Grattan Institute Talk on Merit Pay

On 14 Nov, I spoke at the Grattan Institute about my review paper on teacher merit pay. They've now posted a video, podcast and transcript of the event on their website, so you can enjoy the event using virtually any combination of your eyes and ears.
Add your reaction Share

Top Incomes - Updated

In 2007, I published a paper with Tony Atkinson that looked at how the income share of top groups (eg. the richest 1%) had changed over time. The analysis is based on crunching tax data, national accounts figures, and population statistics.

We've now updated the analysis with the latest taxation data, which covers the year 2008-09. Unsurprisingly, it shows a slight downtick for that year, which is mostly due to a fall in the non-salary incomes of the rich.

For anyone researching or writing about inequality, the full spreadsheet is available at this link. There is also a writeup by Markus Mannheim in the Canberra Times, and you can podcast my chat today on ABC Radio National's Life Matters with the splendid Richard Aedy.
Add your reaction Share

Looking for Young Progressive Writers

The Australian Fabian Society is running its 'Young Writers Competition', asking 18-30 year olds to discuss the big policy issues facing progressive politics. More details here. Entries close 30 April 2012.
Add your reaction Share

Opening of UC Mobile Health Clinic

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of opening a Mobile Health Clinic at the University of Canberra. It's a purpose-built trailer that will travel around the South Coast of New South Wales, staffed by allied health students from the University of Canberra undertaking clinical placements.

[caption id="attachment_2031" align="alignright" width="300" caption="Stephen Parker & I cut the ribbon to officially open the UC Mobile Health Clinic"][/caption]


Vice-Chancellor Stephen Parker and I did the honours of speaking about the clinic (competing to see how many road puns we could incorporate into our respective speeches - just quietly, I think he might have won) and cutting the ribbon to officially open the clinic. The Australian Government contributed $1.9 million in funding for the clinic and it's great being part of a Government that's found a way to combine innovative ways of delivering health care with providing new and different training opportunities for students.

Andrew Leigh MP

Member for Fraser


Allied health students from the University of Canberra will run a new mobile health clinic in NSW South Coast to boost the area’s healthcare services, Member for Fraser Andrew Leigh said today.

Andrew Leigh opened the mobile clinic today on behalf of Minister for Health and Ageing Nicola Roxon.

Based in a large, custom-fitted semitrailer, the health service will provide regular clinics in Moruya, Narooma and Eden. These will be run by allied health students from the University of Canberra, fully supervised by clinical educators.

“The mobile clinic was launched at the University in Canberra today and will literally bring new, low-cost professional services to the South Coast — including pharmacy, midwifery, physiotherapy, dietetics and psychology,” Andrew Leigh said.

“The mobile clinic will spend alternating fortnights in Moruya and Narooma and, for two days each fortnight, it will be in Eden. The concept has been warmly embraced by the coastal communities and by their local medical professionals.

“The new service means that the university’s allied health students will get to ‘road test’ their work in a variety of community settings, complementing traditional models of health care.

“As a result, we will have more broadly-experienced professionals. Ultimately, that will drive better care for patients across our region,” he said.

The mobile clinic was built by the university as part of a $1.9 million project funded by the Australian Government under its $90 million Innovative Clinical Teaching and Training Grants program.

The University of Canberra project was one of 35 funded across the country to increase clinical training opportunities.
Add your reaction Share

Measuring Wellbeing

I have a column today in the SMH on the new Lateral Economics/Herald Wellbeing Index.
Putting a figure on inequality adds to strength of statistical spotlight, Sydney Morning Herald, 9 December 2011

New numbers are to the press as shiny bottle caps are to magpies. Statistics have the power to shape a debate or provide oxygen to an issue. From a major bank's survey of consumer confidence to a political party's targeted release of ''internal polling'', numbers are often used to bring publicity to a company or a cause. When even condom manufacturers use surveys to get publicity, you know what the new maxim must be: statistics sell.

With the Herald/Lateral Economics Wellbeing Index, Fairfax has shone a statistical spotlight onto the issue of wellbeing. This is good. As all economics students learn on their first day of class, economics is about maximising utility, not money.

Yet it turns out that while national income is the wrong measure of wellbeing, it tracks the ''right measures'' extremely well. For example, country rankings on the United Nations Human Development Index create a splash whenever they're released. What the commentators won't tell you is that rankings of HDI and gross domestic product are almost perfectly correlated.
Advertisement: Story continues below

When it comes to happiness, things get more controversial. In 1974, University of Southern California professor Richard Easterlin suggested that when incomes rise above a certain threshold, more GDP doesn't buy more happiness. Yet Easterlin's conclusions were based on data from fewer than 15 countries. More recently, University of Pennsylvania duo Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers have analysed happiness surveys conducted in 132 countries. Stevenson and Wolfers show that far from fading out, the impact of economic growth on happiness continues right across the income distribution. There is no Easterlin paradox.

For example, on a 0-to-10 life satisfaction scale, respondents in Mali and Ethiopia place themselves between 3 and 4; residents of Egypt, South Africa and Portugal put themselves between 5 and 6; and people in Australia, the US and most other developed countries place themselves between 7 and 8. A 10 per cent increase in GDP buys as much additional happiness in a rich country as a poor one.

Strikingly, the relationship also holds for other metrics of wellbeing. People in countries with higher incomes are more likely to experience enjoyment and love, and less likely to experience pain and boredom. That's right, Paul McCartney, money can buy love - at least on average.

But just because GDP is a reasonable measure of aggregate wellbeing, that shouldn't stop us from looking at other measures of national wellbeing. One aspect of the Wellbeing Index that I particularly like is its inclusion of inequality. While the methods remain controversial, few would quibble with the basic proposition that another dollar brings more happiness to a pauper than to a millionaire. And a discussion of inequality also reminds us that a growing gulf between rich and poor risks splitting us into ''two Australias'', occupying fundamentally different realms, and rarely coming into contact with one another.

Another important part of the index is that it uses a measure of real incomes, thereby accounting for inflation. In an environment in which mischievous politicians sometimes claim that the cost of living is skyrocketing it helps to look at the figures. Inflation over the past year has been modest by historical standards. Indeed, prices have fallen for bread, milk, shoes, appliances, pharmaceuticals, cars, computers and toys.

What's missing? Given that an average Sydneysider with a full-time job spends the equivalent of 13 days each year commuting, a measure of travel time would be good - particularly one encompassing the enormous social harm of traffic congestion. As Lateral Economics notes, the available travel time estimates aren't great, but it would be worth including them nonetheless.

When measuring incomes, it would be better to have per-person measures, which account for population growth. In the educational arena, the measures seem surprisingly volatile. On the health side, I'd like to see the index take better account of disability - a yardstick by which we can judge initiatives such as the national disability insurance scheme. And in terms of social capital, I think the authors undervalue the importance of community groups and civic trust.

It is an old policy maxim that you shouldn't try to target more variables than you have policy levers. For example, since the Reserve Bank controls one big thing (interest rates), we shouldn't hope that it can achieve a dozen policy goals. But in this case, the opposite principle applies. There are a plethora of ways that governments can affect the Wellbeing Index. So I hope that Fairfax will avoid the temptation to put too much emphasis on the speedometer, and keep telling us about all the different things that are going on under the bonnet. In this instance, the sum of the parts really is more than the whole.

Andrew Leigh is the federal member for Fraser (ACT). His most recent book, Disconnected, looks at how community connectedness has changed over past decades.
Add your reaction Share

Appearance on Sky News 'Showdown' program

Peter van Onselen hosted me on his 'Showdown' program on Sky News earlier this week. We talked about the Government's plan to return to surplus, as well as other issues as diverse as the ALP National Conference and gay marriage.
Add your reaction Share

Now Hear This - Friendship

In a somewhat unusual departure from my day job, I joined seven terrifying talented Canberrans last night to tell a story onstage as part of the ABC 666 'Now Hear This' event. The theme for the night was 'friendship'. I'll post a link to the video when it becomes available, but for now, you'll have to make do with the photos (individual, group), and my storytelling bio (over the fold).
Andrew Leigh - Growing up in Aceh

In the past, Andrew has worked as a paper boy, sports instructor, a lawyer, and an economist, and lived variously in Malaysia, Indonesia, the United Kingdom and the United States. Andrew and his wife Gweneth live in Hackett with their two boys, Sebastian and Theodore, who enjoy outdoor soccer, indoor food-throwing and rising before dawn. In 2002, Andrew co-edited a book titled The Prince’s New Clothes: Why Do Australians Dislike Their Politicians?, which carried on its cover a picture of one dog sniffing another dog’s backside. He currently serves in the Australian Parliament.

Thanks to the ABC 666 team - particularly Melanie Tait - for their hard work in putting the night together.
Add your reaction Share

Turning the Silly Season into the Social Season

My column for the local Chronicle newspaper is below.
The Social Season Begins
The Chronicle, December 2011

Whether it’s the proliferation of bare knees, the tinsel on the supermarket shelves, or the warm winds that assail our allergies, there’s no mistaking that the silly season is upon us. Some have just celebrated Diwali, others are about to celebrate Hanukkah, Christmas or Chinese New Year. For others, this time of year is less about religion, and more about simply appreciating time with family and friends.

But December is also a terrific chance to build up Canberra’s ‘social capital’ – the bonds of trust and reciprocity that bind us together as a community. So I want to encourage you to do two things this season.

First, consider holding a street gathering. According to one survey, a whopping 28% of Australians never mix socially with their neighbours. And yet by sharing a coldie or a cuppa in December, you’re more likely to get along for the rest of the year.  Knowing your neighbours makes life easier when you decide to replace the fence, host a noisy party, or hit a cricket ball into their yard. You’re also less likely to get burgled if your neighbours know you. If someone carries your television out the front door, who do you think is more likely to shout out: a neighbour who came to the party last year, or one you’ve never met?

Over the past decade, Gweneth and I have hosted a street party about every other year. I’m going to let you into a secret: it’s almost no work to organise. A few weeks beforehand, we print off an invitation and drop it into people’s letterboxes. And thanks to the magic acronym ‘BYO’, we simply provide our backyard as a venue.

Second, consider helping out a charity. For Canberrans who are doing it tough, this can be a time of tension. Parents have spoken with me about feeling inadequate when they can’t buy their children the same gifts that their school friends receive. For those who have recently lost a loved one, what ought to be a time of celebration can be a sad reminder of the empty chair in the corner.  And in a global sense, it’s a chance to remember how comparatively well-off most of us are, in a world where a billion people live on less than a dollar a day.

Among the local charities that are particularly active at this time of year are UnitingCare, the Smith Family, the YWCA, the Salvos and St Vinnies. All will welcome your money, your time, or both. If you want to assist an international charity, why not make a donation in the name of a family member? After all, there’s nothing like the look on Aunt Mabel’s face when you tell her that her Christmas present is a goat for a family in Mozambique. Many global charities, including Oxfam, World Vision and Plan Australia, allow you to buy a gift that gives twice. Let’s make sure the silly season is also the social season.

Andrew Leigh is the federal member for Fraser. His website is
Add your reaction Share

Visit to Pegasus Farm with Jenny Macklin

I visited Pegasus Farm today, a riding school for the disabled located in Holt in my electorate, with Jenny Macklin MP, Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs. We spoke with children, parents, teachers, disability service providers and volunteers about the opportunities available under the Gillard Government's plan for a National Disability Insurance Scheme.

Pegasus Riding for the Disabled of the ACT is a not-for-profit community organisation that provides equestrian activities for people with a disability. Pegasus's sporting, recreational and therapeutic programs provide physical, social and educational benefits for people with a disability.

Media Release



Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services

and Indigenous Affairs


Member for Fraser 



Progressing a National Disability Insurance Scheme


Today the Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, Jenny Macklin, joined the Member for Fraser, Andrew Leigh at Pegasus Farm to celebrate the Government’s commitment to a National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).

Ms Macklin and Mr Leigh met local children with disability from Monash Primary School at the riding school who could benefit from an NDIS.

The Prime Minister announced the Australian Government’s latest plans to progress a National Disability Insurance Scheme on International Day of People with Disability on Saturday. These include establishing a new agency to lead the Commonwealth’s design work for a launch of a National Disability Insurance Scheme and an additional $10 million for practical projects that look at how to support people with disability and their carers and disability service providers, including care workers, make the transition to an NDIS.

Ms Macklin updated staff and families at Pegasus Farm on the Government’s progress to lay the foundations for an NDIS.

“We know that people in Canberra strongly support reform of disability care and support. They support our work to lay the foundations for a National Disability Insurance Scheme,” Ms Macklin said.

“The Commonwealth, states and territories are putting our shoulders to the wheel on this one. We’ve all agreed to deliver the foundations we need for a scheme by mid-2013.”

Foundation reforms need to be delivered to make disability services “NDIS-ready”. They include a common assessment tool to determine eligibility for support, national quality standards and a strategy to boost the disability workforce.

Mr Leigh said he was pleased with the interest local residents had shown in an NDIS and was determined to keep the momentum going.

“An NDIS will mean better support for people with disability, their families and carers here in my electorate and right across Australia,” Mr Leigh said.

“It means people with disability will have more control over the support they receive, and are able to access care that meets their needs – so they can participate in school, work and the community to their full potential.

“This is a true Labor reform. We’ve always been about making sure no Australian is left behind, and that everyone has the opportunity to reach their potential.”
Add your reaction Share

Minister Bourke is Hiring

My friend Chris Bourke has four new ministries, and is hiring three new staff to assist him. Details below.

(And while I'm on the topic of jobs, I've been contacted recently by two constituents - a French-trained industrial designer, and an Irish-trained accountant - who are looking for work in the ACT. Email me - - if you'd like their CVs.)

Office Manager

The Office Manager position includes duties such as, but not limited to:

  • Managing the Minister’s diary and appointments;

  • Answering the office phone;

  • Managing post and electronic correspondence; and

  • Some event organisation.

The successful applicant will thrive in a busy environment and show initiative and commitment to the job. Previous experience in an administration position is preferred.  A total salary package of up to $68,000 is available depending on experience.


Applicants for this position will need to demonstrate the following skills:

  • Excellent written and oral communication;

  • High level research and policy analysis;

  • Ability to meet deadlines and work under pressure;

  • Ability to work as part of a small, busy team; and

  • Ability to liaise effectively at all levels.

The position is full-time and may involve extended hours and weekend work, particularly during sitting weeks and other periods. Experience in a political environment is desirable, but not essential.

A total salary package of up to $68,000 is available depending on experience.

Senior Communications Adviser

Applicants should have extensive experience in public relations or journalism. Experience in a political environment is desirable, but not essential.

Applicants for this position will need to demonstrate the following skills:

  • Excellent  written and oral communication;

  • Experience in media management;

  • Ability to work as part of a small, busy team;

  • Excellent office IT skills; and

  • Experience in speechwriting and use of social media.

This position is full-time and will require some weekend and after hours work. A total salary package of up to $102,500 is available for the right person.

An appreciation of how the Legislative Assembly functions, and an understanding of and commitment to the principles and policies of the Australian Labor Party would be an advantage in all positions.

An enterprise agreement is currently being negotiated.

Applications setting out relevant experience and addressing the list of desired skills for each position should be received by COB Friday 16 December 2011. A CV and contact details for referees should be included. Applications should be sent to the Minister’s Chief of Staff, Margaret Watt, at [email protected] Phone inquiries may be made to 6205 0541.
Add your reaction Share

Stay in touch

Subscribe to our monthly newsletter


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.