March 7, 2016 Print

Free-market think tanks are proliferating around the world, bringing new standards of economic research and insight to their countries and communities. Only a few such organizations, however, have built a decades-long reputation for sound public policy analysis. This year, Australia-based Atlas Network partner the Centre for Independent Studies (CIS) is celebrating its 40th anniversary of building a comprehensive and fact-driven case for individual liberty and free markets, helping to transform public policy in the process.

“The CIS arrived at the right time,” explains Greg Lindsay, CIS founder and executive director, in the organization’s 2015 annual review. “There was a need to sow the seeds and as I have often said ‘soften the ground’ for reform. ... The economic battles continue today, but there is no doubt in my mind that the critical engagements are now in the social policy and cultural areas and of course we have been occupying that space for some time now. Actions to follow ideas take time and are hard to predict. The seduction of state action blinds too many.”

Lindsay points to the role CIS played in building the intellectual foundation that made “dramatic economic reforms” possible during the 1980s and ’90s when prime ministers Bob Hawke and Paul Keating were able to transform Australia’s economy from insular and protectionist into a dynamic global trading partner — dismantling the tariff system, deregulating the financial sector, reforming taxes and welfare, transforming budget deficits to surpluses, and allowing the value of currency to be set by markets rather than government. The work of CIS also contributed to a similar set of deregulatory reforms in New Zealand during the same period.

“The CIS has been incredibly fortunate with the quality and range of people who have been part of its adventure over the years and who have been prepared to give time, financial and moral support to the organization,” the organization writes in its 2015 annual review. “They understand that change is often slow and that intellectual and policy wins can easily be reversed unless they are continually reinforced & supported. With the relentless growth of the state CIS is not naïve in thinking that it has succeeded but we believe that without the CIS the situation would be a lot worse. The CIS seems to exist now in a public environment where people’s feelings and opinions become fact and where responses are subjective rather than objective. The CIS is an antidote to this — hard facts and rational, objective arguments are in the core of our DNA.”

CIS will be starting a new chapter this year in a new headquarters in Sydney, which “will allow the Centre the much-needed space to meet the increasing demands for new analysis and policy ideas — and give us room to grow in the future,” Lindsay and CIS Chairman Peter Mason note on their website. “The promotion of free enterprise, individual responsibility and limited government has never been more important, and we are proud to lead this new chapter in the Centre’s history.”