Associate Professor Rachel Ong

Curtin University

29 Feb 2016

‘AHURI and I go back a long way. After I completed my PhD, my first job was as a research officer on the first AHURI National Research Venture. The job lasted three years, and gave me the space to really cement my research skills.’

Born in Malaysia, Rachel Ong came to Australia to do an undergraduate degree in economics and finance at Murdoch University. During that time she found she was drawn to understanding the interactions between economics and social policy. This led to her undertaking a PhD on housing and labour market issues that affect older Australians.

‘I had Professor Gavin Wood as my supervisor. He had a strong influence on my interest in housing and how its economic aspects affect our everyday lives.’

Rachel was awarded a Postdoctoral Fellowship from Curtin University before being appointed as a senior lecturer and, is now Deputy Director at the Bankwest Curtin Economics Centre. Much of her work is on the economics of housing, and she has a strong interest in the intersection of housing and ageing issues.

She was a key researcher in influential AHURI work on the impacts of the Henry Tax Review (with Gavin Wood); on modelling the interactions between housing assistance and labour market participation; and on housing equity withdrawals by older homeowners. Findings from the equity withdrawal research were cited in an OECD report on pensions, and have led to Rachel being invited to national policy round tables and discussions on the issue.

Currently, Rachel is leading the AHURI Evidence-Based Policy Inquiry, ‘Housing policies, labour force participation and economic growth’. The Inquiry is supporting housing policy by shedding light on the significance of causal mechanisms that link housing and economic growth (including employment participation, mobility, housing supply and wealth effects).

‘Many view housing as social issue. There isn’t a wide appreciation of the role of housing in the wider economy. For example, problems with the housing economy in the USA were a major cause of the global financial crisis in 2007. And even when people understand that housing is important to the economy, in Australia we don’t have sufficient empirical evidence to support our intuitive understanding and to guide housing policy that supports economic growth.’

Besides being leader of the Inquiry, which involves co-ordinating 18 team members across five projects in three different universities, Rachel is also project leader on one research project as well as a team member on two other projects under the Inquiry.

‘The advantage is that I will be familiar across all the projects, which will help with linking the findings together. Part of the role of the Inquiry leader is to bring the thoughts from the projects together to generate a coherent evidence base.’

Rachel believes that the AHURI Evidence-Based Policy Inquiry model has great benefit for policy-makers.

‘There is a challenge in linking the findings together, but ultimately we will have a critical mass of evidence to aid policy-makers. Because we’re working with the AHURI model, which has a solid reputation, our research is much more likely to find its way onto the desks of the key people involved in policy development. In this case, I do hope the evidence about the links between housing and the economy is picked up by housing policy-makers as well as Treasury and the Reserve Bank.’