How to make sure things add up - Op Ed, The Canberra Times


The Canberra Times, 29 December 2020

How well do you know the world around you? In recent years, pollster Ipsos MORI has been asking people questions about everything from sex to death in order to figure out how our perceptions square with reality. 

On crime, the typical Australian thinks that 7 per cent of deaths are due to homicide (the true figure is 0.2 per cent), and 4 per cent to terrorism and conflict (the correct number is less than 0.1 per cent). Seventy-two per cent of Australians say that the murder rate is stable or rising; in fact, it’s dropped by one-third since the start of the century.

Australians think immigrants comprise 40 per cent of prisoners (the actual number is 19 per cent). We think that 18 per cent of teen girls give birth annually (it’s really 1 per cent). We think that 12 per cent of the population is Muslim (the correct figure is less than one-quarter of this). We think that 26 per cent of people live in rural Australia (the true share is 11 per cent). 

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Can we find common ground on China - Op Ed, The Canberra Times


The Canberra Times, 21 December 2020

In 2000, the Reserve Bank of Australia held a conference reviewing the 1990s. The US was mentioned 93 times. China wasn’t mentioned once.

In some sense, the omission was unsurprising. In 1990, Australia’s economic output was almost as large as China’s. The country that mattered most economically was the US. Conveniently, the US was also our top security ally.

In the 21st century, economics and geopolitics diverged. Much is made of the differences—between Americophiles and Sinophiles, hawks and doves, businesspeople and national security experts. But perhaps everyone can agree on six points.

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Volunteering is in a slump, it's time for some caremongering - Op Ed, The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age


The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, 4 December 2020

When masks became mandatory in Melbourne, Sewing for Charity Australia got to work. Across Australia, it mobilised over 3000 volunteers to sew colourful masks and send them to Victoria. ‘In a time of pandemic we have to come together’, said founder Cass Gell. ‘I have my kids threading elastics.’

As sporting events were cancelled, former Socceroo Craig Foster encouraged teams to replace playing for points with playing for lives. ‘Play for Lives’ mobilised athletes to pack food hampers, transport essential medications and deliver Meals on Wheels.

The initiative was especially timely because coronavirus had caused two-thirds of volunteers to cut back on their efforts. Some charities had to reshape how they delivered services, while in other cases older volunteers simply had to self-isolate.

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Let's change the way we think about giving to charity - Op Ed, The Canberra Times


The Canberra Times, December 1 2020

Just as coronavirus hit, Dawn was diagnosed with stage four cancer.

The preschool teacher mentioned it to the parents of one of the children in her class. Not long afterwards, the family said they wanted to give her a gift of $10,000. They had been saving it for a holiday, but figured Dawn could better use the money in her battle with cancer.

When coronavirus hit at the start of 2020, countless Australians reached out to help those around them. Three young women who had lost their jobs went out to their first dinner in months to celebrate a birthday. A couple at the next table heard their story, and quietly paid the bill before slipping out. The women were reduced to tears at the generosity of complete strangers.

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Can we make work work? - Op Ed, Inside Story


Inside Story, 27 November 2020

Liberty Ashes is a private waste collection company operating in New York City. Over a six-year period, one of the company’s garbage trucks severed the fingers of three employees. Two pinkies and one ring finger were lost because the truck lacked a safety latch.

Garbage collection is one of the most dangerous jobs in America. Each year, around one in 2000 workers in the industry lose their lives. Standard economic theory tells us that a risk of this magnitude should be accompanied by substantially higher pay. But the median hourly wage for American garbage collectors is only US$17.40, which hardly seems sufficient to make up for a death rate comparable to serving in a war zone, not to mention the daily risk of other injuries.

In You’re Paid What You’re Worth: And Other Myths of the Modern Economy, sociologist Jake Rosenfeld outlines many of the injustices that underpin the American economy. In Oklahoma City, Walmart workers took up a canned goods collection to support people who couldn’t afford food. The beneficiaries? Fellow Walmart employees who weren’t able to make ends meet on the company’s meagre salaries. Across the United States, home-care workers subsisted on an average hourly wage of $10 an hour. Many couldn’t find full-time work, so they worked multiple shifts at different aged care homes. This precarious arrangement not only made life tough for workers, it also helped to spread Covid-19 among aged Americans when the pandemic struck.

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The economics of generosity - Op Ed, Smart Company


Smart Company, November 2 2020

In its early years, Sydney technology company Atlassian had a workplace giving program. Employees could choose to support any charity they favoured, but because of a lack of promotion and a cumbersome sign-up process, only around 2 per cent of Atlassian staff were part of the program. So in 2015 Atlassian revamped the program. They minimised employees’ ability to choose which organisation they would donate to, and focused on supporting the work in Cambodia of Room to Read, a charity that works to improve girls’ literacy. The sign-up pro-gram was massively simplified, so it took just two clicks and could be done in six seconds or less. The first 100 employees who signed up to the revised program were given an Atlassian Foundation sweatshirt.

A literacy charity wasn’t the obvious partner for an enterprise software company, but the firm has built ties by encouraging a group of staff each year to fund their own travel to Cambodia to assist with the charity’s work. Because the sign-up process was quicker and simpler, enrolments increased twenty-fold. Over 40 per cent of Atlassian employees now participate in the program. Room to Read has expanded to over a dozen developing nations, and the option to join Atlassian’s workplace giving program is now embedded in the sign-up process for all new employees.

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Me versus we: ‘The Upswing’ - Op Ed, The Monthly


The Monthly, November 2020

On a summer’s day in San Francisco, a university student waited to cross a zebra crossing. Some cars obeyed the law and stopped. Others whizzed through the intersection. A second student observed the cars and recorded their status, grading them on a five-point scale from beaten-up hatchbacks to luxury sedans. Afterwards, researchers tabulated the data. Among the most modest cars, all stopped at the crossing. Of the most expensive, almost half ignored the pedestrian and drove straight through.

Pan across to Australia in early 2020, as the federal government was devising its economic response to the coronavirus pandemic. While other countries had offered wage subsidies, the Coalition was initially reluctant. Then business leaders began turning up the pressure. In one telephone call, retail billionaire Solomon Lew reportedly cried as he spoke to Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, urging him to provide wage subsidies to affected firms. At the end of March, a package was announced.

Because Solomon Lew had to shut many of his stores, his company – which owns Dotti, Just Jeans and Portmans, among others – experienced a drop in revenue, and qualified for around $45 million in JobKeeper payments. But it wasn’t long before the firm’s fortunes turned around, helped by strong online sales. At the end of September, Lew’s company announced that its profits had matched those in previous year, and paid shareholders a $57 million dividend. As the largest shareholder, Lew himself received more than $20 million. A policy designed to support workers ended up benefiting an Australian billionaire. And it wasn’t an isolated example. Other firms used JobKeeper to prop up profits, and even paid executive bonuses after receiving the taxpayer-funded assistance.

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A proper COVID-19 recovery must start with big thinking in parliament - Opinion, The Canberra Times


The Canberra Times, 29 October 2020 

At the end of World War II, my grandparents Jean and Roly Stebbins built their own beachside house near the Melbourne suburb of Altona, making the bricks by hand. As a teacher and a railway worker, they raised four children into a society built on the promise that the 1950s would be better than the 1930s.

My mother's family were among the millions of Australians who benefited from the foresighted policies of that era. As the fight against fascism drew to a close, prime minister John Curtin commissioned H. C. "Nugget" Coombs to lead a team to write a white paper on full employment. The two men had gotten to know each other watching Aussie rules matches in Canberra, and Coombs was known for his breadth and boldness.

Produced in 1945, the white paper noted that from 1919 to 1939, "more than one-tenth of the men and women desiring work were unemployed", and it committed the nation to full employment as "a fundamental aim of the Commonwealth government". The white paper emphasised the need for high-skill jobs, harnessing the "spirit of enterprise". It focused on ways of raising productivity, and the importance of ensuring that workers received "a fair share of increased output flowing from the growing productivity of labour".

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Big tech has changed how we live, but we need to wrest back control - Op Ed, Sydney Morning Herald


The Sydney Morning Herald, 22 October 2020

The US Department of Justice's case against Google is the biggest competition lawsuit against a tech company in two decades. Facebook, Apple and Amazon are reportedly also under investigation. In a relatively short space of time, these behemoths have come to dominate the sharemarket, reshape the economy and change the way we live.

For starters, we are spending more time on our phones, a trend that is worrying mental health experts. Google has been central to this transformation. It now dominates not just the search engine market but is one of the main players when it comes to online advertising, video streaming, online maps, virtual assistants and mobile operating systems.

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Out of the office - Op Ed, Inside Story


Inside Story, October 20 20202

“I’m sitting in a building here that was built for 5000 people… and there are probably six in it today,” National Australia Bank CEO Ross McEwan told me recently during a parliamentary committee hearing. But there’s more: according to the bank’s surveys, four-fifths of staff members don’t want to return to regular working when the pandemic is over.

Despite promises of an economic “snapback,” it’s becoming increasingly clear that the world of work is likely to change significantly as a result of coronavirus. One of the likely shifts will be the rise of teleworking. If Covid-19 has taken us back a decade in terms of globalisation, it’s taken us forward a decade technologically. Large swathes of the workforce are working from home and the trend is likely to endure, with one US study projecting the share of working days spent at home to rise from 5 per cent to 20 per cent after the pandemic passes. Having fewer desks than employees may become the norm for white-collar firms.

One of the valuable changes will be a move away from open-plan offices, which were always more about corporate symbolism than productivity. We know from a bevy of studies that workers are more stressed, more dissatisfied and more resentful when they work in an open-plan setting. Compared with regular offices, employees in open offices experience higher levels of noise and more interruptions. They are less motivated, less creative and more likely to take sick leave.

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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.