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Productivity and Policy Reform in Australia


  • Dean Parham



Australia has historically been Canada's poorer cousin. But a pick-up in productivity growth in the 1990s has raised Australian living standards to Canadian levels. In this article, Dean Parham of the Australian Productivity Commission provides an overview of Australian economic performance and the policy reforms that turned around Australia's laggard productivity growth. He first points out that during the first half of the 20th century Australia enjoyed one of the highest levels of labour productivity in the world. But Australia never experienced productivity convergence in the postwar period up to the 1990 and saw its productivity and GDP per capita ranking decline over this period. Productivity growth then picked up in the 1990s, with output per hour advancing 2.3 per cent per year in 1990-2001 compared to 1.5 per cent in 1973-1990. It was increased multifactor productivity growth, not capital deepening, that drove this acceleration. Parham makes the case that policy reforms explain much of Australia's improved productivity performance. He identifies three broad areas of policy reform as particularly important in fostering productivity growth: sharper competition; greater openness to trade, investment and technology; and greater flexibility for businesses to adjust production and distribution processes. These reforms spurred the Australian economy to to embark upon a much delayed productivity catch-up.

Suggested Citation

  • Dean Parham, 2002. "Productivity and Policy Reform in Australia," International Productivity Monitor, Centre for the Study of Living Standards, vol. 5, pages 53-63, Fall.
  • Handle: RePEc:sls:ipmsls:v:5:y:2002:4

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Timothy F. Bresnahan & Erik Brynjolfsson & Lorin M. Hitt, 2002. "Information Technology, Workplace Organization, and the Demand for Skilled Labor: Firm-Level Evidence," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 117(1), pages 339-376.
    2. Ana M. Aizcorbe, 2002. "Why are semiconductor prices falling so fast? Industry estimates and implications for productivity measurement," Finance and Economics Discussion Series 2002-20, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.), revised 2002.
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    Cited by:

    1. Evan Capeluck, 2016. "A Comparison of Productivity Developments in Canada and Australia: Lessons for Canada," International Productivity Monitor, Centre for the Study of Living Standards, vol. 30, pages 43-63, Spring.
    2. Danny Leung & Terence Yuen, 2010. "Do exchange rates affect the capital-labour ratio? Panel evidence from Canadian manufacturing industries," Applied Economics, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 42(20), pages 2519-2535.
    3. Andrew Sharpe, 2007. "Lessons for Canada from International Productivity Experience," International Productivity Monitor, Centre for the Study of Living Standards, vol. 14, pages 20-37, Spring.
    4. Arthur Grimes, 2004. "New Zealand: A Typical Australasian Ecomony?," Working Papers 04_11, Motu Economic and Public Policy Research.

    More about this item


    Australia; Canada; Productivity; Labour Productivity; Policy; Policy Reforms; Policy Reform; Living Standards; Growth; Productivity Growth; Average Income; Capital Deepening; Capital; ICT; Information; Communication; Technology; MFP; Multifactor Productivity; Multi-factor Productivity; Total Factor Productivity; Skills;

    JEL classification:

    • O56 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economywide Country Studies - - - Oceania
    • O57 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economywide Country Studies - - - Comparative Studies of Countries
    • J24 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Human Capital; Skills; Occupational Choice; Labor Productivity
    • E61 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Macroeconomic Policy, Macroeconomic Aspects of Public Finance, and General Outlook - - - Policy Objectives; Policy Designs and Consistency; Policy Coordination


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