Our history

Australia21 grew from a challenge thrown to Emeritus Professor Bob Douglas, Jane Dixon and Richard Eckersley in 2000 by the founder of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR), Fraser Mustard.

Fraser was as an instrumental force within CIFAR – a unique organisation that has greatly influenced public policy in Canada and the world for over thirty years. On his 2000 visit to Australia Fraser said he believed it was time a similar independent research organisation blossomed in Australia – and caught Bob as he was on the verge of retirement from academic tenure at Canberra’s Australian National University.

After spending several weeks in Canada, Bob admired the ability of CIFAR to convene multi-disciplinary networks of outstanding thinkers and researchers from across North America to explore unresolved problems facing the world. Adopting a number of the Canadian Institute’s principles, in 2001 the six founding directors of Australia21 – Bob Douglas, Dr Jane Dixon, Richard Eckersley, Paul Barratt, Dr Fiona Stanley and the late Michael Ward – established the organisation to address Australian society’s difficult questions and to create a framework of increased public understanding of complex problems.

After celebrating its first decade as a dynamic organisation actively contributing to public discourse and debate in 2011, Australia21 now boasts fifteen Directors and two Honorary Youth Advisers based across the country. Initially working on four major themes – Australia in the World, Australians in the Landscape, Australians in Society, and Building Australian Resilience – the organisation has expanded its scope in recent years to include research, roundtables and reporting on Australia’s Next Big Question.



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