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Australia in the World: Episode 47

15 May 2020
By Allan Gyngell AO FAIIA and Dr Darren Lim

Heather Smith on fixing the G20, industrial policy, tech competition, and what economists get wrong.

Allan and Darren welcome Dr Heather Smith PSM to the podcast. Until January 2020, Heather was Secretary of the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science, which followed serving as Secretary of the Department of Communications and the Arts. Before that she was a Deputy Secretary in the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet (including serving as G20 Sherpa in 2014 when Australia held the G20 Presidency) and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, as well as a Deputy Director General in the Office of National Assessments. She has also held senior jobs in Treasury, the Reserve Bank of Australia, and the Australian National University.

The interview begins with the G20, which has not performed well during the Covid-19 crisis. Is it salvageable, and what concrete things should Australia be advocating for? What else can Australia do to help our regional partners during this unprecedented crisis?

Darren shifts the conversation to industrial policy—the topic of Heather’s economics PhD thesis! How does she understand advocacy across the West for a more active state, and how is Australia positioned? Notwithstanding the vulnerabilities exposed by Covid-19, is resilience in our supply chains even realistic? And how does she view the expanding concept of national security, especially as it applies to critical technologies?

The conversation turns to the rise of populism—to what extent is economic grievance the major driver, and does Covid-19 offer a chance to “reset” public policy in its aftermath?

Allan then asks Heather, who holds a PhD in economics, what she as an economist is most likely to get wrong when observing and analysing the world? And as a non-economist, what is the thing she’s most likely to miss?

Finally, Heather, Allan and Darren all take turns in answering the question: what do you expect to be different in Australia’s world after Covid-19?

As always, we invite our listeners to email us at this address: We welcome feedback, requests and suggestions. You can also contact Darren on twitter @limdarrenj

We thank AIIA intern Maddie Gordon for her help with research and audio editing and Rory Stenning for composing our theme music.

Relevant links

Heather Smith, “Doing policy differently”, Keynote Address, Institute of Public Administration Australia, 22 March 2018:

Heather Smith and Allan Gyngell, “Technology will unite the post-virus world order”, Australian Financial Review, 23 April 2020: