One person can...

Margaret Hender has asked me to publicise the 'One Person Can...' project. Details below
I'm emailing you to ask you to take a look at the website of the "One Person Can..." project, and to consider if you might find this project useful for encouraging householders in your electorate to take climate-friendly actions. It is a nation-wide project that is not affiliated with any political party or environment group. You can see the website at

The main aim of this project is giving a high degree of visibility to the various climate-friendly actions many householders are already taking. My premise is that many people feel rather helpless in relation to climate change, especially if they don't see the other people around them doing anything much to reduce carbon emissions. In practice, I think many householders are taking at least some steps to reduce their emissions. Perhaps they carefully switch off unnecessary lights or buy Green Power, for example, but these actions are not visible to other householders.

The core of the One Person Can website is a survey of 40 fairly common safe-climate actions. The survey results are sorted by state, by federal and state electorates, and by LGAs, with separate graphs showing the results for each area. For this project to have maximum effect, ideally every Australian household would be invited to take the survey and, perhaps more importantly, every household would get to see their local result graphed.
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Foreign Aid Forum

One of my passions in politics is getting foreign aid right. It's an exciting time to be thinking about our overseas development assistance, with the government ramping up our aid contribution to 0.5% of GNI, and Australia having recently made major contributions to vaccinations through Gavi and the recent announcement of $50 million to eliminate polio.

To talk through some of these issues, I'm holding a foreign aid forum in Civic next Tuesday lunchtime. I hope you can make it.

Details, details...
Fraser Foreign Aid Forum
Tuesday 15 November
Griffin Centre, Genge St
Canberra City

Please RSVP to {AT} or 6247 4396.
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MRRT Hearings

We had some rather spirited exchanges in this morning's economics committee hearings over the Minerals Resource Rent Tax.

For anyone interested in the details, here's Treasury's critique of the analysis conducted by BDO accountants for Fortescue, including discussion of its mathematical error.

Incidentally, BDO and Horwath (who did the costings for the Opposition's 2010 election campaign) are a merged firm.
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Climate Change Passes

(Cross-posted at the ALP blog - please leave any comments there.)

In December 2009, Christina Ora, a young person from the Solomon Islands stood up in front of the world at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen and said:

‘I am 17 years old. For my entire life, countries have been negotiating a climate agreement. My future is in front of me. In the year that I was born, amid an atmosphere of hope, the world formed the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change to solve the climate crisis.’

The Australian government has been debating acting on carbon pollution since Graham Richardson brought a submission to Bob Hawke’s cabinet in 1989 to reduce Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions. We have had 35 parliamentary reviews into climate change.

Today, Australia has finally put a price on carbon pollution. Because we emit more carbon pollution per person than any other nation in the world, we benefit from acting on climate change, and joining the many other countries that are using market-based mechanisms to tackle climate change.

By contrast, the Opposition reject market-based mechanisms. When you reject the market based mechanism you do not tap the ingenuity of the market. You lock yourself into an inflexible system. We should never forget that a price on carbon pollution is not just a disincentive to polluters but also an incentive to investors and entrepreneurs looking to invest in renewables.

A price on carbon pollution as an economic reform that sets our nation up for the challenges of the future. It is the stuff of which Labor governments are made. Labor governments brought down the tariff walls in Australia, Labor governments floated the dollar, Labor governments put in place Medicare and Labor governments implemented universal superannuation. For each of these reforms it has taken a Labor government to harness the prosperity of the future. None of these reforms were uncontroversial at the time of their enactment but all of them have increased our nation’s prosperity. So it will be with putting a price on carbon pollution.
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Polio Eradication

I spoke with Norman Swan on the ABC Radio National Health Report program this morning about polio, and the strange economics of disease eradication. Here's a podcast. Transcript over the fold.
Norman Swan: Let's stay with costs for the moment because former economist and now Federal Member for Fraser in the ACT Dr Andrew Leigh has some thoughts on the government's recent announcement for money for polio eradication and what it might mean for how we prioritise health spending.

Andrew Leigh: Well the Australian government announced in CHOGM that we'd be committing $50 million towards eradicating polio. Polio's still in four countries: Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nigeria and India.

Norman Swan: But you've got a view as an economist?

Andrew Leigh: That's right, I think polio is worth eradicating but it does really strike me as an economist when you look at the cost of eradicating those final few cases of polio. In terms of lives saved this turns out to be a pretty bad deal. We're spending hundreds of millions of dollars on a disease in which there are only hundreds of cases. The thing is it's still a good deal in the long run because the effect of wiping out polio is that one day we won't have to vaccinate the next tranche of kids for polio that will mean we can focus global health efforts on other things, AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria, some of those huge killers in the world. So in some way you should think of polio eradication as freeing up global health resources much as smallpox eradication did for us in the 1970s.

Norman Swan: I'm not sure what you are saying are you saying that you economists are a waste of time in here, that the normal metrics that you use for deciding whether a health intervention is worth doing should just be thrown out the window or what? What are you actually saying Professor Leigh?

Andrew Leigh: I am saying that this is the curious case of disease eradication, that as you get towards the end each case becomes extremely expensive and so you are now eradicating a disease not because each life saved is worth it on the standard calculus but because the whole disease is worth wiping out. And once you've wiped out a disease and you've held it at bay for a number of years you can stop vaccinating and free up masses of world resources.

Norman Swan: How do you allow for those future benefits? I mean we have very inadequate ways of measuring benefits, we use the quality adjusted life year which puts a notional value on an extra year of life adjusted for the quality of that life and I think that we have a number somewhere between $30,000 and $70,000 per qualies, so heart transplantation just squeezes in but there's a whole debate about patient experience, patient preference and future discounting of those benefits. Do you feel they are adequately taken into account when we're talking about health?

Andrew Leigh: I think that's certainly the right way of thinking about these health decisions. What you want to do is to be able to bring all the public health measures onto the same metric and dollars are the standard metric on which you're able to make comparisons across things as diverse as treatments, vaccinations, public health information campaigns. But it turns out to be the wrong way of thinking about something like disease eradication.

Norman Swan: But you haven't answered my question Andrew which is you're putting a value on a life and then of course here's the thing that people don't want to talk about is that if you were in the Pakistani government, they're probably using $100 per qualy, if they use any metric at all for their health interventions. So they value a life because of their economic strife if you like at a very different level than we are. Isn't it a rather crude and tragic way of measuring whether you would invest in a different area?

Andrew Leigh: Norman I certainly understand where you're coming from, I remember as an economics professor teaching students and the topic that was perhaps the most controversial of the whole semester was when we suggested that you could put a value on a statistical life. We have to be absolutely clear what we are doing here. We're putting a value on an average life. We are not saying that the rich and unique human experience can be reduced to dollars. We are saying with a scarce government health budget when you have to decide whether you are going to allocate that to more spending on road safety, more spending on cancer labs or more spending on children's vaccines, you need some way of comparing it across those health interventions.

Norman Swan: So why is it different for airlines from health that if you actually do a quality adjusted life year assessment for what we spend on air safety, it's hugely more, my understanding is that it's like millions of dollars per year of life saved and yet we quibble over $70,000 per year of life, a quality adjusted year of life saved for health interventions yet every day of the week we are spending squillions of dollars on interventions which far exceed the value that we give to a life in the health care system?

Andrew Leigh: It's a good question. Economists do sometimes argue that we've over invested in air safety. I think the answer is that if air safety were as dangerous as road travel people would be much less likely to get on planes. The experience of an air disaster is one that seems to sear the collective consciousness, that is somehow more traumatic for people than the daily road toll and so I think that's why not only Australian society -

Norman Swan: So this is about mass psychology, this is the thing that we respond more to the rare high impact event rather than the fact that X hundred thousand Australians die unnecessarily from preventable health care injury.

Andrew Leigh: Yes, I think that's probably most of what's going on here and you don't hear a clamour from voters saying you're spending too much on air safety if only you could spend a little less. But I take your point, that the investment per quality adjusted life year ends up being more expensive in air safety.

Norman Swan: Is there something in it for us for polio eradication do you think? Is that $50 million well spent for Australia apart from just being altruistic which is fine in its own right?

Andrew Leigh: The notion that we as Australians can cease at some point in the future vaccinating kids for polio frees up a share of our health budget to invest on other things whether that be air safety or, as I think you would probably argue, public health initiatives.

Norman Swan: Andrew Leigh is Federal Member for Fraser and before that an economist at the Australian National University.
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Sky News AM Agenda

I was on the Sky News AM Agenda this morning with Liberal Senator Simon Birmingham, hosted by Kieran Gilbert. We discussed the Government's economic agenda as well as the Prime Minister's visit to Afghanistan.

(And congratulations to my usual sparring partner, Mitch Fifield, who welcomed his son Harry into the world on Monday.)
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Mapping the Northside - in Parliament

I spoke in parliament today about 'Mapping the Northside'.
Mapping the Northside, 3 November 2011

There are many hidden and not so hidden gems in my electorate of Fraser. In partnership with the Belconnen Arts Centre, on 18 October I launched Mapping the Northside. Mapping the Northside is project where community members are invited to identify their favourite place on a two- by three- metre map of the Fraser electorate.

Community members can mark their spot with a drawing, photograph, collage, story or poem. This can be done online or at one of three creative sessions being facilitated by local artist Maryann Mussared on 29 October at the Belconnen Arts Centre, 5 November at Gorman House or 12 November at the Gungahlin Library.  At the end of the project, the map will be taken down and used as the basis for a people's map of the electorate of Fraser. These great spots in the north of the ACT deserve to be shared and celebrated within the community.

I would also I like to thank, for all their help and guidance: Hannah Semler, Director of the Belconnen Arts Centre; Philip Piggin; Evol McLeod; and Alyssa Hardy. A special mention also goes to Gus Little from my office for his hard work on this project.

Mapping the Northside runs until 17 November, and I cannot wait to see the precious gems that are unearthed.
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Disability and Carers

I spoke today about the hard work of carers and the campaign to create a National Disability Insurance Scheme.
Caring and Disability
3 November 2011

I rise to speak about the twin issues of caring and disability. It was my pleasure on 14 October to attend the launch of Carers Week, which was officially launched by the Minister for Mental Health and Ageing, Mark Butler. It was a moving event at Parliament House, where Carers Australia President, Tim Moore, spoke about his sister Amy. Amy has struggled with mental illness since she was 17 years old and Tim spoke about her in wonderfully moving terms, and about the fact that recently Amy had the great achievement of turning 30. With the care of her family and friends she has managed to keep her demons at bay.

Tania Hayes spoke about her husband Warren, who had an eight-centimetre brain tumour removed when they were in their early twenties. Tania spoke about sitting by his bedside in the hospital for more than 400 days. At the end of that time she was told that the option available to him would be an aged-care home. She was not willing to accept that and took him home to be cared for at home. She taught him to eat and to talk, and now the couple has a little boy, Josh.

The Parliamentary Secretary for Disabilities and Carers, Jan McLucas, also spoke, as did Carers Australia CEO, Ara Creswell. The event was one of the most poignant that I have attended in this building in my brief time in parliament. The issues of carers touch us all. I remember that when I was a whippersnapper at university tutoring a boy by the name of Jonathan Wilson-Fuller - best known as ‘the boy in the bubble’. Jonathan is now a man of 33. He lives in Baulkham Hills, in a house with a positive internal air purification system that purifies all the air in the room seven times every hour in order to keep his allergies at bay. His parents, Yvonne and Kevin Wilson-Fuller, have sacrificed their professional careers because of the love and dedication they have for Jonathan. I pay tribute to Jonathan and to his parents. I urge all members to have a look at Jonathan's terrific book Will you please listen: I have something to say.

Judy Woolstencroft came to my electorate office on 7 October. Judy is a carer for her partner, Chris, who suffers from early onset dementia. Judy and Chris came in with Ellen Skladzien, a tireless campaigner in this area, to speak with me about the challenges faced by those with early onset dementia.

I also held a National Disability Insurance Scheme roundtable in my electorate office on 7 October. I would like to thank Simon Rosenberg, Luke Jones, Bob Buckley, Kerry Bargas, Trish and Glenn Mowbray, Susan Healy, Mary Webb, Kerrie Langford, Robert Altamore, Fiona May, Eileen Jerga, Adrian Nicholls, Christina Ryan, Brooke McKail, Sally Richards and others for attending that event. It helped me better understand the issues around a National Disability Insurance Scheme and why Australian people with disabilities and their carers so much need this scheme. That was followed by a public forum at the Belconnen Community Service building on 25 October. Daniel Kyriacou from Every Australian Counts and members of the ACT Labor Party's Community Services and Social Justice committee joined a discussion about what a NDIS means and how people can work with the campaign to bring about a National Disability Insurance Scheme.

A NDIS will not be cheap and will not be straightforward but this government is committed to doing the preparatory work to see it happen. That is complicated work with the states and territories but it is vital to resolve some of these anomalies. If you become a paraplegic in a car accident, you are more likely to get looked after than if you fall off your roof while cleaning the gutters. If you are born with a disability you often receive insufficient care. These are things that many of us in this place feel uncomfortable about. We in the Gillard government are committed to bringing about a National Disability Insurance Scheme and helping those who care for their loved ones.
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ACT Self-Government (again)

Senator Kate Lundy, Gai Brodtmann and I put out a media release yesterday regarding the Territories laws passing through the House

A Good Day for Democracy

Federal Labor representatives for the ACT Senator Kate Lundy, Gai Brodtmann MP and Dr Andrew Leigh MP today welcomed the passage of the Territories Self-Government Legislation Amendment as good for democracy.

The passage of this bill removes the power of the Federal Executive to overturn ACT legislation behind closed doors.

Member for Canberra Gai Brodtmann said the passage through the House of Representatives today was a great leap forward for the equality of Canberrans.

“This legislation will mean that Canberrans will now have the rights that are granted to every other Australian. The right for the legislation of their duly elected parliament to be free of veto by executive government” said Ms Brodtmann.

Member for Fraser Andrew Leigh said the bill acknowledges that ACT self-government is well established and has proven successful.

“This is testament to the hard work of successive ACT Governments who established the ACT Legislative Assembly as a mature forum for debate and discussion; the equal of any state government,” said Mr Leigh
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Community Summit

I spoke in parliament yesterday about my November Community Summit.
Fraser Community Summit
1 November 2011

Early this morning, I convened a breakfast roundtable in Parliament House to discuss with 13 ACT community sector leaders the issues of poverty and disadvantage in Canberra. This is the second of these forums that I have arranged and the focus of today's discussion was on financial literacy, debt and savings. Attendees emphasised that financial problems can be caused by stress factors, such as family breakdown, mental illness, substance abuse and problem gambling. Conversely, financial problems can also cause disadvantage, with money problems leading to health problems, family stress and gambling in an attempt to 'win back' losses. Some attendees commented that crisis services are now seeing people who they call the 'working poor'—such as apprentices and community sector workers. They also pointed out the challenge of high housing costs in the ACT. For people caught in a debt cycle, community leaders pointed out that life is a constant juggling act. People often borrow from their friends and neighbours, and these personal debts can take priority over paying utility bills. One attendee quoted a person in crisis who said, 'Debt makes me feel like half of me is in the grave already.'

Solutions to debt traps include access to hardship funds operated by utility companies and schools. It is important that these funds are well publicised and that people are able to access them anonymously—particularly in small school communities. And while this government recognises that short-term, small-amount loans or payday loans can be useful for helping people through a crisis, they also create the risk that too much of people's money can be lost to interest and fees. In the ACT, payday lenders are subject to a 48 per cent interest cap, which includes all fees and charges. At a national level, this government is working through COAG to develop a national regulatory system for payday lenders. That would mean equal protection across states. And through Centrelink, income support recipients can apply for no-interest loans of up to $1,000. Other programs encourage savings, for example through matched savings schemes, to encourage people to build up a nest egg for when they need it most.

We also need to improve financial literacy. As one attendee pointed out, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics' 2006 Adult Literacy and Life Skills Survey, 79,000 Canberrans lacked the literacy skills to meet the complex demands of everyday life and work in a knowledge based economy. There are also gaps in financial knowledge. Attendees talked about the challenge for some households in managing budgets, as well as money management skills like paying off high-interest debts first. The Australian government runs programs to boost financial literacy, including the MoneySmart program. Many community sector groups also operate their own financial information programs, as do some schools. It is important that these programs be rigorously evaluated. Overseas experience has shown that financial literacy programs which sound good conceptually do not always perform as well as expected. I would encourage governments at all levels, as well as community organisations, to evaluate financial literacy programs, using randomised trials wherever possible.

The discussion also raised ways of reducing costs for low-income earners. Some initiatives are already being pursued, such as the ACT government's energy outreach program and the federal government's record investment in affordable housing. In early October, the federal government announced that the National Rental Affordability Scheme will fund more than 1,500 dwellings in Bruce, Nicholls, Harrison, Bonner, Crace and Watson. Last Friday I opened a new social housing development in O'Connor which will add to the public housing stock, including for tenants with a disability. Attendees emphasised the need for solutions to be holistic. They pointed out the challenge for community sector organisations using multiple funding streams, and the problem for clients of having to meet with many different service agencies. Providing holistic services while ensuring effectiveness and accountability is a major challenge for policymakers in the future.

Finally, I would like to thank the attendees for participating in today's roundtable: Fiona MacGregor, YWCA ACT; Lynne Harwood, Communities @ Work; Shannon Pickles, St Vincent de Paul; Carmel Franklin, Care Financial Services; Jenny Kitchin, Anglicare ACT; Amy Kilpatrick, ACT Human Rights Office; Roslyn Dundas, ACTCOSS; Dira Home, Belconnen Community Services; Alicia Payne, ACT ALP Community Services Policy Committee; Gordon Ramsay, Uniting Care Kippax; Camilla Rowland, Karralika Programs; and Rhonda Daniell and Judith McDonnell, Gungahlin Regional Community Services. I appreciated the willingness of all attendees to work together to reduce poverty and disadvantage in the ACT.
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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.