Jeff HoleHDR student
My research topic is about the economic history of microeconomic reforms in Australia.
I want to understand whether the 1980s and 1990s truly was a golden era of policy reform (as maintained by some), and if so, what made it so. This raises questions about whether microeconomic reform has become a lot harder to implement today, and if so why? These questions are extremely relevant to policy makers in Australia as they search for ways to ‘reset’ the economy in response to the global and Australian economic crisis. The questions motivating my research have been partially addressed in the economics, political science and history literature, and the resulting perspectives are, not surprisingly, very different.
There is no existing piece of work that brings these different viewpoints together to satisfactorily explain Australia’s experience with microeconomic reform since the 1980s.
What first sparked your interest in your field and how has that interest lead you to topic of research?
I was inspired to study economics at University after listening to Bob Hawke and Paul Keating talk about the need to transform and internationalise the Australian economy. I then saw the devasting impact of policy failures as a newly minted graduate during the early 1990s ‘recession we had to have’. I used my qualifications and interests to embark on a career as a policy adviser to various Australian governments. Over the years I’ve seen how views about reform in the 1980s and 1990s have become more polarised between those who look back fondly on this period as the ‘Great Reform Era’ involving extensive beneficial policy changes in the national interest, and those who see this period as a series of (mostly) failed policy experiment that have contributed to some of society’s present ills.
Why did you pursue a PhD?
I decided to pursue a PhD to provide the resources, structures and supports to enable me to pursue my research interests in Australian economic history, and particularly policy making since the 1980s and 1990s.
What has been the highlight of your candidature so far?
COVID-19 and home schooling! And having the time to immerse myself in an area of policy and history that I find fascinating.
What has been the most unexpected moment of your candidature so far?
Can I say COVID again? An unexpected bonus – for want of a better phrase – is being an interested observer of the growing debate about how Australia should respond to the present global economic crisis caused, and seeing how people refer to the experience of the 1980s and 1990s in a positive or negative light.
What does “contemporary history” mean to you?
Contemporary history is usually taken to mean recent history but it begs the question, what is recent? Is it the post-war period, or some more recent (shorter period)? Who decides the cut-off points? I think it could also apply to how people use or interpret history in the context of contemporary issues and events. A relevant example is how some people draw on the experiences of the reform in the 1980s and 90s to argue for or against policies to assist recover from the present economic crisis.
You are stuck on a desert island with four books. Three are related to your field/area and one isn’t. Which books do you bring with you?
Paul Kelly’s The End of Certainty, The Cambridge Economic History of Australia, Ian McLean’s Why Australia Prospered, and just about any one of Peter Carey’s books.
You are having a dinner party and can invite three guests from your field/area. Who do you invite?
An economist – Ross Garnaut (an academic and one-time adviser to Bob Hawke); a journalist such as Paul Kelly or Laura Tingle; and a political scientist/historian such as Judith Brett or Stuart Macintyre.
Imagine an ideal world with no constraints. What would you be doing with your HDR/where would your HDR take you?
Given the uncertainty at present it is hard to say but the most logical thing for me is to return to policy advising, refreshed, reinvigorated and with a bunch of policy ideas.
What do you do to relax and unwind after a long day of research/writing?
Walking and planning travel, spending time with family and friends (when allowed).
If you could research another area/field/topic outside of your current area/field/topic, what would you research?
Writing is big part in the HDR process. Do you have any rituals that help you get in the writing mood/vibe/mindset?
After years of working to the clock and in an office environment I think its fair to say I’m still finding my writing mojo. I’ve struggled at times to put the proverbial pen to paper. I’ve tried writing plans, setting goals, scheduling, pomodoros, and a bunch of other things. I find working at home hard, as I’m sure it is for many others, although strangely reading is less of a problem. There are just too many distractions – home projects, the kitchen, a young child who wants to play, neighbours who want to chat and so on. I think I need a routine and a quiet place to work away from home. While COVID limits the options, I’ll just have to remember not to put too much pressure on myself and continue to adapt to the new normal.