Meet Michele Bullock, the new RBA Governor

RBA governor Michele Bullock collage with question marks, cuz who is she? What does she know? Does she know things? Let's find out.

The Reserve Bank of Australia – the organisation in charge of Australia’s monetary policy – has had a new change in leadership. Former RBA governor Philip Lowe has been replaced by long-time deputy governor Michele Bullock, who assumed the role on 18 September 2023. She is the first woman to become governor of the RBA. 

The RBA governor leads interest rate meetings with the other RBA board members, among many other duties. These critical decisions affect Australian monetary policy, particularly the cash rate, which has knock-on effects for home loans, savings accounts, and term deposits. 

Bullock’s term as governor will also oversee the implementation of a host of RBA reforms, including press conferences eight times a year and a reduced number of cash rate decisions. 

So who is the new governor of the RBA, Michele Bullock? And what can Aussies expect from her term as RBA governor?

Who is Michele Bullock?

Michele Bullock is an Australian economist and public servant. She has worked in various positions at the Reserve Bank of Australia since 1985.

Bullock is the ninth and current governor of the RBA after completing a stint as the first female deputy governor of the RBA. 

Her term as RBA governor lasts until 17 September 2030 unless renewed by the Australian Treasurer. 

She also chairs the Reserve Bank Board (the governing body in charge of the cash rate), the Payments System Board, and the Council of Financial Regulators. 

Where did Michele Bullock go to school?

Michele Bullock has a master's degree from the London School of Economics (1989) and a bachelor's with honours from the University of New England (1984). 

During her honours year at UNE, she interned at the RBA before accepting a full-time position. Since then, she has continuously worked for the RBA. 

Where did Michele Bullock grow up?

Michele Bullock was born in Melbourne. During her childhood, she moved to Armidale, NSW and attended Armidale High School. 

How will Michele Bullock’s appointment affect the RBA – and Aussies?

Collage of RBA governor with a speech bubble because what does she think about life, the universe, and everything? Okay maybe not everything, just the RBA and monetary policy.

Michele Bullock is likely to become a familiar face fast to Australians. One of the many new changes to be implemented during her first year as RBA governor is that she will host eight press conferences throughout 2024, one after each cash rate decision. Her predecessor, Philip Lowe, only had to host four press conferences in his seven-year term as governor. 

This reform is designed to bring greater public awareness (and accountability) to the RBA governor and board members after each monetary policy meeting. The RBA has been criticised for mishandling how it informs Aussies about cash rate decisions and their impacts on households, so this measure is designed to keep the central bank in step with expectations. 

“We’re taking really important decisions on behalf of the country. They can be unpopular. They affect the distribution of income, so they’re really important decisions,” explained former governor Lowe in an Anika Foundation roundtable on 7 September.

“And, given that, I think we need to be as accountable as we can and explain our decisions as clearly as we can and the reasons why we’re taking those decisions and the trade-offs we’re managing.”

Indeed, this rate cycle has been one of the most heavily publicised in recent years. At a time when households face a cost of living and interest rate crunch, what the RBA governor does and who they are matters more than ever. 

Bullock has been praised for her sterling work as an economist, but given the public appetite for change at the RBA, her appointment as governor has also drawn criticism. Can someone who’s worked at the RBA for nearly 40 years bring the fresh mindset necessary to update the RBA and handle a complicated economic time? 

Bullock says she’s up to the challenge, stating after her appointment as governor, “It is a challenging time to be coming into this role, but I will be supported by a strong executive team and boards. I am committed to ensuring that the Reserve Bank delivers on its policy and operational objectives for the benefit of the Australian people.”

‘Delivers on RBA objectives’ may be the operating phrase. Mozo banking expert Peter Marshall says Bullock may make slight pivots from Lowe’s way of running things, but the overall arc of the RBA is the same. How and when they inform the public of interest rate decisions – like the first potential cash rate cut in September 2024 – doesn’t affect how they make them. 

“The RBA will still make its decisions based on the views of a group of people,” says Marshall. “It’ll be a slightly different group of people, so we may get some different decisions, but it’s not going to see an abrupt, ‘Oh, no, we’ve been doing the wrong thing all these years.’”

Keeping the ship steady isn’t something to dismiss, though. If the RBA mistimes an interest rate decision, it can prolong the pain of inflation or veer Australia into a recession. When to hike, hold, and cut the cash rate must be calculated carefully.

It’s a narrow path to walk, and Bullock has stayed with the RBA through several crises, from the pandemic to rapid inflation to a cost of living crisis. The new governor has the potential to marry experience with innovation if she sees a way to do it. 

However, the ties that bound Philip Lowe’s hands will still be hers to inherit. The cash rate is a blunt tool, and monetary policy isn’t the same as fiscal, government, or even housing reform. There is only so much Bullock can do to meet the RBA’s primary objective: ensure the welfare of Australians.

So while a new leader controls the helm, the ship will likely stay the course for now. Home loan borrowers can expect to do the same.  

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