What (Victorian) Politicians Read

Back in March, Macgregor Duncan and I wrote a piece for the Australian Literary Review on what federal politicians are reading (article, spreadsheet with full results). In today's Age, Jane Sullivan does a similar exercise for Victorian politicians. My favourite quote:
[Judith Graley,] Labor member for Narre Warren South is also a big fan of Tim Winton's Cloudstreet: "I often read the opening paragraph, it is so poignant and sets the mood for feeling both overwhelmed and inspired, as we all do when dealing with family matters."

For what it's worth, I'm currently enjoying two autobiographies: Christopher Hitchens' Hitch 22, and Dalton Conley's Honky.
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Disconnected: Snippets and Reviews

A few pieces about Disconnected in the weekend papers:

  • The Australian carries an extract in its "Inquirer" section (update: and an article this week by Angela Shanahan)

  • The SMH has a review article by Adele Horin (who also wrote a generous quote for the dustjacket)

  • The Canberra Times has a book review by Don Aitken in its "Panorama" section (not online at this stage)

And on the radio...
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Faulkner on Being a Minister

On Wednesday night, John Faulkner launched Learning to be a Minister: Heroic Expectations, Practical Realities. I would've liked to attend, but was refused a pair, so had to make do with enjoying the text of his speech. John has given me permission to post it below.

A speech by Senator John Faulkner
At the launch of Learning to be a Minister: Heroic Expectations, Practical Realities
By Anne Tiernan and Pat Weller
27 October 2010

First of all let me thank Anne Tiernan and Pat Weller for inviting me to launch Learning to be a Minister: Heroic Expectations, Practical Realities.

I have, of course, wondered why they invited me.  But I saw the answer when I got to the end of the book.   They have been thoughtful enough to include a short Epilogue: When the Music Stops - which I have read with particular interest!

Learning to be a Minister”, is, in its exquisite (or perhaps excruciating) timing, a poignant book.  Michelle Grattan’s suggestion - that given the potential for a change of government in 2007 the focus should be on how a new ministry learns and adapts to the responsibilities of governing - was a good one. 

The Preface describing the ‘lively throng at Government House, Canberra on 3 December 2007’ catches the zeitgeist well, and Anne and Pat’s interviews undertaken for the book in 2008/9 and the commentary based on them reflect that mood a time that now, in October 2010, seems far more than just 2 years and 10 months ago.  

But the change of Government – a comparatively rare event in Australian politics – has assisted the authors explore the job of a minister; what they do; how they get there; and how they learn to manage the huge and diverse range of responsibilities that accrue to Ministers under the Westminster model.

This book is thorough and serious, drawing on interviews with 19 members of the Rudd Ministry, 10 former Howard ministers, 16 departmental secretaries and 10 senior ministerial staffers, and on the literature of academics and practitioners. 

To have actually tied those people down and undertaken interviews with them is itself an achievement; to have then selected, distilled and prioritised their words into a coherent structure is a very substantial effort.  

The authors do not claim that either their choice of interviewee or of what was said was scientifically representative. How could it be?...when just like snowflakes, no two Ministers are alike.  But letting that selection of people recount their own experiences, in their own words, is an excellent way to bring the muddle of ministerial days and the dry theory of public administration and public policy to life.

Of course, there is some entertainment to be had in trying to identify the anonymous extracts.   For example, this from a former Howard Government Minister discussing Cabinet meetings:

“[Howard] instituted the rule that we do appointments first.   That was a really good rule and the really interesting part of Cabinet as well...Some of the ministers were just hopeless at appointing people.  They’d just get the department to give them a list of names and no sense of the government’s political interests or the sensitivity of the issues, just nothing... And of course when they got a reputation for not being good on appointments, as soon as we saw one from that person we’d all be into it.  Real sport you know, just knock ‘em down...of course it is a sport...”

Round up the usual suspects!

Anne and Pat took Pat and Michelle Grattan’s 1981 book Can Ministers Cope? (the first and only comprehensive study of Australian federal ministers at work) as a baseline for comparing how Ministers’ roles, and the environment in which they operate, had changed in thirty years.

Comparing these two books gives a good sense of both the continuities in the job of a minister and also the massive changes that have occurred in the environment in which the job is done.  

Since 1981 Australian society and culture have been transformed: -

  • In 1981 only one woman was serving in Cabinet, and only three had ever held a ministry. 23% of the Rudd Ministry was female.

  • The effect of rapid change in information and communication technologies with an increasingly educated and technology savvy electorate has been enormous.

  • The impact of the 24 hour news cycle on so many aspects of a Minister’s personal and professional life has been profound.

  • As Anne outlines in her book, “Power without Responsibility”, we have seen an evolution, if not a revolution in the role of ministerial staff – not to mention the massive increase in numbers of ministerial staff in Ministers private offices.

  • There is a great deal more contestability in the range of policy options government may pursue, and now a plethora of alternative sources of policy advice

  • The geography, landscape and dynamics of decision making have changed, particularly since the move to the new Parliament House in 1988.

  • Major changes have been made to portfolio structures including the appointment of, and new arrangements and administrative orders for, Portfolio Cabinet Ministers, non-Cabinet Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries.

  • The public service has been extensively reformed. Senior Public Servants, Secretaries in particular, remain critically important, but perhaps sadly for some, none are able any longer to wrap and coddle their Ministers so tightly so as to blanket out other voices.

Some of the contrasts between the 1981 and the 2010 books are quite stark. For example, the emphasis then on the respective power of ministers and public servants, and the extensive treatment now of the role of ministers’ offices. Peter Wilenski wrote in 1979:

“the restoration of ministerial responsibility is, at least for reform governments (of whatever political colour), the most urgent task facing public administration and that will necessitate extensive changes in our system of government”

It is to the great credit of the Hawke and Keating governments that those extensive changes were made – and, to be fair, followed up with the new Public Service Act during the Howard Government’s time in office – so that we no longer debate the respective powers of ministers and public servants.  

Rather, by 2007, concerns had developed about whether the public service had lost its capacity to come up with innovative policy and whether ministerial staff had become - how should I put this, forceful? Even in some cases “overbearing”? It was in part in response to those kind of concerns that, as Special Minister of State, I established the Code of Conduct for Ministerial Staff, insisted that all staff attend induction courses, and, as an important accountability and transparency measure, introduced a Members of Parliament (Staff) Act Annual Report which will become increasingly useful over time as the system further evolves.

Ladies and Gentlemen, whatever has changed, some things stay the same:

  • A Minister’s obligations and responsibilities to the Parliament remain paramount,

  • Cabinet has retained its importance in authorising the decisions of Government,

  • There remain many things only ministers can do, legally and administratively,

  • There remain many fights only Ministers can be in, and many political decisions only Ministers can take, and

  • In our political system, however much bastardised Westminster, may be, it remains the case today that Ministers still trump officials and Ministers still trump staff.

I commend Chapter 3 of the book – “Taking Over” - as particularly valuable in describing those early days after a change of government. 

There is nothing quite as eerie as the Ministerial Wing when departing ministers have disappeared and before incoming ministers have arrived; nor anything quite as empty as a vacated ministerial office – empty filing cabinets, empty shelves, empty drawers, bare desks, slightly soiled carpets, blank walls, the occasional post-it note and perhaps, if you are lucky, some iced vo-vo’s - albeit stale - left on a shelf in the kitchen. 

The authors rightly bring out the important role played by Departmental Liaison Officers (DLOs) especially in those early days – and by other departmental staff urgently dispatched to Parliament House to train a new Minister.

Compared to other countries our transitions are particularly abrupt. In the United States, months go by between election and inauguration.   In the United Kingdom, new ministers go to work in established offices in their departments - so everything is already set up and usually there is some continuity of private office staff.

I recall when I was first learning to be a minister in March 1993 - after the sweetest victory of them all, Paul Keating advised ministers to use offices located - not in Parliament House but in their departments.   It was one of those ideas which was never going to happen; our geography, architecture and parliamentary sitting patterns and practices make it too hard.  

Ministers were nonplussed - Departments apoplectic - but we calmly solved the problem in the Department of Veterans’ Affairs with some lateral thinking by simply putting a sign on the door of a conference room – “Office of the Minister”.

After our defeat in the 1996 election Labor ministers were given a less- than - generous 24 hours to vacate their ministerial offices. One newly minted Liberal minister stormed into their new office on the Monday after the election, scaring the wits out of a cleaner desperately vacuuming away. The shaken cleaner was provided with an explanation – I’ve been waiting half a friggin’ lifetime to get my feet under that desk. (Actually friggin’ wasn’t the word used!).

And then in 2007, one new Labor Minister excitedly rang the PMO to report a former Howard Minister had been really helpful, and had contacted them to say they had left a filing cabinet full of Cabinet submissions behind, all neatly organised and labelled, to assist the new Minister get on top of the portfolio.

Panic stations. PM & C were called in to retrieve the highly classified documents and leave both the exiting Minister and the newbie red faced. No photocopies were taken I can assure you!

Ladies and Gentlemen, one addition I hope Anne and Pat will consider for the second edition of Learning to be a Minister, is the business of record keeping. Records, both paper and electronic, created and held in a minister’s office cover the range from official Cabinet and other departmental records, to the parliamentary, to the party and to the purely personal; from the very highly classified to material in the public domain; and also from the important and historically valuable to the completely trivial.   

Both political survival and good administration require reliable records systems so facts can be established, and recollections verified, during and after a term of appointment. 

Official records are eventually handled by departments under the provisions of the Archives Act.  The major political parties should have their own arrangements for their formal records.  The harder questions though, are whether, and where, to keep the more personal records. 

As a recently restored member of the National Archives Advisory Council and, in another life the Minister responsible for the National Archives, you will not be surprised to hear me urging ministers and chiefs of staff to get early advice from the Archives on the services they provide for the retention of personal records. And it goes without saying that in time, the increasing size, significance and potential accountability of ministerial staff will bring a call for more systematic handling of their records.

And, in case you were wondering, I have continuously deposited my personal papers with the National Archives. What is described by the Archives as the Faulkner Archive now fills 71 metres of shelving and contains Commonwealth and private records reflecting all aspects of my political and parliamentary life.

The book’s two chapters on the public service, especially the one on How Departmental Secretaries See Ministers are instructive.  I am pleased to see recognition of the very different approach to serving departmental secretaries adopted by Kevin Rudd in 2007. Rudd kept them on. Compare this to John Howard’s night of the long knives in March 1996 – in my view one of Mr Howard’s very worst decisions.

So too, I was pleased to see the attention paid to the responsibilities of ministers in parliament and to see the comments of one former Liberal minister; who said: “we Senate ministers always found the House of Reps ministers never really understand the exigencies of the parliament and the difficulties of getting things through...”.  (I suspect there might be a growing level of understanding on the green benches these days!)  

I think this book is to be commended for its restrained, common sense judgments, and for its avoiding simplistic remedies for change.  The enormous pressures on Ministers are recognised, and set out in some detail; for example in the diary information provided, and in the accounts of the changed approaches, attitudes and expectations of the media. 

But Anne and Pat in their final chapter which asks again Can Ministers Cope? come to much the same conclusions as in 1981:   the reader shouldn’t be tempted to sympathy;   becoming a Minister is a choice made by an individual which is usually desperately sought after, generally very hard fought for; and as the achievements of Governments of all persuasions demonstrate, the job can be done.

Most Ministers can, and do, cope – but some, as we know, cope better than others. 

I sincerely congratulate Anne and Pat on “Learning to be A Minister”.   I have prepared a shortlist of people in this very town for whom it should be essential reading! My spies tell me it is selling well in Manuka, with a number of quite surreptitious purchases being made!

I’ve already mentioned Anne’s ground breaking work on Ministerial staff, but let me say also to you Pat, that your work on governance and public policy issues has been of enormous significance now for over 30 years – for academics, practitioners and the public. To both Anne and Pat, who are of course, two of Australia’s finest political scientists – I compliment you both on a job very well done. 

Ladies and Gentlemen for those interested in the way government in Australia works, this book is essential reading.

It is with pleasure I launch, “Learning to be a Minister, Heroic Expectations, Practical Realities”.
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Afghanistan Speech

I spoke in Parliament yesterday on the Australian mission in Afghanistan.

Afghanistan: A Humanitarian Mission
Andrew Leigh MP

26 October 2010

On the morning of 11 September 2001, I was living in Boston. Standing in the atrium of the Littauer Building of the Harvard Kennedy School I watched up at the television screen and saw smoke pour out of the twin towers. Standing around me were students from around the globe, including many Americans. Some had friends who had boarded flights leaving Boston at 8 am that morning whom they would never see again.

That morning we were supposed to choose our classes. To help us decide Harvard had each professor give a short overview of their course offering. By chance, I entered the room where Professor Michael Ignatieff was presenting his overview. After a minute’s silence to remember those who had died that morning, Ignatieff spoke eloquently about international law and the challenges of deciding when to intervene in another nation for humanitarian reasons. He balanced the heart and the head—the need to honour those we have lost while thoughtfully considering the circumstances to justify sending our military overseas.

When I left the classroom, one of the twin towers had fallen. The second would fall soon afterwards. There was little doubt that the attack was planned from Afghanistan. A month later, US forces entered Afghanistan. Australian special forces troops followed soon afterwards. The mission was authorised under UN Security Council Resolution 1386. Since 2006, Australian troops have served in Oruzgan province, providing security and reconstruction.

Nearly a decade on from September 11, our parliament is debating whether Australian troops should remain in Afghanistan. Historically, we have debated such matters about once a decade: most recently in 2002 and, before that, in 1991. Such debates are important not only for what they say about particular engagements but also for what they say about the general principles that guide Australia in deciding when to send troops abroad.

I am not an isolationist. In 1991, Bob Hawke reminded this parliament of Neville Chamberlain’s words of 1938 when he said, ‘Why should we be concerned with a faraway country of which we know little?’ Hawke reminded the parliament that Chamberlain’s answer was provided by the horrific events that followed. ‘The great lesson of this century,’ said Hawke ‘is that peace is bought at too high a price if that price is the appeasement of aggression.’

But, just because it is right to intervene in some circumstances, it does not follow that all international engagements are justified. Opponents of our mission have pointed to Afghanistan’s many lasting problems. Afghanistan is one of the poorest parts of the world, and Oruzgan province is one of the poorest parts of Afghanistan, with subsistence-level incomes and literacy rates of one per cent for women and 10 per cent for men. Ninety per cent of public spending in Afghanistan comes from foreign aid and, while NGOs in Afghanistan have done some tremendous work, there is always a risk that those organisations could create parallel institutions and tempt Afghan professionals to leave the bureaucracy.

Yet we have made progress. Modern Afghans are a generation of people who, having come through decades of violence and unimaginable privation, possess a remarkable degree of fair-mindedness. Many seek the establishment of equity under the law and the restoration of social order. For example, the Afghan parliament now features 68 female members and has demonstrated Afghanistan’s growing pluralism and commitment to good governance by blocking ministerial candidates that it believes are unqualified or unfit to hold public office. More funding means more built infrastructure, and it is work such as this, in parallel with similar efforts around Afghanistan, that has led to the situation where over six million school age children—2½ million of them young women—are now accessing primary education.

History teaches us very few clear lessons. It is true that, in the 19th century, Afghanistan halted the expansion of the British Empire, massacring complete regiments of British soldiers in the passes outside Kabul. It is also the case that, in the 20th century, the Mujaheddin defeated the Soviet Union’s best divisions and hastened communism’s collapse. Yet there are major differences between the Soviet occupation of the 1980s and our current attempt to rebuild war-torn Afghanistan. As Afghan Defense Minister Abdul Wardak points out:

Unlike the Russians, who imposed government … you enabled us to write a democratic constitution … Unlike the Russians, who destroyed the country, you came to rebuild.

I fear that a simplistic portrayal of Afghanistan engenders defeatism and shows a lack of humanism. We must go forward with a new consensus on our continuing role in Afghanistan not only for the benefit of our serving men and women but also for the Afghan people, who deserve the chance to enjoy the benefits of a sovereign democratic nation.

In part, the role of ISAF and the coalition in Afghanistan is a tactical mission, directly targeting those who are planning bombings. In this capacity, a series of articles in last week’s New York Times suggests that better intelligence and the use of new rocket systems that are accurate to within a metre have severely weakened the Taliban and reduced the number of suicide bombings and rocket attacks on coalition troops and Afghan civilians.

But our mission is more than hunting insurgents. In Afghanistan the international community is working to ensure that the Afghan people can enjoy the fruits of good governance and stability that have so far eluded their country. For Australia’s part, the ADF are engaged in training the 4th Afghan Brigade and providing security, funding and personnel for Oruzgan’s provincial reconstruction team, which helps to build local infrastructure and assist with government services.

In my view, there are four reasons why we should stay in Afghanistan. First, we should do so because of our alliance commitments. As the Minister for Foreign Affairs has pointed out, a unanimous resolution of this House formally invoked articles IV and V of the ANZUS Treaty against those responsible for the terrorist attacks on 11 September.

Second, we should do so because of international law. Article 2 of UN Security Council Resolution 1386 calls upon member states to ‘contribute personnel, equipment and other resources to ISAF’. Forty-seven nations have heeded that call. Just like Australia, the rest of the international community realises that their position in Afghanistan is driven by a concept of principled engagement. Here there is shared fundamental human compassion, respect for universal human rights and commitment to raise the quality of life and to fight extremist behaviour. Together we share the moral courage to put our country men and women at risk to ensure that these tenets are upheld in a country which beforehand was a byword for conflict and instability.

The third and fourth reasons why we should stay in Afghanistan are that our work is helping reduce the threat of terrorism and that our efforts are helping to improve the humanitarian position of the Afghan people. A generation ago most military experts would have argued that these are fundamentally different missions, but modern counterinsurgency thinking is increasingly demonstrating that they are interwoven.

Training the Afghan 4th Brigade is much more than simply teaching these soldiers how to fight an insurgency. As members of the Australian Defence Force, our instructors believe in the importance of good governance, the rule of law and building civilian institutions. I am optimistic that in time these Afghan soldiers will demonstrate capacity to shield the Oruzgan community from corruption and coercion, not just outright violence.

The provision of government services and infrastructure are the basic weapons against extremism. In his recent book on the root causes of terrorism, Eli Berman argues that ‘social service provision creates the institutional base for most of the dangerous radical religious rebels’. To halt extremism, the international community must follow the same approach. We must tackle the fundamental social, political and economic issues that generate the lack of livelihood and the sense of hopelessness that beget extremism wherever they exist. Address these issues and you begin to unravel the extremist organisation.

To really shut down insurgent groups in Afghanistan we must continue to provide the basics: electricity, education, health care and welfare services. In the longer term we also need to be looking at the types of higher education and training that will ensure that young people have the option to build a real livelihood and access secondary services, rather than simply turn to extremism for moral and material sustenance. Just as ISAF special forces soldiers pursue Taliban leaders, the international community must be even more assiduous in providing the social outreach that stops Afghans from joining the insurgency.

The fact that insurgents seek to sabotage such services and attack those who attend demonstrates that building such infrastructure is our most potent way of combating such extremism. Indeed, counterinsurgency expert David Kilcullen has described this strategy as ‘armed social work’. Using soldiers to protect a newly constructed school is unglamorous but it may be the best way of crippling insurgents in the long run.

In recent months the Australian government has moved to deliver more funding to the reconstruction team that provides just these types of services. Our provincial reconstruction team is now able to access up to 20 per cent of the $123 million of aid destined for Afghanistan. What happens in Afghanistan directly affects Australians. As Anthony Bubalo and Michael Fullilove have pointed out, Afghanistan helped form the mind of Noordin Top, a terrorist who masterminded a string of bombings directed towards Australians in Indonesia. Bubalo and Fullilove also point out that Afghanistan lies ‘in a region that shares an ocean with Australia; contains two nuclear powers that have come close to war—and in Iran, a possible third—is close to the heart of international energy supplies; has become a major exporter of drugs; and lacks any viable regional security framework’.

It is now clear that we have entered a new stage in our involvement in Afghanistan. This is a new era signalled not merely by the openness with which this debate is being conducted but also by broader changes in counterinsurgency strategy on the part of ISAF. We are entering a transition phase, moving to Afghan lead roles in both security operations and civilian government. This does not mean that foreign troops will be out of Afghanistan by 2014, but it does mean that, by the time of their next presidential election, Afghan forces will be in the lead. Parallel to this will be a process of reconciliation, in which some insurgents who wish to rejoin the mainstream will have the opportunity to do so. Of course, not all groups will have this chance —some are utterly unacceptable—but, as the experience of other countries has shown, insurgencies almost invariably end in negotiation.

Australian forces have continued to re-evaluate how Australian personnel cooperate with Afghanistan’s various stakeholders such as the Afghan government, ISAF and non-government organisations. Our mission also involves integration between our own military and civil agencies. There are 50 to 60 Australian government civilians in Afghanistan today, including 28 Australian Federal Police members and a number of DFAT and AusAID personnel. I am proud of the work these public servants are doing, not least because about half of them live in my electorate.

The lessons learnt on the ground and from our international partners in Afghanistan will serve Australia well in future stabilisation efforts. In the coming decades Australia and the international community will often have to make rapid decisions on whether to intervene to counter extremism and avoid destabilisation.

When it comes to intervening in other countries, the international community in the past has made mistakes. Many have argued that we should not have intervened in Vietnam. And in retrospect, we should have intervened earlier in Rwanda.

Yet sometimes war is just. In World War I my great-grandfather was a radio operator on an Australian Navy ship off German New Guinea. In World War II my grandfather was an army medic in Bougainville. I am proud of both of their service.

More recently Australia can be proud of our own deployments that have supported our values—deployments which have showed that we can adapt to and confront challenging social and political landscapes far from home soil. In our current efforts in East Timor, in the Solomon Islands and, of course, in Afghanistan from 2001 to today, Australia is continuing to rebuild societies and save lives.

For the future, there is no simple test that determines when and how we should intervene, but some principles should guide our thinking. As our nation has always done, we must honour the fallen, for there is no greater sacrifice than to lay down your life for your country. Yet our decisions must be made based on future costs and future benefits not just to our own personnel but to affected civilians. No decision today can bring back those lives that have been tragically lost.

We must also realise the complexity of the moral and leadership challenge before us. The political calculus must not be to ensure a crude ‘exit strategy’ but be to deliver a good and honourable humanitarian outcome for these most vulnerable.
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West Belconnen Health Co-Op

I spoke in Parliament yesterday about the terrific work of the West Belconnen Health Co-Op in Charnwood and the Belconnen town centre.

West Belconnen Health Cooperative
Andrew Leigh MP
26 October 2010

I rise today to inform the House about some terrific progress being made by the West Belconnen Health Cooperative in Charnwood. Earlier this year the local community owned and professionally managed health co-op opened. I had the pleasure of recently visiting the health co-op and I was shown around by Michael Pilbrow, the current Chair of the West Belconnen Health Cooperative. The co-op began providing a bulk-billing GP medical service from a centre in Charnwood which served one of the more disadvantaged populations in my electorate. It is funded by small annual fees which are charged to co-op members. The centre currently has over 5,400 people with co-op memberships.

The centre began thanks to $220,000 of seed funding from the Commonwealth government in 2009, which was matched by $220,000 from the ACT government. According to board members, the seed funds were invaluable in helping them to fit-out the premises and get the co-op established. I would like to use this opportunity to acknowledge the work of Bob McMullan, my predecessor as the member for Fraser; the Minister for Health and Ageing, Nicola Roxon; and the ACT Minister for Health, Katy Gallagher.

The co-op now has five doctors working with it, all recruited from outside the ACT, particularly from the oversupplied UK. This is significantly helping to address the local GP shortage. The centre is now looking to expand, with six doctors, three practice nurses and several support staff. This extended space at Charnwood will be opening within weeks and will enable the co-op to provide space for a bulk-billing pathology provider.

The co-op is opening its second health centre this week in Totterdell Street in the Belconnen town centre. Other organisations are invited as community partners to become involved with the professional health services of the co-op. The co-op board has recently decided to employ a community relationships manager whose key responsibility will be to integrate some of these relationships such as with the Junction Youth Health Service and with Companion House, which supports survivors of torture and trauma.

I would like to acknowledge the hard work of several individuals involved in the co-op: Michael Pilbrow, the chair; Roger Nicoll, the current deputy chair and previous chair; Peter White, the secretary; Brian Frith; Paul Flint; Joanne Courtney; Jenny McGee; and Ross Maxwell. I would like to conclude by acknowledging the skilled volunteers who served for no pay on the original committee and the subsequent board of directors. They had the vision and the commitment to pursue a dream of a community owned health centre rather than complain and wait for someone else to fix the problem.
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PM's speech launching 'Disconnected'

Julia Gillard launched my book Disconnected in Parliament House yesterday. Here's her speech.

Prime Minister
Book Launch
Disconnected by Dr Andrew Leigh MP
Tuesday 26 October 2010

It is a real pleasure to be here today to launch this book and I again congratulate you Andrew on your election to parliament.

You bring great gifts to public life and I know you will make a great contribution for the people of Fraser and for the people of Australia.

The publication of this book continues a long Labor tradition of elected represent-tatives taking seriously the job of inquiry and analysis though the written word.

Think of Barry Jones, John Button, Craig Emerson, Lindsay Tanner or Wayne Swan; and in an earlier generation Race Mathews, Gough Whitlam and Jim Cairns.

Andrew Leigh now joins that long tradition of Labor intellectuals and he is a very welcome addition to that pantheon indeed.


Like his mentor Robert Putnam, Andrew Leigh has for a decade or more patiently collected data on the trends and patterns that map the state of our social capital over the past 60 years.

And the result is this new work, Disconnected, which I am honoured to launch today.

Like Putnam’s seminal book Bowling Alone, Disconnected is a revealing snapshot of where Australian society stands in 2010.

Revealing and disturbing because it clearly shows that our incredible accumulation of wealth and personal freedom has been accompanied by a loss of community.

Andrew’s research quantifies something we’ve all suspected for a
long time:

-        That there has been a widespread decline of participation in activities such as sport, religion, culture and volunteering, representing a worrying erosion of our social capital.

Those over 40 will be tempted to suggest that we’ve felt a shift from a way of life geared towards building social capital to a way of life where social capital is too often degraded and taken for granted.

As Andrew shows, that temptation is not without foundation.

Australians in the immediate postwar era were a nation of ‘joiners’.

More often than not we were active members of churches, unions, sporting clubs and political parties.

We volunteered in any number of community groups like the Lions Club or the Country Women’s Association.

We went ‘out’ to the movies instead of sitting in our home theatres.

We dropped in on friends and relatives and saw them face-to-face over
a cup of tea.

We visited the green grocer, the butcher and the bakery along a strip of main
street shops.

And the elderly were much more likely to be cared for at home and indeed to live
in households containing three generations.

Today, as Andrew notes, we use self-service check-outs and online banking.

We buy our bus or train tickets from a machine and no longer get to say g’day to
a toll booth operator because we’ve moved to electronic tags.

We’ve even replaced the luxury of browsing a bookstore with uploading books online.

It would be easy to simply blame technology which of course has a part to play.

And it is all too tempting to romanticise a past which hid many problems behind a facade of civility and cohesion.

But the truth is that social capital is declining, and while many people have the capacity for adaptation, large numbers of our fellow Australians are at risk of falling through the cracks and being left behind.

As that happens, the ambit of government is forced to expand to fill the gaps in our social fabric which, contrary to the views of some commentators, is not something anyone on the progressive side of politics wants to see.

And why?

Because we know that however worthwhile transfer payments and other government interventions are, in the end they cannot replace the fabric of a healthy and vibrant community.

Nothing we do in the public sphere can ever substitute for having a good friend who can look after your kids when you suddenly have to work a night shift.

Or a local footy coach who gives a kid that extra sense of belonging because he knows things are tough at home.

Or the neighbour who checks in on an elderly neighbour because they haven’t been around for a few days and they’re worried.

These things are the essence of a good community, and Andrew’s book shows that regrettably such bonds are getting weaker, a conclusion reinforced by the Australian Social Inclusion Board in its report released in January How Australia is Faring.

Andrew’s findings suggest that this decline is not the result of any conscious decision but a by-product of new patterns of work and life that have emerged in recent years; and he lists them:

We work longer hours.

We spend more time commuting and those commutes are often more frustrating due to congestion.

We’ve suffered from the impact of television, which Andrew shows has had a corrosive effect on civic life wherever it has been introduced.

We spend more of our lives using impersonal technologies.

And Andrew indicates two factors that he believes have served to reduce social capital even though they are otherwise beneficial:

-        increased female participation in the labour force, which Andrew shows has diminished the social capital of our communities although it has obviously brought many other advantages to women and to our wider society;

-        and ethnic diversity, which the book shows can reduce the bonds of trust and cohesion, even though it also brings enrichment to our community in so many other ways.

Of course these sources of change are not going to be shifted quickly.

Indeed some should not or cannot be changed at all.

Nor is it the case that all of us will feel the decline of social capital equally.

A member of Generation Y who can invite 150 friends to their party via Facebook probably won’t feel they live in an uncaring society.

They may even feel an expanded sense of possibility in this new world of flexible workplaces, multiple career options and limitless technology.

But certainly there are those in our community for whom the decline in social capital has taken a real toll, and if Andrew’s book prompts our concern, it is to them our thoughts must first turn.

That includes those suffering from social exclusion because of chronic illness
or frailty.

From living with disability or mental illness.

From a lack of skills or self-esteem to engage with the workforce.

From geographic isolation, often compounded by poor public transport.

Or perhaps from being a new migrant without the language skills or cultural knowledge to fully participate in the community.

No matter the cause, all of these fellow citizens have a claim on our understanding and on our compassion as they negotiate a society ever more complex and less cohesive.

For many, inclusion begins with the security of welfare assistance and a place in public housing, the most basic elements of our social contract.

But a worthy agenda of social inclusion requires so much more.

It means investing in early childhood development and incentives to encourage better parenting.

It means giving people access to the transformative power of skills and education.

It means lifting our fellow Australians from dependence on welfare to the benefits and dignity of work.

And it means equipping our non-profit sector with the tools and confidence to craft new responses  to meet changing needs and demands.

I would also add that broadband will open up now possibilities for the socially isolated such as the elderly and home bound, a good reminder that the NBN is as much a social investment as an economic one.

All of these things are absolute priorities for my government and profound personal commitments for me as Prime Minister as well.

But in the end, as Andrew’s book itself concludes, building community is not something that can be left to government or its partners in the non-profit sector alone.

It is a job for all of us.

It is a job for each of us.

As Andrew argues, we need to value our communities by doing the small things
than can help rebuild social capital step by step, day by day.

And he gives a range of simple examples like patronising your local small businesses or holding a street party.

Donating to charity or sharing your time through volunteering.

Trying to ensure you eat lunch at work with others rather than alone.

And getting involved in a some kind of sporting group, activity or hobby.

He also adds this interesting idea: “Contact two politicians”, a suggestion I’m sure
he wrote before being elected to parliament!

As Andrew freely admits, this list is “just for starters”.

But more importantly, and this is his concluding note, it starts with us.

All twenty-two million of us.

Government can’t do it alone.

We can do much.

But we can’t do it all.

Margaret Thatcher may have once said that there is no such thing as society.

I would put it very differently and say: there is no substitute for community.

We cannot be the nation we want to be without the web of cooperation and trust that comes from a healthy accumulation of social capital.

As this book shows in sobering factual detail, that reserve of social capital has been degrading for 40 years.

It’s time to pause, take stock and rebuild.

And I thank Andrew for giving us a roadmap of how we might begin that journey in our own lives, just as this government has commenced that same journey at the policy level through an ambitious agenda of social inclusion and reform.

So friends,

I congratulate Andrew on this wonderful achievement.

It’s a great way to announce your arrival in public life and to signal that your formidable gifts of insight and intellect have been placed squarely at the service of the common good.

I also take this opportunity to thank Andrew’s family for their forbearance because the creation of a book is never easy at home.

Finally, I commend Andrew’s editor Phillipa McGuinness and the publishing team for bringing this work so handsomely to life because you have not only printed a book but helped sustain and enlarge a conversation that is vital to our nation’s future.

With these thoughts in mind, I proudly launch Disconnected

Written by Dr Andrew Leigh and published by the University of New South Wales Press –

And wish it every success.

Thank you very much.
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Labor and Liberalism

My opinion piece today is on the ALP and small-l liberalism.

Labor and Liberalism, Australian Financial Review, 26 October 2010

Are the Liberal Party the true defenders of liberalism in Australia? In his 2009 Deakin lecture, Liberal Senator George Brandis argued that liberalism was the golden thread that ran from Deakin to Menzies to the modern-day Liberal Party.

Yet the job of speaking out for individual liberties has often fallen not to the Liberal Party, but to their political opponents. The Sex Discrimination Act and Racial Discrimination Act were both passed by Labor governments – over the quibbles of some Liberal members of parliament. It took the current Labor government to remove from the statute books much of the explicit discrimination against same-sex couples. And that most liberal of ideas – an Australian Republic – finds 100 percent backing only on one side of the House of Representatives.

If we in the ALP have sometimes been coy about our liberalism, it is because modern Labor stands at the confluence of two powerful rivers in Australian politics. We are best known as the party that believes in egalitarianism – that a child from Aurukun can become a High Court Justice, and that a mine worker should get the same medical treatment as the bloke who owns the mine.

But we are also the party that believes in liberalism – that governments have a role in protecting the rights of minorities, that freedom of speech applies for unpopular ideas as for popular ones, and that all of us stand equal beneath the Southern Cross. In this, the modern Labor Party is the true heir to the small-L liberal tradition in Australia.

Alfred Deakin was one of the earliest Australian leaders to make the distinction between liberals and conservatives. Deakin argued that liberalism meant the destruction of class privileges, equality of political rights without reference to creed, and equality of legal rights without reference to wealth. Liberalism, Deakin said, meant a government that acted in the interests of the majority, with particular regard to the poorest in the community.

As for conservatives, to quote Deakin’s description of his opponents, they are:

‘a party less easy to describe or define, because, as a rule it has no positive programme of its own, adopting instead an attitude of denial and negation. This mixed body, which may fairly be termed the party of anti-liberalism, justifies its existence, not by proposing its own solution of problems, but by politically blocking all proposals of a progressive character, and putting the brakes on those it cannot block.’

While liberalism derives from a deep belief in individual freedom, conservatism depends on where one stands. In defending the established order of things, conservatives may find themselves supporting different institutions according to time and place. As Brandis noted in his 2009 lecture, conservatism ‘lacks the moral clarity to make the most fundamental judgments about right and wrong’.

Perhaps the Liberal Party could once claim to be the defenders of small-L liberalism. But today’s party has shed the livery of liberalism – and donned the crown of conservatism. Leaders such as John Howard and Tony Abbott are defined less by their support for individual liberties, and more by their defence of long-established institutions. Theirs is more the political philosophy of Edmund Burke than John Stuart Mill.

This approach can readily be seen in the modern Liberal Party’s hostility to the work of the independent Murray Darling Basin Authority and its opposition to using market-based mechanisms to address climate change. In both cases, the Liberal Party’s position is to defend the status quo.

Parties will continue to argue over the values that inspire them. John Howard fuelled the notion of ‘Howard’s battlers’ – the idea that working-class voters had deserted Labor. This was a daring rhetorical grab into Labor’s heartland – though one backed by little evidence, since low-income voters have always been more likely to support the ALP.

Yet in the process, Howard also placed himself and his party firmly in the conservative tradition. This was reflected in the Howard government’s stance on everything from reconciliation to refugees, the monarchy to multiculturalism. Although Brandis and other moderates in the Liberal Party would like to distance themselves from this, the party of Howard and Abbott is very much a party of conservatism: instinctively suspicious of social change.

A century on, it is hard to escape the conclusion that if Deakin were in the federal parliament today, he and his brand of progressive liberalism would find a natural home in the Australian Labor Party.

Andrew Leigh is the federal member for Fraser. Parts of this article draw on his maiden speech, which is available at www.andrewleigh.com.
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Suicide Prevention and Mental Health

On 25 October 2010, I spoke in parliament on the issue of suicide prevention and mental health.
Mental Health, 25 October 2010

At age 22, I gave the eulogy at the funeral of my friend Andrew McIntosh, who had taken his own life. It was one of the hardest things I had ever had to do. Andrew was a high school friend of mine, a gifted athlete who could pick up a new sport within a few hours, a person who took the time to listen to his mates and who was always there to share a laugh. He drove a bright yellow Valiant Charger, loved music and was always up for a night out. Andrew was studying sports education at the time of his death. We all thought that he was on his way to becoming a great teacher. But none of us caught sight of the fact that the black dog had found its way inside him. Andrew died in 1994, but I know that his parents, Grahame and Rena McIntosh, still miss him every day.

I thought of Andrew in January of this year when I attended the funeral of Canberra lad Alex Hodgins, son of Judy and Tony Hodgins, who run the Gods Cafe at the Australian National University. Alex was a handsome man with a ready smile, and I knew him through the Gods Cafe, where he would often make my daily coffee and we would have a chat about what he was up to or what I was thinking about that day. On that day, back in January of this year, Alex’s loss had touched hundreds of his friends, and the church in Ainslie was overflowing with young men and women in the flower of their lives, all dressed in black, with their puffy red eyes.

There is no simple solution to reducing suicide, but we can improve the odds of survival. One of John Howard’s first acts as Prime Minister was the national firearms agreement, which cut the suicide rate by making it harder for people to get their hands on a firearm. Australians are also better at talking about depression today, thanks in part to public advocates like Jeff Kennett and Jack Heath, but there are still too many young people who take their own lives; too many parents who bury their own children. As a society, I think we can do better. I do not agree with parts of this motion we are debating today—I think it is a little too simplistic and there are some inaccurate claims about the current government—but I do respect the opportunity to talk today about the critical issue of suicide, the issues of mental health and what we can do about them.

At the moment the Labor government is delivering a range of new reforms which are aimed at trying to improve the way in which we as a society deal with mental health.

The Gillard government is rolling out up to 30 new youth-friendly services and providing extra funding for the existing 30 headspace sites. Headspace is a program that works with community youth services. The government is providing $25½ million over four years to expand the Early Psychosis Prevention and Intervention Centre, the EPPIC model which is referred to in the motion, in partnership with states and territories. The government is providing $13 million over two years to employ extra mental health nurses. The government is also providing $5½ million to extend the Mental Health Support for Drought Affected Communities Initiative through to 2011. And the Gillard government is providing resources in direct suicide prevention and crisis intervention programs, such as improving safety at suicide hotspots and increasing funding for Lifeline Australia.

I met recently with Mike Zissler, the CEO of Lifeline, and talked to him about the way in which Lifeline operates and the important role that Lifeline plays, not only through its well-known telephone hotline but also through the counselling support it can provide and through the training that Lifeline does in teaching us how to have a sensible conversation about suicide. Mike talked to me about the importance of using the ‘s’ word—of actually saying to someone you think might be contemplating suicide: ‘Are you thinking about suicide?’ He said that their research has shown that asking that simple question, actually using the word ‘suicide’, will often result in somebody who is on the brink saying, ‘Well, yes, I am thinking about suicide,’ and provide that crucial window to do something about it.

The government is providing more services and support to men, who, as previous speakers have noted, comprise about three-quarters of suicide victims, and through programs such as beyondblue expanding the reach of suicide support to men. The Gillard government is also providing resources to promote good mental health and resilience in young people in order to prevent suicide later in life. As previous speakers have also noted, this has been the first ever Commonwealth investment in the EPPIC model since its introduction in 1992. The Gillard government also has the first Commonwealth minister for mental health, recognising the importance that this government places on the issue of mental health. Labor has been building resilience in young children by expanding the KidsMatter program and has been funding initiatives in high-risk communities such as Indigenous Australia, which accounts for a disproportionate share of all suicides. Mental health is a particular second-term priority for the Gillard government. I know that the Minister for Health and Ageing has a series of meetings planned around the country with consumers and carers. He will be out there listening to their experiences and having those stories shape Labor’s policy.

On 12 October 2010 I opened a day-long event in my electorate titled ‘Towards recovery: how do we talk about suicide?’ It was run by the ACT Transcultural Mental Health Centre and the Mental Health Community Coalition. I wish to use the opportunity today to pay tribute to the hard-working organisers, including Simon Tatz, Brooke McKail and Simon Biereck. The event was conducted in Pilgrim House as part of Mental Health Week. Events like this help emphasise the importance of talking about suicide and help allow community groups, which provide the solution to this problem, to come together and talk about how they have addressed the issue and how we can do better.

I would like to finish my comments today by talking about the experiences of one of my staff, Lyndell Tutty. Lyndell is a woman who is always ready with a smile and a joke. She is somebody who is ready to make fun of me wherever I need to be taken down a few pegs. You would never know it from looking at Lyndell that she has had her own very serious battles with depression. Lyndell provided me with terrific help today in preparing the comments I have made in this place. I want to finish by quoting from her words on dealing with depression. She said:

'Education, recognising the symptoms, the triggers, and early intervention are the key.'

With education you are provided with tools and therefore hope and confidence that you can either manage your illness or beat it.

When you have no confidence and feel soulless the last thing you can do is believe in yourself, but with support, hope and education you can try your best to ride the dark moments until you are strong enough to believe.

Lyndell is now a terrific contributor to public policy in Australia and I am really proud to have her on my staff and to have the opportunity to contribute to this important discussion today.
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Lateline Interview

Lateline's Leigh Sales interviewed Kelly O'Dwyer and myself about the week in politics (multiculturalism, asylum seekers, water, economic policy and Afghanistan). Transcript and video here.
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Dignity in Retirement

I spoke in parliament yesterday about the importance of dignity in retirement.
Hansard  - 21 October 2010

One of the most important things a society can do is look after older members. Indeed, the first payment issued from the Commonwealth government was the age pension, instituted in 1909. Labor continues in that proud tradition today.

In the last term of government we increased the single age pension from 25 per cent of male total average weekly earnings to 27.7 per cent.  This was the largest increase in the pension since its inception. The

Gillard government is also committed to raising the minimum superannuation contribution from nine to 12 per cent.

Another important principle is ensuring that people live in homes that are appropriately set up for their needs. I am delighted to be joined in the gallery today by Charmian Leigh, who is here with Rosemary Chivers and Gabrielle Leigh and my parents Barbara and Michael.

Charmian is an occupational therapist whose work aims to ensure that veterans can continue to function in their own homes by installing a range of mobility aids such as ramps and handrails. I know one hospital in Sydney that refers to this work as that of the ‘geriatric flying squad’.

It is critical to providing older Australians with dignity in retirement, and I could not be more proud of Charmian and her work.
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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.