Politics and Parenthood

My Chronicle column this month is on politics and parenthood.
Politics and Parenthood
The Chronicle, February 2012

Canberra FM recently had parents phone in with their favourite parenting disaster stories. A woman told of the time that she was rushing her two children out of the house to get to swim school. Wanting to assist, her 2 year-old shouted out ‘I’ll get towel’. When swim class finished, the discovery was made that ‘getting the towel’ meant helpfully stuffing the swimming bag with paper towel.

The story illustrates the fact that parenting is both more painful and delightful than you expect. When babies wake half a dozen times a night, you quickly realise why sleep deprivation is such a powerful form of torture. As they snuggle close to your chest on a winter night, the bond is so close that you realise there’s nothing you wouldn’t do for this little person.

For my own part, being a father to two young boys has shaped me as a politician. As an article in the Economist put it: ‘Daily exposure to innocence matters. Parenthood can lead to smugness, but also humility. All parents soon realise how much of child-rearing is improvisation, tempered by exhaustion ... The world looks at once kindlier and more fragile with small children in it, and essentially optimistic.’

Plenty of lessons of child-rearing translate well to modern politics. My staffer Damien Hickman likens the media cycle to the feeding cycle. You may prepare a gourmet feast, but don’t expect it to look like that when it comes out the other end.

As the parenting experts remind us, children can’t always control outcomes. Instead, they have control over three key variables: how much effort they put in, whether they learn from experiences, and how they respond to mistakes. So if you’re giving feedback to children, focus on building resilience, not punishing inadvertent errors. (Not bad advice for dealing with pollies, too.)

To recognise Canberra’s new parents, I’m holding an event called ‘Welcoming the Babies’. It’s a chance to meet other parents, connect with community services, and find out what’s available for new parents.

At last year’s event, around 150 parents and children joined us in Commonwealth Park, grabbed a coffee and a sausage sandwich, and enjoyed the sunshine while chatting to stallholders about playgroups, breastfeeding, maternal health, immunisation, toddler sports and social support. 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.’

If you know someone with a young bub, please encourage them to come along to this year’s Welcoming the Babies. All attendees will receive a Baby Pack including a formal certificate. As the saying goes, it takes a village to raise a child – so let’s help welcome our newest Canberrans.

Andrew Leigh is the federal member for Fraser, and his website is www.andrewleigh.com. Welcoming the Babies will be held at Stage 88, Commonwealth Park, 10.30am-12.30pm on Sunday 4 March. To register, email Andrew.Leigh.MP<>aph.gov.au.
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Fairer Healthcare

I spoke today in favour of legislation to means-test the private health insurance rebate.

Fairer Private Health Insurance Incentives Bill 2011
9 Feb 2012

I extend my thanks to you, Deputy Speaker, for taking the chair to permit me to participate in this debate. The Fairer Private Health Insurance Incentives Bill 2011 is about fairness. It is about striking the right balance in how we spend our public dollars. So often in public life we campaign in ‘and’. We speak about all the good things that government can do—and it is true that the potential of government to do good things is great—but ultimately we have to face trade-offs. Governing is really more about questions of 'or' than questions of 'and'. You see that very much with the coalition at the moment, mired in their $70 billion black hole—the equivalent of stopping Medicare for four years or the pension for two years—simply because they have been unable to make the hard choices. But we are making the hard choices, and one of those is to recognise that money that currently goes into subsidising higher income Australians to take up private health insurance could be better spent in the Australian government system, including on important healthcare measures.

Those opposite want you to think that the Government is against private health insurance. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is another part of the opposition's ongoing scare campaign to suggest that the government is against private provision of health, much as the opposition often suggest we are against the private provision of education. It is not true at all. The private health system is an important part of the Australian healthcare system. But with this bill we are recognising that the government need not subsidise the private health care of millionaires. It is not vital to a millionaire that they receive a 30 per cent private health insurance rebate in order for them to take up private health insurance. The first people to take up private health insurance were millionaires. Those millionaires will have that private health insurance when their 30 per cent rebate is not there. That is true even as we move down the income scale. We have strong evidence that the take-up of private health insurance did not increase markedly when the 30 per cent private health insurance rebate was put in. In fact, the policy change that substantially increased the take-up of private health insurance was the Lifetime Health Cover reform. Lifetime Health Cover had a much bigger impact on the take-up of private health insurance than did the 30 per cent rebate.

In putting in place this fair and equitable reform to the health system, Labor are doing as we always do, ensuring that Australia's healthcare system looks after the most disadvantaged in the community. It was us that introduced Medibank under the Whitlam government in 1975 and it was us that rebuilt that system into Medicare under the Hawke government in 1983-84, after the original Medibank had been trashed by the Fraser government. We believe in making sure that all Australians receive high-quality health care. Too often those opposite appear to be taking their cues from their colleagues in the United States, from US Republicans willing to laugh at low-income Americans who do not have health coverage. But that is not the Labor way. We believe that we need to have a healthcare system that recognises that good quality health care is about making sure that that people can participate in society. If you do not have good quality health care, you are unlikely to be able to hold down a job and you are unlikely to be able to participate fully in the social life of the community. So health care is, like education, a critical underpinning of a fair society.

Under this bill, the private health insurance rebate for low- and middle-income earners will remain unchanged. Higher income earners will receive a reduced rebate. As income increases, the private health insurance rebate will progressively fall. This will ensure savings to the government of $2.4 billion over the three years 2012-13 to 2014-15 and it will provide a fairer distribution of the benefits of the healthcare system.

My own electorate of Fraser has incomes above the average for Australia but, even so, the number of people who will not receive the private health insurance rebate is very small. I am informed that the number of singles in my electorate who will no longer receive the private health insurance rebate is 2,220 and the number of couples is 740—a relatively small number in an electorate whose total population is now pushing up towards 200,000.

We do not expect this bill to lead to any substantial change in private health insurance coverage. Modelling from Treasury finds that 99.7 per cent of people will remain in private health insurance, as a result of the fact that we still have incentives such as Lifetime Health Cover and the Medicare levy surcharge. So as a result of this there will be $2.4 billion additional into the budget to be spent on better healthcare initiatives and a minuscule change in private health insurance coverage.

The scare campaign the opposition is running need not be rebutted just by Treasury figures, sound as they are; Professor Elizabeth Savage, a health economist at the University of Technology, Sydney, has done considerable work in this area. Her research shows strong evidence of persistence, so the take-up of private health insurance is likely to endure because those who already have private health insurance will keep it from habit. Professor Savage also finds that means-testing the private health insurance rebate will not increase pressure on the public hospital system—another furphy, another scare campaign, from those opposite.

There are nearly eight million private health insurance policyholders who will not be affected by the changes at all. After these changes, as I have said, 99.7 per cent of people will remain in private health insurance. This allows us to have another $2.4 billion over the next three years. What will that get spent on? You can expect it to be spent on services such as improvements in the hospital system.

From 1 January this year, we are ensuring that every state improves the proportion of emergency department patients seen within four hours. Recent academic research published in the Medical Journal of Australia has shown that that will save lives. We are expanding Medicare Locals to integrate the sectors and make sure that patients get holistic care. We are putting in place local hospital networks, making sure that decisions about hospital management are devolved to the local level. Many of these reforms will save lives. Ultimately, that is what great health care does. The opposition would rather have private health insurance rebates for millionaires than have a healthcare system that saves more lives.

We are delivering mental health reform. We are rolling out additional headspace centres and EPPIC centres. We are also looking at mental health reform across the life cycle. We are committed to putting in place the groundwork for a National Disability Insurance Scheme, a scheme that, when it was first proposed by the Productivity Commission, the opposition said that they supported. But they are now unwilling to support that in the short term. The coalition are walking away from expanding support for people with disabilities, despite the fact that their spokesperson on disability, Senator Fifield, acknowledges that the current system is a patchwork that contains many anomalies for people with disabilities and their carers. The coalition would again prefer to subsidise the private health insurance of millionaires rather than begin putting in place a National Disability Insurance Scheme. Politics is about choices. Ours is national disability insurance ahead of subsidising the private health insurance of millionaires. Theirs puts subsidising the private health insurance of millionaires before better disability care.

We are building a stronger age care sector. We recognise that the age care system is in urgent need of reform and that if we do not do something to improve it the sector will face considerable strain as the baby boomers reach retirement and increasingly look for places in age care homes.

Politics is about values and what you value. What you prioritise in government shows what you value. During the global financial crisis, we chose to save 200,000 jobs and tens of thousands of small businesses. They say that they would not have taken on debt, meaning that they would have cut back on government spending in the face of the global downturn, throwing Australia into deep recession. On taxes, we are delivering pension rises and income tax cuts for working households through our Clean Energy Future package. Under a Tony Abbott government, the only people who would get tax cuts would be big miners and big polluters.

You can see the same in education. We are investing in low-income schools through the low SES national partnership. The Gonski review will ensure a fairer system for providing federal government funding to schools. We recognise that it is important to support need. If there is any rebalancing of schools assistance, they immediately launch a fear campaign. They immediately suggest that what we are doing is creating a schools ‘hit list’. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Since Labor came to office there has been modest growth in the Public Service  - 11,072 additional public servants - a rate of growth slower than the final years of the Howard government. We recognise that a strong Public Service is vital to delivering services such as better health care. But those opposite would make 12,000 public servants redundant, a commitment that the member for North Sydney again made on the Q&A program this week. In that program, the member for North Sydney said that there were 6,500 people working in the Department of Health and Ageing and appeared not to be sure what they did.

I can say two things about that. First of all, there are 5,164 people working in the Department of Health and Ageing, a small increase of about 300 since the Leader of the Opposition was minister for health. As the member for North Sydney could find out if he spoke to, say, the Leader of the Opposition, the Department of Health and Ageing does enormously important work. They are working on things like the private health insurance rebates, preventative health and the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme. I commend the work of the department of health officials that has gone into preparing this package of reforms. We on this side recognise that the Department of Health and Ageing does valuable work. Those on that side of the House would be happy to cut the department of health.

I will be interested to hear in subsequent contributions if the member for Dickson supports the views of the member for North Sydney that in fact, were the opposition to be elected government, he should preside as minister for health over a department that employed no-one. Does the member for Dickson believe that the Department of Health and Ageing should be scrapped? If so, what portfolio would he then seek to retain?

The contrast in Australian politics could not be clearer. The opposition is always saying yes to special interests and always saying no to tax reform. The contrast can be seen nowhere more clearly than in the area of dental health. Professor Jeff Richardson, from the Centre for Health Economics at Monash University, has found that 17 per cent of the people in the lowest income group have no teeth compared to 0.3 per cent of high income people. This is from an AM interview on 8 December 2011. Yet those in the lowest income categories are receiving much less assistance to get dental care than those in the highest income categories. Those in the highest income categories have 30 per cent of their dental care bill paid for by the Australian taxpayer through the private health insurance rebate. Labor believes that is the wrong way to balance our health system. We believe that we ought to be spending less on the teeth of millionaires and more on the teeth of the most disadvantaged Australians. I commend the bill to the House.
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Living on the Northside

In parliament today, I entreated more parliamentarians (and staff) to live on the northside of Canberra.
Living on the Northside
9 Feb 2012

Over recent months, I’ve been gathering stories from colleagues who enjoy living on the northside of Canberra, in my electorate of Fraser.

Senator Penny Wong says ‘I love the northside because I can walk to Lonsdale roasters, eat at Italian and Sons and see the balloons floating overhead as I drive across the bridge to work.’

The member for Parramatta, Julie Owens, tells me that the Gungahlin area has ‘some of the best bike paths around’. Senator Ursula Stephens tells me ‘I love to start my mornings with a brisk walk on Mt Ainslie.’ The Attorney-General, Nicola Roxon, enjoys using Dickson pool during summer.

The member for Page, Janelle Saffin, says ‘I love living in Watson when I am in Canberra, as it has a nice suburban family friendly feel. I am beside parkland and enjoy the walks and the birds which are prolific and colourful.’

The member for Kingston, Amanda Rishworth, describes Dickson Chinese restaurants as ‘fast, furious and yummy’. The member for Shortland, Jill Hall, heartily agrees. Senator Stephen Conroy found the northside ‘a lovely place to grow up – relaxed and carefree’.

Yet despite all this, too few of those who work in Parliament House live on the trendy northside. Indeed, only 14 members of the Labor caucus live in the Fraser electorate. The members for Canberra (Gai Brodtmann), Eden-Monaro (Mike Kelly) and Lalor (Julia Gillard) have good excuses, but what about the rest of you? Members of parliament and staff, it’s time to move to the fashionable right bank of the Molongolo River.

Update: More here from the Canberra Times, including a few of my favourite spots on the northside (Dickson’s Chinese restaurants, Watson Arts Centre, Mount Ainslie and Mount Majura, Gungahlin bike paths, Dickson and CISAC pools, Italian & Sons, Belconnen skate park).http://www.youtube.com/v/lIh_CUR4q3k?version=3&hl=en_US
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Inside Canberra

Along with Gary Humphries, Paul Bongiorno and new editor Michael Keating, I re-launched the journal 'Inside Canberra' last night. In the first issue, I have a short piece on economic growth, which is below. (And yes, my title is shamelessly cribbed from Gene Sperling's splendid book of the same name.)
The Pro-Growth Progressive
Inside Canberra, Vol 65, No 1

Economic growth researchers have something they call ‘the rule of 72’. If you want to know how many years it will take for economic growth to double a country’s standard of living, just take the number 72 and divide it by the growth rate. For example, a country growing at 8 percent a year (think China) will double its income levels every 9 years. A nation growing at 4 percent a year (think Australia in our good years) will double its income levels every 18 years. And a nation growing at 2 percent a year (think Japan in recent years) will double its income levels every 36 years.

So while the difference between 2 percent growth and 4 percent growth may not sound like much now, it’s the difference between doubling our living standards by 2030 versus 2048.

Unlike some on the far left of politics, I firmly believe that growth is good. Higher incomes allow us to enjoy better food, travel and entertainment, spend more time with our families, and be more generous to the most disadvantaged. Far from threatening the planet, rising incomes offer the best hope for dealing with environmental challenges such as climate change.

So what are the policies that should underpin economic growth? In the long-term, it’s about productivity. As Princeton University economist Paul Krugman puts it, productivity isn’t the only thing, but it’s almost the only thing. A society that becomes more efficient every year tends to enjoy rapid economic growth. A nation that fails to innovate typically stagnates.

In the Australian parliament today, you see vastly divergent views on the question of productivity. On the left of politics, we believe that education is fundamental to boosting productivity. That’s why social democratic governments are typically so committed to improving the education system. Like the Clinton and Blair governments before us, the Rudd and Gillard Governments have set about increasing both the quality and quantity of the education system. We’ve encouraged states to raise school leaving ages, built Trades Training Centres, and expanded the number of university places. We’ve also created accountability through the MySchool website, and provided extra resources to low-SES schools.

But on the conservative side of politics, there’s a view that the way to raise productivity is by restricting union rights and making it easier to dismiss workers. This view of the world seems remarkably impervious to facts. Under WorkChoices, productivity growth continued to decline. Indeed, at a recent conference held by the Reserve Bank of Australia, prominent economist Saul Eslake noted in a lengthy discussion of productivity that the Howard Government’s workplace relations reforms didn’t boost productivity.

The other key to growth is ensuring that when a recession strikes, the government supports economic demand. This is what the federal Labor government did in 2008-09, when monetary and fiscal policy together helped save thousands of jobs and small businesses. As a result of this spending (and the revenue downgrades), the government accumulated a modest level of debt, which will peak at less than a tenth of national income.

As with productivity, the Opposition has inveighed against sensible economic policy, making incredible claims about our national debt levels being unsustainable. Yet the alternative to debt would have been to plunge the Australian economy into recession, with all the scarring effect that unemployment has on the jobless. Our fiscal stimulus was timely, targeted and temporary – and the cost is rapidly being paid off.

Good economic management is central to Labor’s vision for Australia. Whether it’s over the economic cycle, or across decades, we’re committed to the economic growth that will see living standards double as quickly as possible.

Andrew Leigh is the Federal Member for Fraser, and a former professor of economics at the Australian National University. His website is www.andrewleigh.com.
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Peter Veness

I spoke in parliament today on a condolence motion for the late AAP journalist Peter Veness.

Peter Veness
8 February 2012

I first came to know Peter Veness on the doors of Parliament House. For those outside this building, doors are a bit of a strange ritual. You walk out the front of Parliament House to a press pack that asks you questions about any issue of the day. Peter Veness was the man who asked the hardest questions. He would often be on the fringes of the press pack and he would call out at you, not about what was on the front page of the paper necessarily but about what he thought was the most important issue. He had been diagnosed with cancer in 2009 and given a few months to live, and he nearly made it to three years. In that time Pete knew that his life was short and he needed to do what he could to make it count. His questions were punchy, penetrating and straight to the point, as the best journalists are. I remember he said to me after one particularly bruising doors session: 'This place has lost its spontaneity. Doors used to be about the opening of the car doors; now it is about the opening of the parliamentary doors.' All I could reply was: 'Pete, I have to come out here to face your questions. I want to be prepared.'

I talked to Pete about this when I went to see him in the Clare Holland House hospice towards the end of his life. I am not sure how much he understood. He was going in and out of sleep at the time. With him was the little blue teddy bear and the crucifix that he held in his hand. As you do in these circumstances, I just talked and told him about how much he had influenced me in the short time we had known one another. And it was a short innings. Peter Veness passed away aged 27, far too young for anyone to be taken from us. His funeral was a fitting send-off. AAP journalist Adam Gartrell spoke about how Peter embodied the best of the craft of journalism. He told the story of Peter Veness writing a yarn that Peter thought was the best one he had ever written. It was about a farmer doing it tough. The only reason he got the story was by striking up a conversation with a random guy in a pub in the bush. Gartrell said:

'That was pure Pete. He may have written about elections, political spills and scandals, but writing about the plight of the common man was what really made his heart sing.'

We heard from his wife Bec Veness, who with extraordinary strength gently scolded Pete for having failed to prepare some words and said, "He didn't lose. He kicked cancer's arse every day for almost three years,"Warwick Newell told a splendid story of one of his big nights out with Pete. He said, 'I lost Pete after a big night out. He called me a few hours later from a bus in Bankstown in a frenzied and unexplained search for Paul Keating.' All of us erupted into laughter.

That was one of the many sides to Pete Veness.

The service itself finished in the most poignant of ways, with the parliamentary press gallery forming a guard of honour from the door of the church through to the gate at St John’s. It was all the more poignant because on the back of the funeral service program was a picture of Pete and Bec coming out of the same door of the church just a few years earlier, as newlyweds.

One of my favourite obituaries of Pete Veness was that written by Chris Johnson, a Canberra Times journalist, who really got to know Pete because they were in adjacent offices in the press gallery and were both inveterate music lovers. Chris wrote in his obituary that Pete Veness was:

'A larrikins' larrikin by any reckoning. Loud and boisterous, yet with a heart as big as his cheeky grin.'

Chris told the story that Pete, who appeared to me an extremely confident journalist, once confided to him, 'Do you know what a big deal it is for me to be in this gallery? I'd better not stuff it up.' But you never got that sense of fragility from Pete Veness. You got a sense of somebody who had earned his right to be here and who did his job in the best spirit of the press gallery.

Chris disclosed that Peter Veness sometimes wrote music reviews under a pseudonym, the name Sal Caulfield combining Sal Paradise, from On the Road, and Holden Caulfield, from Catcher in the Rye. That of course sent me on a hunt for some of the reviews written by Sal Caulfield. There I found some of the best of Pete Veness's writing. Here he is in the Canberra Times on 8 May 2008 writing under his pseudonym about an album by Cog, Sharing Space:

'Producer Sylvia Massey left plenty of air among the almost apocalyptic electronic twitches that dart around Flynn Gower’s pleading, pounding voice in the verses. The air evaporates when the chorus arrives pushing the listener back with sheer volume and urging the ear forward in anticipation at the same moment.'

It is beautiful writing—another reason, I think, so many of us are so sad that Pete is not here to contribute to the great craft of journalism for many decades yet. As recently as 3 November last year he wrote for AAP the story of the killing in Afghanistan of Captain Bryce Duffy, Corporal Ashley Birt and Lance Corporal Luke Gavin. He wanted to keep on working to the end, and he continued to make a great contribution.

Journalist Peter Martin reminded me that one of the things that some of the tributes to Peter Veness have passed over is how devout he was. At the service, Peter read Psalm 23, 'The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want', and he pointed out to me that Peter Veness was the chair of St John’s Anglican Church council and was studying theology at St Mark’s. Peter Martin suggested that in preparing these brief remarks I should speak to Margaret Campbell, the assistant minister at St John’s. I spoke to Margaret this morning and she said that I should remind the House of what a man of great faith Peter Veness was, that he took great comfort in the promise of eternal life and that he was there in the church every Sunday. Margaret said, 'Peter Veness challenged us, and we will really miss one of our own.'

I too will miss him. Doors will never be the same without him, and this place is a little poorer for his passing.
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A Strong Public Service

I spoke in parliament today about Joe Hockey’s extraordinary attacks on public servants.

A Strong Public Service
8 February 2012

I rise today to speak about the importance of a strong Australian Public Service and the threats to Canberra public servants. On Q&A on Monday night, the member for North Sydney said:

‘They’ve increased the public service in Canberra by 20,000 since they were elected and we’ve said, and I know it gets me in trouble with my colleagues in Canberra, but I’ve said that 12,000 will be made redundant within the first two years as a starting point and that’s hard but we’ve got, for example, six and a half thousand people in the department of health that has no patients, no doctors, and no nurses and, I'm sorry, you can't live outside of your means.’

Three minutes is barely enough to do justice to the many wrongheaded statements contained within that quote, but let me do my best.

Firstly, the member for North Sydney has for the fifth time misrepresented Public Service numbers. As the Special Minister for State has noted, official figures show that the public service has increased from June 2007 to June 2011 by 11,072. In terms of number and percentage increases, that is the smallest increase since 2003-04. I am informed by the Special Minister of State that the member for North Sydney has been offered a briefing by the Australian Public Service Commission, but has declined that briefing and continues to cite incorrect public service numbers.

Secondly, the member for North Sydney seems unaware that public servants are people too. Ironically, later in the Q&A program the member for North Sydney said:

‘What we’ve got to do is make sure there are more jobs in the community …’

He has an odd way of showing it, given that in the ACT he intends to get rid of 12,000 public servants. The member for North Sydney has in the past said that he will put the Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency on the chopping block. Now the Department of Health and Ageing is on the chopping block, and surely the remainder of the Public Service is not far behind.

What do those people in the Department of Health and Ageing do? For starters, the member for North Sydney might try asking the Leader of the Opposition, who was, after all, the minister for health when the Howard government left office. In fact, the size of the Department of Health and Ageing is basically the same as it was when the Leader of the Opposition was minister for health: 5,164 as of 31 January this year; 4,818 when Mr Abbott was the minister. Those people work on preventive health, health research, pharmaceutical benefits. The Liberal Party's plan for the public service is damaging not only to Canberra but also to all of Australia. Public servants do tremendously hard work. Three-fifths of them are female. They work on issues like managing our response to disasters, helping Australians who are in trouble overseas and implementing the fiscal stimulus that helped all Australians in the global financial crisis.
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The Asian Century

I spoke in parliament tonight about Asia-literacy, Ken Henry's Asian Century report, refugees, and the Canberra Multicultural Festival. The speech is below (and if you're at the Festival this coming Saturday, please come over to the Andrew Leigh stall and say g'day).
The Asian Century
7 February 2012

If there’s one prediction we can confidently make about the Australia of the future, it’s that our nation will become more ethnically diverse and more enmeshed with Asia. Since the end of the White Australia policy, the share of our migrants coming from non-English speaking countries has continued to grow. The effects of this immigration can be seen in the diverse cuisine now available in our restaurants, but this is really only a superficial picture of how migration has affected the nation.

In thousands of workplaces today, Australians are drawing on the culture and experiences of nearly every nation on the globe. At the same time, the growth of China and India is placing us closer than ever to the economic centre of gravity of the world economy. This isn’t just a mining story – in fact, Australia’s service exports to China exceed our coal exports. It’s a story that illuminates the evolution of our national character. The next generation of Australians will be more likely to have been born in Asia, travelled to Asia, worked in Asia, or married someone from Asia.

To look at the economic and social opportunities that this change provides, the Prime Minister has commissioned former Treasury Secretary Ken Henry to produce a report on ‘The Asian Century’. Dr Henry will be assisted by an advisory panel: Peter Drysdale, John Denton, Catherine Livingstone, Gordon de Brouwer, David Gruen and Heather Smith. Submissions for the White Paper close on February 26, and I encourage interested groups and individuals to make a submission.

Growing engagement with Asia means that the parliament needs to keep increasing our Asia-literacy. We can be proud to have a Mandarin-speaking foreign minister and representatives of Asian descent such as Senators Penny Wong and Lisa Singh. I hope we can welcome more Nguyens, Desais and Zhangs into this parliament over the years to come.

Some of us have spent time living in Asia. One of the things I’ve found since coming into parliament is that I’ve increasingly drawn on my own background growing up as a child in Malaysia and Indonesia, and had the chance to tell the stories of people like Jamie Mackie and Herb Feith, who helped forge our nation’s relationship with the region. Thanks to the encouragement of Melanie Tait, I even told the tale of my childhood as an ‘AusAID brat’ in Aceh as part of ABC 666’s ‘Now Hear This’ event last December. It was a daunting and rewarding experience.

As a local MP, a diverse Canberra is a great source of pride for me. This weekend, the annual Canberra Multicultural Festival will be held in my electorate. The festival celebrates differences by showcasing the art, music, dance and food of culturally rich Canberra.

The face of the festival is German immigrant Wolf Blass. Performers will include Troy Cassar-Daley, Anthony Callea and Joe Dolce. The event involves 200 community groups, local and national arts groups, up to 70 diplomatic missions, numerous businesses and tens of thousands of people who attend over the three day festival.

Over the summer months, it has been my pleasure to speak at a number of multicultural functions in my electorate. In December, I attended the launch of the new premises for the National Ethnic Disability Alliance in the Theo Notaras Multicultural Centre. I have also had the pleasure of speaking at the Karen New Year celebrations in Cook, and the Mon National Day celebrations in at Merici College in Braddon. Both the Karen and Mon communities have proud histories, yet continue to be repressed by the Burmese government. I particularly acknowledge the valuable work of Karen community leaders Nai Shin Thu, Ester Kyaw and Saw Tha Wah, and Mon community leaders Nai Tin Aye, Nai Pe Thein Zar, Nai Loka Chanmi and Hongsar Channaibanya.

Canberra is fortunate to have many champions of multiculturalism, including Parliamentary Secretary for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs Senator Lundy, ACT Minister for Multicultural Affairs Joy Burch, her director Nic Manikis, Kathy Ragless of Companion House, John Gunn of the ACT Multicultural Youth Services, and many others who work to resettle refugees, including Geoff McPherson, David Cran and Bevil Purnell.

Finally, I congratulate Sam Wong who was announced by the Prime Minister last month as one of only 40 ‘People of Australia Ambassadors’ for 2012. As an ambassador Sam will strengthen our capacity as a nation to bring people together and build bridges of understanding and respect.
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Talking Productivity

There's been a lot of talk about productivity lately, so I figured it'd be worth doing a short video to talk about why it matters, and what the federal government is doing to boost productivity.

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Talking Politics with Ross Solly

I spoke yesterday with ABC 666's Ross Solly. He was keen to talk about personalities, and I wanted to talk about issues. It was a fun conversation, and a link to the audio is below.

Talking Politics with Ross Solly - 6 Feb 2012
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ABC News Breakfast 6 February

I was on ABC News Breakfast this morning, my first time on this particular program but with the familiar antagonist Kelly O'Dwyer. Topics included Australia's strong economy and the Coalition's plans to deny personal income tax cuts, but instead give them to big miners and big polluters.

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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.