White Ribbon Day

I spoke today about White Ribbon Day, and the issue of violence against women.
White Ribbon Day
21 November 2011


In 1991 a small group of Canadian men started the White Ribbon campaign. Tragically, the inspiration for the first White Ribbon Day was the second anniversary of the Montreal massacre, a massacre in which a gunman at a university killed 14 women and injured 10 others. A small group of Canadian citizens believed that as men they had a responsibility to speak out against violence against women. To symbolise men's opposition to violence against women they chose to wear a white ribbon. Eight years later the United Nations General Assembly declared 25 November International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women and adopted the white ribbon as its symbol.

One reason I became an ambassador is that White Ribbon Day promotes change by highlighting the positive role that men can play. It encourages all men across the world to take an active stance against violence against women. This Friday, 25 November, is White Ribbon Day, a day when men say it is not okay to use violence against women, when men speak out to change the attitudes and behaviours which allow violence against women to occur and when taking action to address violence against women is celebrated, supported and encouraged.

The global statistics on the abuse of women and girls can be mind numbing. In their book Half the Sky Sheryl WuDunn and Nicholas Kristof report that more girls have been killed in the last 50 years simply because they were girls than all the men killed in the battles of the 20th century. Thanks to White Ribbon Day, high-profile ambassadors, such as comedian Wil Anderson, Indigenous AFL player Adam Goodes, NRL point-scoring record holder Hazem El Masri and our own foreign minister, Kevin Rudd, have signed the oath “never to commit, excuse or remain silent about violence against women”. But it is through all men, among each other, letting it be known that violence against women is unacceptable that the greatest change occurs. Fathers, sons, brothers, uncles, team mates and colleagues—every effort and every conversation makes a difference.

I am sometimes asked by men why the focus is on violence in the home that is directed towards women. The answer comes clearly out of the statistics. According to the latest Recorded Crime publication of the Australian Bureau of Statistics, men are most likely to be assaulted by a stranger, followed by a non-family member, followed by a family member, but for women the reverse is true. Women are most likely to be assaulted by a family member. That is why it is so important we speak out about violence against women.

In my electorate of Fraser I am attending two events supporting White Ribbon Day. A barbecue breakfast is being held this Friday by the Canberra White Ribbon Day group, with the support of the Australian Federal Police, the Young Women's Christian Association, the State Emergency Service, Lifeline, the ACT government and men from across the ACT community. The other is a lunchtime event by the ACT Labor Status of Women policy committee. Both events are an opportunity for men in the electorate of Fraser to speak out against violence against women and to demonstrate the power that positive male role models can have in their local communities.

In addition to the support of colleagues and me for the prevention of violence against women, last Friday the Standing Council on Law and Justice considered draft legislation to implement a national scheme for domestic and family violence orders. Once implemented, the legislation will allow those protected by a Domestic Violence Order to move across state and territory borders and remain covered. It is an important safeguard for victims of domestic violence.

Violence against women is unacceptable. Men do have a responsibility to speak out on this, to speak with other men and to speak out in the community. Along with 16,500 Australians I have sworn “never to commit, excuse or remain silent about violence against women”. This White Ribbon Day, men will be saying it is not okay to remain silent about violence against women. It is up to men to be good role models for boys and for other men in their community. I am proud to be a White Ribbon Day ambassador in my electorate of Fraser. I encourage all men to join me in speaking out on this important cause.
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Reducing Crime and Incarceration

I moved a private members' motion in the House today on reducing crime and incarceration rates. The motion and my speech are below.
Dr LEIGH (Fraser) (11:01): I move:

That this House:

(1) recognises that:

(a) the Australian incarceration rate has risen from 117 prisoners per 100,000 adults in 1991 to 172 prisoners per 100,000 adults in 2010;

(b) since the Indigenous Deaths in Custody Report was released in 1991, the Indigenous incarceration rate has risen from 1739 prisoners per 100,000 adults to 2303 prisoners per 100,000 adults; and

(c) an increasing number of Australian children have a parent behind bars; and

(2) encourages governments at all levels to pursue innovative policies to reduce crime and incarceration rates, including:

(a) investing in early intervention programs to deter young people from crime;

(b) where appropriate, considering alternatives to incarceration such as weekend detention, periodic detention, restorative justice and drug courts;

(c) employing smart policing strategies, such as using real-time crime statistics to identify and target crime hotspots;

(d) establishing in-prison education, training and rehabilitation programs aimed at reducing recidivism and improving family relationships for prisoners with children; and

(e) implementing randomised policy trials (akin to the 1999 NSW Drug Court randomised trial) to rigorously evaluate the impact of criminal justice interventions.

When the Indigenous Deaths in Custody Report was released in 1991, there was widespread shock at the level of Indigenous incarceration in Australia, at 1,739 prisoners per 100,000 Indigenous adults. Yet over the past 20 years the Indigenous incarceration rate has increased by about 30 per cent. Today, 2,303 out of every 100,000 Indigenous adults are behind bars. By their mid-20s, 40 per cent of Indigenous men have been formally charged by police with a crime.

This reflects a general increase in incarceration in Australia, with the national imprisonment rate rising from 117 prisoners per 100,000 adults in 1991 to 172 prisoners per 100,000 adults now. For the most part, the growth in Australia's prison population has been driven not by a rise in crime but by law changes, such as tougher bail conditions and mandatory non-parole periods. These policies can sometimes cost society a lot without much changing the incentives for offenders. Increasing sentence lengths from 10 to 15 years may sound tough, but if you are dealing with someone who lives from day to day—or, in economic jargon, a person with a high discount rate—it could have no impact on crime rates. Indeed, Steven Durlauf and Daniel Nagin argue that the certainty of the punishment matters more than its size.

There are many admirable things about the United States, as President Obama reminded us in this chamber last week. But one concerning trend is increased incarceration. US jails currently hold over two million people, more than one per cent of the adult population. Among men aged 20-34 who did not complete high school, the US imprisonment rate is a jaw-dropping 12 percent for whites and 37 percent for blacks. And that is just the proportion behind bars on any given day. If you are an African-American man who does not finish high school, the odds are two in three that you will see the inside of a prison cell by the time you reach your mid-30s.

Another feature of persistently high incarceration rates is its intergenerational impact. In the US today, two per cent of white children and 11 per cent of African-American children have a parent behind bars. In the US, there are as many children with a jailed parent as there are prisoners. In Australia, the Australian Bureau of Statistics do not count the number of prisoners with children—although I think they should—but, if the US pattern holds up, that would mean that there are about 30,000 Australian children with a parent in jail today. We know that children with a parent in jail are more likely to commit crimes themselves. If you believe in family values, you should be committed to reducing Australian incarceration rates. I commend organisations such as SHINE for Kids for their work with children of prisoners.

This motion is not the first to recognise such a parlous state of affairs. In its report Doing Time - Time for Doing, the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs described Indigenous incarceration rates as a 'shameful state of affairs', and made 40 recommendations to government for addressing the issue. I commend the chair of the committee, the member for Blair, and the members of the committee for their analysis of this issue, which was discussed at last week's meeting of Commonwealth, State and Territory Attorneys-General, the body formerly known as SCAG. The Neumann Report will be an important document in shaping this debate over years to come.

I know this is also an issue that concerns the Attorney-General personally. In his Lionel Murphy lecture at ANU in September, the Attorney referred to Lionel Murphy's great 1982 High Court judgment of Neal v R. Mr Neal, an Aboriginal man from Queensland, had been sentenced to six months hard labour for swearing and spitting at a store owner. Arguing for the conviction to be overturned, Murphy wrote, 'Mr Neal is entitled to be an agitator.' Yet, if he were alive today, Lionel Murphy would be appalled to know how much the incarceration rate has risen in the ensuing three decades.

A number of public figures have spoken on this issue, including judges Stephen Rothman, Stephen Norrish, my former employer Michael Kirby, and Western Australian MLA Paul Papalia, who promotes what he calls 'justice reinvestment'. As head of the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics, Don Weatherburn has done a great deal to promote an evidence based debate. And while I am acknowledging people, I thank Jess Woodall, who interned in my office and is here in the gallery. She wrote the motion we are debating today. I am also very glad Jess has brought her mum Robyn Woodall along.

Over the past year, I have also appreciated the chance to visit the ACT's Alexander Maconochie Centre and Bimberi Youth Justice Centre, which struck me as very different from my visit to the old style Parramatta and Long Bay jails as a student journalist in 1993.

I have also appreciated learning about the community policing work being led by ACT Attorney-General Simon Corbell and ACT chief police officer Roman Quaedvlieg. For example, ACT policing are drawing on mental health experts and local Indigenous leaders such as Duncan Smith. They are also using case officers to work intensively with the 12 families who are responsible for a quarter of all property crimes in Canberra.

Nationwide, the total cost of Australia's prisons is nearly $3 billion a year or about $100,000 per prisoner. By spending money on addressing the underlying costs of crime, society gets to avoid the costs of both the crime and the punishment.

Criminologists describe four reasons for incarceration: retribution, deterrence, incapacitation and rehabilitation. Yet for some, the criminogenic effect of prisons outweighs any rehabilitative effect. The median sentence length in Australia is three years, so released prisoners find it hard to get a job and often discover that the only friends who have not deserted them are the ones they made inside. Sexual violence in prison probably is not as common as in the 1990s when New South Wales magistrate David Heilpern estimated that one-quarter of young male prisoners were raped, but the rate is likely higher than in the outside world.

In the short time available, it is impossible to do justice to the evidence on what works to reduce crime and incarceration, but I commend to the House a 2006 paper prepared by the Washington State Institute of Public Policy, which reviewed 571 evaluations. Among the programs that they found to have the largest effect are prevention programs such as nurse-family partnerships and high-quality early childhood programs targeted at very disadvantaged families. For juveniles, education programs and aggression replacement training were effective, while the 'Scared Straight' program actually increased offending. For adults, vocational training and programs for offenders with mental illness were particularly effective.

On this issue, as with others, we need to raise the evidence bar. To illustrate this, let me tell a story. When I was 22, I clashed with Bob Can over the issue of criminal justice. Carr, as opposition leader, had complained publicly about gangs roaming the streets of Sydney, 'their baseball caps turned back to front'. As a Labor candidate in the 1995 New South Wales election, I spoke at the New South Wales ALP conference—wearing a baseball cap turned back to front. My argument was that a tough-on-crime strategy ends up incarcerating the poor. Bob Carr's argument was that it is the poor who are most likely to be victims of crime. Both arguments are right. While we can point to examples of white-collar crime, most offences involve a low-income victim and a low-income perpetrator. If you care about reducing hard-core poverty, you should be interested in smarter criminal justice policies.

Yet it was the Carr Government who in 1999 put in place one of the most innovative criminal justice strategies—a drug court. Offenders are referred to the drug court from local or districts courts, undergo a detoxification program and are then dealt with by the drug court instead of a traditional judicial process. At the time it was established, the number of places in detoxification was limited, so participants in the evaluation were randomly assigned either to the treatment or control group. They were then matched to court records to measure reoffending rates. The evaluation found that the drug court was effective in reducing the rate of recidivism. The drug court was more expensive than the tradition judicial process, but it more than paid for itself in lower crime.

Another Australian randomised evaluation is the trial of restorative justice conducted by John Braithwaite and Heather Strang in Canberra. Together with other international randomised trials, this has helped build the evidence that for low-level offences, restorative justice makes victims feel better and reduces overall crime levels.

As a public policy 'randomista', I firmly believe that we need more randomised evaluations of criminal justice policies if we are to figure out what works and what does not. Some of our justice policies clearly do not work—the trouble is, we are not sure which ones. We need to raise the evidence bar. Getting justice policy right is not easy, but if there is one country that can lead the way, it should be Australia: the nation that showed the world that if they are given a chance, convicts can do just as well as anyone.

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Indigenous imprisonment (crude) rates, 1990-2010
Indigenous (a) Australia
Year Rate per 100,000 of adult indigenous population Rate per 100,000 of adult population
Persons Persons
1990 1638.3 111.6
1991 1738.6 117.2
1992 1497.8 118.1
1993 1438.4 119.2
1994 1617.6 125.2
1995 1681.9 127.3
1996 1576.2 130.9
1997 1625.0 137.0
1998 1663.4 139.2
1999 1864.7 145.2
2000 1664.2 150.2
2001 1777.3 153.0
2002 1727.6 150.8
2003 1807.8 155.5
2004 1835.1 157.2
2005 1999.4 162.4
2006 2096.6 163.2
2007 2215.7 169.1
2008 2171.0 168.2
2009 2309.8 174.7
2010 2302.7 172.4
(a) Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders.
Sources:
1990-1999: ABS, Prisoners in Australia 2000, Cat.no. 4517.0, Table 14
2000-2010: ABS, Prisoners in Australia 2010, Cat.no. 4517.0, Tables 3.4 and 4.3

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Sky News AM Agenda

I was on the Sky News AM Agenda program this morning with my usual sparring partner Mitch Fifield. Topics today included fair minerals taxation, the Coalition's unfair workplace laws, the Qantas dispute and Afghanistan. Hosted by Kieran Gilbert.

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Eslake Returns to Banking

The almost peerless Saul Eslake is leaving the Grattan Institute to join Bank of America Merrill Lynch - which I regard as a gain for them, and a loss for the rest of us. Saul's contribution to the public economic debate over recent years has been extraordinarily valuable, particularly given the lack of non-aligned macroeconomists and public economists who are willing to write for the popular media and speak on TV.

If you think you might be the next Eslake, Grattan would love to hear from you.
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NDIS

I wrote a column for the Chronicle newspaper recently about the proposed National Disability Insurance Scheme.
National Disability Insurance Scheme
The Chronicle


If you ever feel like you’ve had a tough week, try chatting with a parent who’s caring for a child with a profound disability. Chances are, they’ll be bleary-eyed and bone-tired. They may be struggling to make ends meet, and often contending with health issues of their own.

Like every parent, they love their children – but their parenting journey is harder than most. The regular cycle of life is that children leave home and start families of their own. But parents of children with a disability can find themselves caring for a 40 year-old with the mental abilities of a toddler. Many face a searing fear: what will happen to my child when I die?

In recent weeks, I’ve attended two events to recognise Canberrans with disabilities and the people who care for them. In Hackett, I spoke at the opening of Ross Walker lodge – a supported accommodation facility for six people with intellectual disabilities. Ross Walker preached the social gospel, and was a strong advocate for the most disadvantaged people in our community. (By coincidence, his life followed a similar trajectory to that of my paternal grandfather, who was also born in the 1920s, and entered the Methodist ministry after World War II.)

In Holt, I visited Sharing Places, one of the many organisations that care for people with a disability. Sharing Places has a focus on providing day services to adults with an intellectual disability. I met with several clients, and the people who care for them. Some had been working in the sector for decades, and found it the most rewarding activity they’d ever done.

The Sharing Places event was a DisabiliTEA morning tea, part of a campaign for a National Injury Insurance Scheme and National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS). An NDIS would provide better care to people with a disability. It would help resolve some of the anomalies in the current system. For example, if you become a paraplegic in a car accident, you’re more likely to get a payout than if you fall off your roof while cleaning the gutters. Under the current system, people who are born with a disability often receive insufficient care.

An NDIS isn’t cheap, and it’s not straightforward. But when the Gillard Government commissioned a report on it from the Productivity Commission, they came back with a strong recommendation that we should go ahead. So we’re working with the states and territories to build the foundations of an NDIS.

If you want more details, I’ll be holding a community forum in Belconnen at which I’ll discuss what an NDIS would mean for Australia. And if you’d like to volunteer, there are community organisations looking for people to help in the disability sector. Check out www.govolunteer.com.au and www.volunteeract.org.au for more details.

Andrew Leigh is the federal member for Fraser.
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Stimulus, Schools and Skating

I wrote a column for the Chronicle newspaper recently about the opening of the 'Belco Bowl'.
Stimulus, Schools and Skating
The Chronicle


The original skateboarders were bored California surfers – they came up with the new sport in the 1940s as a way to kill time when the waves were flat. Opening the new ‘Belco Bowl’ with Chris Bourke MLA earlier this month, I told the audience that its location couldn’t be more apt. As Canberra skaters look out over the calm waters of Lake Ginninderra, they can be reminded of how their sport started.

For anyone who hasn’t yet been to the Belco Bowl, you’re in for a treat. Now the largest skate park in the southern hemisphere, the Belco Bowl offers opportunities for expert skaters to show off their ollies, wheelies and pivots, as well as a space for first-timers to practice. For non-skaters like me, it’s a place where my wife and I can take our 2 year old and 4 year old boys, so they can watch with wide eyes as the BMX riders and skateboarders do their tricks.

The Belco Bowl upgrade was partially funded by the Australian government under the stimulus program. When the Global Financial Crisis struck in 2008, the federal government responded with household payments and infrastructure spending. We chose infrastructure projects that were both necessary and ‘shovel ready’. This included funding to upgrade Canberra’s local roads. Glebe Park also got a makeover, with a new shade sail, seating and event stage.

Every primary school received new facilities as part of the stimulus program. If you have children at school, you’ll have seen how these projects have improved their educational experience. For example, Florey Primary School has new science labs where the kids can follow in the footsteps of Howard Florey, who discovered penicillin. At Amaroo Primary School, teachers can teach in their traditional classroom, or remove the dividing walls between classrooms and teach in teams. At the Forde campus of Burgmann Anglican College, the new multipurpose hall has sharply raked seating, so all children can see the stage.

Across Australia, stimulus spending saved around 200,000 jobs, and our unemployment rate now stands at 5%, well below the jobless rate in Britain (8%) and the US (9%). Long-term unemployment can leave scars that last a lifetime. The stimulus spending not only prevented recession, it also left a valuable legacy: safer roads, better sporting facilities and revamped schools. From the Belco Bowl to Amaroo Primary, we’re investing to ensure Canberra stays the best city in Australia.

Andrew Leigh is the federal member for Fraser.
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Obama

Having been an Obama fan for quite some time, I was pretty chuffed to be able to meet him this week (as was my US-born wife, Gweneth). A few pics below.





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Superfast Broadband

I wrote a column for the Chronicle newspaper recently on the rollout of the National Broadband Network.
Superfast Broadband
The Chronicle


I was 11 years old when I bought my first computer. It was 1984, and the machine was an Aquarius. It had rubber keys, a cassette tape drive, and 3.5 kilobytes of memory. I used it to write simple programs in the BASIC language. Later that year, I upgraded to a VIC-20, with a whopping 5 kilobytes of memory. At about this time, Sydney Morning Herald computer editor Gareth Powell said that there was no advantage to any program in going beyond 16 kilobytes of memory.

The fact is, we’re not particularly good at forecasting where technology will take us. When I sent my first emails in 1996, they were text-only. In fact, most of us thought that email would be like the telegrams that previous generations had used, just faster and cheaper. Today, photos and video comprise most of the traffic flowing around the globe. Emails of 16 kilobytes or larger arrive in my inbox every few minutes.

So it’s little wonder that some critics of the National Broadband Network can’t imagine it as being anything more than a way getting faster access to YouTube and Facebook. Unfortunately, this just repeats the same mistake as previous decades: failing to imagine how a new technology will transform life and work.

The government’s current plan is to provide 93 percent of households with speeds of 100 megabytes per second. But in a recent trial of the network at Broken Hill, we saw speeds of 100 gigabytes per second: one-thousand times faster than hoped for.

But even at 100 megabytes per second, it will be possible to use the internet in fundamentally new ways. As anyone who has used Skype on a current connection will know, the jerky picture is better than nothing, but hardly ideal. The NBN will enable high-definition video-conferencing: letting patients speak with a medical specialist from home, allowing students to participate in distance learning from afar, and permitting teleworkers to participate in team meetings while working from home.

Starting in Gungahlin, the NBN will be progressively rolled out across the ACT over the next few years. We can’t predict all the ways it will transform our society for the better, but I expect that within a few decades, I’ll look back on today’s internet with the same wry amusement that I look at my old Aquarius.

Andrew Leigh is the federal member for Fraser. For more information on the timing of the NBN rollout, see www.nbnco.com.au.
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Aid Event

Pat Boldra from Friends of Plan Australia has asked me to let you know about their charity art and craft show, which I'm happy to do... even though it's a smidgin south of the electorate.
Our charity art and craft show which will be held at the Weston Creek Community  Hall on 25th-27th November? Each year the Friends of Plan Canberra group selects a Plan overseas aid project to support with all funds raised from our efforts.  So far we have raised over $2,500 this year towards clean water and improved sanitation in East Timor and we are well on the way to raising another $2,000 from the art and craft show and raffle of paintings donated by a local artist, Eleanor Inns.  The Ambassador for East Timor, His Excellency Abel Guterres, has agreed to open the show at 6pm on Friday 25th November and the raffle for Eleanor's paintings will be drawn at 3pm on the last day of the show, Sunday 27th.  In-between we will have on sale art and craft by local people in support of the project, much of it ideal as Christmas gifts.
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Street Party Invitation

With summer nigh upon us, it's a good chance to hold a summer street party. And to make it easy, here's a template:
This year, we’re holding a summer street party, to get to know the neighbourhood.

Our address is: _______________________________

Time: _______________________________

Date: _______________________________

RSVP by phoning: _______________________________

Please bring something to eat or something to drink.

We look forward to seeing you there.

To hold your own street party, just fill in the blanks on this template invitation and pop it in the letterbox of people in your street. There are plenty of ways to tailor it - one thing we've done is to look up the person after whom the street is named in the Australian Dictionary of Biography, and tell your neighbours a bit about how much that person loved socialising with friends.
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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.