ABC Digital Trial

Good news for Canberrans on the cutting edge of radio technology: the ABC has just announced that it'll be participating in the trial of digital radio in our city. I've been encouraging them to jump on board, so am delighted to see that they've joined the stations already participating.
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Hearing Awareness Week

The ACT Deafness Resource Centre remind me that they're holding a 'Hearing Awareness Week' expo in the Hellenic Club, Phillip on Wed 24 August, featuring information and free hearing checks. More information here.
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Sky AM Agenda on 1 August


Good morning and welcome to AM Agenda. With me now is the Labor MP Andrew Leigh and Liberal frontbencher Senator Mitch Fifield. Good morning to you both. I want to start with Andrew, on this issue of the South Australian premier being tapped on the shoulder. Another example of the faceless men telling the elected Parliamentarians who should be leader.


Well Kieran this is obviously a matter for the South Australian Labor Party – that Parliamentary team and Mike Rann will make a decision about what they think is best for South Australia. But I think the important thing to remember here is that Mitch is going to tell all kinds of stories about politics and political games and so on. We’re not focussed on that. We’re focussed on actually delivering outcomes, getting good policy result. It’s not clear to me that the modern Liberal Party has had a good policy suggestion since Malcolm Turnbull was last leader. Whereas at the same time, you’ve got Labor focussed on climate change, on building better schools, on improving our hospitals – those long-term important reforms.


Andrew it’s not a good look for the Labor brand, is it? To have another group – a union leader, the treasurer of South Australia going to the incumbent – someone who’s been in the job for nine years, as Premier, 17 years as the Labor leader – and saying ‘OK, shuffle on.’


Kieran these aren’t decisions for me, these are decisions my South Australian Labor colleagues will make...


But it’s a bad look, isn’t it, for the Labor brand? Because there’s already a perception out there that this is what Labor does to its leaders.


Look leadership are never clean things on any side of politics. My South Australian colleagues will make this decision, but the important thing that we’re doing at a federal level is focussing on those long-term reforms. Looking at the long-game, looking at the big reforms that will make a difference to Australia.


Senator Fifield, some of those sources from South Australia have apparently suggested that they were worried that Mike Rann was going to ‘do a Howard,’ referring to your former leader. So the Liberal Party doesn’t really have the greatest track record, certainly not at the federal level, of managing these transitions either.


Look I don’t think there’s ever been a head of government who has looked for an opportunity to leave office. They tend to like to stay for as long as they possibly can. But Labor is making the same mistake in South Australia that they’ve made federally. It doesn’t matter whether it’s Mike Rann or Jay Weatherill as leader at state level, or federally whether it’s Kevin Rudd, Simon Crean, Julia Gillard, Stephen Smith or anyone else. Changing leaders won’t solve the problem that Labor has. Labor’s problem is bad policy. What they need to do is change their policies. Whether it be state or federal, they need to start focussing on cost of living issues. We’ve heard today that there will be $200 million extra which Australians will have to pay simply to take their rubbish to the tip as a result of the carbon tax. The problem isn’t so much leaders, it’s policy. Labor are foisting policies on the Australian public that they don’t want. They’re foisting policies on the public which will increase cost of living pressures. What Labor need to do is to start putting themselves in the shoes of the average Australian. They’re struggling. They need to change tack.


We’ll get onto the carbon tax a bit later in a bit more detail. Andrew Leigh I want to ask you, though, about the first boat arrival under the Malaysia deal. There are still uncertainties around this. The accommodation arrangements -  apparently there’s some delay there which could cause a blowout in the time for processing the first group of asylum seekers to arrive since the deal was finalised. Also the immigration officials telling us that it could take longer for the first group as they get the mechanics in place. Why has the Government not been able to be a bit firmer on this? It’s been months in the making and still we hear delay after delay.


Well Kieran everything you do takes a little longer the first time. But it’s important to remember that this is a historic regional agreement. It stems from the Bali process in March, where countries throughout the region agreed that we have a global problem – 43 million internally displaced people, 15 million refugees around the world. So we’ve got to find a regional solution to a global problem, and that’s what this is about. We’re taking an extra 4000 refugees, boosting that humanitarian intake by the biggest amount since the early 1990s. I’m extremely proud of that. And we’re sending a clear message to people smugglers, saying, ‘if you come to Australia, if you put people on boats to Australia, then they will go back to Malaysia.’ And we’re doing that because we don’t want to see infants and kids injured.


We’ve got a comment of the Prime Minister – she was asked about this issue this morning on the ABC.

JULIA GILLARD (file footage):

There will be pre-assessment procedures. Then there will be returns to Malaysia. We are in the first phase of this – this is the first boat. So those returns will take some time. When the system is up and in full operation those returns will happen in 72 hours.


There’s nothing to say, though, that this is going to stop the boats just yet. If you look at the signs initially, they’re not good, are they? 54 people have arrived, the quotas 800. What happens when you hit 800? You’re back to square one.


Well Kieran, our hope is that we don’t get 800. We’re sending a very clear signal throughout the region – don’t come to Australia. If you put children on a boat to Australia as we saw with the Christmas Island tragedy – there was the death of a two-month-old infant in that tragedy – we’re trying to ensure that people smugglers do not send vulnerable people to Australia. That’s a humanitarian message we’re getting out there, as long as with the humanitarian message that Australia can be generous. We can take another 4000 refugees.


Senator Fifield, this plan is in its early stages. As I mentioned, 54 people have arrived on this first boat, but the numbers do seem to be down on last year, and that’s even before the Government had finalised the deal. So the Coalition might have egg on its face if the boats do slow and indeed stop?


This policy is already a fizzer. Since it was first announced, there have been 621 arrivals. We’ve got the boat in addition that’s arrived overnight. This policy isn’t working, and apart from its efficacy, this is bad policy. Labor always said that they wouldn’t embrace any solution that didn’t have the sign off from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. This policy does not have that sign off. We’ve said all along that the solution is to adopt the policies that we had when we were in office which stopped the boats. Pick up the phone to the President of Nauru. Set up the processing centre in Nauru. Reintroduce temporary protection visas. These are the solutions. They’ve worked before. They’d work again. It’s pride that is preventing this Government from introducing those policies. We’ve heard time and again the Government say that they want to break the people smugglers’ business model. Well, the business model that the people smugglers have is a direct result of the policies of this Government. They have given the people smugglers the product which they have been selling. The way to stop the boats is to reintroduce the policies of the Howard Government.


Andrew Leigh, for years the Labor Party was critical of the Coalition for being too tough, too hard. Yet now you’re putting in what is arguably an even tougher policy. This could get messy, couldn’t it? If the AFP is forced to push people onto planes if they say they don’t want to get on and the AFP has to use force. This could all get very, very ugly.


Kieran, this isn’t a voluntary return arrangement, it is true that people will be compulsorily returned, but I have confidence in the AFP doing their job. They have great expertise in doing things with an absolute minimum of fuss. But it’s important to recognise what this is. This is groundbreaking policy, working with the UNHCR who have said that if this is successful, this regional model could well be a model for other regions in the world. To pretend that asylum seekers are a specifically Australian problem is just missing the big picture here.


OK let’s move onto another issue – David Cameron endorsing the Government’s carbon price at the weekend. He described it as a bold move, Senator Fifield, adding momentum to world efforts. This is a fellow conservative; this is the Tory Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. That’s a bit embarrassing for the conservatives in Australia, is it not?


I’m much more concerned about what the Australian public thinks than I am about foreign heads of Government. Sure, there’s always a bit of backslapping between heads of government in Western democracies. But I think what Julia Gillard should be focussed on much more is what the Australian public are telling her, and what they’re saying is that they don’t want to pay more for their goods. They don’t want to pay more for electricity. Sure, we can talk about David Cameron – I’ll raise you a John Della Bosca and a Morris Iemma. Two Labor figures, two substantial Labor figures, who actually care about jobs for Australians, who actually care about cost of living pressures. I think Julia Gillard should be paying far more heed to those people, those sensible people in her own party than she is to foreign leaders.


Do you respect the opinion of David Cameron, the Tory Prime Minister?


David Cameron is responsible to the voters of Great Britain and the Parliament of Great Britain. What he does is a matter for him. But we, as Members of the Australian Parliament, are responsible to the Australian Parliament and the Australian public. That’s what I’m concerned about – their cost of living pressures, their standard of living – and that’s what Julia Gillard should be concerned about too.


Let’s hear the Prime Minister’s comment on David Cameron’s weekend endorsement.

JULIA GILLARD (file footage):

Looking at the letter from the UK Prime Minister, it’s another piece of evidence in a mountain pile as high as Mount Everest that nations around the world are acting and we can’t afford to be left behind.


Andrew Leigh, the Opposition Leader has described this as Labor embracing a bit of cultural cringe. He says he has a great respect for Britain but I don’t think everything being done in Britain should necessarily be slavishly copied here in Australia. That’s fair enough isn’t it?


Kieran, there are two kinds of conservatives around the world. There are the kinds that are concerned – that believe in markets, that believe in the power of price signals. That’s the British, that’s the New Zealand conservatives and it was John Howard when he was last in office. And then you have the opportunitists – that’s the Tea Party Republicans at the moment willing to let the US renege on its debt and its Tony Abbott who hasn’t come up with a serious policy idea and has walked away from what scientists and economists have clearly told us, that a price on carbon is the best way of dealing with this problem.


Well Tony Abbott has gone on a holiday. This was, Senator Fifield, after he accused the Prime Minister of not wearing out her shoe leather just last week. The timing – obviously everyone is entitled to a holiday, Mr Abbott has certainly earned that right – but the timing is not the best is it? After last week having a go at the Prime Minister for hiding, now he’s gone off to Europe.


Well I don’t think anyone can accuse Tony Abbott of hiding. He has been in all parts of the country, putting the case against the carbon tax. I can’t remember a federal parliamentary leader who has been as accessible as Tony or who has been as ceaseless as Tony. I think he’s entitled to have a short holiday with his family. Good luck to him.


Yes, he’s certainly earned it, hasn’t he Andrew?


Look Kieran I don’t speak on people’s holidays, but Tony Abbott has certainly not been accessible. Without being on a Liberal Party members’ special email list, you didn’t get an invite to one of his forums. He’s been going around spreading mistruths. Firstly suggesting that petrol would rise, and then suggesting rampant price rising elsewhere. We know in fact that the price rise will be 0.7%, that’s a third of the impact of the GST. These are going to be very modest price impacts, and 9 out of 10 households will receive assistance. This is an important reform and the great thing about markets is you can do it slowly, you allow the transitions to move through the economy. This used to be bipartisan in Australia. Both sides of Australian politics used to believe in the power of markets. Floating the dollar, liberalising the trade system, enterprise bargaining, all of these are reforms that were supported by both sides of politics. And pricing carbon used to be one of those market based reforms….


Senator Fifield just one last question on an area of your responsibility. The $6 billion National Disability Insurance Scheme – apparently it’s going to be trialled in Victoria. Do you welcome the progress on this?


The Productivity Commission are due to report today, to hand that very important Review to the Government. There is no doubt that the system of support for Australians with disability is broken. It’s a frayed patchwork. Australians with disability and their families do deserve a much better deal. The Government needs to release this report immediately. They do have, sadly, a bit of a track record of sitting on Productivity Commission Reports. They’re still sitting on the Aged Care Report. They need to release this Report today so that we can consider it, and also so that the Australian community can consider it. There is a better deal that is needed for Australians with disability and this is an important step along that road.


Senator Mitch Fifield thank you for that. And Andrew Leigh, appreciate it.

(Thanks to MF for transcribing.)
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Opening the Belco Bowl

With Chris Bourke MLA, I opened the revamped Belconnen Skate Park (aka 'Belco Bowl') today - a splendid facility for skaters and BMX riders that was partly funded by federal money under the stimulus program. It's located on the edge of Lake Ginninderra, which I argued can remind skaters that their sport started when Californian surfers looked out at flat waves, and decided they had to invent another sport.

The original Belco Bowl was opened in the early-1980s, only a few years after the invention of the 'ollie'. I'm told that the revamp makes this the largest skate park in the southern hemisphere. It'll be a great place for skaters to make friends, try new tricks, and enjoy the great view across the lake.

Below is a video and the press release that Chris and I put out.


Federal Member for Fraser, Andrew Leigh MP, and Member for Ginninderra, Dr Chris Bourke MLA, today officially opened the completed $4.2 million skate park in Belconnen providing the local community with a new state-of-the-art recreation facility.

As a joint initiative, the project received funding of $2 million from the Australian Government and $2.2 million from the ACT Government.

“I am pleased to be here today to celebrate the official opening of the Belconnen Skate Park and Eastern Valley Way Inlet upgrades,” Mr Leigh said.

“This project has restored the “Belco Bowl” to its former glory and rebuilt the park into a high quality facility that meets contemporary international skate-boarding and BMX standards.”

The new skate park design has retained the existing ‘Belco Bowl’ that is famous to local, national and international skaters.  The upgrade also includes a new street skate plaza with a mix of sculptural obstacles, a flow area/snake run, a mini ramp, a large shelter, seating, new lighting and viewing areas for family and friends.

Dr Bourke said the facility has the direct benefit of improving the skate park, but had the flow on effect of also improving the immediate surrounding area.

“This project has not only delivered a refurbished, state-of-the-art facility for skateboarders and BMX riders but also includes improvements to the adjacent foreshore area, creating an attractive recreation spot for the residents of Belconnen,” Dr Bourke said.

To celebrate the reopening of the refurbished skate park today, members of the Canberra Skateboard Association and BMX community held a series of informal competitions and demonstrations to showcase the new facilities.

“The reopening of the skate park completed one of two stages of work which included the skate park and the immediate public realm. The second stage of works includes the establishment of wetlands within the Eastern Valley Way Inlet, boardwalks, a new bridge, toilet block and refurbishment of the promenade area adjacent to the inlet.

“The skate park is part of a wider foreshore redevelopment that will see the Lake Ginninderra Foreshore refreshed in the coming years with new shaded areas, drinking fountains, boardwalk and paths for cyclists. New lighting will ensure the skate park and surrounding area can be enjoyed in greater safety and with greater confidence by Belconnen residents for more hours of the day.

“The ACT Government has provided a further $4.52 million over the next two years for Stage 2 works and construction is expected to commence in early 2012.”
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Hockey Confirms 12,000 Canberra Jobs to Go

On ABC Q&A last night, Shadow Treasurer Joe Hockey confirmed that Canberra is on his hit-list if the Coalition ever wins government, with 12,000 jobs to go.
TONY JONES: Well, would you be disbanding this department if it's a department that puts out false figures for political reasons? I mean, you are talking about getting rid of 12,000 civil servants.

JOE HOCKEY: Yeah. Well the Department of Climate Change will be pretty high up the list for very close scrutiny.

TONY JONES: You mean, you'll be thinking of disbanding it.


So much for Liberal Party claims recently that they would only get rid of 12,000 public servants by 'natural attrition'.
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Mobile Offices and Community Forums

Mobile Offices

I'll be holding a mobile office on Hibberson Street in Gungahlin next Saturday (6 August) from 9-10am. Do come along if there are local or national issues you'd like to raise in person with me.

Community Forums

Also, I'll be hosting a Youth Climate Change Forum next Tuesday. I will give a short outline of the key features of the Gillard Government’s clean energy future plan, answer questions that you might have about the clean energy future plan, and discuss how we can work together to achieve this historic reform.

The details are:
Tuesday 9 August
Manning Clark Centre Theatre 2
Australian National University
RSVP: Andrew.Leigh.MP <@>

All welcome - young, and young at heart.

Finally, I'll be holding another community forum on climate change in Dickson.
Sat 27 August
Majura Community Hall
Rosevear Pl
RSVP: Andrew.Leigh.MP <@>
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When Mozart was my age, he had been dead for four years

Having entered the world 39 years ago, I now begin my 40th year. Which made me feel rather old until I realised that if Alfred Deakin were alive, he'd be celebrating his 155th birthday today.

There are also some rather likeable features about 39, such as the fact that it's the sum of the first three powers of 3 (31+32+33). Does this mean I should be doing things in triplicate this year?
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Same-Sex Marriage

The ACT Labor Party conference today debated a motion (moved by Natasha Shahidullah and Andrew Barr) that advocated a change to include same-sex couples in the definition of marriage. I spoke in favour of the change.
Same-Sex Marriage
ALP ACT Conference, 30 July 2011

Few moments in life are so powerful, so emotionally charged, that they transcend the individual and connect us all.

  • The birth of a child;

  • Saying and being told I love you;

  • And for those of us who are married – our wedding day.

A day so special that we name anniversaries silver, gold and diamond.

Marriage should be recognised and registered by law, regardless of the sexual orientation, or gender of the couple wanting to be married.

Same sex marriage is not about gay versus straight, conservative versus progressive, left versus right.

It is about social justice, equality for individuals, the recognition and protection of fundamental political and civil rights.

It is a Labor issue.

Our values make our party great. These have guided us for 120 years and should guide us on this issue.

We are a party of leadership. It is we who place a premium on treating people with dignity, decency, without discrimination.

In our heartland, our members, our voters watch Ellen DeGeneres and Erik van der Woodsen, Matt Lucas and John Barrowman, Jodie Foster and Stephen Fry; we listen to Elton John and KD Lang. Equality for same-sex couples is not unfamiliar to everyday Australians.

I understand and respect those who argue that marriage should remain a union between a man and a women. I have met with them in my electorate office and at my mobile offices. I have heard their views and their stories. They say that marriage is about the protection of the reproductive relationship and, as much as possible, giving children the opportunity to be reared by their biological parents within their natural family.

As a father of two, I absolutely understand the devotion to providing a caring, nurturing, loving and safe environment for children. But what I cannot understand is how my sexuality in some way gives me the right to marry because I am a better father than same sex parents.

The ACT has already led the way in recognising same-sex relationships.

Motions for marriage equality have already been passed at the Tasmanian, Victoria, Northern Territory, South Australian, Queensland and Western Australian conferences.

I am hoping we can add the ACT to that list.

A young woman named Natasha recently wrote to me:

‘I have wonderful dreams for my friends. I hope they will experience a loving life. But most of all I want them to have the freedom to pursue their own happiness. Marriage equality is a part of this’.

I have been told countless stories of the impact that discrimination has had on same-sex couples. These stories shock and appal me.

Same-sex couples ask for our support in having their love treated equally. I joined the Labor Party because I believe in equality. I am proud to support this motion.

I'm particularly grateful to Damien Hickman for his work on the speech.
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Good Tory, Bad Tory

The debt ceiling crisis in the US really is quite extraordinary to behold. For decades, the US Congress has raised the debt ceiling as required. After all, the debt ceiling is just the natural consequence of a set of political tax and spend decisions, so in some sense it's odd that it even requires separate legislation. As recently as late last year, most reasonable observers thought there was no chance that Congress would vote against raising the debt ceiling.

But the US Republican Party no longer does reasonable. Following the Tea Party takeover, House Republicans have now now decided that they would prefer to trash America's credit rating (and thereby push up interest rates for millions of Americans) rather than accept any increase in taxes for high-income Americans.

The question is: how do mainstream commentators react when one party moves sharply to the extreme? As Paul Krugman's column and blog have recently noted, the overwhelming tendency among most political observers has been to maintain a standard he-said, she-said approach. So it's easy for the casual watcher to miss the big story: the US Republicans are fast abandoning any semblance of a market-driven party, and are now willing to do or say just about anything for political gain.

The contrast with parties like the UK Conservatives and New Zealand National Party is palpable. I don't agree with some of what those parties are doing, but at least it's possible to discern a clear ideological compass in their decisions, many of which continue to be pro-market (eg. both countries' adoption of emissions trading schemes).

As for Australia, it's now pretty clear where Tony Abbott takes his lead. Having abandoned his party's belief in using markets to deal with climate change, walked away from a set of fuel tax reforms first put in place by Peter Costello in 2003, and used any chance he gets to attack the scientific consensus over climate change, Abbott is firmly placing himself in the US Republican mould. The question is: will the Coalition's rejection of mainstream economics in favour of populist politics get written up for what it is? Or will commentators miss the critical shift (that one political party has taken a huge leap to the intransigent right) and focus instead on what Krugman describes as 'the centrist cop-out'?
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Gould's Books

I spoke in parliament recently about the passing of bookseller and social activist Bob Gould. I wouldn't normally use this website to promote a business, but his daughter Natalie Gould wrote to say that she is trying to ensure that Gould's Books survives, and is running a 50% off sale until 14 Aug. So if you're strolling along King St Newtown, do drop in.
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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.