On Bernie Fraser’s avowed dispreference for academic review of the RBA

This post is a provisional opinion. It is expressed in a moment in time and does not represent the view of my employer, is not legal advice, and is not offered as a scholarly contribution.

Bernie Fraser says he’d rather ACTU Secretary Sally McManus be appointed to review the RBA than an ‘academic pontificating on things.’ Surely that’s a stir-up. Indeed, to my ears, it’s quasi-Trumpian. What’s he worried an academic economist would say?

Almost three-quarters of the economics academics in Australia seem to me to be orthodox neoliberals, and those who are not (and eminent enough to be considered), such as Profs Bill Mitchell and Steven Keen, are exactly what we need right now.

We need fresh thinking in economics. Specifically, we need to think differently about sectoral balances. Everyone is so worried about government debt in Australia, but government debt is only 40% of our GDP while our household debt is three times that amount: a massive 120% GDP — the second highest in the world (by far).

What’s the point of shrinking government debt through fiscal contraction if we are all just getting more and more indebted to the banks? Million-dollar mortgages are not normal in other economies. They may be common, but they’re not pervasive and normative like they are here. Household debt to GDP in the UK IS 87%; in the US is 78%; in France is 67%; in Japan is 66%; in Germany is 57%; in China is 61%.

Switzerland is the only country in which households are more indebted to the banks than Australia. Their ratio is 131%. But many economists do not even believe the Swiss figure because the banks in Switzerland have significant disclosure differences to other jurisdictions (hence the proverbial ‘Swiss bank account’).

So if, on average, we in Australia are all but leading the world for household debt, but we then hear that wage rises will cause inflation (see below), and then interest rates are rising, why on Earth would the RBA resist academic input on the its role and performance? My provisional view is that that the RBA has become super timid and conservative and fears the kind of sunlight an academic study would throw on the RBA’s current methods (QE, interest rate rises, etc.). They just want to ‘get through it.’

On the other hand, if Bernie is a true believer and wants Australia to get out of this and is still thinking consistently with the duties expressed in the RBA’s statutory objects (full employment, prosperity for all, etc), he might actually just be worried that an academically honest assessment might damage Australia’s credit ratings by exposing the chaos. If that’s the case, then more power to him!

The RBA do great work, but they’re a bubble — just like academic communites can be bubbles — and that’s also why Jim Chalmers has said the review has to be independent. There’s no doubting the quality and rigor of the RBA’s assessments and analyses, which is laudable. This study of household income to GDP, for instance, is great: https://www.rba.gov.au/…/why-is-australian-household…. But the RBA seems to me to have become reactive and explanatory, at least at the moment; it’s not a rich source of policy, despite its experiments with QE. We need some Australian innovation in economics and the academy is not a place to put down in these discussions.

Credit: Cathy Wilcox for The Age

New substack blog: Welfare Law in Australia

I’ve begun a substack blog titled Welfare Law in Australia. The purpose of the blog is to write and compile a bunch of informal notes about welfare law in Australia, primarily in the Administrative Appeals Tribunals, as I develop my interest in this field. Please visit the substack at https://welfare.substack.com/

Although my primary interest remains in medical law, my experience in administrative law, through reviews of administrative decisions in relation to medical and other health practitioners, means that this work, dealing with the Administrative Appeals Act 1975 (Cth), is still familiar and relevant.

Pain in the Brain: Worker’s Compensation Claims for CRPS-I in Australia (Abstract)

I recently submitted the following abstract to the organisers of a conference called Neuroscience and Society: Ethical, Legal and Clinical Implications of Neuroscience Research, an event scheduled for mid-September, 2017, in Sydney. Since there’s apparently only a very limited pool of speakers, I’m not sure if my paper will be accepted for presentation. But the organisers have also noted that they will invite some attendees to develop posters for the conference; so, if I’m asked to do so, perhaps I’ll make a poster to outline my findings. (It would neatly dovetail my interest in design and research.) Some speakers will also be invited to submit their papers to Neuroethics—one of the journals I had in mind when I began this work (another was the Journal of Law and Medicine). Even if I’m not one of the lucky speakers, I think I’ll ultimately submit the article (of which this abstract forms a part) to Neuroethics.

As always, please do not use or reproduce this work without my express consent or permission. If you wish to quote from this work, please cite this website and this post. In CMoS style (for instance), use the following citation: Chris Rudge, “Pain in the Brain: Worker’s Compensation Claims for CRPS-I in Australia (Abstract),” Literature Law, Psychiatry, Politics: Notes by Chris Rudge (blog), July 18, 2017, https://www.rudge.tv/pain-in-the-brain/.

Pain in the Brain: Worker’s Compensation Claims for CRPS-I in Australia

Neuroscientists disagree about the underlying mechanisms of chronic regional pain syndrome (CRPS), a debilitating neurological condition characterised by severe pain in the limbs. In CRPS type I, the patient typically suffers from an acute form of pain—one that is frequently not accompanied by any tissue damage or nerve lesion, and is typically disproportionate to the trauma that has incited the condition. These clinical paradoxes make CRPS-I a confounding disorder not only for scientists in medical settings, but for judges, tribunals, and claimants in legal settings.

My analysis of Australian neurolaw, undertaken in the context of working on the Australian Neurolaw Database, has revealed the high incidence of worker’s compensation claims brought in Australia by plaintiffs diagnosed with CRPS-I. While the majority of these plaintiffs are unsuccessful in attaining compensation (with most injuries found to be psychological or psychiatric, not physical or neurological, impairments), this paper analyses these tribunals’ processes, together with the legislative schemes that shape their statutory interpretation of neuroscientific evidence, to show how the legal system impacts on the assessment of chronic pain disorders, and raises crucial questions of great neuroethical import.

To compare these Australian legal cases to developments in the US, this paper will also detail a fascinating US worker’s compensation dispute of 2007 in which both the plaintiff and the defendant appointed separate pain experts to give evidence for their legal claims. What followed was a public disagreement between two distinguished professors of neuroscience about whether the plaintiff’s chronic pain could be detected in BOLD-contrast images (via fMRI). When the judge rejected a motion brought by the defence that that the plaintiff’s evidence was inadmissible—evidence that proposed chronic pain could be detected by fMRI—the defence settled the claim for an amount reportedly more than ‘ten times’ its original offer.


Camporesi, S., B. Barbara, and G. Zamboni. 2011. Can we finally ‘see’ pain?: Brain imaging techniques and implications for the law. Journal of Consciousness Studies 18 (9–10): 257–276.

Davis, K.D. 2016. Legal and ethical issues of using brain imaging to diagnose pain. PAIN Reports 1 (4): e577.

Reardon, S. 2015. The Painful Truth: Brain-scanning techniques promise to give an objective measure of whether someone is in pain, but researchers question whether they are reliable enough for the courtroom. Nature 518, 26 February. Retrieved July 5, 2017, from http://www.nature.com/news/neuroscience-in-court-the-painful-truth-1.16985.

Salmanowitz, N. 2015. The case for pain neuroimaging in the courtroom: Lessons from deception detection. Journal of Law and the Biosciences 2 (1): 139–148. doi: 10.1093/jlb/lsv003.

Wager, T.D. 2015. Using Neuroimaging to Understand Pain: Pattern Recognition and the Path from Brain Mapping to Mechanisms.” In The Brain Adapting with Pain: Contribution of Neuroimaging Technology to Pain Mechanisms, ed. V. Apkarian. 23–36. Philadelphia: Wolters Kluwer.