Tough times for nation: economist

RENOWNED economist Professor Ross Garnaut believes the golden age of spending and improvements to our standard of living may be a bit further beyond the horizon.

The Labor Government advisor told the Australian Financial Review the "salad days" of the nation's boom were swiftly becoming "dog days" as incomes grew shaky.

Professor Garnaut told AFR, "We do have to recognise that we're in for fairly tough times".

He said China's shift from heavy industrial investment would hurt exports of metals and energy, as its plans to shift towards lower emissions could hit Australian thermal coal demand.

"We have to go through a long period of expenditure restraint" that could last "half a dozen years or more", he said, referring to future government spending.

He successfully forecast the rise of China's economy in 1989.

Professor Garnaut is not the first to warn of Australia's gloomier path ahead.

Resources Minister Martin Ferguson told a Sydney conference on September 25 that "governments, industry and unions alike must recognise that the days of record high commodity prices are behind us".

He said beyond the $270 billion in mining and energy projects already slated to go ahead, there was a further $230 billion yet to be confirmed by corporate bean counters.

"If these projects are to proceed, we need to make improvements to the way we do business," Mr Ferguson said.