Queensland: A service economy

Lots of people, notably including political commentators, imagine Queensland as a state dominated by mining and agriculture, and presumed to think and vote accordingly. I’ve just collected some statistics in response to a query made to the university, and I thought they might be of more general interest.

Like Australia as a whole, the Queensland economy is dominated by services. As this table shows, agriculture and mining each account for about 2.5 per cent of total employment. This is marginally, but not significantly, more than for Australia as a whole (2.4 and 2.0 per cent)

Agriculture and mining together account for less jobs than service industries you might think of as relatively minor, such as Professional, Scientific and Technical Services or Administrative and Support Services.

Even adding in manufacturing, which, in Queensland, largely consists of processing primary products into outputs like food products and refined metals, the “old economy” only accounts for about 12 per cent of all employment. Health care and social assistance alone is larger

The primary production share of employment has declined over time, with fluctuations between mining and agriculture.  Development of new mines also accounted for significant employment in construction until about 2015, but this has now dropped off (hard to extract from the data, but easy to see by looking at the pace of new development)

Mining is a significant, but not critical source of revenue to the state government, yielding $5 billion out of a total of $58 billion. However, the Grants Commission takes access to royalty income into account in allocating GST revenue, so the actual benefit to Queensland is smaller than the $5 billion figure would suggest.

The Future of Work: Keith Hancock Lecture at ANU

I’ll be giving a public lecture on The Future of Work at ANU on 6 March. It’s the Keith Hancock* lecture, sponsored by the Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia, in honour of one our great labour economists. Details are here . An outline

The outcomes of technological change are affected by the interaction of changes in the regulation of labour markets and the stance of public policy. For the last 40 years, changes in labour market regulation have been almost uniformly anti-union and anti-worker, while public policy has been premised on the desirability of reducing wages. Until and unless the stance of public policy changes, technological change will be experienced by workers as harmful disruption. Used in a socially desirable way, however, technological change offers the potential for a radical improvement in work-life balance.

I’ll be giving the same talk at UQ in April (details TBA).

Read More »

Ten Year Plans

The Morrison government has just announced what it calls a climate policy, promising expenditure of $2 billion. I’ll have more to say about this later, but I want first to point out that the promised expenditure is to be allocated over ten years, at an average rate of $200 million a year. That’s only marginally more than the government spent on advertising in 2017-18, which is appropriate, I suppose, for what is basically a PR exercise.

The big problem here is the new practice of announcing expenditure amounts over 10 years. There was a time when promises of this kind were made in terms of annual expenditure. Sometime in the 80s or 90s, the norm shifted to four-year programs, on the basis that this was the period covered by Budget estimates. The fact that it made promises look bigger was a handy side benefit.

If four-year spending figures were problematic, announcing programs for ten years is simply ludicrous. The likelihood that anyone in the current ministry will still be holding office, or even in Parliament in ten years time is very small, as is the probability that any expenditure program will continue unchanged. If we can budget 10 years ahead, why not 100 or 1000?

What makes the joke even worse in this case is that the policy is obviously designed to last, not for ten years, but for three months, until the election in May. If Morrison ekes out an undeserved victory, the denialists on the backbench will almost certainly want to kill off this piece of gesture politics. If he loses, the LNP will certainly dump the policy and may even offer something serious.

In the meantime, it’s a mistake to treat this as a policy – it’s an announcement you make when you don’t have a policy.

The Lower Darling: a government-made disaster

Federal Government last night released an independent interim assessment of the recent fish deaths. The report is damning, but you wouldn’t know that reading the press release from the relevant minister, David Littleproud.

Here’s my response, which I provided to the Australian Science Media Centre

The Report clearly describes the “antecedent conditions” which made the Lower Darling so vulnerable to large-scale fish deaths, all of which reflect policy failures of the current government: These include increased upstream extractive use of water, the decision to release water from Menindie Lakes in 2016 and the extreme climatic conditions which are the “new normal” as a result of climate change. The Minister’s statement ignores all of these factors, and focuses only on the immediate causes of the disaster.

The government has rejected water buybacks as a means of increasing flow, ignored environmental concerns in the management of the Menindie Lakes and rejected any action to mitigate climate change. This was a human-made disaster, for which the present government bears substantial responsibility.


Adani has been pretty quiet after the publication of a leaked memo from its newly hired law firm AJ & Co, named for its founder and managing partner, Andrew Johnson. AJ promised to act as an “attack dog” to silence opponents and sue them into bankruptcy, something Adani is already attempting in the case of indigenous leader Adrian Burragubba (I understand that funds have been raised to ensure that this doesn’t happen).

This is what is known= as a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (SLAPP) and is illegal in many US jurisdictions though not (AFAICT) in Australia. The Environmental Defender’s Office, one of the targets of Adani/AJ action, has a useful guide. This kind of thing used to be covered by the common law offence of barratry (Dante consigned barrators to the Eighth Circle of Hell), but this offence has either been abolished or fallen into disuse.

This and other actions by Adani seem to have finally pushed the Labor Party off the fence. A minority (including the CFMMEU, its longtime enemy Joe Ludwig and Townsville local member Cathy O’Toole) have come out in support of Adani, but the majority correctly see Adani as an enemy to be resisted and defeated.

The right remedy here is political rather than (primarily) legal. Adani and AJ have declared war on the environment and anyone who wants to save it, and should expect no quarter in return. Hopefully, they will suffer the same fate as the most famous (until now) exponent of the SLAPP suit, Gunns in Tasmania and its chairman John Gay.

The Ramsay Centre is frightened of academic freedom

I just signed a petition opposing any agreement between the Ramsay Centre and the University of Queensland, where I work. I am disappointed that things have reached this point. The areas of the humanities that Ramsay would support have long been underfunded: they don’t fit into either the market-driven ideology of “reform”, or the more recent technocratic push for STEM.

The problem is that, quite evidently, the Ramsay Centre wants to control who teaches the courses and how they are taught. Tony Abbott let the cat out of the bag a while ago when he said the courses would be “not just about Western Civilization, but for it”, and made it clear that his version of Western Civilization is one that would have seemed hopelessly reactionary by the 19th Century.

Abbott has kept quiet since then, but he is still on the board. The demands made to universities for a role in appointments and for Ramsay to appoint inspectors who would monitor teaching make it clear that his stated position was representative.

The disappointing thing is that they need not have bothered. The kinds of academics and students who would teach and sign up for classical and medieval courses are unlikely to be eager followers of the latest developments in critical Theory. And if Abbott and the rest had any faith in the merits of their literary and intellectual position, they ought to expect a neutral presentation of the works in question to carry the day.

It’s such a lot of money, for such an underfunded area, that I hope Ramsay finds someone to take it, even if they have to go to one of the Catholic institutions or start up their own. But any university that pretends to value academic freedom should reject this Greek gift*

Update: Just after posting this, I read that, only yesterday, the Ramsay Centre agreed to include a commitment to the principles of academic freedom in its MOU with Wollongong. Readers can judge whether this belated move, after months of resistance, represents a change of views or a piece of lip-service.

  • My little nod to classical learning.


I’m not a big fan of political scandals. Still, it has to mean something when there are too many simultaneous scandals going on for anyone to keep track. Rather than attempt a summary, I’ll list some of the government figures currently involved in one or more scandals that would normally be expected to produce a resignation from office or Parliament: Cash, Cormann, Dutton, Hockey, Keenan, Wilson, Price [feel free to challenge these names, or add others, in comments]. The only comparable situation I can think of is the dying days of the last NSW Labor government.

In these circumstances, policy catastrophes like banking, the Murray-Darling Basin and climate change barely get a look in.

Despite all of this, the government and their media cheer squad are convinced they can eke out a win by demonizing refugees. We shall see.