Well, one in particular that I regard as unforgivable. Andrew Leigh, my friend, co-author and up until yesterday the Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister has been dropped from that role entirely with no reasonable substitute offered. From the signal it sends to the economics community in Australia, it is no less than the absurdity of the US Senate not confirming Peter Diamond to Fed Board in the very year he won a Nobel prize for economics. Andrew had, during his first term as an MP, won the Economic Society of Australia’s Young Economist Award given to the best economist under the age of 40. To realise how significant that is, the Society declined to offer that award to anyone in the year following Andrew’s prize.
We have been long told that the mire of Australian politics was discouraging talent from entering. Instead we have people who play party games and that is increasingly not a young person’s game. Why should it be when there are so many professions in Australia that reward talent? Indeed, being an academic researcher is one of them and Andrew was one of the finest there was. Unlike many of us, he was deeply devoted to Australian policy and pursued research that was designed to provide the very evidence politicians needed to make the right decisions. He stood between academia and policy debates. He was invited to Kevin Rudd’s 2020 Summit but I could already see there that he was frustrated that just doing good work would not be enough. To get real evidence on policy he would have to get on the inside. So he spent a stint at Treasury before later having an opportunity to represent the people of Canberra in Federal parliament.
This past week we have seen Andrew at his best. While the rest of his party were fighting with each other, Andrew was in the press and media talking about the true believer labor issue of inequality. He was expressing an evidence-based vision that things were going too far towards billionaires rather than battlers. The book was not some CV padding should he want to return to academia some day. Instead, it was a vehicle to get these deep issues out into the public debate. To stop that debate being hijacked by in-fighting and contests. And instead to inspire others to the ALP cause.
And so what was his reward? He was let go. The poster-child of what the future of Australian political leadership ought to look like was taken out. Why? Seemingly because he stayed out of the political fray. He had only served under Julia Gillard and presumably saw no reason to turn his back on her. In other words, a simple view of loyalty. A simple view of giving someone a fair go. He never voted against Rudd the first time and so clearly wasn’t seen as someone to keep on-side.
Of course, that is one theory. The other is that it is Andrew’s very public stance against billionaires and a wonderful accounting of the CEO pay of BHP and how it is changed over time that side-lined him. That latter theory is testable. Will the new PM shift the economic policy mix sharply towards the rich or not?
Anyhow, this post is written as I am in a mood of profound disappointment. Even as this happened Andrew was on Sky News, as he often was, campaigning away for the ALP and applauding the one good change in the cabinet — the increase in the number of women even though it is hard to believe that any historian will look upon this change as some watershed moment for gender equality. He still has his eye on the long-term. I wish I could be so bold but if some pollster asked me today who I would be voting for in the next election, it would not be Labor.