Opinion article

John Nieuwenhuysen: 40 years of State of the Nation

For the 40th anniversary of State of the Nation, former CEDA Chief Executive and Honorary Life Trustee, Emeritus Professor John Nieuwenhuysen AM, reflects on his experience with CEDA.

In 2020, it will be the 60th anniversary of the establishment of CEDA. 2019 marks the 40th anniversary of the CEDA State of the Nation Conference, which is the pinnacle of CEDA’s national program, attracting CEDA Trustees from around the country to Canberra to hear from leaders in all realms of Australia’s economic, social and political life. It will shortly also be the 40th anniversary of CEDA’s annual Economic and Political Overview, mounted in each of the capital cities of the nation.

The longevity of CEDA itself and of two of its central conferences down the decades indicates a stability of offerings built in the past and continuing worthwhile traditions established long ago.  The same can be said of CEDA’s multitude of wide-ranging meetings featuring leading speakers in panels or as individuals. The format of these occasions has remained remarkably similar down the years, though responding to cover the swiftly changing issues that occupy the policy debates in Australia and overseas.

Backing up and fortifying its extremely active conference program is CEDA’s independent, highly respected and comprehensive research. The non-partisan, policy-oriented contributions this research generates continue to influence national debates.

It is now almost 40 years since I arrived at CEDA as Research Director and 30 years since I became Director of the Commonwealth Bureau of Immigration Research in 1989. It is 17 years since I left the post of CEDA CEO in 2002. Through this, and indeed all of CEDA’s life, the organisation has continued to fulfil the objectives of its founders, laid down and led by Sir Douglas Copland and his eminent colleague, Sir Zelman Cowen. As Sir Zelman noted in 2001, “in its 40-year history, CEDA has helped to ensure that policy judgements have been on the basis of enlightened and informed policy discussion. In doing so, it has had an effect on the welfare of the entire Australian community.”

The founders of CEDA saw how essential it was to establish the conditions for a searching debate in which people of goodwill—often with differing views—would come together to explore issues relevant to Australia’s economic and social development in the international context.
One of the major prerequisites for attaining this outcome has been CEDA’s objectivity and its non-partisan approach; the committee considers views from every ambit. This remains, as always, a central aspect of CEDA’s work.

During my years at CEDA, I revelled in the educational and networking value of the many wonderful speakers and topics; the fellowship and friendship of the Trustees; the opportunities for independent research; and the remarkable number of international counterpart associations of CEDA, spread across Europe, the United States and Asia.

I am very grateful that CEDA has made me an Honorary Life Trustee, enabling me to participate in its activities from time to time and to compare its present with its past.

The first major impression is how very successful CEDA has been in the current era, including financially. This has occurred through the remarkable success of its events, the amount of sponsorship it has gained, good membership numbers, and its fine, independent research output on well chosen, relevant topics that are co-ordinated with the meeting programs throughout Australia. The eminence and range of speakers CEDA attracts remains a notable feature.

Perhaps the single most important indicator of CEDA’s vitality is the generational change of its Trustees and staff, and the financial health of the organisation. In particular, attendances at meetings easily surpass in number those of earlier times, permitting investment in new resources, such as research staff.

It comes as a rather wry shock to me to notice that there is only one CEDA staff member today who was there when I left in 2002. That is Sharon Braun, who has always been a remarkably accurate and extremely competent administrator, especially of the State of the Nation conferences. Equally, there is today at CEDA a whole new generation of Trustees and Committee members who change with the times and keep the programs contemporary, as the relative importance of different topics alters rapidly down the years.

Nearly 60 years old? I think CEDA has many fresh, invigorating and successful years to come.
About the authors

John Nieuwenhuysen

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Emeritus Professor John Nieuwenhuysen AM is an Honorary Fellow and Emeritus Professor in Economics at Monash University and a fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences of Australia. He was Director of the Monash Institute for Study of Global Movements, and has held posts at the University of Melbourne, the University of Pittsburgh, the International Labor Office, Geneva; the British Department of Industry and Trade; and the University of Natal. He has also chaired four major Victorian State Government inquiries, three of which have been translated into legislation. Emeritus Professor Nieuwenhuysen was CEDA Research Director from 1982-1989 and CEDA Chief Executive from 1996-2002. 

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