Disclaimer: This transcript was not prepared by a professional transcript artist. All reasonable efforts have been made to maintain the integrity of the discussion, with minor adjustments to increase readability (e.g. removal of some repeated words and interjections).
Names of audience members have been substituted. Named speakers include moderator Caitlin Bidwell (Economics Club Director at time of recording) and invited speakers Dr. Anthea Coggan (CSIRO), Dr. Tim Capon (CSIRO), and Ms. Mary Bennett (DPIPWE).
Please note the recording begins after Dr. Coggan's introduction.
[START OF RECORDING]
Tim: Okay, so yeah, thanks for inviting me to be involved today, I'm really honoured. Like Anthea said, hopefully I have something useful to say. So yeah, my background’s a bit varied as well, I suppose. When I left high school, my first enrolment at university was actually in architecture, which was a course that I did not really like, and I changed after six months. And as a result, I thought, I'm going to study the things that I find interesting. So even though I was enrolled in a science degree, I studied a mix of things. So I studied a lot of environmental science, sort of zoological, physiological ecology, so sort of how animals are adapted to different environments, and got exposed to a whole range of environmental sort of topics. So my lecturers studied things like Antarctic fish, how they're adapted to that environment, crocodiles in Northern Australia, and so a range of sort of environmental topics I was exposed to. But also as part of that degree, I studied some humanities; so some English literature subjects, philosophy. And in my science degree, one of the subjects that I was looking at was fisheries, and so we learned a lot about the ecology of these fisheries, that kind of thing. And I had some friends from school who were studying economics, and so I was exposed to the concept of maximum sustainable yield through my friends who were studying economics, whilst I was studying the ecology. And so I became really interested in this contrast between the way that economists thought about some of these problems and the way that scientists thought about some of these problems. So, I sort of got this interest in the connections between these different areas of thinking. So, then, following my science degree, I wasn't quite sure what to do. I had a sort of a mix of topics that I had options of exploring, you know, further along the science side or on the economics side. And after a bit of twoing and froing, I was able to move from the University of Queensland to Griffith University to undertake honours in an area related to environmental management and economics. So I was able to study sort of environmental management and economics including some political science, some other environmental science as well, while undertaking a research project in something which I thought married the combination of science and economics that I was interested in, which was using experimental economics. So probably somewhat familiar with this idea that economists conduct experiments either in laboratories with student subjects or sometimes in the field to study decision making, market behaviour, and that kind of thing. So I studied the provision of public goods in an experiment, cooperative dilemma, basically using students as guinea pigs, and to look at the sort of policy of moral persuasion where you encourage people to cooperate. In this case by studying how people communicated with each other and persuaded each other to cooperate more in a public goods type dilemma. So that honours work led to a role for me as a research assistant at Griffith University, where I mainly worked on experimental economics projects, and there was a bit of a link with what Anthea was doing at that time. So I was working on some of those sort of national MBI pilot type projects, looking at the design of options for that kind of incentive to change land holder behaviour, that kind of thing. So, from there, I started a PhD using experimental economics that was motivated by some of the changes in water regulation, property rights for water, and water markets. So I was looking specifically at how do you understand the effect of risk and uncertainty on water markets, given you've got irrigators’ decisions - they have to look forward to the price of water in the future. And you have to understand this relationship between expectations and decision making and under different conditions of risk and uncertainty. So my thesis looked at this sort of relationship between risk ambiguity and market behaviour, which I found interesting because it's a way to learn more about how assumptions in economic decision making, about [how] individual decision making behaviour also affect market outcomes. And then looking at the different sorts of assumptions about, more on the mathematical side, in contrast with the psychological side. So it was again an opportunity to sort of compare those different perspectives, as the one that's more empirical and scientific, from the psychological side with also some of the mathematical models and the more normative type of thinking in economics. So, from there, I went to the University of Sydney for three years to manage research collaboration between the University of Sydney Department of Agriculture and Resource Economics, which I think is probably where Anthea had done her degree, and CSIRO. So I was mostly working with some of my CSIRO Colleagues [________], and some others at the University of Sydney to look at the design of markets and decisions in these sorts of environmental markets like for energy, carbon sequestration, that kind of thing. So we looked at questions like soil carbon sequestration, how you would design an option to incentivise land holders to change behaviour to sequester carbon in agricultural land. And that was also related to sort of risk and uncertainty type idea. So how do you pay people when the links between actions and outcomes are uncertain? From there I moved to Canberra, where I have been for the last eight years, working in CSIRO, in related but a range of other topics. So the work is ranged from sort of water markets, market based instruments, climate adaptation; lots of areas where risk and uncertainty is really important. But increasingly, my work is related to biosecurity, and so we've been looking at how to link simulation modelling for the spread of foot and mouth disease, to derive decision support in preparing strategies for the use of vaccination as part of a strategy for managing a foot and mouth disease outbreak. So yeah, it's a big, big area. Really a part of the approaches to risk management, disaster mitigation. So, there's a lot of commonality across biosecurity, dealing with bush fires and floods and that kind of thing as well. And that's it, I suppose.
Caitlin: Wonderful, thanks Tim. Mary?
Mary: Thanks, Caitlin. Yeah, and thank you Anthea and Tim, been just a privilege and fascinating to hear your stories. And I don't think any of us are going to present a straightforward pathway to economics, because I actually started out, I was going to do music. And then I decided I didn't want to do that for a living. I didn't actually, that had always been the plan. And I did it right up to the end of year 12 and then I decided that music would be spoilt if I did it for a job so I keep it for fun. And I went off to Tas Uni and I did a science degree there and I did majors in zoology and in chemistry. And when I finished that, I still really didn't know what I wanted to do, so I went off to Murdoch University and I became a veterinarian and I practiced as a vet for about fourteen years.
I'd always wanted to work in large animal practice; I'd grown up on a farm. But I married a lawyer, a corporate lawyer, and so we were doomed to live in the city. So, I did end up doing some large animal work when we moved here to Tasmania and I did get to deliver some calves and that sort of thing - that was quite nice. So I did that for 14 years. But once I had started a family there were aspects of being a vet that were really tricky, as much as I loved it. And my husband, when I met him, had always said you shouldn't be a scientist, you should be an economist because he was doing economics. He said, ‘you just think like an economist’. So anyway, when my daughter was younger, I actually studied through UNE by distance while I still worked as a vet, and I just did a straight economics degree, but as you can imagine, through UNE, all the examples were agricultural, or agroforestry, so that, with my veterinary background, I had a fairly agricultural bent I suppose to my economics, but I wasn't really aiming for agricultural even though that had always been an interest for me having grown up on a farm.
And a job came up at DPIPWE as a graduate policy officer; wasn’t in economics, but anyway, I applied. My husband said ‘look, you should do that, you should get your foot in the door of government’, so that's what I did and I am still working for DPIPWE; I really enjoy it. I really enjoy it. But I had to wait a long time to get an actual job as an economist, so mostly worked in- did all sorts of things; general policy work; got really good training, which was lovely. I've worked in organizational development where I work for the executive of the department. That was also a really brilliant job I would never have applied for except somebody tapped me on the top shoulder and said I should. And that just gave me a really rounded sort of- just a really good overview of what the department did. And I just was kind of like the executives, so the executive are the people who run the department, and I was like, their research dog’s body, which was great. So [when] they want to know something, I went away and prepared the stuff for them to help them make a decision. So it was- it did involve economics, even though it wasn't directly economics. I then worked in the biosecurity division for about four years. I was the Animal Welfare Policy Officer; they decided that that would be really good fit for me. They weren't getting the hint that I wasn't actually wanting to be a vet anymore. I wanted an economist[‘s job], but a lot of my work I got to do while I was there, I did. I did some postgraduate law qualifications, didn't enjoy that that much, but very useful, law. If anybody's thinking about going into government, I really do strongly recommend a few law subjects. It's a really good idea.
And when I was working in animal welfare there, I did quite a lot of regulatory impact statements. That was actually what most of my economics work involved, was regulatory impact statements. And even then, one of the challenges you will find, or I certainly found, here in Tasmania is that a lot of people actually don't understand what an economist’s skills are and what you use them for. They just think if it involves dollars, you send it to the economist, and if it doesn't, if it's a decision about what's the best decision to make, we give it to this person who did an arts degree. So, which- some of them make great decisions, and they're very, very ordered thinkers. But like, often I've had to educate people I work for [on] what an economist actually does if they want to get the most out of it. Eventually, the department, actually the agricultural policy section, decided that [they] probably needed an economist, so they advertised for an agricultural economist. I'm not actually trained to be an agricultural economist; I've done- mine was just a straight economics degree. However, when I had a look at what was involved in an ag. economics degree, the extra subjects were actually ones I’d done so there was no point in me going back to look at doing them. So I just applied for the job, and I argued that I done enough and I got it. So that's how I landed in that. I would say that's something, particularly for females of my vintage, one of the things we really had to learn to do was don’t always look at the job description and go, ‘oh, I haven't got that thing’; apply for it anyway. Because sometimes it's a really hard thing for, particularly in Tasmania, skilled things, they often can't attract an exact fit; you know, it can be quite hard to attract skilled people. So if you just think, ‘you know what, I could do that’, apply for it and maybe say look to- do you know, I've gone for job interviews for jobs where I've said, you know, ‘I know I could do this job, but I probably need to do some extra training’. You know, I didn't get that one, but that's because they had someone who was perfect for the job. Yes. So I've been working now as the ag. economist for about six years. Suppose it's been an interesting time.
I'm not sure how much of my work is really true economics. It often is just policy work and a lot of it's actually statistics, data collection, statistics and analysis of that without necessarily doing a good economic analysis. You just get asked to answer a lot of questions, some of which you can, and some which you can't. And I know how I know Tim now because I often do work for our biosecurity section and Tim's name pops up on lots of things.
Um, yeah, that's, that's me, really.
Oh, the other thing I do in my role is I produce the Tasmanian agri. food scorecard. So we try and work out [ ] from what we produce and we go, ‘okay, well, we produce this much, and we turn it into this much food’ or whatever. So whether it's into milk powder or cheese or chocolate, whatever, and we export this much, therefore, and we know that Tasmania could only eat this much, and we know what our sales are within Tasmania. And then we work out how much we must sell into Australia. One of the challenges [is] we find it quite hard to assess waste and stuff like that, but that's a really, really interesting sort of piece of work. And the next Tasmanian agri. food scorecard I think will be out sort of next month. But these days, I lead a team that produce that.
That will probably do from me for the time being.
Caitlin: Wonderful. Thank you, Mary. Nice to see we have lots of different but also intersecting paths to travel through economics and different industry areas. Now Anthea, I have a challenge for you. Recently, I believe you’ve been looking at the Great Barrier Reef and some land management around there. I expect you could spend quite easily a few hours of quite interesting discussion on your work, so you have a five-minute challenge. How much of a summary can you fit in five minutes for us?
Anthea: I reckon I can do it. Okay, so for those that weren't on the beginning of the call, better listen to the recording. My name is Anthea Cogan, I'm an environmental economist at the CSIRO. I'm mainly working on getting private landholders to improve land management for public good outcomes. So, the Great Barrier Reef. It’s a big problem. Where do you start with it? I've got a couple of uh- I didn't have to show any slides. But I was before this talk, I thought I saw a really good presentation by John Rolfe at the ABARES conference on this. An outlook report by GBRMPA - Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority - in 2019 listed climate change, coastal development and land-based runoff as the biggest challenges and impactors on the Great Barrier Reef. And we know that in the summers of 2016 and 2017 the Great Barrier Reef suffered some major coral bleaching events, so it's time to really get serious about what's going on on the Great Barrier Reef.
There's a lot of really good people working in this space. There's a reef 2050 Water Quality Improvement Plan, which sets out some targets for water quality improvement; 60% reduction in dissolved inorganic nitrogen at the end of catchment; 25% reduction in sediment; and a 20% reduction in particulates, and we are a long way from hitting those targets. To get to those targets this water quality improvement plan also lists a number of land management practice change targets such as 90% of priority land areas, sugarcane grazing bananas, to be- have adopted Best Management Practices for their lands and once again, a long way from the target. And without getting the land management practice change you won't get the end of catchment water quality improvement and then the reef will continue to be in a pretty dire situation as the climate continues to change. So it is what economists call a very wicked problem. There are lots of people involved. There's lots of counter arguments about the science. There's recently been a scientific inquiry or a government inquiry into some of the science. So lots of lots of complexity in this space. But what I've been doing is working with landholders, understanding that landholders will make decisions based on the incentives that they face. And so if they're getting market signals about tons of sugar, or kilograms of beef off their properties, then that's what landholders will respond to, and that's what they will aim for. It's a productivity, productivity goal. But we know that society in Australia and globally values the Great Barrier Reef but has no way of feasibly signalling that value to landholders. And that's where the Queensland Government and the Australian Government, come in to, I guess, replace those incentives.
So there's competing incentives with just market incentives to those landholders around what they should produce so they can also bring into their decision making as well as ‘okay, well I want to produce X number of tons of beef for X number of tons of cane’, [but also] ‘I want to also produce X number of water quality improving credits’, for example, or sediment reduction credits. So what we're- we've been working in a number of spaces, it's hard to get it all down into five minutes.
One of the projects that I'm leading at the moment is getting back to what is motivating landholders to adopt land management practice change. Is it just profit driven? Is there intrinsic motivation? Who's got intrinsic motivation? So, who's actually conservation minded and perhaps doing these things without a financial incentive? That's one project. And then we're looking into a number of- have sort of deep dives into some questions around risk and how risk influences what landholders will and won’t do. How social processes influence what land holders will and won't do, how culture influences what land holders will and won't do. With all in mind of how that impacts on the types of incentives and policies and programs and incentive schemes can be rolled out across the reef catchments to encourage land management practice change. So, there's been a number of projects looking at sort of using market-based instruments; there's been a number of reverse tenders or competitive tenders to buy nitrogen reduction. So, all of this stuff is sort of understanding what land holders believe, what land holders perceive, [and] what motivates landowners. And then on the other side of the spectrum, how you might design instruments to capitalise on those perceptions and change those perceptions or influence them for improved land management practice change. So, some examples of that are reduced nitrogen application on sugar cane properties and improved land cover by grazing properties. So that's it in probably just over five minutes.
Caitlin: Yes, not quite the five minutes but well worth it, I think. We’ll see how Tim goes with his five-minute challenge. You’ve been looking at risk decision making and in times of uncertainty, what sort of tools are there for using economics and experiments in making decisions at risk? What do you think our top methods for doing so are?
Tim: So, we've worked on a number of projects where risk and uncertainty is really a central challenge. And I think people have said that there wouldn't be all that much economics if it wasn't really central to decision making and markets. I think a lot of the work we've done in contexts like climate change risks, climate adaptation; it's often been challenging some of the conventional tools. So the limitations of things like conventional cost benefit analysis under systemic forms of risk, such as that [are] caused by climate change, in many cases. So we've been looking at using other methods in these sorts of contexts. So, in particular, real options analysis has emerged, something that's quite relevant for dealing with some of these types of risky decision problems. So, we've been working with real options analysis to develop a framework where we can examine the effect of, I suppose, or the role of resilience in decision making. So I'm looking at the resilience of economic regime within that sort of production or consumption from the point of view of a decision maker. So that's really been one way to overcome some of the limitations of, you know, say, conventional, or more simplistic forms of cost benefit analysis. I think in other contexts we've tried to bring in forms of adaptive management to complement cost benefit analyses; so, looking at things like the value of information and learning; even sometimes we'll get less quantitative approaches. So, in the context of agricultural development, we're working with some social scientists [who] really use more qualitative research methods to assess the impacts in an agricultural development project. And so we're looking at [ ] sorts of tools, I think. Yeah, risk and uncertainty is really pervasive. It's sort of, yeah, I'd want to pin down.
Is there a particular context that you'd be interested in? You did write your question about COVID. But I think in that context, I can draw parallels between foot and mouth disease and COVID. But I asked the agricultural epidemiological model that we work with about the problem of what do you do with people who carry the virus for longer? He said, ‘well, if it was cattle, you would kill them and take them out of the population’, so I'm not sure there's too many good parallels, but we certainly observe some of the same problems in terms of uncertainty in tracing, surveillance, and some of these trade-offs, I suppose. So always being under the- in the situation where you need to make decisions without the information that you'd really like. So the concept of the value of information becomes really central.
Caitlin: Wonderful, thank you, Tim. And yes, I think we’ll refrain from thinning the herd in the case of COVID-19. Mary, I was wondering if you might provide a bit of a practical background on how you go about approaching looking at the impacts a development might have or a biosecurity threat or some such?
Mary: Yeah, well, probably most my economics, in my role, you're doing a lot less research- really not doing proper research. You get the best data you can and you provide analysis and you provide, you know, you use the tools you have to help people make decisions, and a lot of that gets applied in the biosecurity sphere. Even though I don't work in biosecurity, we have really limited resources, so I'm one of the only economists working in the department.
I'm just trying to think that there was something I was going to mention. Yes, so things like, at the moment I think this work I'm probably going to be doing is, once again, they want to re-visit our detector dogs. And we're looking at, I guess, revaluing them because online purchases have increased. So instead of whole container loads of goods coming into the Harvey Norman store, people are buying things individually from IKEA [for example]. And they're coming in, do you know what I mean? That’s sort of to say a lot more stuff’s coming in piecemeal; a lot more stuff’s coming in by the post. So how do we manage our biosecurity, which is, of course, in Tasmania, we have so many advantages. We really do have such limited conduits for things to come into the state. So that's sort of some of the work I get to do.
I rely a lot on my colleagues in Treasury for economic problems. Like helping, you know, I'll sort of do my analysis and if I want some sort of support in that, I'll often send it to a colleague in Treasury and take them through all the assumptions and say ‘do you think this, you know, sounds okay?’. So I think that's one of the downsides of working in such a small government; I feel quite jealous of my colleagues in Brisbane and Canberra and Melbourne who are in great big teams and- but they've also been very supportive of me, you know; I've been able to email colleagues in those states for advice as well. A lot of my work is actually really general policy work, and all they want you to do is bring that that lens, that economics analysis lens, to it. Another thing you often get asked to do is ground truth [ ]. So industry, for example, we’re getting so much of this during COVID: ‘Oh, the impact on us is this’. And what they'll do is they'll just say, normally we have these specialists come from interstate and if we don't have them come, they normally do this, and this is what that thing that they do is worth, and so that's what the cost is. You have to go and say, well, ‘no, no, no, we've got to compare it to the next best option’. So seriously, they seriously can't come. What are you genuinely going to do? You're not going to just- take the example of AI [Artificial Insemination] technicians. So we have to artificially inseminate our dairy cows. You know, they said, ‘Well, normally, people from overseas and interstate inseminate about 126,000 of the cows, so if they don't come, that’s all the cows that won't get inseminated’. So a lot of my work is actually liaison with the industry to say, ‘Well, guys, now, I need you to talk me through the scenario and let's just pretend for the moment [that you’re] the state controller, who's actually a policeman, and we will try and persuade you with the importance’ but we can't guarantee that they will think that's more important than the health risk, you know, you've got to bear in mind they shut all the pubs, they shut all the restaurants. And actually, what are you really going to do? What's real? Like, what's really going to happen? Are you going to persuade people to come out of retirement? You know, you've got people in the state who have done this and are retired; you've got some people who most years work part time. Would you persuade them to work full time this year? Anyway, so that's [what] a lot of my work is, actually trying to flesh out scenarios to get the base case in the comparison so that we’re really, genuinely getting understanding of the problem in a genuine sense, because there's this industry, and this industry, and this industry, saying they've got a problem, too, and you've got to decide. You've got to prioritize all things; you haven't got money for everyone. And you've got a - being presented and say, well, a lot of my job is just saying, ‘Yeah, I know they’re saying it's this much, but they're kind of overstating the case’, or to say, ‘No, I've looked at this, and that actually does seem like quite a reasonable estimate’, and that's actually a lot of my work. The other thing is because we don't have a lot of resources, we often get private economists to do work under contract, and so my job often is an oversight role to make sure that they are delivering what we're paying for and that what they're delivering is quality work. So, that's another important role.
I don't know what else can I talk about? That's probably enough. I probably talked way too long.
Caitlin: I'm sure things might come up along the way that are relevant but liaising skills and understanding what challenges people are facing would be applicable in all sorts of fields. So that's wonderful. Yeah, we might just open to the board then. And just your thoughts on how the industry and sector has changed over the last decade, be that in how you go about your job or what sort of people you're working with?
Mary: For me?
Caitlin: For anyone. If you wanted to start us off?
Mary: I'll let someone else jump in. They’ve probably worked for a full decade in the industry.
Tim: I think Anthea might agree with me that, if I make a generalisation about how our areas of focus in environmental economics research, or the [ ] in agricultural/environmental research, change over time, and they really do change in line with the funding that's available. So personally, I have worked across a large number of topics, usually because you end up working in the areas where the funding is available. So, from water markets through climate adaptation to biosecurity, it really shows how, you know, the fashion, political attention changes over time. And the funding and our work follows. It can be quite interesting because there are connections between these different areas. You know, they all involve people, markets, risks and uncertainties. But that really is a great influence.
Caitlin: Helps if I unmute myself. If you have anything to add to that Anthea, or are you in agreement?
Anthea: Yeah, I'm just looking – I wrote a few notes down before; definitely the funding.
The funding definitely focuses your attention. And even now you were starting to go, you know, I mean, a lot of the work that we've been doing up in the Great Barrier Reef, one of the little sub-projects is more of a social research project. It's like, wow, you know, how can we bring COVID into this question because that's where the next bucket of money is going to pay.
Yeah, I mean, when I think about how it's changed over time, I've been part of the Australasian Ag and Resource Economics society since about ‘97. I've been attending a lot of their conferences over the years and are, apart from the technology that’s present, I remember, you know, back in the day of doing overheads on a projector, and now it's all PowerPoint and everything else is the focus. I feel like the focus, whilst there's still research into production optimization, there's a lot more research into the balance between values. So production versus environmental values and how you bring those together. There's definitely, I wrote some notes here, there's always now sessions about water and water quality and quantity management, but much more environmental stuff; biodiversity, focusing in on components of environmental economics such as the market based instrument design, getting into the real nitty gritty of the design stuff, the valuation and the methodology around valuation. Much more, I think, fancy ways to think about risk and uncertainty and how that affects decision making. So, I feel like it's moved from being probably much heavier in agriculture to much broader in terms of all types of land management, yeah.
Me: Wonderful. Mary, you might be better situated to address the next question then. If you could name one thing, difficult, that you think is a challenge or something to consider over the next five to 10 years that economic thought or principles could be applied to what do you think would be the most important thing to be trying to address?
Mary: Oh, gosh, I think we're already- I don't think our priorities going to change a lot at the moment. What I have seen changed in the last five years from within government is a lot more political will, which then influences the funding, to actually recognize that you're- the whole basis of agriculture, which is obviously where I'm focused, is so reliant on the entire ecosystem. How are we going to address climate change? How are we going to improve soils whilst reducing our nitrogen, our synthetic nitrogen use? It's really getting a much more integrated approach instead of environmental concern’s here and agriculture's here [is] the big change I've seen, and people who are in agriculture have always been there. But I've seen the change actually, in our political masters, so to speak, that they actually seem to be understanding and really embracing that. So, I think climate change has got to be top of the list really, doesn't it? I don't know. I'm happy to be corrected on that one. But I think we've still got a long way to go, and it's so much work to do there. And I think particularly in the incentives and how do we get people to change behaviour and, yeah, I'll let others say something on that.
Tim: I was going to say that, climate change, despite the fact that attention changes with things like a pandemic, that's a problem that stays there in the background. I think that, yeah, talking about the integration, I think that getting better at dealing with some of the systemic risks is going to be [ ]. Particularly things like climate change, drive, you know, unexpected events, new pandemics, simultaneous pandemics, and animal disease outbreaks; all sorts of crazy things happening simultaneously. And I think, yes, people have been pointing out these problems for a long time, but haven't always been pointing out things to do about them. And I think that there’s going to be increasing emphasis from economics and finance. And yeah, coming up with more practical ways to deal with those sorts of systemic problems.
Caitlin: Wonderful, did you have anything to add to that Anthea? Do you think Tim and Mary have covered things?
Anthea: Think they’ve covered it, my only note here was about adjusting to the new normals. And I mean, definitely that sort of drought resilient agriculture, and that would definitely come under the banner of climate change. So how do you, yeah, how you sort of keep- bring these industries into sort of a sustainable normal within these new kind of environmental regimes?
Tim: Sorry, Anthea, so I have a question for you. So, in that context, so I know, with the Great Barrier Reef that, you know, people are predicting possibly big changes in climate change. Maybe it's adaptable; we find out sometimes it might be more adaptable than people previously thought. But we have to manage the, you know, the short term impacts. So, it's trade-offs between agriculture and the reef, with the future. How do you deal with that, you know, the benefit that you can get in 5- 10 years; the long-term benefit? If it's going to die anyway, is it worth saving? You know, how does economics help us deal with this sort of problem?
Anthea: (teasingly) Tim, wash out your mouth. That's a great question. Look, there's so much research going on in the Great Barrier Reef space, not just in terms of where economics is applied. There's a lot of work being done in - by the marine biologists looking at corals and how corals cope with climate change and what corals cope with climate change, and can you breed them and plant them and all of that sort of jazz. And there's a lot of need, actually, for economics in that space about whether it's cost effective in terms of reef management. Yeah, look, I guess in terms of like the short term versus the long term? It's a very tricky question because you have a lot of industries that rely on the reef being there; the tourism industry. And there's a lot of services that the reef provides that then supports broader industries. But then you also have the agricultural industries up in the reef and land management, definitely, in some cases has an impact on their profitability. But then there's also a lot of moving that can happen in terms of innovation, and some technologies that can help industries transition into different ways. But we've got a lot of social processes that make those transitions tricky, and a lot of culture that can be a barrier to those transitions, so it's a very fine juggling act. I definitely think it's worth with saving. But yeah, you've got it, it’s within reason. And a lot of the economics, where it comes out of helping these arguments, is looking at the costs and the benefits of different actions and working out where is the best place to apply what and when. Because you have different soil types, and you have different industries that have different impacts, and it's all spatially heterogeneous, and socially; lots of social heterogeneity as well. So I think it’s going to keep me busy forever.
Caitlin: Wonderful. Hopefully it will be around forever to keep you busy then.
Anthea: I'm trying.
Caitlin: Now, Mary, I know you had to duck off soon. If just before you left, if you could provide- if there's one piece of advice you could give to young people beginning their careers, be that in the environmental agricultural space or whatever they might be interested in, what would that advice be?
Mary: Look, I think Anthea touched on it in her introduction- is certainly in your first jobs, job, whatever you choose, think about how- what opportunities [exist]. Am I going to have to be mentored and also be supported to learn more? Because you'll still have a lot you need to learn. In that sense, I'll put a plug out there. I know that Treasury is advertising cadetships and I'll just say Treasury's a really good place in Tasmania; if you want to get that sort of collegial support in learning your job that is one of the very few places you'll get it because most places in Tassie you'll often be employed, they'll only be one or two people with those skills in that business or department, and that can be really hard when you're starting out. And that's why a lot of people feel they've got to go inter-state, go to a larger city, go work in Canberra or Melbourne or Brisbane.
So, I would say: think about that. Because one of one of the things that has happened in my career- like I really love my job and everything, but one of my little regrets is I never went on and did post grad. And I never, you know, a lot of what I do is very- I use my economic way of thinking, but am I doing really rigorous economics? It's usually limited by the availability of data and the availability of technological tools and things. So in that sense, yeah, I'll probably leave it there and just say, think about where your first job [is], what you've got in the way of mentors, opportunities to apply what you've learned and to grow and develop new skills.
Caitlin: Wonderful, thank you, Mary. Anthea, as Mary alluded to, you mentioned similar early on. Would that be your number one piece of advice?
Anthea: Oh definitely. Look, I think, when I reflected on this last night, I feel that my- where I feel that I have enjoyed the work the most and learnt the most and grown the most was when I had fantastic mentors who weren’t sort of there as formal mentors, they were just senior to me, more experienced than me, and really willing to guide me in how to apply the stuff that I learned at uni to practical problems. Because I think you come out of uni with a very broad, especially undergrad, very broad overview of everything; you're not really specialised in anything. And then working where you can really apply that with guidance is definitely my probably number one piece of advice, or if I can just add a few others while I've got the floor; find the network, your professional society, your network, because that can help too with opening your eyes to opportunities and staying connected. I think having that professional society- so I'm a member of the Australasian Ag and Resource Economics Society, AARES; that's a fantastic society. I don't know how active it is in Tasmania -probably could be more.
Mary: Well it’s become – we’re part of Victoria. And one of the great things about COVID is they suddenly started actually making presentations available; COVID’s been great in Tassie to be honest.
Anthea: Yeah, it has definitely had some upsides.
And I think being- having that connection is also really important further down your career if you take leave for parenting needs. I have three small children, so I've taken three lots of maternity leave, and you disappear every time you do that. So, having an easy way to connect back into your broader peer group is very, very valuable. Yeah, that would probably be my key things. Just keep your eyes open, eyes open all the time, learning all the time. If you're getting into research, get yourself really grounded in the theory, because from there you can do anything. But also, if you're getting into research, think about the practical ‘implementability’ of what you're doing. And I think it's been lovely to hear some of the things that Mary has said, because I feel that probably one thing where the profession has probably also moved over the last probably 10 years is to be more practical and definitely a lot of the Great Barrier Reef work is about working with our end users and making sure that what we're doing is something that is needed and is practical and relevant. So yeah.
Caitlin: Wonderful. So mentoring, mentoring, mentoring, it seems. In agreement, Tim?
Tim: Yeah, I think I agree very much with what Mary and Anthea were saying. I think one practical way of doing what Anthea’s suggesting too, in terms of the networking and those professional societies, is get along to a conference as soon as you can. So usually you only get to go to a conference when you've got a research paper to present. But if you're interested in that sort of research area, it's really good to look for an opportunity to go along to a conference, just to see the range of topics that are out there. I think the conferences I've enjoyed the most have been the ones where I wasn't presenting because I wasn't stressed about the paper I was meant to be presenting, I could just, you know, travel around and see what people were doing. And I think at the moment with the pandemic [ ] there might be more opportunities to participate in some conferences. So, because of the online format, so it's worthwhile investigating what is available. And yeah, I think the American Agricultural Economics Association might still be having a few sessions at the moment. And the Australian Australasian Agricultural Resource Society conference is likely to be in February next year with an online format, and possibly some in person things as well. But online, so I'd recommend looking for that sort of opportunity, even if you are yet to be involved in research.
And yeah, I think it was also interesting to hear Mary talk about how you don't always get to apply the quantitative analyses, but we always get to apply this sort of economic thinking. So I think you keep hearing your perspective on the sorts of problems we deal with, from an economic point of view. And so often, just that opportunity to develop that perspective, it can result, regardless of what sort of topic you're working on. So all of these problems talked about today, our economic problems, and, you know, whichever one you get stuck into, it doesn't mean you're stuck dealing with that for the rest of your career and you know, they're all connected. So, I think you can [learn] a lot about fisheries by studying water markets from an economic point of view.
Caitlin: Wonderful. Thank you, Anthea, Tim, and Mary, for your insights. If anyone had any questions they wanted to ask, now's the time to do it. You can either put it in the chat - there's a little hand up symbol you can do - or if you just wanted to turn on your microphone as well. Though, certainly, there's been a lot of information, so wouldn't surprise me if a few people need time to [ ] that as well.
Mary: Caitlin, I'm sorry, I'm gonna have to excuse myself. Thank you very much.
Caitlin: Of course, Mary, thank you for your insights.
Mary: Yeah, lovely to participate; a real privilege. So thank you. Okay.
Audience 1: I suppose I had a question. It's about accessibility, really, because we see a lot of students, especially who are in the humanities or who are studying arts, that are incredibly passionate about environmentalism and they want to know what they can do to help. But when they start looking at a field like this, they see the numbers, they see the science, and it sort of just scares them off. So do you think there's anything that we can really do to try and help ease that anxiety?
Tim: So, do you mean in terms of getting into economics from other academic disciplines?
Audience 1: Yeah, yeah. So, I mean, effectively just showing that it's not scary, that numbers aren't bad.
Tim: Yeah, I think, so, because I transitioned from science towards economics. Yeah, I can say that that's definitely possible. So yeah, I think there's lots of ways into economics, and not all of them are quantitative. So as you go along, you find that, wow, I wish I knew more about certain quantitative approaches, because they'd be just perfect for the problem that I have to deal with. But I think you can still really get into some of these economic problems at a conceptual level. So, you know, we say in marketplace design, you need to know a little bit about some of the auction theory. But then there's a lot of practicalities and exactly how you're going to run one of those tenders, what's happening biophysically, so I think, yeah, you can definitely find angles to get into economics from a sort of political science point of view. My PhD supervisor was John Tisdell, and his PhD was about distributive justice, John Rawls, that kind of thing, and then looking at quantitative analyses to apply that to water markets. So yeah, I think because these ideas are all connected, and all economic problems have a sort of combination of the biophysical institutional, behavioural, and decision making angles, and you can sort of pick, you know, one of these angles as your approach point.
Anthea: That's a great response Tim. I have to admit, I'm also scared of numbers; I'm more of a qualitative person. So, for me, I often have to take it away and read it and think about it and ask someone who knows about it, to really process a lot of very quantitative work. The other- I mean, in terms of if you're looking at the environmental problem from some kind of economic viewpoint, there's also ecological economics, and there's a society for ecological economics and they also have a fabulous journal, and I find that society actually brings in a lot of that sort of political science; some of the social side to the economics problems. So, a lot less quantitative, but still very, very relevant. And I have been to sessions in the ecological economics conference where someone has brought out a violin to kind of articulate their point about something of beauty. And it- I feel it adds value. It definitely gets the audience's attention. And yeah, so there's different ways of communicating and understanding and it's just about sort of what you feel comfortable with and what you might need to ask someone about as well.
Tim: I think again, you touched on the idea that find someone who is quantitative and I think that's one of the things I've benefited from. Yeah, if you find people who do have that quantitative grounding they are happy to listen to you and your ideas, and that's a good way to get into it.
Caitlin: Wonderful. Was there any other questions from our audience? [Audience 2]?
Audience 2: Yes. Hi, everyone. I hope you guys can hear me?
Caitlin: Yes, you’re loud and clear [Audience 2].
Audience 2: Oh, cool. Yeah. So my question is linking with [Audience 1]’s question: I know you guys come from a varied background, in terms of the academics like, what could you say the basic qualification that one would need to excel in a field- in this field of environmental economics?
Tim: So, I can say for myself, when I learned the most about economics was actually during my honours course; that was really an opportunity to learn more, I think, than I had through economics coursework. So, I think that's a level where you really get to challenging some of the assumptions of what you've been taught as an undergraduate, and also really just follow your own interest. So yeah, I think that's where I learned the most.
Anthea: Yeah, thanks [Audience 2], probably not a lot to add to what Tim has just said, other than, I mean, there's so many different areas within economics that can be applied to either agricultural or economic problems. And it probably is a matter of working out what area is of interest to you and where you're strong, and getting into more detail in that area. And I feel like, particularly if you wanted to pursue a career in research, then going down that Masters and PhD route then gives you that really solid grounding in the theory and the application in a very specialist area. Having those kind of strong research skills is not necessarily useful if you're wanting a more practical policy career. Yeah, so it probably depends on where you want to go and how you want to go about it. But going down one path doesn't close off another.
Audience 2: Thank you.
Anthea: You're welcome.
Caitlin: Alright, so it looks like we have a message; someone is just wondering- what would be your advice, do you think? What sort of things do you look for in an entry level job? What kinds of entry level jobs offer the best opportunities for going down this pathway?
Anthea: I'll have a go at this one first if you'd like Tim. Oh, yeah, look, I think, like we were saying before, I think work out what it is that really tickles your fancy. You spend a lot of time at work, so you need to be enjoying what you do. And it needs to align with what you value and how you see yourself in the world, I feel, so it's got to be a comfortable fit in terms of your sort of morals and ethics as a start. And then I would look at the agency; I would look at if there's a few people there who are strong in the field that you want to pursue, because that's where you might be able to find your good mentors. I never had the opportunity of pursuing a grad program, but whenever new graduates have approached me about jobs and job opportunities, I often say, look, go and have a look at the grad programs that the big agencies put on because I feel that that is such a valuable way to get a guided experience across a range of topics and applications. And then it's almost- then you can start to kind of think about where you'd like to put your focus. So, it's kind of like, kind of dabbling a little bit across a range of areas before you know what to do. I know when I finished my undergrad, I just [planned to do] a master's and one of the academics [was] like, ‘no, go out and get a job and do something practical for a while and work out what you like before you focus on something’. Yeah, so- and build your network but yeah, look, like I would really look at the grad programs. I feel that that's- they’re a wonderful way to start your career.
Tim: Yeah, we see quite a few people with some of the departments we work with in Canberra in those grad roles. And, yeah, I agree that that's a great opportunity that I wish I'd had too, you know, to rotate through a few different areas. I think you're getting exposed to, yeah, like different topics too before you have to choose a great opportunity. But I think if you, yeah, you don't always get the choice of what job that you're going to start with, but I think my advice would be don’t worry too much because you learn so many general skills in whichever roll you’re in that are transferable. And yeah, one thing leads to the next anyway.
Anthea: Yeah, it's often that the first job is kind of the stepping-stone to the next one, which is the stepping-stone to the next one. I mean, I didn't really know that I wanted to focus on research until I was probably up to my third or fourth job and I started to see where I actually really wanted to be, and I've been very happy since then. But definitely having those- those first couple of jobs just get you in the door and get you used to what you're doing and you start to learn who's out there and what they're doing and what to look for in a job as well. And having a bad experience is not a bad thing. I did have a poor experience in one particular job and it definitely made me think that this was not one way that I wanted to work at that time. But I learned a lot from it. And you know, it's all about growth.
Caitlin: Wonderful. Were there any other questions?
Audience 1: If there's no others, I think I might ask one more. So, I was asked today how, really, economists justify quantifying all of these, I suppose non-material, I mean, sorry, intangible assets. So I mean, you look at the cultural traditions of communities or you look at the environment, and it's to be preserved. And I realized I didn't really have a response. So I thought I'd ask you guys if you had any insights?
Tim: So, yeah, I mean, that's a challenging question. Like, so I suppose like you don't always need to justify something; you don't always need to do it. So, I think there are different ways of analysing some of those problems without trying to quantify things or convert intangibles into tangibles. I think there's a bunch of justifications out there; like, a lot of decisions are made in terms of costs and benefits expressed in monetary form. And, you know, it helps bring those values into that sort of cost-benefit framework to make sure that they're included and not forgotten, so I think all those things apply. I think one thing that I've observed over time is that because of the history of economics, not wanting to say too much about the psychology and where people's preferences have come from, we tend to use preferences, and then talk about trade-offs and prices. And we use preferences sometimes as a bit of a proxy for values. So, we're often talking about values all the time because that's what people have preferences over, and they're the things that people really care about. But it does mean that some non-economists think that we really are cold hearted and only care about these preferences in dollars and trade-offs, but we're talking about values all the time, but is using different language. So I think that's one thing that I'd say to someone who raises that: that economists really are interested in values and we're just looking for different ways to make sure that those values get brought into consideration and decision making and policy.
Anthea: I think you've nailed it, Tim, I have nothing more to add.
Caitlin: Well, last chance, then, for any other questions tonight? (pauses)
If not, we'll bring things to a close then. Thank you, Tim and Anthea, for your insights tonight, and for Mary who had to leave earlier. It was wonderful hearing about the breadth of opportunities both on the research and more practical side of things.
This session has been recorded after the first delay at the beginning so we'll be looking to make that available on a number of the TUBES platforms within the next week for other students to also be able to watch and see these insights as well. So, thank you all for coming and to our speakers again for providing your expertise and insights tonight.
Anthea: Pleasure, thank you.
Tim: Thanks very much for involving us.
[END OF RECORDING]
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