Qld Gov’t should reconsider Christmas Eve public holiday as it develops its small business strategy

With the Queensland Government now consulting the community on its Small Business Strategy Discussion Paper (see Discussion open for small businesses), it should be reminded it is imposing additional costs on small businesses and discouraging some economic activity through its decision to make Christmas Eve a part-day public holiday from 6pm. This was completely unnecessary, bringing Queensland into line only with SA and NT, and it will be costly for those small businesses which now have to pay penalty rates that evening (see this Smart Company article).

The state government wants to give small business a voice, according to “Focus area 5” of its strategy. It’s arguable small business already has a voice, through various industry lobby groups, and that the real problem is that the government isn’t listening. I recall CCIQ lobbied vigorously against the Christmas Eve part-day public holiday earlier this year but it failed to stop it, unfortunately.

Although I think the government hasn’t had a great record on small business so far, I am glad it has released its Small Business Strategy Discussion Paper, and I intend to make a submission regarding it in the next few weeks. I’d encourage other small business people and commentators to do the same, as we need much greater discussion and debate on policy issues in this state than we currently have.

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Job platforms & recruitment agencies – latest Economics Explained episode

In my serviced office in the Johnson hotel in Spring Hill, Brisbane, I’m surrounded by recruitment agencies. There are at least four recruitment businesses on the same floor. Recruitment agencies are still with us even though hiring has been subject to digital disruption. There are online platforms such as Seek, Indeed, and Monster which make hiring super simple. Indeed, I’ve even used Seek myself and filled a position in under a week. Lots of businesses around the world are doing the same thing, and huge numbers of people are looking for jobs online. For instance, Indeed has claimed 200 million people search for jobs, post resumes or research employers on its site every month.

I’m joined in this Economics Explained episode on job platforms and recruitment agencies by Chris Poole, a Senior Consultant at Frontline Health Recruitment, an Australian recruitment agency specialising in the health sector. Frontline Health Recruitment is one of those recruitment agencies located in the Johnson hotel with me.

Highlights of this episode include:

  • excellent tips from Chris on how job seekers can maximise their chances of getting a job (from 5:05);
  • the importance of LinkedIn in the contemporary jobs market (from 17:10);
  • why humans are still needed in the recruitment process (from 23:27); and
  • how Facebook and Google are getting into the recruitment business (from 30:40).

I hope you enjoy my conversation with Chris.

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One day left to apply for top Treasury jobs in Qld

I’m very pleased to see that Queensland Treasury is re-structuring itself, with a view to enhancing its economic advisory and research capabilities, something I’ve long advocated for. Applications close just before midnight tomorrow (Sunday 10 November) for a range of high-level positions, advertised on the On Talent website, which I suspect would be of great interest to any Queensland economists currently working in the public service in Canberra. In my view, the most interesting role on offer is the new Chief Economist role:

The Chief Economist will provide leadership and planning for economic growth in Queensland to create jobs and improve prosperity for Queenslanders. The Chief Economist is the key economic expert for the Queensland Government and will lead the delivery of economic advice and forecasts to the Queensland Government. The key spokesperson for the Queensland economy, the role has a strong external-facing component, and will provide the pre-eminent narrative on the current and desired future state of the economy on behalf of the Government.

Apart from having to provide “planning for economic growth”, which has a socialist central-planning sound to it, this all sounds very good. It’s a great move for Queensland Treasury to appoint a Chief Economist, who should have a lot of scope to influence and improve government policies.

The Chief Economist may find it challenging being the key spokesperson for the economy, however, as that really should be the job of the Treasurer, that is Jackie Trad. It would be fantastic if the Chief Economist would be “external-facing” and offered frank and fearless commentary on the economy and government policies in public, but I suspect that may end up being a challenge. Whoever drafted the position description in the Treasury must have foreseen this issue, as the position description calls for someone with “high-level political acumen”—i.e. someone who will know their place and won’t upset the government. Most top-flight economists, who tend to be fiercely independent and opinionated, would therefore struggle in this role.

The other positions on offer, which I expect some existing Queensland Treasury staff would be well-placed to pick up, are:

  • Deputy Under Treasurer (Economics, Policy and Commercial)
  • Deputy Under Treasurer (Corporate and Strategic Initiatives)
  • Head of Commercial
  • Head of Budget and Financial Management

I hope the Treasury fills all these positions with the best people it can. One of the lessons from my book Beautiful One Day, Broke the Next is that Queensland needs a strong and influential state Treasury.

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The home of Queensland Treasury, the Tower of Power at 1 William St, Brisbane. Photo by Jennifer Tunny.

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Qld single-use plastics ban plan revives memory of UQ Union’s real crockery & cutlery experiment in mid-nineties

Economists are always alert to the potential for adverse unintended consequences of well-meaning policies, so the Queensland Government grabbed my attention recently when it announced it is considering a single-use plastics ban. ABC News has reported:

Single-use plastics could be banned in Queensland as early as next year after the Palaszczuk Government announced a proposed plan to “tackle pollution”.

The new plan would see plastic straws, cutlery and plates scrapped under new legislation to be introduced next year.

The State Government would also consider extending the ban “down the track” to include coffee cups, plastic cups and heavyweight shopping bags.

Thankfully, the government has committed to consultations with the community and industry and to a Regulatory Impact Statement. I think they will be surprised at just how costly and inconvenient such a ban would be. In hospitality, for example, it would require additional staff time to collect used cutlery and crockery and it may require some establishments to purchase new tableware and dishwashers. It could end up being very costly.

The government’s announcement prompted me to recall the short-lived ban on single-use plastics in the University of Queensland Student Union refectory in the mid-nineties. The well-meaning Student Union was concerned about the wastefulness and environmental impact of disposable containers, coffee cups, plates, and cutlery, so it replaced them with proper crockery and utensils. The policy lasted no more than a few months if I recall correctly. The crockery and cutlery tended to disappear. It seemed that poor students living away-from-home, struggling on Austudy or low wages, were wandering off with it. So a well-meaning policy ended up costing the Student Union a fair bit of money and had to be reversed.

As always, we should be alert to adverse unintended consequences of well-meaning policies. I’m open minded about the single-use plastics ban at this stage, but my gut tells me it’s a bad idea.

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Cloister on the Great Court at the University of Queensland, Brisbane. Photo by Nick-D. 

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Behavioural economics with Dr Brendan Markey-Towler – latest Economics Explained episode

Have you ever been “nudged”? Ever since Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein’s wildly popular book Nudge came out in 2009, governments around the world have been exploring how to use behavioural economics to help meet their policy objectives. Our own Australian Taxation Office has eagerly embraced the concept of nudging. For instance, a couple of months ago it was reported at Smart Company the ATO would nudge employers to ensure they pay their super obligations, and in 2018 it was reported the ATO nudges people to claim work-related expenses which aren’t out of line with what other people claim (see How the ATO is nudging Australians to pay more tax).

Given the ever-increasing use of behavioural economics by policy makers, I thought behavioural economics would make a good topic for my Economics Explained podcast. My latest episode, Behavioural Economics with Dr Brendan Markey-Towler, is now available via Simplecast and major podcast apps.

My guest, Dr Brendan Markey-Towler is a Senior Consultant at Behaviour Innovation, a Brisbane-based consultancy firm specialising in behavioural change which has undertaken a range of interesting projects include Project Cane Changer. Prior to joining Behavioural Innovation, Brendan researched and taught economics at the University of Queensland and University College London. He is the author of An Architecture of the Mind: A Psychological Foundation for the Science of Everyday Life, published by Routledge in 2018.

Questions I posed to Brendan included:

  • How have economists traditionally thought about how people behave and make decisions? Why was it problematic?
  • How has behavioural economics modified the way economists think about economic behaviour?
  • What does our new understanding of behavioural economics mean for policy (e.g. nudges, importance of overcoming biases, etc.)?
  • What don’t we know still that we really need to know?

Books mentioned during the discussion included:

The interview was recorded on 30 October 2019 at the Precinct innovation hub in Fortitude Valley, Brisbane.

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Innovation & digital public goods with Dr Nicholas Gruen – latest Economics Explained episode

The latest episode of my Economics Explained podcast, featuring renowned Australian economist, entrepreneur, and angel investor Dr Nicholas Gruen, is now available via Simplecast and major podcast apps.

I had a very enjoyable conversation with Nicholas regarding his views on innovation and digital public goods, picking up on points he’s made in previous papers of his such as Government as Impresario. The discussion is wide ranging and includes fascinating recollections from Nicholas of Kevin Rudd’s 2020 Summit and of his ongoing efforts to promote innovative policy ideas in Australia and overseas. Eventually, our conversation got on to climate change policies and the prospect of using citizens’s juries to decide on policy measures. I hope you enjoy the conversation.

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Thoughts on Jackie Trad’s interview by Steve Austin on Qld economy

CommSec’s latest State of the States report which was released Monday reported Queensland in fifth position among Australia’s eight states and territories. On Monday afternoon, 612 ABC Brisbane’s Steve Austin interviewed Deputy Premier-Treasurer Jackie Trad on the state of the economy, particularly the jobs market. Recall that Queensland’s unemployment rate at 6.5% is much higher than the national average unemployment rate of 5.2% (see Queensland Treasury’s Labour Force brief). As Trad suggested in the interview, this is partly due to demographic differences which are reflected in our higher labour force participation rate. However, the differential in participation rates (66.5% in Queensland vs 66.1% nationally) explains less than half of the 1.3 percentage point difference in state and national unemployment rates. We need to dig deeper to find out why we are under-performing.

Among other questions, Steve asked the Treasurer why, if Queensland’s population growth is so strong, partly due to a pickup in net interstate migration, it hasn’t kick started the building industry and the broader economy? Trad rightly pointed to a “lag effect” and to the over-supply of apartments in Queensland. She could have also mentioned that our population growth rate is not that impressive in historical comparison, nor is the current rate of interstate migration particularly impressive (see chart below).

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You can listen to the audio (from 2:02:15) of Steve’s interview of Jackie Trad before it self-destructs next week.

Incidentally, I’d like to applaud Queensland Treasury for seeking to hire a Chief Economist:

https://www.ontalent.com.au/job/chief-economist/

As I’ve mentioned before, I’d like to see a return to the level of investigation into the drivers of Queensland’s economic performance which was occurring in the late nineties and early 2000s when the Office of Economic and Statistical Research was active.

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