra

The Chronicle this week has a story about one of the first Canberrans to be connected to the National Broadband Network. You can read it here.
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Charnwood & Kippax Mobile Offices

I'll be out and about with two mobile offices tomorrow morning, and a community forum next Tuesday. Do drop by and say g'day.

Mobile Offices - Saturday 12 May

  • Charnwood Shops (outside Woolworths), 10-11am

  • Kippax Fair (Hardwick Crescent), 11.15am-12.15pm

Community forum -Tuesday 15 May

  • Dickson Quality Hotel (Trevor Scott Room), 6pm

Times don't suit? More events here.
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Meeting with Burmese parliamentarians

This week, I met with a delegation of three Burmese members of parliament, newly elected to represent Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy Party. The photo shows me chatting with MP Phyo Zeya Thaw, who was also a hip-hop artist (in fact, that's what got him into trouble with the regime). I asked Mr Thaw whether the regime had jailed him for his activism. His reply: "Only for 3 years and 3 months." It was a humbling conversation.
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The Prime Minister, Members and Senators meet three Parliamentary Members from the Republic of Miramar in Parliament House Canberra.

Ministers from the Republic of Miramar meet the Prime Minister of Australia, the Hon Julia Gillard MP , 07 May 2012.
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The Prime Minister, Members and Senators meet three Parliamentary Members from the Republic of Miramar in Parliament House Canberra.

Ministers from the Republic of Miramar meet the Prime Minister of Australia, the Hon Julia Gillard MP , 07 May 2012.
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A More Liveable Capital

I welcomed the announcement by the Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, the Hon Anthony Albanese MP that the Gillard Labor Government is providing $500,000 to the ACT Government as part of the Liveable Cities Program to help 'Realise the Capital' in our great city.

The media release is below.





Gillard Government Support Plan for More Liveable Capital

I’m pleased to announce that Canberra will soon be home to an innovative project showcasing the best in urban design, planning and renewal, funded as part of our efforts to make the nation’s major cities more productive, sustainable and liveable.

The Gillard Labor Government is providing $500,000 to the ACT Government for a major planning project to unlock the potential of the city’s CBD and better integrate it with public transport, residential buildings, surrounding parklands  and ANU and CIT campuses.

The Canberra community will be invited to provide input into the masterplan – Realising the Capital in the City - which will become a blueprint to encourage people to visit, live and invest in the CBD.

It will support Walter Burley Griffin’s original vision for Canberra as a highly liveable city where people can participate with ease in its cultural, business and political activities.

The plan will also look at the feasibility of introducing a rapid transit system down Northbourne Avenue and the redevelopment of public housing immediately to the east and north of the CBD.

The ACT Government will work closely with the National Capital Authority to set out clear strategies for investment in the urban quality and amenity of Canberra’s city centre.

From a national perspective, this project is a great example of the kind of cooperation between governments needed to address the big challenges facing our cities such as climate change, a lack of affordable housing, traffic congestion and a growing, ageing population.

That’s why Federal Labor has ended the Commonwealth’s self-imposed, decade long exile from our major cities and is again engaging with the states and territories and local councils to bring about a much needed urban renaissance.

As one of the most urbanised societies on the planet, Australia’s future economic prosperity and social cohesion will depend largely on how successful we are at making our cities more productive, sustainable and liveable.

Realising the Capital in the City ($500,000 in program funding) is being funded as part of the Gillard Government’s Liveable Cities Program.

Federal Member for Fraser, Andrew Leigh, welcomed the announcement.

‘I believe that Canberra is the best city in Australia’, said Dr Leigh. ‘But we should always be thinking about ways of making a great city even better. With Canberra’s centenary coming up in 2013, this major planning project couldn’t be more timely.’
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Trade Training Centres

I spoke in parliament this morning about the new Trade Training Centres at Francis Xavier College and Merici College.
Trade Training Centres, 10 May 2012

The Australian government is establishing Trade Training Centres to help increase the proportion of students achieving year 12 or an equivalent qualification. Since parliament last sat it has been my pleasure to open two sites of an ACT trades training centre. The lead site of the Trade Training Centre is St Mary MacKillop College, and that was opened by the Prime Minister and Minister Garrett on 17 February 2012. It was my pleasure on 26 March to open the site at St Francis Xavier College and on 2 May to open the site at Merici College.

The site at St Francis Xavier College includes a large workshop, a machine room, a covered outdoor workshop and flexible learning areas, and works in with the Canberra Institute of Technology. I acknowledge College Captains Chloe Kelly and Nick Mahony; the Director of Catholic Education, Moira Najdecki; Archbishop Mark Coleridge; CIT's Adrian Marron; and Principal Angus Tulley.

The Merici College site includes a restaurant and a commercial kitchen. I acknowledge Principal Catherine Rey; College Captain Anne Cusack; and Spirituality Captain Danielle Farrell; the school board chair, Graeme Plenderleith; guest speaker, Callum Hann, from the Jamie Oliver cooking skills program; and Monsignor John Woods.

Saints Francis Xavier and Angela Merici were both alive 500 years ago—St Angela Merici, a teacher in Brescia, Italy; and St Francis Xavier, a missionary from Spain who travelled to India, Japan, Borneo and the Moluccas. They never met one another but I think in the stories of both of them we can learn something about the Trade Training Centres today. Like St Francis Xavier, Australian school graduates will travel the world. They will go through different careers and work in different industries, and they need to be ready for the unexpected that accompanies them. But as St Angela Merici so passionately did during her life, they need to be provided with the best quality of education. They need that sustenance that education provides to the soul and to the mind to allow them the flexibility to adapt to a changing environment.

I commend both schools on the work that they have done, in conjunction with the fourth site, St Clare's College in the electorate of Canberra. The work that these schools and the school communities are doing as part of these Trade Training Centres is essential in equipping young Canberrans for a future of change and a future in which they require all the skills that we can equip them with.
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Returning to Surplus, Investing in the Future

I've spoken twice in parliament this week about the economics of the budget and the opposition's problematic costings.
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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.