Danielle Wood takes top job at PC after first pick pulls out

Brandon How

Grattan Institute chief executive Danielle Wood will lead the Productivity Commission after the federal government’s first pick Chris Barrett turned down the appointment, instead taking up the role of the Victorian Department of Treasury and Finance secretary.

During the initial selection process, Ms Wood was the only other name recommended to the government, according to Treasurer Jim Chalmers. She will be the first woman to chair the government economics think tank — or its predecessors — in more than a century.

Mr Barrett informed the government he would not take on the job as Productivity Commission chair over the weekend. Ms Wood will begin her five-year term as soon as possible.

Ms Wood joined the Grattan Institute in 2014 and has been the chief executive for the past three years. She is also the president of the Economic Society of Australia and was previously the Women in Economics Network national chair and co-founder.

The incoming PC chair attained first class honours in a Masters of Competition Law and a Masters of Commerce from the University of Melbourne. Her Bachelor of Economics from the University of Adelaide was also completed with first class honours and earned her the university medal.

Danielle Wood

Ms Wood will lead reforms to the Productivity Commission (PC), which are expected to be finalised over the next few months as a part of the Treasurer’s efforts to “renew, refocus, and renovate” the government’s economic institutions.

“Part of this is exploring new avenues to lift our productivity and our prosperity and maximise the opportunities that come from the big shifts in our economy in our society,” Mr Chalmers told reporters.

The Treasurer previously said he wants the PC to focus on investing in three areas: human capital, the energy transition, and in adapting and adopting new technologies. He also called for the PC to develop a “more modern approach to data”.

She has also previously served as principal economist and director of merger investigation at the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, as well as senior research economist at the PC.

The Treasurer described the incoming PC Chair as an “outstanding economist and public policy expert of the highest calibre”.

Ms Wood delivered the opening keynote to the government’s Jobs and Skills Summit last September but earlier this year expressed criticism of the federal Budget in a report that argued that “the growing gulf between our expectations of government and our tax base is like expecting BMW services on a Kia budget”.

When asked to respond to her criticisms, the Treasurer said it would be “strange in the extreme” if he had only considered people who use the same economic language as the government, adding that he is “completely entirely comfortable with the views that Danielle has expressed in the past on public record”.

When asked by InnovationAus.com about whether increasing manufacturing as a share of the economy was the best response to the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), the Treasurer said the public should “expect to hear a response to the IRA which recognises that we have strengths here in Australia”.

“Our objective there, our aspiration there, is to make sure that… Australia can be beneficiary of the policy changes that the Americans are making and the broader trends and transitions in the global economy broadly,” he said.

Mr Chalmers reiterated that the government wants there to be more value-adding in the manufacturing sector but also noted that it’s “self-evident” that the “composition of our industrial base will change over time”.

He also added that “as the intergenerational report made clear”, the Australian economy will need to “accommodate big growth in the care and support economy”.

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

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