SAUL ESLAKE

Economist

SAUL ESLAKE

‘Welcome to my website …
I’m an independent economist, speaker, company director
and Vice-Chancellor’s Fellow at the University of Tasmania’

Dr Peter and Mr Costello


News | 16th June 2009

Tim Colebatch | Sydney Morning Herald | 16th June 2009

WE thought we knew Peter Costello well, and in a sense we did: the tall blond guy with the swagger of self-confidence, the master of the wounding jibe, the frowning, serious treasurer in a dark blue suit, the fluent wit and speaker. All these were the real Costello, a man born to the theatre of politics, and one of its most skilled performers in my lifetime. As treasurer, he presided over 12 years of the one of the best runs of growth Australia has ever experienced, and convinced himself and many others that it was no accident that it happened while he was at the tiller.

His ability was never in doubt. I saw him perform a number of times in international forums, and he left you feeling proud to be Australian: I wish I could say the same of every Australian minister. Some of his global peers have told me privately of their respect for him and his clear, constructive and sensible interventions around the conference table. Their acceptance of Melbourne’s bid to host the G20 finance ministers’ meeting in 2006 was partly the result of that respect.

And yet there was another Peter Costello we knew who was less impressive. He surrounded himself with admirers, and seemed to expect admiration as his due. He was the leadership contender who ignored the backbench electorate he needed to cultivate, the media star who regarded the media as unfriendly if it criticised him. He could be charming, and the life of the party. He was also incurably vain, and a bully.

ANZ bank chief economist Saul Eslake, a man widely respected for his integrity, has told how, in Hobart in 2002, he criticised the government’s decision to define the GST as a state tax (which it had done to make its tax take look smaller). By the time his plane landed back in Melbourne, Costello had already rung the bank’s chief executive with a threat that if this were repeated, there could be regulatory action taken that the ANZ would not like.

“After 2002, Costello never had any conversation with me about anything I had said, but there were numerous times when he or his staff rang to complain to people whom they thought might influence what I said,” recalls Eslake, who had known Costello since their days in the Young Liberals. “This might be acceptable behaviour in Singapore. It ought not to be acceptable in Australia.”

Eslake’s experience was far from unique. One foreign bank succumbed to the pressure and moved its chief economist aside after the treasurer complained about his writings. Another senior bank economist declined to be quoted on his experience after he disagreed publicly with one of the treasurer’s policies.

My experience as economics editor of The Age was similar. In 12 years, Costello never complained to me face to face about anything I had written. Rather, he went behind my back, complaining to my editors and suggesting I be replaced with someone more amenable — suggestions they ignored.

In some ways Costello resembled the younger Sir Robert Menzies. In his first stint as prime minister from 1939 to 1941, Menzies was seen as brilliant yet arrogant, a glorious speaker, yet disdainful of lesser beings. Eight years in the wilderness followed, from which he re-emerged with a greater understanding of people, and a new ability to weld them into a successful team. Costello never had those years in the wilderness. Everything came to him easily. That was perhaps his greatest handicap.

In two ways, it is hard to pin down his achievements as treasurer. It is hard to define how much governments influence economic activity. They claim credit for anything good that happens on their watch and disown responsibility for anything bad. Their opponents always argue the reverse. The reality is elusive.

In this government, moreover, Howard was the boss. While they worked closely together, and mostly saw eye to eye, Howard clearly called the shots, even in Costello’s area of responsibility. It was Howard who overrode Costello’s objections to a goods and services tax — although Costello had to go out and sell it to a sceptical Australia, and did so with great skill.

Howard barred Costello from joining the Aboriginal reconciliation march, rejected his plans for an emissions trading scheme and vetoed his proposal to introduce jail terms for anti-competitive conduct. The deluge of middle-class welfare payments in the government’s later years came mostly from Howard — with the baby bonus an obvious exception.

But the work that went into the 1996 budget cuts was clearly Costello’s. He can claim credit for putting the budget back in the black and keeping it there. It was because Labor inherited his budget surpluses and zero net debt that it has been able to inject so much stimulus into the economy in recent months.

The Coalition may have been lucky that it governed at a time of global prosperity, rising commodity prices and low interest rates worldwide. It may have been lucky to inherit the benefits of Labor’s reforms. But Costello kept Australia on track, and did nothing to derail our good luck.

One final thing. In a government notorious for playing favourites, Costello made key appointments solely on merit. Ken Henry, former tax adviser to Paul Keating, became secretary of Treasury. Ian Macfarlane and Glenn Stevens at the Reserve Bank, John Laker at the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority, Graeme Samuel at the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission were quality appointments that served Australia well.

Could he have come back from the wilderness a wiser, humbler man? We will now probably never know.

Tim Colebatch is economics editor.

WEEKLY CHART PACK


Each weekend since mid-April I’ve been preparing, updating and distributing a weekly Coronavirus Impact Chart Pack to people in Australia and overseas. Running to over 100 pages it includes:

  • charts tracking the spread of Covid-19, globally and in Australia, and government responses to it;
  • the impact on the global economy and major individual economies such as China, Japan, other Asian economies, the US and Europe;
  • financial and commodities markets;
  • multiple aspects of the Australian economy, including state-level comparisons, and the policy responses of the Australian and state or territory governments, and the Reserve Bank of Australia; and
  • similar, though smaller coverage of the New Zealand economy.

The Coronavirus Impact Chart Pack will be updated every Saturday afternoon, Australian time, for as long as it remains topical. It will be accessible to subscribers of the Premium Access package.

If and when Covid-19 ceases to be front and centre of attention (as it is now) – whenever that might be – I will continue to prepare a Weekly Chart Pack, but with a focus on whatever replaces the virus as the issue du jour.

ECONOMIC IMPACT OF THE CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC
28th November 2020


CORONAVIRUS IMPACT CHART PACK 2020-11-28

"I see a lot of chart packs in my line of work, but yours is about the best I have seen. It is amazingly comprehensive, covering far more of the world than any individual is entitled to cover, the charts are clear and easy to understand and they drill down into each topic in a very satisfying way. So well done, Saul."

Alan Kohler, ABC finance presenter, founder of Eureka Report


"A timely and comprehensive summary from one of Australia's best economists."

Adam Creighton, Economics Editor for The Australian


“I continue to find you thinking invaluable - this year to my ritual weekend reading of the economist I have happily added ‘Saul’s latest’.”

Rufus Black, former Managing Partner of McKinsey’s, and currently Vice-Chancellor of the University of Tasmania


“Your chart pack is amazing - and thanks for offering to add me to the mailing list, that would be great to be included. Everything you could want to know is there - and the way the data are organised and presented to tell the stories makes it so easy to follow.”

Prof Jeff Borland, Truby Williams Professor of Economics, The University of Melbourne, Website


“An excellent summary. Although I take a great interest in what’s happening with COVID-19 day by day In Australia and Internationally, I always find your weekly summary a very interesting review of the past week.”

retired former Chief Executive Officer of a District Hospital Service in New South Wales


WEEKLY CHART PACK

EVENTS

Saul Eslake online presentation


“You are the best economic thinker in the country hands down”

Sheryle Bagwell, recently retired Senior Business Correspondent (and sometime Executive Producer),
ABC Radio National Breakfast


"I see a lot of chart packs in my line of work, but yours is about the best I have seen. It is amazingly comprehensive, covering far more of the world than any individual is entitled to cover, the charts are clear and easy to understand and they drill down into each topic in a very satisfying way.
So well done, Saul."

Alan Kohler, ABC finance presenter, founder of Eureka Report


“I continue to find you thinking invaluable - this year to my ritual weekend reading of the economist I have happily added ‘Saul’s latest’.”

Rufus Black, former Managing Partner of McKinsey’s, and currently Vice-Chancellor of the University of Tasmania


“Your chart pack is amazing - and thanks for offering to add me to the mailing list, that would be great to be included. Everything you could want to know is there - and the way the data are organised and presented to tell the stories makes it so easy to follow.”

Prof Jeff Borland, Truby Williams Professor of Economics, The University of Melbourne, Website


“An excellent summary. Although I take a great interest in what’s happening with COVID-19 day by day In Australia and Internationally, I always find your weekly summary a very interesting review of the past week.”

retired former Chief Executive Officer of a District Hospital Service in New South Wales


“Just want to congratulate you Saul on the unbelievably good set of slides you just presented, possibly the best I have ever seen. You have set the bar very high.”

Dr Joe Flood, Adjunct Fellow, RMIT University, Pandemicia


“Thank you very much for your excellent presentation for the Economic Society today. It is always a great pleasure to hear your eloquent, up-to-date and comprehensive talks.”

Andrew Trembath, economist, Victorian and Australian Government agencies


online events @ saul-eslake.com


DEC

16th

2020 – End of the Year Presentation

6:00 pm AEDT
3:00 pm Hong Kong | 2:00 pm WIB | 8:00 am CET | 7:00 am London
Include access to Saul's presentation slides and video

FREE Registration


Request Speaking Engagement

WHAT'S NEW

Most Recent Articles, Talks and Presentations


Coronavirus Impact Chart Pack 2020-11-28

Chart Pack | 28th November 2020

The Economic Consequences of Misguided Localism
Australian Society and Politics, Economic Policies, Tasmania | 22nd November 2020

Why I changed my mind about compulsory super
Economic Policies | 11th September 2020

Media coverage of my report on replacements for the Spirits of Tasmania ferries
Australian Society and Politics, Economic Policies, News, Publications, Tasmania | 27th November 2020

Saul Eslake stands by Spirits of Tasmania replacement report
News, Publications, Tasmania | 27th November 2020

Saul talks about factors driving the Tasmanian property market
Tasmania | 26th November 2020

Interview with Triple M-Hobart on ‘Choices and Consequences’
News, Publications, Tasmania | 24th November 2020

Interview with ABC The Drum about compulsory super contribution
Economic Policies, News, Publications | 23rd November 2020

Interview with Tasmania Talks on ‘Choices and Consequences’
News, Publications, Tasmania | 23rd November 2020

Interview with ABC Hobart on ‘Choices and Consequences’
News, Publications, Tasmania | 23rd November 2020

The Australian’s take on ‘Choices and Consequences’
News, Publications, Tasmania | 22nd November 2020

Article in the Launceston Examiner on ‘Choices and Consequences’
News, Publications, Tasmania | 22nd November 2020

The Hobart Mercury’s take on ‘Choices and Consequences’
News, Publications, Tasmania | 22nd November 2020

I changed my mind on increasing the compulsory superannuation contribution rate
Economic Policies, Publications | 22nd November 2020

COMING UP

Up Coming Speaking Engagements


DEC

7th

State of the Nation

Presentation to the Governance Institute of Australia Virtual National Conference 2020

8:55 am

VIDEO

Recent Presentations


The Impact of Covid-19 series

These videos are available to audience of Saul’s presentations as soon as they are uploaded and will be available to public one month after the presentation date.

See more


TESTIMONIALS

What Others Say


“You are one of the best at what you do in the world”
Gail Fosler, Chief Economist, The Conference Board, New York, December 2002

“I have never known an economist to have such a knowledge of world economic facts and to be able to bring to bear so much information in answering a question without notice”
Charles Goode, Chairman, ANZ Bank, July 2009

“Saul Eslake is … a highly regarded independent economist with the highest degree of integrity"
John Durie, Columnist, The Australian, July 2009

“… one of the few people in this world who can have so many oranges up in the air at the same time but still manage to catch them"
Andrew Clark, journalist, Australian Financial Review, November 2008

Read more

LINKS

Useful Links