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A brief history of Economic Reform Australia


ERA came into existence in 1993, as an amalgamation of economic reform groups centred in Sydney and Adelaide.

The Adelaide group prior to 1993 was organised by the late Bob Turner, who was an accountant and creator of a local credit union. Meetings were held in the homes of group members. Bob produced a small regular newsletter and had useful contacts with members of a Canadian economic and monetary reform organisation named the Committee on Monetary and Economic Reform (COMER), still operating, which was founded by a group of Canadian economists in 1987 – in particular William Krehm, Prof John Hotson, Prof Henry Pope, Dr Lynn Turgon, Bill Hixson, and several others. Their thinking at that time was in basic alignment with, and anticipated, what has subsequently come to be known as Modern Monetary Theory, and they also had an interest in what is now known as Ecological Economics. They organised a number of COMER conferences and published papers on economic reform issues.

The Sydney group was organised by Frances Milne, who had important contacts and relationships with academics within NSW, and especially at the Department of Political Economy of Sydney University. Frances also had a useful connection with Sally Willington, who was a co-founder of the TOES (UK) organisation, the New Economics Foundation, and the UK Green Party. A related regular quarterly Australian TOES publication titled “Economics for the Global Good” appeared in 1994, edited by Michael Berney, and continued for many years. Owing to the broad overlap of interests and concerns of the Sydney and Adelaide groups, it made sense to unite under a single banner. The co-founders of the newly formed ERA were Frances Milne and John Hermann. The two divisions – ERA(NSW) Inc and ERA(SA) Inc – independently organised their own memberships, finances and meetings, and the resources of the two groups were pooled for funding special events. The NSW group also produced a newsletter for distribution to all ERA members.

In 1993 ERA took a decision to organise the first TOES conference to be held in Australia. The acronym stands for “The Other Economic Summit” and at that stage TOES conferences were being held each year in both Europe and North America. The first Australian TOES was held at the University of Sydney in December 1993. In addition to distinguished Australian speakers, it was arranged for Prof John Hotson (co-founder of COMER) to fly over from Canada as a guest TOES speaker, and ERA also organised a speaking tour for him in other Australian cities. ERA also organised a second TOES held at the University of Melbourne in December 1994, as well as a third TOES at the University of Adelaide, held in December 1995 (convened by John Hermann). Sally Willington came over from England as an invited speaker at the 1995 TOES.

Further meetings, conferences and talks by invited speakers were organised by ERA in subsequent years at different Australian venues. One of these speakers was economic reformer Paul Hellyer (former Deputy Prime Minister of Canada under Pierre Trudeau). Other speakers included Michael Rowbotham, Nicole Foss and Steve Keen. During this time one of our active members, Peter Lock, took on the task of producing a regular newsletter for SA members, starting in 1996. In the first decade of the new millenium the focus of activity and organisation shifted from Sydney to Adelaide, and eventually the NSW division agreed to terminate its existence, so ERA was reconstructed as a single nationwide and incorporated body, with a few members also in NZ and elsewhere. The newsletter edited by Peter continued as a national entity, but unfortunately Peter had to resign as editor in early 2011 for health reasons. John Hermann then took on the task of editing a new bimonthly publication, which was given the title ERA Review.

Adelaide meetings in the 1990s were held in a variety of venues, and around the year 2000, ERA SA became a member group of the SA Conservation Council (CCSA), and from that time forward monthly ERA meetings in South Australia occurred in premises occupied by CCSA. In late 2019 a national ERA executive body was formed, consisting initially of three members – Bernard Thomson, Elinor Hurst and John Hermann, and tasked with overseeing the management of ERA’s activities.  Part of these activities included the construction of a new website, two Facebook sites, and a Youtube site.  Videos of presentations (and the accompanying slides) sponsored by ERA have been subsequently recorded, including those produced by speakers at end-of-year dinners, and also at events produced by affiliated organisations.  In the first half of the year 2020, and during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, a special meeting of members was held to plan the way ahead, and it was agreed that ERA would organise more future meetings with invited speakers discussing topical issues of interest.

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