Our Story

A proven track record, delivering on the issues that matter for more than 60 years.

Formed in 1960 by one of Australia's foremost economists, Sir Douglas Copland, CEDA's purpose was to harness the ideas and influence of leading thinkers from business, government, community and academia.

The concept for CEDA was based on US think tank the Committee for Economic Development. The CED was formed in 1942 to deal with the problem of anticipated unemployment after World War II and was influential in shaping the Marshall Plan and the post-war monetary system. Today, the CED is part of CEDA's international network of counterparts.

From the start, CEDA was independent and not restricted by vested interests or political persuasion. Our purpose remains unchanged.

Today, CEDA continues to deliver leading thinking, informed discussion and rigorous research to influence good public policy for Australia's economic and social development. CEDA’s purpose is to achieve sustainable long-term prosperity for all Australians. 

Since its inception, CEDA has produced more than 3000 publications, research reports and articles, highlighting emerging issues and directions in a diverse range of policy areas such as taxation, energy, industrial relations and healthcare.

In addition to research, the CEDA platform has attracted leading speakers from business, politics, government and academia. Every Prime Minister since the Hon. Bill McMahon has addressed CEDA, including Gough Whitlam, Malcolm Fraser, Bob Hawke, Paul Keating, John Howard, Kevin Rudd, Julia Gillard, Tony Abbott, Malcolm Turnbull, Scott Morrison, and Anthony Albanese.

CEDA's founder: Sir Douglas Berry Copland

CEDA's founder, Sir Douglas Copland, was a leading figure in the development and growth of the economics profession in Australia.

He led the creation of the famous Premiers' Plan - the document, admired by John Maynard Keynes among others, that set Australia's economic management during the Great Depression and made Copland a household name. 

The inspiration for CEDA

Copland's ambitions for Australia led him to establish CEDA. He had previously shown his faith in an independent Australia in the 1930s, urging the Australian pound be separated from the British sterling. 

In the 1950s, he famously voiced the fear that Australia was "a milk bar economy" - an economy set on consumption at the expense of capital goods and productive inputs. CEDA began as his attempt to set out a different economic future.

A distinguished career

Copland was one of the founders of economics as a university discipline in Australia, setting up two Australian university economics faculties.

From 1917 to 1920, he lectured in history and economics at the University of Tasmania and became Professor of Economics until 1934.

In 1934, Copland became the Sidney Myer Professor of Commerce and Dean of the faculty of Commerce at the University of Melbourne until 1944. From 1938 to 1945, he chaired the State Economic Committee for Victoria. 

At the same time, he was appointed Commonwealth Prices Commissioner from 1939 to 1945. He held the Chair of Economics at Melbourne from 1944 to 1945, before becoming Australian Minister to China. In 1948, he became the founding Vice-Chancellor of the Australian National University.

He served several Australian governments, the United Nations and the world's peak labour organisation, and maintained a constant interest in business issues. One leading businessman dubbed him the "Keynes of the Commonwealth".

He was also Editor-in-Chief of Economic Record, the journal of the Economic Society of Australia and New Zealand, for 20 years. In 1961, he became the first Director-General of the International Institute for Labour Studies, a research body sponsored by the International Labour Organisation.

Dr Alex Millmow's paper, DB Copland and the Aftershocks of the Premiers' Plan 1931-1939, is available to download. Many thanks to Dr Millmow for making the paper available.

The Legacy of Sir Douglas Copland, Founder of CEDA

Released to coincide with our 50th anniversary, CEDA: Celebrating 50 Years, provides a unique portrait of the people and ideas that have shaped independent public policy in Australia.

CEDA's Leaders

Sir Douglas Copland is the best-known figure in CEDA's history, but the organisation was shaped by a series of exceptional leaders and experts.

Peter Grey was the Chief Executive for 30 years and was a moving force in CEDA. Joining CEDA as director of research in the late 1960s, he led the organisation through the 1970s and 1980s, and into the 1990s.

In a speech to mark CEDA's 25th anniversary, the then Prime Minister, Bob Hawke, referred to "that quick mind, the generous spirit and the fascinating character which is Peter... Peter Grey has done us all a great service bringing together opinion makers, businessmen, academics, journalists, trade unionists and others in our community to debate the issues which have, and continue to be, important to our nation." Peter Grey retired in 1995.

Professor John Nieuwenhuysen first served CEDA as Research Director in the late 1980s before returning as Chief Executive in 1996. Professor Nieuwenhuysen dramatically expanded CEDA's joint research efforts with Australian universities on topics such as tax and industrial relations reform, bringing a new depth to CEDA's research publications.

CEDA's Research Directors have included Professor Neil Warren, now of the University of New South Wales, from 1988 to 1990. Professor Neville Norman, now of the University of Melbourne, was Economic Advisor from 1975 to 1992.

CEDA: Celebrating 50 Years

Released to coincide with our 50th anniversary, CEDA: Celebrating 50 Years, provides a unique portrait of the people and ideas that have shaped independent public policy in Australia.

The History of CEDA

  • 1960
  • 1963
  • 1970
  • 1970
  • 1976
  • 1979
  • 1982
  • 1984
  • 1985
  • 1985
  • 1995
  • 2004
  • 2010
  • 2018
  • CEDA begins

    The distinguished economist and academic Sir Douglas Berry Copland held the inaugural CEDA meeting in the boardroom of the Victorian Employers’ Federation in Melbourne on October 21. Sir Douglas established CEDA after recognising the need for an independent body focused on Australia’s longer-term economic development and international engagement.

  • Leading the way on South East Asia

    CEDA’s research program took its first major step with a £75,000 grant from the Ford Foundation for research on South East Asian trade and development. The project produced 29 research publications on South-East Asian economies, just as Australia began waking up to the importance of engaging with Asia.  

  • A platform for the nation’s political leaders

    Every Prime Minister since the Hon. Bill McMahon has addressed CEDA, including Gough Whitlam, Malcolm Fraser, Bob Hawke (pictured), Paul Keating, John Howard, Kevin Rudd, Julia Gillard, Tony Abbott, Malcolm Turnbull and Scott Morrison. In 1970, the then Minister for External Affairs, the Hon. William (Billy) McMahon, addressed a CEDA forum on development assistance to South-East Asia.

  • The Copland Lectures

    Sir Roy Jenkins, the former UK Chancellor of the Exchequer, delivered the inaugural Sir Douglas Copland Lecture to honour Sir Douglas’ contribution to Australian public life. The series brought the views and perspectives of world leaders to Australian audiences. As a result, the roll call of Copland Lecturers is a distinguished line of international figures – including Nobel Laureates, business leaders and politicians. 

  • Driving corporate social responsibility

    As part of a major publication series on the role of the private sector, CEDA published the first major text on corporate social responsibility, The Social Responsibility of Corporations. Written by PJ Dunstan, it was the first major text on one of the biggest issues of today. 
  • The State of the Nation

    CEDA hosted its first State of the Nation conference in Canberra, bringing together the best public policy minds from politics, business, academia and community organisations. This important conference has continued to run annually ever since 1979, promoting open discussions on the key issues facing Australia's economic and social development.
  • The Economic and Political Overview

    CEDA’s Economic and Political Overview (EPO) was established to help members navigate the Australian economy and politics for the year ahead. The annual publication and series of briefings still run today, bringing together political, economic and business leaders to set the agenda and share business intelligence.  

  • Advocating for Indigenous reforms

    CEDA published the landmark report Aboriginals and the Mining Industry on the impact of mining on Aboriginal communities. Written by Professor John Niuewenhuysen and Dennis Turner, the publication was influential in arguing for increased government expenditure to overcome problems in remote Aboriginal communities. 

  • A leading voice on immigration

    CEDA’s highly influential research report on the economic impact of immigration was issued, as part of a four-year project overseen by Dr Neville Norman and Katherine Meikle. The Federal Government implemented numerous recommendations from the report, including the creation of a Bureau of Immigration Research and the implementation of a points system for skilled migration. 

  • Championing industrial relations reform

    In an important CEDA report, John Niland and Dennis Turner argued for substantial liberalisation, a course of action which was subsequently pursued by the Labor government and reinforced by the Liberal coalition in government. It was one of the significant influences that came together to shift industrial focus to enterprise-level relationships, and the related work practices and productivity agenda. 

  • Examining the rise of think tanks

    Professor Ian Marsh’s 1995 report, The Development and Impact of Australia’s Think Tanks, offered a significant critique of the proliferation and roles of think tanks in Australia. This work was preceded by additional papers published by CEDA as far back as 1980, examining the value of think tanks to the country. 

  • Making waves on water

    CEDA’s pivotal report, Growth 52: Water and the Australian Economy, called for a new approach to water management in Australia to ensure the future sustainability of this scarce resource. Following the report, CEDA, UniWater (Melbourne and Monash Universities) and Harvard University formed the Australian Water Project in 2010 to study water shortages and policy solutions for Australia. 

  • Women in Leadership series

    The Hon. Dame Quentin Bryce AD CVO, the then Governor-General of the Commonwealth of Australia, launched CEDA’s Women in Leadership series and marked the beginning of more than 100 events that continue to run. Other speakers included the Hon. Julie Bishop, Senator the Hon. Penny Wong, Professor Gillian Triggs, and Lieutenant General David Morrison AO. 
  • Looking to the future

    CEDA released the pivotal Connecting people with progress: securing future economic development report, which was aimed at recalibrating the economic development priorities for the Australian community. The report detailed CEDA's policy stack for the first time, leading the organisation to advance reforms on technology and data; workplace, workforce and collaboration; population; critical services; and institutions.