Lumen - The University of Adelaide Magazine The University of Adelaide Australia
Lumen Summer 2013 Issue
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An Economics flight path

From University of Adelaide Economics with Honours to the Premier's Adviser on International Engagement - Lumen follows the flight path of Tim Harcourt, The Airport Economist.

If anyone did actually follow the flight path of Tim Harcourt, they'd get dizzy: over the past five years he's been to 56 countries, averaging two days a country.

The former Chief Economist of Austrade and author of the popular culture economics book, The Airport Economist, fortunately loves travel. It is an important part of his latest position, advising Premier Jay Weatherill on international engagement for our State.

The Harcourt name is well known at the University of Adelaide. Tim's father, the distinguished economics scholar Professor Geoff Harcourt, lectured here in the School of Economics for 25 years before moving full-time to Cambridge University.

Perhaps surprisingly, it wasn't his father's career in Economics that set the path for Tim. It was politics that dominated the Harcourt household when Tim was growing up in Adelaide. His parents, Geoff and Joan, were both strong advocates for workers' rights.

"My family was very politically active," he says. "My Mum ran for Parliament, urged along by Don Dunstan, and my Dad was an avid anti-Vietnam war campaigner. Both were big Labor Party activists.

"I was surrounded by politics growing up in the 70s - the sacking of Gough Whitlam, the protests - and, running through all this, economics dominated the political debate."

When he was in Year 11, Tim Harcourt visited the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) in Melbourne and said he wanted to work for them.

"The ACTU said I should either run a union or get a degree to be able to join them - and if it was a degree, it should be economics or law, but economics was probably handier," he says.

Tim undertook his Economics degree - including a good smattering of industrial law - and excelled. He won the E.A. Russell Memorial Prize for the best results in third year Macroeconomics and a Frank Hambly Memorial Scholarship for academic excellence from Lincoln College; and he secured one of the highly sought-after Reserve Bank of Australia cadetships.

He attributes both his good grades and the development of his passion and interest in Asia and travel to his early days at the University of Adelaide living at Lincoln College.

"Most of my classmates at Lincoln College were either from Singapore or Malaysia," he says. "Lee Kuan Yew made a mistake in his paperwork - all these top students were meant to go to Oxford to study Physics but they all came here instead to study Economics!

"They fed me noodles every night, and I got very good marks!" Tim's first overseas trip was to South-East Asia, invited by his Lincoln College friends.

"Everything I've done - the travel, my work in Asia, the position with Austrade, The Airport Economist - it all stems from my time at Adelaide Uni."

He also treasures his memories of playing cricket and particularly footy for the Adelaide University Football Club, a member of the bottom team 'The Scum' along with The Blacks legend Bob Neil.

Following his graduation, Tim completed a Master of Arts in Economics (Industrial Relations) at the University of Minnesota and then a Trade Union Program at Harvard before fulfilling his Year 11 ambition and starting work with the ACTU, where he was a research officer and then industrial advocate from 1991 to 1999.

He left the ACTU for Austrade where he was Chief Economist until last year. While still at Austrade, he became the JW Nevile Fellow in the School of Economics at the University of NSW, where he has an office just down the corridor from his father who has returned from Cambridge.

"It's actually great to be working so close to him," says Tim. "After spending 30 years in different countries, we're now making up for lost time."

Just this year, Tim was appointed to his most recent challenge as the inaugural Adviser-International Engagement for South Australia. It's a position which, happily, brings him back to Adelaide frequently and keeps him in the skies.

As part of that role, he wants to establish networks of South Australians around the world to help build the State's influence and exposure overseas, and to leverage those communities to create export opportunities.

"Just because this isn't the biggest state or the biggest capital city, it doesn't mean we can't have an impact," he says. Tim Harcourt is certainly doing his best to make that happen.

story by Robyn Mills

Tim Harcourt
Picture courtesy Matt Turner of <i>The Advertiser</i>

Tim Harcourt
Picture courtesy Matt Turner of The Advertiser

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