Our History

Ronald Henderson was on sabbatical from Cambridge University in the early 1960s when a group of economists from the University of Melbourne asked him for advice on how they could boost applied economic research in the Faculty of Economics and Commerce.

Henderson suggested the formation of a group, similar to the Department of Applied Economics at Cambridge University, in which a number of people would be engaged in full-time research, with others contributing to particular projects part-time.

Based on Henderson's proposal, the University of Melbourne agreed to establish an Institute of Applied Economic Research, and invited Henderson to be its foundation Director.

Initial focus

1962
University of Melbourne economist Richard Downing establishes the Institute of Applied Economic Research.

Cambridge academic Ronald Henderson begins his tenure as foundation Director of the Institute on 15 December.

Research at the Institute focuses on industry, financial and social economics.

1966
The Institute begins a major study of poverty in Melbourne. Its initial findings alert the public to severe pockets of poverty in the city and lead to changes in the level and design of government welfare payments.

1968
The first issue of the Australian Economic Review is published, with Duncan Ironmonger as editor.

John Deeble and Richard Scotton develop proposals for a national compulsory health scheme that would ultimately become Medicare.

1969
The Institute is renamed the Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research, following an amalgamation with the Department of Research in Social Studies in August.

1972
The federal government appoints Ronald Henderson to undertake an inquiry into poverty in Australia. His findings would establish a welfare benchmark or “poverty line”.

1973
The Institute begins conducting interviews for its quarterly surveys of consumer attitudes and intentions.

Economic trends and seasonally adjusted data are published prior to the release of official statistics, placing the Institute at the forefront of the national economic policy debate.

1974
Research begins to focus on formal econometric modelling of the Australian economy, using a framework known as the Institute Multi-Purpose Model.

Senator Peter Rae releases a report evaluating the self-regulation of Australian securities markets in 1974. The report, based largely on the work of John Rose, would lead to the formation of both a national stock exchange and the forerunner of the Australian Securities and Investment Commission.

Modelling and forecasting

1979
Duncan Ironmonger is appointed Acting Director of the Institute following Ronald Henderson’s retirement in September 1979.

The Institute begins publishing quarterly updates to its poverty line measure, following repeated public requests.

1984
Dr Ernst Boehm develops economic indicators capable of giving early warning of turning points in the Australian business cycle.

1985
Movements in leading, co-incident and lagging indicators of economic activity in Australia and overseas are published in a new monthly newsletter sponsored by the Westpac Bank. The indicators would be widely reported in the press and would attract a large subscriber base.

The Institute begins income distribution modelling and applies formal modelling techniques to medium-term econometric forecasting.

1993
A research alliance with the Flinders University's National Institute of Labour Studies leads to a strong focus on labour economics.

Econometric forecasting is abandoned after almost two decades.

The index of consumer inflation expectations becomes a monthly publication.

John McDonnell and Ross Williams begin measuring the savings intentions of households.

A new era

1996
Peter Dawkins is appointed Director of the Institute. His inaugural lecture would foreshadow a major research agenda focusing on the relationship between the labour market and the tax-transfer system.

Economic performance and social outcomes become the central themes of future research.

The prefix “Melbourne” is formally added to the title of the Institute.

1999
Work commences on the Melbourne Institute Tax and Transfer Simulator. The project would provide a better understanding of the impacts of policy change on labour supply.

The first Public Economic Forum is held in Canberra.

2000
The longitudinal survey of Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) commences. The survey would become one of the most significant social sciences research programs in Australia.

2001
The Melbourne Institute begins conducting social policy research on behalf of the Department of Family and Community Services.

The Melbourne Institute plays a major role in the establishment of the Intellectual Property Research Institute of Australia.

2002
The first Economic and Social Outlook Conference is held in association with The Australian.

2005
The 150th issue of the Australian Economic Review is published.

2007
The Medicine in Australia: Balancing Employment and Life (MABEL) survey commences. The survey would provide valuable insight into the dynamics of Australia’s medical workforce.

Launch of the PricewaterhouseCoopers–Melbourne Institute Asialink Index.

2008
Research programs for the National Centre for Vocational Education Research commence.

2010
Deborah Cobb-Clark begins her appointment as Director.

2011
Research into the economics of education and child development commences.

Journeys Home: A Longitudinal Study of Factors Affecting Housing Stability commences. The study would help policy makers, academics and service providers better understand the needs and experiences of Australians facing living and housing challenges.

50 years and counting

2012
The Melbourne Institute celebrates its Golden Jubilee.

2016
Abigail Payne succeeds Deborah Cobb-Clark as Director of the Melbourne Institute.

Media coverage of the annual HILDA Survey Statistical Report sets a new record for engagement at the University of Melbourne.

2017
Launch of the new Melbourne Institute website on 13 March.

Further reading

The Policy Providers: A History of the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research 1962–2012, by Ross Williams, Melbourne University Press (2012).