Why helping Indonesia is in our National Interest

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Leadership for People with a Disability

A new national program provides leadership skills for people with a disability. I hope that local Canberra groups will apply.

Media Release - Helping leaders for tomorrow

Andrew Leigh, Federal Member for Fraser, is encouraging organisations in Canberra to help boost leadership skills of people with a disability.

Leaders for Tomorrow is a new national program designed to help people with disability become leaders in business, the community and government through mentoring and leadership development.

“This is one part of the Gillard Government’s $11 million package to support people with a disability and carers in our community,” said Andrew Leigh.

“The Leaders for Tomorrow package allows local organisations to help people with a disability partner up with mentors.

“It’s about overcoming barriers to education and work and skilling up the leaders of tomorrow.

“I hope many organisations in Canberra take up this opportunity.

“The successful applicants will develop individual leadership development plans for all participants in the Leaders for Tomorrow program. This may include goal setting, team building, governance, communication, implementing change and problem-solving.

“I congratulate Senator Jan McLucas, the Parliamentary Secretary for Disabilities and Carers, and the Gillard Government in helping people with a disability,” concluded Andrew Leigh.

The program is expected to provide about 200 people with disability with up to 12 months intensive leadership support, including a mentorship program where people work with mentors in their field of interest.

The accessibility package is being delivered under the National Disability Strategy and also includes the $5 million Accessible Communities Program, which is currently open to local governments to make their communities more accessible for people with disability through minor infrastructure upgrades.

Eligibility criteria and application forms for the Leaders for Tomorrow are available at www.fahcsia.gov.au, by calling 1800 668 689 or sending an email to [email protected]

Applications close on 11 March 2011.
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Big Ideas Competition

I'm running a 'Big Ideas' competition for young people living or studying on the north side of Canberra (the Fraser electorate). Entries should:
* Be a video no more than 3 minutes in length;

* Describe an issue, what should be done in response, and why.

The competition will be open for entries until Friday 12 May and will be run with three separate levels: primary (K-6), secondary (7-10) and youth (year 11 until age 24).

Topics can include anything from reducing crime to improving sports participation, urban transport to water use, foreign aid to alleviating homelessness, boosting business start-ups to fostering artistic creativity in Canberra.

The judges are: Danielle Cronin (Canberra Times), Kieran Gilbert (Sky), Peter Martin (Age), Samantha Maiden (The Australian), Mark Simkin (ABC), Sarah Wiley (2GB), Annabel Crabb (ABC), Mark Davis (SMH), and Laura Tingle (AFR).

If you know any young Fraser residents with bright ideas, please encourage them to enter the competition.

For more details, click on the 'Big Ideas' tab at the top of this page.
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Schooling in Indonesia

I gave a brief speech today in Parliament on Australia's aid program, and particularly its funding for education in Indonesia.
Schooling in Indonesia, 9 February 2011

In the late-1970s, I attended primary school in Banda Aceh. I was there because my father was working on an AusAID project to improve education in Indonesia. At the same time, Indonesian education was improving me. As the only white child in my class, I came to appreciate perspectives and cultures quite different from my own. The power of stories and songs, an understanding of geography and history – these things stay with me still.

For Indonesia, as for Australia, education is the best anti-poverty tool we’ve developed. A wealth of evidence now shows that education raises wages and increases participation in the democratic process. Better educated citizens are healthier, and their children receive many of these benefits too.

Yet while Australia has for decades been a partner in improving the Indonesian education system, that bipartisan consensus now threatens to crack. Fuelled by some of the most reactionary groups in Australia, a campaign has been afoot to say that when floods hit Australia, we should stop assisting others. This kind of inward-looking approach will directly harm thousands of Indonesian children. But it will also harm our national interest, which is in engagement, not autarky.

Our nation is not so poor - in finances or national spirit - that we must choose between rebuilding the damage done by the floods and being a good neighbour.
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In praise of public servants

Kevin Rudd has a terrific piece in today's Drum. A few quotes:
It’s fair to say we in politics don’t stop often enough to say thank you to public servants in public forums. This is a criticism that could be equally directed at either side of the political spectrum, and would be a fair comment. ...

Our Embassy in Cairo, staffed with fewer than 10 Australians on a regular basis, has swelled to over 40 staff helping stranded Australians get back home to safety.

More than 30 members of the public service heard the call that the Government was looking for more staff to assist in a deteriorating security environment and said “yes, I will go”.  ...

Tricia, a regional consular officer based in Dubai, answered the call. She was one of the first on the ground. She worked tirelessly all week until being detained while scoping routes to ensure Australians could travel safely along them. And what did she do after being released? Went straight back to work including living at the airport three days straight helping Australians onto flights. This work is truly appreciated and brought home to me when I met just a few of these rescued Australians on their way home from Egypt.

Tricia’s efforts are just one example of brilliant efforts by brilliant members of our foreign service. Efforts worth commending, but efforts replicated across the public service on a daily basis. ...

Every day, be it those on the front line at Centrelink, our customs and border protection staff, or those working on the policy ideas that will solve the challenges that Australia faces, we should be proud that in Australia we do have a world class public service.
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What I'm Reading

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Getting on with the Job

The recent floods and cyclone have had a devastating impact on Queensland and Victoria, with major infrastructure now needing to be rebuilt. In order to fund this rebuilding effort, Labor has proposed a $5.6 billion package. Two dollars out of three of this package will be funded by savings measures from the budget, while the remainder will be funded by a one-off levy in 2011-12. The levy will be progressive, so that flood victims and taxpayers earning less than $50,000 will pay nothing. For most of those who do pay the levy, the cost will be less than a cup of coffee per week.

Yet although he was part of a government that used special levies to fund extraordinary costs such as the Gun Buyback or the East Timor reconstruction effort, Tony Abbott has opted to oppose the flood levy. Dragging out his tired old ‘big new tax’ line, the Liberal-National Coalition has argued that the circumstances are inappropriate to impose a levy. This is despite the fact that during the election campaign Abbott proposed a company tax levy. Not only would that levy have been effectively imposed on all taxpayers (for the most part, company taxes end up being paid by consumers and workers), but it would have been permanent, not temporary.

What has Abbott proposed instead of a levy? His favoured solution seems to be savings cuts. The trouble is, he can’t identify reasonable programs that could be cut. He keeps talking about scrapping infrastructure funding, but does the Coalition really want half-built school libraries? And in a sign that Coalition maths are just as fuzzy as they were last year, Abbott has tried to go back to several ‘savings’ measures that were identified by Treasury as dodgy in the last election, when they found an $11 billion hole in Coalition election costings. (It’s not clear why he thinks that a spending cut that was shown to be fake last August will fool anyone today.)

Being the man who just says no might be good short-term politics for Abbott, but surely he also recognises the risk that it poses to his credibility over the long-run. The more often Abbott reaches for the glib one-liner instead of a sound policy choice, the less likely the Australian people are to believe that he has the skills and temperament to govern the country.

(cross-posted at the ALP website)
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Mobile Offices and Community Forums

Mobile Offices

In the last quarter of last year, I ran 15 mobile offices, and met a wide variety of Canberra residents to talk about local and national issues.

Over the coming months, I'll be holding more mobile offices. These are a good opportunity to raise issues that are specific to you or your family. Here are the first dates for 2011.

  • Sat 26 February - Canberra Show, EPIC – 9.00 to 11.00 am

  • Sat 19 March - Jamison Shops – 10.00 to 11.00 am & Lyneham Shops – 11.30 am to 12.30 pm

  • Wed 30 March - Bus Interchange, Civic – 8.00-9.00am

  • Wed 6 April - Garema Place, Civic – 12.30 to 1.30 pm

  • Sat 9 April - Gungahlin Marketplace – 10.00 to 11.00 am & Dickson Woolies – 11.30 am to 12.30 pm

Community Forums

In addition to my mobile offices, I'll be taking a leaf from my predecessor Bob McMullan's book, and running a series of community meetings. As part of these, I'll be delivering a speech on an issue that I thought might be of interest to Fraser residents. You're welcome to come to just the speech, just the community forum, or both.

The first four forums will be scheduled at different times of the day, and in different parts of the electorate. I hope as many residents as possible can come along.

  • Wed 16 March – Gungahlin Lakes Club
    6.30 to 7.00 pm: ‘Revenge of the Nerds: Improving Australia’s Education System’
    7.00 to 8.30 pm: Community Forum

  • Wed 20 April – Belconnen Labor Club
    1.30 to 2.00 pm: ‘Better Together: Ten Ways to Revitalise Community’
    2.00 to 3.30 pm: Community Forum

  • Wed 18 May – Ginninderra Labor Club
    6.30 to 7.00 pm: ‘The Pro-Growth Progressive: How Economic Reform Can Make Us Happier’
    7.00 to 8.30 pm: Community Forum

  • Sat 2 July – Downer Community Hall
    10.00 to 10.30 am: ‘Too Hot to Handle? The Challenge of Climate Change’
    10.30 am to 12.00 pm: Community Forum

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Canberra International Walking Weekend

I've just signed up for the Canberra International Walking Weekend on 2-3 April. If you're after a relaxed non-competitive walking event, it's well worth checking out their website.
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Jobless in America

My AFR op-ed today is on the US economy, and why the labour market numbers are so much worse than the growth figures.

Down and Out in the USA, Australian Financial Review, 1 February 2011

Ten years ago, I wrote an opinion piece with Justin Wolfers. Titled ‘A jobs miracle that has baffled the experts’, our goal was to try to understand the ‘miracle’ US labour market, and what lessons could be learned by Australian policymakers as they strove to get our unemployment rate (then 6%) down to US levels (then 4%).

Today, the dole cheque is in the other hand. Australia’s unemployment rate is 5% (ranging up to 6% in Queensland), while US unemployment is 9% (ranging up to 15% in Nevada). But those figures understate the magnitude of America’s unemployment problem. Many US adults have now given up looking for work, and so do not show up in the unemployment statistics. In addition, 1% of US adults are in jail, and are not counted in the jobless numbers.

For the most part, the picture Australians get of the US is an economy steadily recovering from recession. The National Bureau of Economic Research formally dates the end of the US recession as June 2009. Yet growth statistics show only part of the story. Far more disturbing are the labour force figures.

The magnitude of the US jobless problem was brought home to me when I attended the annual meetings of the American Economic Association in Denver in early-January. In a session titled ‘Lessons for Economics from the Great Recession’, Princeton’s Alan Krueger pointed out that the magnitude of the job loss was about one-third larger than would be expected given the fall in GDP. Compared with past recessions, US firms were quicker to fire employees in the latest downturn.

Looking to the future, Northwestern University’s Robert Gordon showed that merely to keep pace with steady increases in the working-age population, substantial job growth is needed. He painted one scenario: what if the US economy was to regain the employment rate it had before the crisis, and it was to reach that goal by 2016? To achieve this, Gordon calculated, it would be necessary to create nearly 300,000 jobs per month. Yet the current rate of job creation is just 100,000 per month.

Even if Gordon’s over-optimistic scenario was to be realised, the impact on the US workforce would be severe. Using the fact that every one-point fall in the employment/population ratio equates to 2.4 million people, he estimates the number of ‘job-years’ sacrificed as a result of the recession. In total, Gordon estimates that the US recession has led to 54 million lost job-years.

And if that picture wasn’t bleak enough, MIT’s David Autor presented historical data showing increased polarisation of the US labour market over the past three decades. Adjusted for inflation, US males without a university degree have gone backwards. Indeed, these men now have lower hourly wages today than their counterparts at the end of the 1970s. Yet for university graduates, earnings are one-third higher than they were a generation ago. The gap between rich and poor in America is higher than at any time since the 1930s.

The worrying labour market outcomes for less educated US men can be seen in declining marriage rates (particularly for black men), with potential adverse implications for future generations. One-tenth of African-American children have a parent in jail, while two-thirds are living with one parent.

The underperforming US labour market is likely to have three impacts on Australia. First, many migrants who might otherwise have looked to the US or Europe will now be likely to apply to enter Australia. This means that it’s a buyers’ market for skilled migrants.

Second, US politics is likely to be even more inward-looking than usual. With the rise of Tea Party Republicans (the modern-day version of the nineteenth-century ‘Know Nothing’ movement), US politicians who speak honestly about global challenges risk being attacked for being ‘out of touch’ with the concerns of Kansas City and Cincinnati. This will make it tougher than ever to strike international deals on issues such as trade and climate change.

Third, it ought to give pause to those who have argued that Australia’s industrial relations system requires a burst of US-style deregulation. The ability of US employers to fire workers with few legal impediments probably helped fuel the mass layoffs of 2008 and 2009. And while policymakers should always do everything we can to reduce the Australian unemployment rate, it remains a fact that our labour market is one of the best-performing in the developed world.

Andrew Leigh is the federal member for Fraser.
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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.