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Author's Name: Ian Harper
Date: Wed 06 May 2020

Ian Harper

Professor Ian Harper

Ian Harper is Dean and Director of the Melbourne Business School and Co-Dean of the Faculty of Business and Economics at the University of Melbourne. He is also a member of the Board of the Reserve Bank of Australia.
Ian is a professional economist best known for his work in public policy. During his 35-year career, he has worked with governments, banks, corporates and leading professional services firms at the highest level.

From March 2011 to March 2018 Ian was a partner at Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu and then a Senior Advisor to Deloitte Access Economics. He chaired the Australian Government’s Competition Policy Review, a “root and branch” review of Australia’s competition policy, laws and regulators, from March 2014 to March 2015.

From December 2005 to July 2009, Ian served as inaugural Chairman of the Australian Fair Pay Commission, and from January 2011 to February 2012, he was one of three panellists chosen to review Victoria’s state finances.

Ian was elected a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences in Australia in 2000 and a Fellow of the Australian Institute of Company Directors in 2009. In 2016 he was elected a Distinguished Public Policy Fellow of the Economic Society of Australia and received a Vice-Chancellor’s Alumni Excellence Award from the University of Queensland.

Subject Area Expertise

Monetary and financial economics; regulatory policy and institutions


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Responses (8)

Intake of permanent migrants

Poll 52

"What do you think the intake of permanent migrants should be in coming years"

Australia’s leading economists have overwhelmingly endorsed a return to the highest immigration intake on record, saying Australia should aim for at least 190,000 migrants per year as it opens its borders, up from the target of 160,000 per year set ahead of COVID.

Photo credit "Wes Mountain/The Conversation, CC BY-ND"



190,000 is about right

Skilled migration is an important driver of productivity growth, which in turn drives wages growth. Raising the number of skilled migrants raises GDP but, more importantly, should also boost GDP per capita and living standards as productivity lifts. The limits to the number of migrants we can absorb are set by social factors and the rate of investment in infrastructure.

Australia’s top economists back carbon price, say benefits of net-zero outweigh cost

Poll 50

Ahead of November’s Glasgow climate talks, our panellists were asked

"Australia would likely benefit overall from the national economy transitioning to net-zero emissions by 2050"

Photo credit "Wes Mountain/The Conversation, CC BY-ND"


An economy-wide carbon price (either via a cap-and-trade scheme or an emissions tax)


Global action to reduce carbon emissions will adversely affect Australia?s terms of trade and the cost of imported capital, lowering our living standards, unless we respond. Economic transformation will occur in any case as relative prices change but policies designed to promote transformation in advance of these developments will mitigate our potential losses. Such policies will also encourage the search for new opportunities in a world where carbon-intensive activity will add progressively less, and eventually negative, economic value. A tax on carbon emissions or an equivalent cap-and-trade scheme is the most efficient policy intervention to encourage consumers and producers to decarbonise their economic choices.

Promoting vaccination uptake in Australia

Poll 49

"What measures should Australian governments adopt to promote demand for vaccination once supply is no longer a constraint?"

Photo credit "Wes Mountain/The Conversation, CC BY-ND"


National advertising campaigns;Mandatory vaccination for higher risk occupations;Vaccine passports for higher-risk settings (eg. flights, restaurants, major events)

Offering cash incentives and prizes emphasises the ?what?s in it for me? dimension of vaccination whereas the ?what?s in it for the rest of us? dimension is at least as important. In other words, vaccination is a public good. Like other public goods, a measure of compulsion can be justified to ameliorate the free rider problem, especially where the individual might ride free but at the expense of the onlookers. Even so, I?d attach the compulsion to the activity rather than the individual. ?If you want to engage in this activity, then you must comply with these standards? is not an unfamiliar refrain across many occupations and activities where external costs potentially accompany private benefits. So it is with activities and occupations where the risk of transmission from or infection of unvaccinated participants is greatest.

Policies to deliver higher wage growth

Poll 48

Our panellists were asked

"Higher wages growth is now a top priority of the RBA in its efforts to sustain stronger economic growth. Please identify the three of these government policies you think would best help deliver higher wages growth".  

Photo credit "Wes Mountain/The Conversation, CC BY-ND"



Measures to boost productivity growth;Measures to boost business investment;Reforming industrial rel

It is important to distinguish between growth in real wages and growth in nominal wages. Nominal wages growth (absent rising labour productivity) is a driver of price inflation and vice versa. Growth in real wages, on the other hand, is driven by growth in labour productivity, which is in turn driven by business investment among other factors. Ultimately real wages growth is what matters for household incomes and living standards. Nominal wages growth will assist in meeting the RBA's target for price inflation but will not translate into longer-run improvements in living standards without rising labour productivity.

The legislated increases in compulsory super contributions should...

Poll 41

"The legislated increases in compulsory super contributions, which are set to climb from 9.5% of wages to 12% over the next five years should...."

Photo Credit: Wes Mountain/The Conversation, CC BY-ND 


Be deferred


Raising the cost of hiring workers is ill-advised at a time when measured unemployment is set to hit 10% of the labour force or possibly higher. It is also a time to prioritise current over future consumption. Saving is already rising (i.e. consumption is falling) as people brace for the possibility of losing their jobs and possibly even their homes. Slowing wages growth (or even lowering average wages) by raising compulsory superannuation contributions will force further deferral of consumption when the opposite behaviour is required to promote faster recovery from the downturn.

Government Debt during the COVID19 Crisis

Poll 40

"Governments should provide ongoing fiscal support to boost aggregate demand during the economic crisis and recovery, even if it means a substantial increase in public debt"

Photo Credit: Wes Mountain/The Conversation, CC BY-ND 


Strongly agree


Current net levels of public debt are relatively low, especially by the standards of other developed economies, and further fiscal stimulus would be prudent in the face of an economic crisis of uncertain depth and duration. The case is even stronger when the historically low levels of interest rates on public borrowing are taken into account. The Commonwealth can borrow for 30 years at about 1 per cent.

Wage freeze for economic recovery

Poll 39

"A freeze in the minimum wage will support Australia's economic recovery"

Photo credit: Wes Mountain/The ConversationCC BY-ND 




Raising Australia’s minimum wage raises all of the minimum classification wages for award-reliant employees, around one-quarter of the employed workforce. It also raises wages in individual and enterprise-based employment agreements where these specify wage increases linked to the annual increase in the minimum wage. When jobs are already disappearing, raising wages simply makes it more likely that people lose their jobs as businesses struggle to recover and/or that businesses’ decisions to re-employ people or raise their hours of work are delayed. Freezing minimum wages this year switches off this disincentive to employ/re-employ workers, including the lowest-paid employees, as the economy manages through the current downturn.

Social Distancing Measures, May 2020

Poll 38

"The benefits to Australian society of maintaining social distancing measures sufficient to keep R<1 for COVID-19 are likely to exceed the costs"


Strongly agree


Plausible scenario analysis shows that the costs of allowing the virus to spread widely and rapidly within the community (i.e., allowing R>1 consistently) outweigh the costs of social distancing and other measures aimed at keeping R<1. In the former case, the forecast economic recession would be longer and deeper, driven primarily by ongoing disruption to workplaces, more widespread bankruptcies and severe loss of consumer confidence attending the inevitable "sawtooth" pattern of lockdown and release. Keeping R<1 allows confidence to return faster than otherwise and avoids repeated lockdowns, allowing more normal patterns of consumer and producer behaviour to resume sooner than otherwise, notwithstanding the costs of social distancing.