Interrogating the ‘gig’ economy, neoliberalism, contemporary relevance of heterodox political economy and the media’s reporting on the economy were just some of the wide ranging topics discussed at this year’s 15th annual Society of Heterodox Economists (SHE) Conference, which was hosted by UNSW Australia Business School.

The two day conference, co-sponsored by the Australia Institute began with Professor Alan Morris examining how the state and federal governments had undermined small public housing sector and as a result depleting the stock of social housing in Australia.

A panel was brought together to interrogate the ‘gig’ economy and looked at the historical perspective, employment and low wages, regulation and extending minimum standards. Various digital platforms were highlighted, such as Uber, Airtasker, Freelancer and Upwork. Kate Minter, from the Union of New South Wales was one of the panellists, “We’d like to see companies that facilitate the gig economy take responsibility for the role that they play, effectively as employers (in our view). They seem to control a lot of the ability for the workers to do work and that should in turn involve taking on some of the responsibility of what being an employer is. Ensuring that workers on these platforms are getting paid minimum standards, accessing the appropriate insurances and superannuation to ensure this isn’t just a way for individuals and businesses to avoid their obligation when it comes to maintaining basic working standards.”

Although the conference was quite well attended a number of academics were of the view that the possibility of developing an alternative view on economics (heterodoxy) were narrowing because the outlets were no longer there. According to Dr Joseph Halevi, “If you are a heterodox department (in the case of Cambridge), because of the weight Cambridge carries then you can have an impact but in the case of smaller and lesser universities then it becomes more and more difficult - even the number of smaller universities which allow for heterodox economics thinking is in decline. We have a responsibility to our students for their future. We can’t get them to do PhDs for which they will not get jobs, so the best way is for them to standardise and then to find ways to create links to other departments where they do employ heterodox economists. Creating these links are important because it’s about eventually creating a heterodox culture that may become visible one day – that’s the way I see it.”

However, David Richardson a Senior Research Fellow at the left leaning think-tank Australia Institute (AI), was more optimistic about the future, “This year we’re co-sponsoring the (SHE) conference for the first time. We’ve been interested in the ‘movement’ for a long time and now we want to deepen that involvement and we think there are lot of collaborations we could do with this movement and the AI.”

The panel line-up for the ‘What’s wrong with the media’s economic reporting’ consisted of John Quiggan (University of Queensland), Stephen Long Economics Correspondent, ABC), Peter Martin (Economics Editor, The Age) and Ross Gittins (Economics Editor, Sydney Morning Herald). The session served as a reminder of the roles, responsibilities and challenges of reporting on the economy. Stephen Long stated, “There is the tendency for sections of the media to focus on the trivial rather than the long term but in terms of economics journalism, there’s a lot that’s going right. There’s good challenge towards mythology being peddled. Although I would like to hear more about the good work that academics are doing by shining their lights and get out in public a bit more.”

Ross Gittins from the Sydney Morning Herald said, “There’s a lot of interest in the media, a lot of frustration and I think a lot of misunderstanding of what others see as the media’s role. I hope the academics took away a better understanding of the constraints under which economic journalism works. I also hope they took away a desire to play a bigger part in the media’s coverage of economics.”

UNSW Business School Associate Professor and Director of the Society of Heterodox Economists, Peter Kriesler explained, “It’s important for people with a common background outside of the mainstream to be able to talk to each other and make advances. Whereas, when they talk at more conventional conferences, usually the first question is, why are you doing what you’re doing? Here everyone knows why they’re here so they can get down to what’s important in terms of analysis and policy.”

“There have been some very important centres like the Australia Institute that work in the same area now. People come to the conference from all disciplines now and not just economics - political science, sociology and geography. There are people outside of academia coming in and contributing, so I think the appeal is much wider when compared to when we first started.”

Media contact: Ibrar Khan: 02 9385 9887 |