Marie Colvin & Syria

I spoke last night about the late war correspondent Marie Colvin, and about the ongoing tragedy in Syria.
Marie Colvin and Syria
Adjournment Debate
27 February 2012

Last week, renowned war correspondent Marie Colvin was killed in the Syrian city of Homs. She was killed covering the attacks of the Assad regime on its own people. Throughout her career, Marie Colvin had covered conflicts in the Balkans, Chechnya and Zimbabwe. She had covered the revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. In 2001, covering the conflict between government forces and the rebel Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka, Marie Colvin was struck by shrapnel and lost her left eye. She wore a black eye patch, which became her trademark. After the loss of her eye she wrote about why she covered wars, putting herself in danger. She said that it is important to tell people what is really happening and about humanity in extremes, pushed to the unendurable. She said:

'My job is to bear witness. I have never been interested in knowing what make of plane had just bombed a village or whether the artillery that fired at it was 120 mm or 155 mm.'

In November 2010 she said at a service for war journalists:

'Covering a war means going to places torn by chaos, destruction, and death , and trying to bear witness. It means trying to find the truth in a sandstorm of propaganda when armies, tribes or terrorists clash. And yes, it means taking risks, not just for yourself but often for the people who work closely with you. … We always have to ask ourselves whether the level of risk is worth the story. What is bravery, and what is bravado?'

In 1999 in East Timor, Marie Colvin was credited with saving the lives of hundreds of women and children when she stayed in a UN compound in Dili besieged by Indonesian-backed forces. Refusing to leave, reporting their plight almost hourly to the world, she managed to secure the safety of the East Timorese and was publicly rewarded when they were evacuated safely four days later.

Colleague and Guardian journalist Roy Greenslade said, 'She was the bravest woman I have ever known.' Anthony Loyd of the Times, reflecting on the kind of person Marie Colvin was, wrote:

'Driven? Certainly. Eccentric? Very. But conceited? Never. Her humility made her a rare bird in an aviary renowned for its preening.'

He wrote on her death, 'She was the undisputed standard bearer of our values, a woman whose courage and endeavour singularly advanced the capability of others by providing the benchmark for what we should aspire to.'

He noted that her humour survived intact. Before leaving for Sri Lanka two years ago she said to him: 'If you see a bit of eye lying in the jungle then pick it up. It could be mine!' In response to an erroneous comment on a website congratulating her for returning from Homs safely she wrote, 'I think reports of my survival may be exaggerated.'

One of Marie Colvin's last correspondent reports was this:

'In Baba Amr. Sickening, cannot understand how the world can stand by. Watched a baby die today. Shrapnel, doctors could do nothing. His little tummy just heaved and heaved until he stopped. Feeling helpless … Will keep trying to get out the information'

I spoke in the adjournment debate last June on the issue of Syria. The member for North Sydney spoke in the same debate. I do not think either of us expected we would be here this year still speaking about the bloodshed in Syria. More than 5,000 people have now lost their lives. About 18,000 are estimated to be held in arbitrary detention. Despite the fact that the UN General Assembly has overwhelmingly supported a resolution on the situation in Syria, such a resolution has been blocked in the Security Council. Those states who oppose the resolution—Russia and China—now have a responsibility to make plain what their alternative plans are for ending the bloodshed in Homs, Hama, Damascus and across Syria.

Mr Assad has lost all legitimacy. It is critical that we support the Arab League plan, that we galvanise and coordinate international support for the people of Syria and that we strengthen the voice of the international community for an end to the bloodshed. Australia strongly supports the efforts of the Arab League. We have imposed financial sanctions designed to hold those who have engaged in human rights abuses accountable. We now urge the UN Security Council to support the people of Syria. This cannot go on. We must have a global effort to get rid of the Assad regime, which lost all legitimacy when it began deploying arms against its own people.
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Back to Issues and Ideas

I have an opinion piece in the National Times today on the implications of the leadership challenge for the future direction of the ALP.
Party values must rise to the challenge, National Times, 28 February 2012

When they’re in progress, political leadership challenges are like cyclones: throwing policies into disarray, snapping friendships in an instant, and hurling participants off into the distance.

Yet as history shows us, the morning after a leadership challenge often dawns clear. Gough Whitlam saw off two leadership challenges from Jim Cairns before gaining a large swing in the 1969 election, and going on to win in 1972. After the Coalition’s loss in the 1993 election, some worried that leadership infighting would doom them to irrelevance. Three years later, united around Howard, the Coalition won a crushing victory and 11½ years in office.

Today, the challenge Labor representatives like myself is to quickly move the conversation from personalities and powerplays to inspiration and ideas. Getting caught talking about individuals is bad for any political party – but it’s particularly harmful for the progressive side of politics. Whenever people perceive that we’re only interested in our own jobs, they naturally start to lose trust in politicians. And the less people trust politicians, the less likely they are to believe that government can make the world a better place.

This is why political distrust has a partisan dimension. As Republican President Ronald Reagan famously said, conservatives believe that ‘government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem’. Like Reagan, Tony Abbott has sought to denigrate government at every turn. For Abbott, criticising the National Broadband Network, Trade Training Centres, and the school building program feeds into a larger narrative: that government can’t be trusted to help Australians.

The big ideological contest in Australian politics is not the minor policy differences between Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard, but the yawning chasm that separates Labor from the Coalition. On economics, the Coalition has rejected not only the counter-cyclical fiscal policy of John Maynard Keynes, but also the market-based reforms of free-market economists like Milton Friedman.

Much to my surprise, Labor is now the only party committed to harnessing the power of emissions markets to reduce carbon pollution, and water markets to save the Murray-Darling. Under Mr Abbott, National Party protectionists have become dominant, threatening what was once a bipartisan commitment to open trade, and a bipartisan support of foreign investment as a means to create jobs and raise wages. Perhaps this should not be so surprising, given that Mr Abbott once described the late BA Santamaria as ‘the greatest living Australian’.

When it comes to the size of government, a Coalition government would make 12,000 public servants redundant – around 7 percent of the total. This falls short of US libertarian Ron Paul’s commitment to slash 10 percent of the public service, but not by much. Shadow Treasurer Joe Hockey has flagged the Departments of Climate Change and Health as the first two on the chopping board.

On tax, a Coalition government would raise income taxes rise on ordinary Australians, but cut them for big miners. This isn’t just inequitable; it’s inefficient. Under a profits-based mining tax, the tax bill rises when mineral prices are high, and falls when they’re low.

The Opposition has also given us a clear indication of their priorities. If you’re in the top 1 percent, a Coalition Government would reinstate your private health insurance rebate immediately. But if you’re born with a disability, the Opposition tell us they would only commit to a National Disability Insurance Scheme when fiscal circumstances permit.

With election campaigns increasingly focused around the leader rather than the party, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that individuals matter much less than the party in power. The best evidence of this is a study of unexpected leadership transitions carried out by US economists Ben Jones and Ben Olken. They conclude that in a democracy, there is no economic impact of an unexpected change in leadership. As Tolstoy famously wrote in War and Peace: ‘great men – so called – are but labels serving to give a name to the event’.

As the rapid leadership turnover in NSW Labor’s final term of office demonstrated, progressive parties are poorly served by a frantic search for a Messiah who will lead them out of the wilderness. Each leadership challenge represents a lost chance to talk about jobs, health and education, and acts to sap the public’s confidence in government. That’s why I believe that those of us who are progressive on policy issues should be conservative about leadership changes. And it’s why I’m looking forward to getting the national conversation back to the opportunities of the future.

Andrew Leigh is the federal member for Fraser, and the co-editor (with David Burchell) of The Prince’s New Clothes: Why do Australians Dislike their Politicians? His website is
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ABC News Breakfast - 28 February

Amanda Rishworth and I appeared on the ABC News Breakfast program this morning talking about the resignation of Senator Mark Arbib and the future of the Gillard Government.
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New centre to boost management careers in the ACT

I opened the Australian Institute of Management's new centre on Childers St in the city this evening. A terrific event, and an organisation that's well-placed to play a role across businesses, governments and NGOs in the ACT.

Here's the media release.

Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Science and Research
Leader of the Government in the Senate

Federal Member for Fraser


23 February 2012

New centre to boost management careers in the ACT

ACT students looking for a career in management will be able to access the latest training and technology after the Australian Institute of Management opened the doors to its new campus today.

Member for Fraser, Dr Andrew Leigh, today opened the premises on behalf of Minister for Skills, Senator Chris Evans.

Dr Leigh said with large, customised training rooms, the ACT campus will almost double its annual training capacity, from 2000 to 3800 student days.

“The ACT Campus will make best practice training more accessible to students seeking management careers in business, marketing, human resources and government,” Dr Leigh said.

“The learning experiences and outcomes for students and staff will be greatly improved by state-of-the-art technology, including meeting rooms with digital displays, Wi-Fi, operable walls and hearing assistance.

“The proximity of the new campus to the Australian National University will also help foster close links between the two institutions."

The Australian Government has invested $470,896 in the ACT campus.

“Skilling our population is a major priority for the Gillard Government – we are working closely with industry and training providers like the Australian Institute of Management to ensure we achieve this goal,” Minister for Skills, Senator Chris Evans, said.

“That’s also why we made our $3 billion skills and training package the centrepiece of the 2011–12 Budget.

“Through the package’s National Workforce Development Fund we are investing $558 million over four years in training and workforce development in areas of current and future skills need.

“This is all part of the Government’s commitment to provide highly skilled workers, keep Australians in well-paid jobs and ensure the economy remains strong.”

For more information on the National Workforce Development Fund, please go to
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Fairer School Funding

After a Canberra forum on school funding, I spoke briefly about the recently announced Gonski Review. To read the report and have your say, log onto

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Community Forums and Mobile Offices

A list of some of my community forums and mobile offices for 2012 is below. Other events, forums and mobile offices will be posted here during the year.

Community Forums

  • Wednesday 14 November, Gungahlin Lakes Golf Club, 6-7.30pm

Mobile Offices

  • Saturday 24 November: Gungahlin (Hibberson St, outside Big W) 10-11am, then Dickson (outside Woolworths) 11:15am-12.15pm

Past events

  • Multicultural Festival, City Centre, Saturday 11 February

  • Civic Bus Interchange 8:00am Wednesday 22 February

  • Canberra Show, Exhibition Park, Saturday 25 February

  • Welcoming the Babies, Stage 88, Commonwealth Park, Sunday 4 March

  • Canberra Day , Stage 88, Commonwealth Park, Monday 12 March

  • Charnwood 10:00am/Kippax 11:15am Saturday 12 May

  • Saturday 30 June: Gungahlin (Hibberson St, outside Big W) 10-11am, then Dickson (outside Woolworths) 11:15am-12.15pm

  • Tuesday 27 March 12:30pm, Community Forum at  Belconnen Community Theatre

  • Tuesday 15 May 6:00pm, Community Forum at Dickson Quality Hotel (Trevor Scott Room)

  • Saturday 11 August 10:30 Ginninderra Labor Club

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Mobile office tomorrow

I have a mobile office at the Civic bus interchange tomorrow morning (Wed), from 8-9am. If you'd like to chat about anything from Dickson shops to disability support, do come up and say g'day.
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Have your say on Majura Parkway

The initial stages for the Majura Parkway are now underway and ACT Chief Minister Katy Gallagher and I invite Canberrans to have their say on the proposed design.

Our media release is copied below.
Drop-in session to showcase proposed design of Majura Parkway

ACT Chief Minister Katy Gallagher and Federal Member for Fraser, Andrew Leigh, have invited Canberrans to attend a drop-in information session next week to view the proposed design and alignment of Majura Parkway.

"Drop-in information sessions will be held from 4:00pm to 7:00pm on Thursday 23 and Friday 24 February 2012 at the Ainslie Football Club," Mr Leigh said.

"Project consultant SMEC Australia Pty Ltd, who has been engaged to develop the Forward Design, will present the proposed design plans for Majura Parkway and answer any questions from the community.

"The information session will showcase the road layout, intersection arrangements and locations of the bridges and underpasses along the route.

"Information will also be provided on some of the measures incorporated in the design to help mitigate flooding of the surrounding area as well as decrease traffic noise and the visual impact of the road through the use of bridge screens."

The Chief Minister said feedback provided at the drop-in sessions would be incorporated where possible into the final design.

"The two drop-in information sessions complement a series of stakeholder consultation meetings that have been held in recent months with rural leaseholders, businesses and other users of this part of Majura Valley," the Chief Minister said.

"Completion of the final design will result in a formal Development Application being lodged with the ACT Planning and Land Authority in March. A construction contract is planned to be let mid-year with construction works commencing late-2012.

"Jointly funded in 2011-12 by the Commonwealth and ACT governments, the Majura Parkway is a $288 million investment in our regional transport network and is the single largest road infrastructure investment ever made in the ACT.

"I encourage all interested people to drop in to one of the public information sessions on Thursday or Friday to learn more about this exciting transport infrastructure project," the Chief Minister concluded.

For more information about the Majura Parkway project visit
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I spoke in parliament yesterday about the benefits of e-health; telling the story through the prism of 80 year-old Canberran Pat Douglass.
Personally Controlled Electronic Health Records Bill 2011
16 February 2012

On 14 December last year, I had the honour of assisting Pat Douglass to sign up to Calvary eHealth as the first patient in the ACT and southern New South Wales. It was a delight to meet Pat Douglass. She is 80, still living independently, a bright person and a wonderful contributor to the north Canberra community. Mrs Douglass had a fall in the street near her home and acquired a brain injury. Her experience of her care and her health records demonstrate why e-health is such an important development. Mrs Douglass was confined to hospital for 10 weeks. After undergoing rehabilitation she returned home, but none of her regular doctors knew that she had been in hospital. None of her doctors knew about her injury or how she had been progressing. Similarly, the hospital was unaware of Mrs Douglass' regular health requirements. Any information on normal medicines or routine check-ups that Mrs Douglass might have required during her time in hospital was not available to the doctors at Calvary.

Mrs Douglass told me that she thought it was a bit ridiculous that none of her doctors could share information about her previous conditions or about her current conditions. It all seemed, to her, to be unnecessarily complex. I could not but agree. Mrs Douglass wanted all of her doctors who look after different aspects of her health to be fully informed. They can be fully informed by being connected to one another through e-health records. I am delighted to host in my electorate of Fraser one of the 12 national projects that are pretesting elements of the personally controlled electronic health record system. I personally was so impressed with the set-up that I became the third person to sign up for Calvary eHealth, just after Mrs Douglass and Calvary CEO, Ray Dennis, who also took the opportunity to sign up at the launch in December. I am a great fan of technology. For the time it was in existence I signed up to the Google Health electronic health system. In principle, that was a great idea. But, as Google learned, you need a consistent system and one which is common across patients and doctors. I am excited by e-health and I am also, in general, excited by the possibilities of technology for our healthcare system. The National Broadband Network will improve access to medical specialists, particularly in rural and regional Australia. That will mean people will get better quicker. It will mean that rural and remote communities will have access to better medical care than they did before the NBN. That is a productivity benefit. That is people getting healthier and getting back to work or whatever they were doing before they fell ill.

E-health records are a great example of how technology can improve health care. It is an easy way for people to be on top of all their health requirements and an easy way for patients to enable their doctors and allied health professionals to share information. Your GP will be able to know what your dietician has recommended. Your chiropractor and physiotherapist will understand the different types of treatments you are undertaking. You will not need to explain your allergies, medicines and immunisations every time you see a different doctor.

E-health records will not contain every single detail but they will contain information people need to be shared between their health providers. A Calvary eHealth record contains the following: a shared health summary, including basic information such as name, date of birth, address, contact details, allergies, immunisations and the medicines the patient is currently taking; a summary of each consultation; medical conditions; referrals; specialist letters; discharge summaries following hospital admissions; diagnostic reports, such as X-ray results; and shared care plans agreed between GPs and participating healthcare professionals.

Looking after the wellbeing of Australians through a terrific health system is what the Labor Party does. This is, after all, the party that created Medicare. Because this government cares about the issues that matter most to Australian families we are implementing e-health. That means that when a member of a family becomes ill they can get the help they need from their local hospital, irrespective of their circumstances or location. It is not going to matter anymore if you are out travelling when you fall ill; your e-health record will be there with you. We are continuing today to make health care more accessible and more affordable, ensuring our modern healthcare system upholds the great Labor traditions of equity, fairness and dignity. The Labor Party is the party of reform, and this is as true in the area of health care as anywhere.

E-health records are particularly important for a number of disadvantaged groups. They are important for young adults who have moved away from home and are finding a new GP. They are important for older Australians, because we tend to have more complex health needs the older we get. They are important to people with lower levels of literacy, who might have more difficulty relaying information provided by one health provider to another.

My electorate is younger than the average Australian electorate. The median age in my electorate is just 33. That is because, in large part, many young people move to Canberra to take advantage of the excellent educational and career opportunities this city has to offer. That also means that many of those young people have moved away from their normal health provider. E-health records will enable them to have their previous GP share the information with their new GP.

Older Australians, as was so well illustrated by the case of Mrs Pat Douglass, might be seeing a gerontologist as well as a GP and a chiropractor or other allied health professionals. They might have a fall and end up in hospital. E-health records will help older Australians to better manage the flow of information between their existing health providers to ensure that nothing gets missed. It will also mean that health professionals are aware of exactly what medications people are taking and will mean there is no mistake in prescriptions where a patient is mistakenly prescribed medications that cannot be taken together.

For Australians who struggle with literacy, there will be less of a need to fill in complex and confusing forms every time they see a new health professional. Instead, they will be able to let their health professionals see the information in their health record and share their medical history without needing to recall complex details. In fact, e-health records will be of benefit right across the Australian community.

I have two young and energetic boys. They always seem to be either catching lurgies or falling off things, so I have spent far too much time over recent years sitting in hospital emergency departments or paediatric wards. If it happens interstate, it is enormously frustrating to have to retell a child's medical history, fill out the same forms again and go back through the same family history that you have gone through with another doctor.

Economists know that sometimes the simplest reforms are the most effective. I have spoken before in this place about the reforms to encourage doctors to wash their hands and the many lives that saved in public hospitals. Similarly, the simple answer of sharing information between medical practitioners will lead to better health care.

I am told that 190,000 hospital admissions each year are due to medication errors. Better sharing of information about current medicines will reduce these sorts of unnecessary admissions, freeing up doctors and emergency rooms for other life-threatening occurrences. Better information sharing can also lead to reduced time and cost spent addressing avoidable medical errors or avoidable degradation of chronic conditions. As demonstrated by the example of Mrs Pat Douglass earlier, Calvary hospital was unaware that Mrs Douglass was taking additional medications and needed to see her specialist during that time. If Mrs Douglass had had an e-health record, all that information would have been available to her doctors. Economists hate waste and duplication. If our health system is sharing more information, we are reducing the amount of time and money spent on unnecessary and duplicated procedures such as diagnostic testing. Put simply, patients will spend less time explaining and more time getting the care they need from their health professionals.

E-health records are also a great development for patients as consumers. It is an opt-in system—I repeat that for the member for Paterson: it is an opt-in system—and that means no-one will be forced to have an e-health record. Opt-in is important for privacy and important for making sure patients understand what they are signing up for.

By making the health records personally controlled and managed by the patients, we are giving power to consumers. Consumers are the ones who will be able to take better management of their own health and will be able to decide whether they show their information to family members and what they do to reduce avoidable adverse events.

We are getting patients to make better informed decisions about their health care and the access to their health records. Patients can also give family members permission to access and share their health records as necessary. Going back to Mrs Douglass: she might have allowed her children to share her information in the event of an adverse health occurrence such as her fall.

This is a great development, but it is a reform that only the Labor Party is brave enough to commit to. The Labor Party is the party of reform and development. We are the party of health reform. We are also the party of equity, making sure that the most disadvantaged in our community are able to access all of the developments technology has to offer. That is true in our rolling out of the National Broadband Network to all Australians and it is true in our providing all Australians with the opportunity to have an electronic health record. This reform is proudly in the Labor tradition.

I would like to take the opportunity here to make a point on a related issue on health. On ABC TV's Q&A program last week, the member for North Sydney mentioned the employees of the Department of Health and Ageing as an example of some of the 12,000 public servants he would like to make redundant if Tony Abbott were to become Prime Minister. The concept of e-health records, and the legislation we are debating now, would not be possible without the hard work of public servants from the Department of Health and Ageing using their knowledge and expertise to come up with a system that is appropriate for the Australian context. Making sure the right privacy controls are in place is the responsibility of those public servants. Monitoring the testing sites and seeing where we can make improvements is the responsibility of those public servants.

Those opposite have said they are going to support this legislation, but apparently they think you can have e-health without a department of health. It does not make much sense to me. The member for North Sydney thinks that, just because there might be no patients taken care of by the department of health directly, the people in the department of health are not performing important work. But it is only through their expertise and their willingness to drive reform that we are able to get health reforms that will save money, save time and produce better health care.

Important health reform and agreements between the Commonwealth, the states and the territories are only possible thanks to the highly experienced public servants who administer these programs and this funding. Many of the public servants performing this work live in my great electorate of Fraser, and I know how hard they work and how devastating it would be for the broader Canberra economy if the coalition were to come to office and make 12,000 Canberra public servants redundant. We saw in 1996 and1997 what happened when the Howard government came to office, when the Public Service was slashed and burnt to a much greater extent than had been anticipated by John Howard when he was Leader of the Opposition.

I commend the bill to the House. E-health is an important reform for Australia's future, and maintaining a strong Public Service will ensure that e-health becomes a reality.
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Sky AM Agenda - 16 February

I was on Sky's AM Agenda program this morning with Kelly O'Dwyer and hosted by Kieran Gilbert. Topics discussed today included contrasting the Labor Party's strong record on economic and productivity with the Liberal Party's plans to cut wages and conditions. We also talked about the Prime Minister's statement on Closing the Gap.
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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.