Which industries have created the most jobs in Qld over the last 10 years?

In the latest EconTalk episode, host Russ Roberts interviews the Australian robotics guru and MIT emeritus professor Rodney Brooks. After listening to the episode, I am now much less concerned about artificial intelligence and automation rendering a large fraction of the workforce redundant than I once was. I thoroughly encourage you to listen to the episode, but here’s the summary from the website:

Brooks argues that we both under-appreciate and over-appreciate the impact of innovation. He applies this insight to the current state of driverless cars and other changes people are expecting to change our daily lives in radical ways. He also suggests that the challenges of developing truly intelligent robots and technologies will take much longer than people expect, giving human beings time to adapt to the effects.

So we probably don’t need to worry just yet about those frightening predictions that up to 40 percent of current jobs could be made redundant by AI and automation. Indeed, it appears that much of the jobs growth we have seen in the last decade has been in the types of jobs it would be difficult, if not almost impossible, to replace by robots, in health, aged, disability and child care. The broad Health Care and Social Assistance industry is leading other industries in jobs growth by a long way (see chart below, based on four-quarter moving averages of the original ABS data).


While we don’t have a subdivision breakdown of the Health Care and Social Assistance industry division for Queensland, the Australian data can give us some insight into the nature of growth in the sector (see chart below, also based on the most recent vintage of ABS industry employment data).  Hospitals and the broader health care industry, including GPs, physios, chiropractors, and pathology labs, etc., have certainly seen strong growth over the last decade. But I was most surprised by the huge growth in Social Assistance Services. This category includes child care and non-residential aged and disability care services. subdiv_aus

Child care employment has surged, in part, due to the adoption earlier this decade of the National Quality Framework which imposed minimum staff-to-child ratios, depending on the ages of the children at child care centres (see p. 6 of the excellent report Why Childcare is not Affordable by the CIS’s Eugenie Joseph).

In case you’re interested in the relative sizes of the different industry sectors in Queensland, here’s another facet wrap I’ve produced in the R package gglot2 (N.B. I’ve left out the three smallest industry sectors).


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Are we still turning Japanese? I don’t think so – guest post by Joe Branigan

I am delighted to publish the full version of Joe Branigan’s recent article on second languages offered in Queensland schools. An edited version was published in the Courier-Mail last week, but that version omitted one of Joe’s major points and did not include any charts. GT

Are we still turning Japanese? I don’t think so

by Joe Branigan

Ask any Queensland public school kid what second language has been foisted on them, and it is more likely than not the answer is Japanese. A lot has changed since Japanese was first introduced into Queensland schools decades ago, and it is time that the second languages on offer more closely reflect Queensland’s current and future trade, and international tourist and education services relationships. Mandarin Chinese needs to be the second language offered in most Queensland public schools.

In a crowded curriculum, with core English language and maths skills declining, every minute of a student’s day is valuable. An hour spent studying a second language, for example, means one hour less that’s available to study core subjects like English, Maths and Science. The decision to study a second language therefore has costs as well as potential benefits for students and the broader Queensland community.

Languages closely related to English, such as the Latin-based languages, may help students improve their understanding of English and lead to better communication skills, but so too can studying English more. Languages such as German, French and Italian are declining in global importance with each passing decade.

Asian languages can provide work opportunities and new cultural experiences for Queensland students in adult life, not to mention the chance to reflect on one’s culture and place in the world.

Surely the best approach, given a crowded curriculum, scarce teaching time and limited public resources, is to offer the most currently relevant languages to Queensland students.

In 2018, the main second language offered is Japanese, taught at 54% of Queensland public schools or 527 out of 974 schools (Figure 1). Next most popular are German (15%, 146 schools), Chinese Mandarin (14%, 135), French (9%, 90), Italian (7%, 64) and Indonesian (6%, 63).


Japanese is offered in almost four times as many public schools in Queensland compared with Chinese despite the fact that a truly seismic economic, geo-strategic and cultural disruption has occurred in North Asia over the past four decades.

Today, China is Australia’s and Queensland’s largest trading partner by a significant margin. Queensland merchandise trade with China is double that of Japan. The number of Chinese visitors to Australia is three times that of Japan and Chinese tourism is increasing while Japanese tourism is likely to fall over the long-term as the population and economy of Japan continues its structural decline (Figure 2).


The number of Chinese students coming to Australia to learn English or enrol in undergraduate and postgraduate studies is many times that of Japan (Figure 3).


Chinese, English and Spanish are the world’s most spoken native (or L1) languages. As a native language, Japanese ranks 13th globally, and as an L2 language (or second language) Japanese does not even rank in the top twenty because it is not widely spoken outside of Japan.

The significant lag in offering a Chinese language choice to the 86% of Queensland public schools currently missing out is, in my view, a result of professional capture and bureaucratic inertia. School Principals and P&C’s, who are given the responsibility to “make decisions about the choice of language and the year levels of provision”, are understandably reluctant to disrupt longstanding relationships with Japanese teachers, existing teaching resources and sister schools in Japan.

Further, Education Queensland guidelines seem to seek to embed the status quo by identifying a merit order of the most commonly taught languages now, warning that “the availability of teachers is critical to the success of the Languages program”, encouraging the matching of languages taught across neighbouring schools in order to share resources, and matching languages offered between primary and secondary schools to promote continuity of study.

These guidelines will not foster the disruption required to make Chinese the leading second language taught in Queensland public schools. The impetus for change, therefore, must come from the Education Minister Grace Grace and her Director-General Tony Cook.

The best performing Queensland private schools have been more responsive to Australia’s changing relationship with Asia and adjusted their language programs accordingly. But most families stuck with limited school choice in the public system are offered a 1980s suite of language choices by Education Queensland.

This change needs to happen now. Even if Education Queensland provided the resources to roll-out Chinese language study in 20 additional public schools per year, it would take a decade for Chinese to be available in half of Queensland public schools. By then, the Chinese economy and strategic influence will totally dominate Asia-Pacific affairs. Our relationship with China, whether ultimately a friend, foe or strategic competitor, is vital in any reasonably foreseeable future.

Mandarin, by most accounts, is not an easy language to learn. It is tonal and character-based, and less mature than English in terms of its development. But the level of difficulty of a language should not be confused with what is useful for Queensland students. That’s why Japanese was rolled out in the 1980s despite the apprehension around whether Queensland kids could handle it.

Are we still turning Japanese? I don’t think so.

Joe Branigan is Director of Tulipwood Economics.

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My comments on NQ exit in ABC online story

Thanks to ABC state political reporter Josh Bavas for asking my opinion on the new state of North Queensland that has been proposed from time-to-time, most recently by Katter’s Australian Party and Queensland Senator Matt Canavan, Minister for Resources and Northern Australia. You can read my comments in Josh’s story:

Queensland border debate: Could a ‘Nexit’ be on the cards?

As a North Queenslander by birth, I’m naturally favourably disposed toward the idea of a state of North Queensland, but I’ve always been skeptical regarding whether it would actually be as beneficial to people in the north as they believe. Successive state governments have been relatively generous to North Queensland, including through large expenditures on the road network and partly funding a new $250 million super stadium in Townsville. Of course, a high value could be placed on political autonomy and the ability to determine your own destiny.

My view is that proponents of a new NQ state need to crunch the numbers and produce a cost-benefit analysis showing the costs and benefits to both North Queenslanders and residents of the rest of Queensland and Australia. Among other things, we need to understand whether and to what extent a new NQ state would be dependent in the long-term on a favourable redistribution of GST revenue, and to what extent royalty revenue currently earned by the Queensland government would instead go to a new NQ government.

Also, it would be good to see some analysis of the set up costs of a new state, where the state should be divided, and how existing state government assets in NQ should be transferred. If a new NQ state capital were set up in my hometown of Townsville, or less likely in Cairns, the new administration would no doubt need to rapidly recruit public servants, many of which would need to come from outside of NQ, given the relatively small professional workforce currently there.

In Josh’s story, I was very pleased to see a photo of “bustling Flinders Street in Townsville 1888.” The photo is quite possibly of a procession to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the arrival of the First Fleet. While Flinders Street today is no longer as bustling as it has been in the past, we are reminded of the city’s previous boom times by several of the buildings lining Flinders Street, particularly its east end. The magnificent Burns Philp building, with its striking pavilion up top, is one such reminder. This was once the local office of the then powerful and prosperous trading company Burns Philp, which it must be acknowledged was shamefully involved in the trade of “blackbirding”.


The Burns Philp Building on Flinders St East, Townsville,
photographed recently by Jennifer Tunny.

A new state of NQ would be a boon to the Townsville economy if the new administration were based there. Of course, the location of any capital would be vigorously debate, and Cairns’s civic leaders would no doubt make a strong case for their city. I don’t expect to see a new NQ state anytime soon, but, given the desire for political autonomy for distinct regions is growing worldwide, we may well see a new NQ state sometime this century.

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Qld regional unemployment rates facet wrap via R

Queensland is such a large and diverse state, with regional economies having vastly different drivers of growth (e.g. tourism in Cairns, mining in Mackay), that it’s often hard to get a sense of how different parts of the state are performing. Following Thursday’s data dump from the ABS, which among other things showed a strong pick up in interstate migration (see Qld the most popular state for interstate movers), I thought a visualisation of regional unemployment rates faceted by region might be revealing (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Queensland regional unemployment rates, Sep-99 to Aug-18,
12-month moving averages of ABS monthly estimates


Unemployment remains very high in the usual places: the outback which has been suffering from the drought, my home town of Townsville which has shed a lot of manufacturing and heavy industry jobs in recent years (e.g. at Queensland Nickel), and Wide Bay, which has typically been short of economic opportunities and also seems to attract unemployed people due to its low cost of housing. The state’s lowest unemployment rate is in the Mackay region, which has been doing very nicely out of the recovery in coal prices and production that began in late 2016.

For additional information, see the Queensland Government Statistician’s Office’s regional labour force brief for August 2018.

For those interested, I produced Figure 1 using the ggplot2 package in R.

Posted in Cairns, Labour market, Mackay, Migration, Mining, Townsville, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Blunt message to states from Canberra on recreational cannabis – guest post from Stephen Thornton

I am delighted to publish this guest post from my good friend and colleague Dr Stephen Thornton. Views expressed in this guest post are Stephen’s, and should not necessarily be attributed to me as well. GT

Blunt message to states from Canberra on recreational cannabis

Last week an Australian Senate committee released its report on Senator David Leyonhjelm’s private members bill to allow any State or Territory Government to legalise and regulate cannabis. The committee, chaired by Queensland LNP Senator Ian Macdonald and including Queensland Labor Senator Murray Watt, was told that cannabis use is less harmful than alcohol use and tobacco use, and that otherwise law-abiding recreational cannabis users were cast as criminals, which increases pressure on the criminal justice system and supports organised and violent crime.

Although I did not make a submission to the inquiry, in 2016 I undertook a preliminary examination of the likely economic and social benefits of legalising recreational cannabis use in Queensland [see here], prompted by its legalisation in a number of US states, which as of January this year includes California, one of the world’s biggest economies. My report found similar benefits to that identified by Senator Leyonhjelm in terms of economic and social benefits to government and consumers, specifically:

  • The Queensland government could collect around $90 million/year in tax and fee revenue in the medium term with new jobs created and would realise significant savings in the budget in regard to decreased police, court and prison costs.
  • Consumers, once purchasing cannabis on the black market and at risk of being fined and imprisoned with the associated police record and social stigma limiting their future job prospects, would realise significant benefits by purchasing from licenced premises and also in terms of product safety. Importantly, they would also financially benefit from lower transaction costs and via a consumer surplus as the scheme matured and the price of cannabis decreased in a competitive environment.

Costly cannabis arrests in Queensland (offset to some extent by fines) are the highest in Australia and have been since 2001-02. Queensland police in 2015-16 arrested 25,307 persons of the nearly 80,000 arrests in Australia and nearly as many as NSW and Victoria in total despite having around one-third of their combined population.

Number of cannabis arrests 1997-98 to 2015-16 (NSW, Vic, Qld & national total)


One aspect I didn’t cover off on in my report was the economic relationship between the now legalised medicinal cannabis market and a future recreational use market. This year, a medicinal cannabis farm was approved by Brisbane City Council (see article here) while Australia’s first licenced medicinal cannabis producer Medifarm with its grow facility located on the Sunshine Coast recently asked the Palaszczuk Government for funding to build a Centre of Excellence at the University of the Sunshine Coast, which reportedly could create 500 jobs, attract $500 million in capital investment over 15 years and generate $1 billion in exports over five years.

The Senate report, which recommends that the bill not be passed, picks up on this point. It notes that it would drastically alter the Commonwealth’s oversight of medicinal cannabis production, manufacture and distribution which may lead states and territories to consider separate moves in regard to authorising cannabis and cannabis-derived products for medical and scientific use. In other words, the feds would lose control of their newly minted medicinal cannabis scheme.

Interestingly, but quite coincidentally, a Forbes article was also published last week which briefly explores how the two cannabis markets are not necessarily mutually exclusive given that people may purchase cannabis products in the recreational market for medicinal purposes, especially when the price of medicinal cannabis is significantly higher and when access to the drug is limited to certain medical conditions only, as is currently the case in Queensland.

The latest revenue projections for the US cannabis industry quoted in the Forbes article (in $US) shows a revenue decrease for medicinal cannabis from $5.9 billion in 2017 to $4.3 billion in 2018 and an increase in recreational cannabis revenue from $2.6 billion to $6.7 billion. However, the estimate for 2022 for the medicinal cannabis market is $7.7 billion which indicates the trend will not necessarily be downward, while the recreational market is expected to continue to expand to be worth $15.7 billion.

This is especially interesting as in the US recreational cannabis use at the federal level is still not legal, which has now created an environment of uncertainty with the change of President and the negative views towards cannabis of Attorney-General Jeff Sessions who has reversed the previous Obama administration’s ‘go easy’ on states which had legalised it.

Further north though, and after much planning and consultation, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau from 17 October will have implemented Canada’s national regulated recreational cannabis scheme which was a key plank of his policy platform for election in 2015 which takes a more health-focused and less commercial approach than many US states on things like plain packaging and advertising.

Although I was quite bullish when quoted in the Courier Mail saying that at least one of our governments by 2020 will be seriously exploring the benefits of legalising recreational cannabis on the back of what is learnt in North America, I still maintain that the push in Australia will likely come from one of our state governments rather than at the federal level, especially given the policy paralysis on other contentious issues like climate change. Canada will be the country to watch both in terms of economic and social outcomes, as I expect any scheme introduced here to take a similar health-focused approach.

Dr. Stephen Thornton is a social economist and principal of BG Economics.

Posted in Social policy, Tax, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 5 Comments

Low wages growth & the drop in household saving – 612 ABC Brisbane panel discussion

Low wages growth and the drop in household saving recorded in the June quarter National Accounts were considered in a panel discussion I participated in on Emma Griffiths’s 612 ABC Brisbane Focus program yesterday morning, which you can listen to here:

Focus: Are you spending your savings to fund your life?

Other panel members included Griffith University academic Di Johnson, Queensland Council of Unions General Secretary Ros McLennan, CCIQ spokesperson Dan Petrie, and former trade minister Craig Emerson, who joined us by phone. Many thanks to host Emma Griffiths and her producers Ria and Josh for having me on the show yesterday.


Left to right: Emma Griffiths (ABC), Dan Petrie (CCIQ), Ros McLennan (QCU), me, Di Johnson (Griffith).

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Has there been a “huge slump” in the Qld economy?

The Courier-Mail today is reporting a “huge slump” in the Queensland economy after yesterday’s ABS National Accounts figures revealed state final demand grew only 0.1 percent in the June quarter, the second lowest rate among states and territories. The paper notes:

“The slump in the data, which does not include the state’s booming export sector, was blamed on a virtual shutdown of government spending on infrastructure while the private sector has started to open its wallet.”

I’ve been concerned about Queensland’s economic performance for a long while now, but I think the commentary I’ve seen in response to the latest data is misguided and somewhat hysterical, especially since the national economy is performing reasonably well.

The disappointing state result is largely a reflection of the lumpy nature of capital investment spending, which means spending can vary substantially from quarter-to-quarter depending on whether major projects are commencing, ramping up, or finishing. As shown in the chart below, the “huge slump” is due largely to lower capital spending in June quarter than March quarter by public corporations (e.g. Energy Queensland, QR, the state-owned ports, Urban Utilities). There appears to have been a big rush of public corporations capital spending in March quarter, pumping up that quarter’s figure to $1.31 billion in total, which fell to $1.17 billion in June quarter. This was, nonetheless, slightly higher than the figure of $1.16 billion in December quarter last year.


The Courier-Mail was right to point out that “the private sector has started to open its wallet” and it is encouraging that machinery and equipment investment is starting to pick up (chart below). That said, we’re still well below the total private capital investment levels we saw earlier this decade when the massive $70 billion Gladstone LNG terminals construction project was underway. That’s the huge bulge you can see in non-dwelling construction in the chart below.


Overall, the Queensland economy remains lukewarm, but it is hysterical to say it’s had a “huge slump.”

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