Thank you for inviting me to say a few words at the Melbourne launch of the Lindsay Society.
I spent a decade from the mid-1960s living and working in Europe, mainly in the UK. Karen did much the same. When we each returned to Australia in the mid-1970s, it was clear that the country was grappling with major problems; the economy was in trouble, inflation was rampant, unemployment was rising, restrictive trade practices were rife and the nation’s social fabric was under stress.
At the start of the 20th century two of the wealthiest nations in the world were Argentina and Australia. By the 70s the former had sunk into political and economic instability while Australia, the so-called Lucky Country, was showing every sign of going down the same path.
In response, the company that I worked for helped to publish a ground-breaking book, a collection of essays titled: “Australia at the Crossroads”, edited by Professor Wolfgang Kasper.
This was about the time that Greg Lindsay took the heroic, and some might have said stupidly, brave decision to start the Centre for Independent Studies.
Many of the contributors to “Australia at the Crossroads” became involved in the infant CIS. Over the course of the next few decades the Centre published a series of rigorously researched and well-reviewed papers, reports and books by leading scholars. These aimed at stimulating public policy debate on key economic, social and industrial policies and on foreign affairs, all drawing on the rich traditions of classical liberalism.
In this way CIS played a prominent role in promoting the ideas and principles that led successive governments to open the Australian economy to the rest of the world and become internationally competitive.
The dollar was floated, the financial system was deregulated, government commercial enterprises such as banks and airlines were privatised, foreign investment was encouraged, trade restrictions were lifted, tariffs continued to be reduced and various micro-economic reforms were undertaken.
However, CIS was about much more than the economy. Pioneering work was done in such areas as education (Jennifer Buckingham and Andrew Norton), family policy (Peter Saunders), indigenous disadvantage (Helen Hughes), and foreign policy (Owen Harries).
Other major policy areas such as culture, civil society and the role of religion in a free society were, and continue to be, central to the research program.
The Bonython Lectures introduced Australians to some of the world’s leading thinkers whose ideas and insights greatly enriched policy debate in Australia. Here I am thinking of Thomas Sowell, Ralph Harris, Deirdre McClosky, Rupert Murdoch, Vaclav Claus, Brigitte Berger, Mario Vargas Llosa and Lionel Shriver, to name but a few.
All of this adds up to an extraordinary body of work begun by Greg and his team.
The wave of liberalisation from the 1970s onwards unleashed an era of national and individual prosperity. This prosperity is now being put to a very stern test by the failures in public policy by many Western governments, including our own.
Over the last decade or more Australia has stagnated as it has moved further away from the sound policy framework that served us so well in the past. Just look at the mess we have made of energy policy, public finances and taxation.
As the country faces the challenges of the 21st Century the role of genuinely independent institutes such as CIS is even more critical. The public policy debate cannot be left to the bureaucracies, political parties, the universities, media, trade unions or business organisations.
They all have a vested interest in outcomes because they represent sectional interests or they rely, to some extent at least, on government regulation, funding or other kinds of patronage.
A founding principle of CIS is that it will not accept taxpayer funding. Nor can it be bought by the business sector, other representative organisations or by individuals, billionaires or otherwise.
Its great strength is that its ideas are contestable but not its integrity.
It overwhelmingly relies for its support on individual citizens, who are prepared to contribute some of their private resources to enable CIS to continue to engage the best minds, both local and international, in the intellectual debate. Tom and his team have demonstrated a willingness and a capacity to continue this vital task but they need our help.
In the 1970s Australian governments abolished death duties. This was key to enabling individuals to build up their personal assets in ways that would have been unthinkable to our parents’ generation. Another factor has been the tax advantages attached to superannuation, although these may be reduced as the Federal government grapples with the massive deficit.
I suggest that once our families have been taken care of, one of the best ways we can contribute to the continued success and prosperity of our nation is to honour the legacy of Greg and Jenny Lindsay by making provision for CIS in our wills.
My wife and I have done so, and we urge you to consider doing the same. Thank you.