Journal article

The economic geography of Australia and its analysis: from industrial to post-industrial regions

1 Aug 2012

The Australian economy has experienced profound change over the last five decades, moving from an industrial to a post-industrial structure. This transformation has had far-reaching implications for the nature of economic activity in Australia and has provided the backdrop for the evolving analysis of the nation's space economy. The paper argues that three interrelated themes underpin much of the work of economic geographers in Australia: the impacts of globalisation on Australia's space economy; neoliberalism and the governance of regions; and policy-focused analysis of regions, their history and prospects. The paper concludes that economic geography will continue to make important intellectual and practical contributions to Australia in the near future as the reshaping of the Australian economy continues and as new challenges reshape the nation's regions.

Economic geography remains a vibrant area of intellectual endeavour in Australia and, in common with most aspects of geographical research, has changed over recent decades in response to new philosophies of knowledge, the impact and influence of specific ideas, and broader-scale shifts in public debate. The changing nature of the economy has also driven the transformation of the study of the economic geography of Australia, with new questions of theoretical and practical significance thrown up by the restructuring of employment, investment, and firm growth across Australia. The analysis of Australia's economic geography has, in some key respects, developed a unique focus and character when compared with the development of the discipline in some other nations. Dimensions of its distinctive nature include a strong empirical and policy focus, engagement with – and to a degree capture by – the broader discourse of regions as non-metropolitan places, and the weaker development of at least some of the theoretical components of contemporary economic geography. It is beyond the scope of any paper to reflect upon all contributions – and even all themes – within the broad body of work that constitutes economic geography in Australia. The discussion is restricted to a specific set of themes and the period from the 1960s and to the contribution Australian economic geographers have made to Australian-focused research. Many Australian researchers have made important contributions to our understanding of the functioning of the global economy or particular regions outside Australia, but this work falls outside the scope of this paper.

This paper undertakes a selective review and traces three interrelated themes: first, it argues that researchers have been increasingly concerned to understand the spatial impacts of an emergent global economy. Second, it recognises that neoliberalism has both had an important impact on the nation's economic activity and has served as a focus for the work of many researchers. Third, it traces debates on regions and regionalism in Australia and how the complexion of public debate on this topic is a product of both the impact of global economic processes and the nation's embrace of neoliberal philosophies of government.

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