Can Australian workers trade up in the Lucky Country?

Wednesday, 9 November 2011  Features

Should there be more free trade between Australia and the rest of the world, and does it improve worker’s wages and living standards in Australia?

That is one of the questions to be answered by Tim Harcourt in his first public lecture as the JW Nevile Fellow in Economics at the Australian School of Business.

He will address the Economic Society of Australia at the Stan Kelly Memorial Lecture for 2011, having joined the Australian School of Business to promote economics to the public.

In his lecture he will put forward the concept that "the float of the exchange rate and the reduction of tariffs in the mid 1990s enabled Australia to open up to Asia and take advantage of the shift in global economic power towards the Asia Pacific region. The Tyranny of Distance became the Power of Proximity and recent reforms enabled Australia to be in the right place at the right time. This time the lucky country made its own luck."

Mr Harcourt will also look at what he argues are key lessons to be learnt in trade policy over the past two decades.

He says "The first lesson is that on the whole, trade has been good for workers as well as exporters. Research shows that on average, exporters that pay 60% higher wages provide more job security, equal employment opportunity and better occupational health and safety standards than non-exporters."

"The second lesson is that whilst it is not economically desirable to protect markets it is desirable to protect workers. An open economy does not mean we have to dispense with all notions of fairness in the labour market. Labour market deregulation is not a logical extension of trade liberalisation."

Tim Harcourt will examine whether traditional Australian industrial relations are compatible with the country engaging in the ‘Asian Century’. However he says "many people of Asian descent have come to Australia to experience the fairness and freedom in the labour market here that is denied to them in their countries of origin."

"The Australian model allows us to trade with Asia, and to work and live according to Australian traditions of fairness and flexibility. The ‘Kelly gang’ got it right in terms of free trade, but it took Hawke, Keating and Kelty to make it work by managing the social and economic impacts in the true Australian tradition."

Date: 6pm, Thursday, 10th November 2011
Location: School of International Business, Victoria University, 300 Flinders St., Melbourne
Contact: Economic Society of Australia via