Fellows Detail

Professor Max Neutze AO

NEUTZE, Graeme Max. AO, MAgrSc (New Zealand), DPhil (Oxford). 1974. Panel B.

Elected: 1974

Discipline: Economics

Date of Passing: 19/10/2000

Obituary:

The great achievements of Max Neutze were linked strongly to his personal integrity and motivated by his faith and strong concern for the common good. The Australian National University (ANU) and Australian society had the undivided attention and unambiguous commitment of a truly remarkable man for more than forty years.

Graeme Max Neutze was born in Geraldine, New Zealand. He was the eldest son of four children, born into a hard working farming family who had struggled to survive the Depression. The family experience taught him essential ethical values about concern for the less fortunate and a commitment to procedural justice, an aversion to waste and display and a stoicism and determination which he retained all his life.

After graduating in Agricultural Science at Lincoln College he took up a Rhode scholarship at Oxford University in 1957 where he also won a Nuffield studentship enabling him to complete his doctorate in 1960.

His sense of frugality and predilection for understatement was reflected in the telegram he sent his parents which said: ‘Awarded Rhodes scholarship. Engaged’. He had met Margaret (Peggy) Murray, a farmer’s daughter, while working on a farm in Waikato. They married in 1959.

Oxford, especially the scholars at Nuffield, introduced him to a new and exciting world. Under the influence of Colin Clark, one of his supervisors, he began to refocus on the economics of location. In responding to the challenges of scholars like Sir John Hicks, Sir Donald McDougal, Ian Little, Dennis Munby and Max Hartwell, Max also explored the problems of the effects of institutions on economic processes. Max Hartwell introduced him to the idea of working in Australia and at the Australian National University.

This new way of thinking not only led him to find economics a stimulating discipline it also contained the seeds of his later disappointments and frustration with the aridity, intolerance and myopia of much of contemporary economics and many of its practitioners.

In 1960 he took up a position as lecturer in agricultural economics in the Canberra University College. His departmental head, Heinz Arndt, encouraged him to explore the economics of decentralisation which continued his interest in location and institutional structures and culminated in the influential book Economic Policy and the Size of Cities.

Noel Butlin of the Research School of Social Sciences (RSSS) took an interest in Max’s work and encouraged him to apply for the advertised position of Head of the newly created Urban Research Unit. The Urban Research Unit had been created out of a joint initiative of the Research School of Social Sciences and the forerunner to the present Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia with the cooperation of the Royal Australian Planning Institute. Max was appointed to the position as Head of the Unit in October 1965. Before taking up the position in January 1967, Max spent a year at the Resources for the Future in Washington under Harvey Perloff where he conducted the first major study of the suburban apartmen t boom. From its inception the Urban Research Unit focused on the process of urban development in Australia with special concern for equity aspects of the operation of its cities. A primary objective of the Unit was the production of a literature on Australian cities. The fact that we now have a recognisably Australian literature on urban issues is a testament to Max, his leadership, scholarship and commitment.

In 1977 Max published the book Urban Development in Australia devoted to Australia’s urban growth which summarised the work of the Unit. This is regarded as the standard work to which students in all the social science disciplines refer. Max regarded his subsequent companion book Australian Urban Policy published in 1978 as the more important work.

He was elected a Fellow in the Academy of Social Sciences in Australia in 1974 and appointed to the Chair in Urban Research in 1979. He was elected Honorary Fellow in the Royal Australian Planning Institute in 1983 and made an Officer in the Order of Australia in recognition of his contribution to research into Australian cities in 1994.

Max Neutze was a very principled man. He was open and honest to the point of naivete. He was always modest in his claims for the research on which he was engaged. He never sought preferment or high office but was three times pressured to accept senior leadership responsibilities in the University at critical times: in 1980 as Director of the RSSS, in 1988 as acting Deputy Vice Chancellor then, in 1989 as Deputy Vice Chancellor and Director of the Institute of Advanced Studies. Max took the view that the RSSS should operate in an open collegial manner. As its Director he also held the view that he was obliged to implement the findings of the international Review of the School which had been conducted in 1978 and whose findings the School and the Board of the Institute of Advanced Studies had endorsed. The most significant recommendations were those that related to the view of HC Coombs, founder of the ANU, that the School should be a powerhouse of ideas and research for Australia. In turn, this meant encouraging and sponsoring multidisciplinary research on Australian society. This led to sponsorship by the School of research into the ageing of the Australian population and its implication for the family, the public/private dichotomy in society, the growth of big government, trade unions in Australian society, automated reasoning and social justice in Australia.

Between them the projects led to a massive publication output which had significant effect on the public policy debates across Australia. In spite of the success of these projects they did not lead to a change in the culture of the RSSS. Max increasingly found that although his colleagues paid lip service to the idea of multidisciplinary research on Australian society, whenever it conflicted with their own narrower ambitions they became obstructionist and eschewed the collegial approach to which he was committed. He expected colleagues to try to see the role of the RSSS in national terms and to respond with a sense of balance and was disappointed when they did not.

From 1984 to 1987 he served on the Australian Research Grants Committee and then in 1988-89 on the Australian Research Council. The University called on him again in 1989 when, having been acting as Deputy Vice Chancellor for most of the year, he was appointed Deputy Vice Chancellor and the first Director of the Institute of Advanced Studies. It was a measure of the man that his commitment to the University and what he thought was its mission to work on issues of national importance while pursuing academic excellence meant that, although it was not his preference, he would do what was asked of him. He played an important role during the discussions over the proposed amalgamation of the ANU with the University of Canberra and in the negotiations to bring the Institute of the Arts into the ANU. He served until 1993 when his illness forced him to step aside. He did not act politically in the University and to some extent was taken advantage of by those who did.

He returned to the Urban Research Program to re-engage with urban issues. This led to his last major book Funding Urban Services published in 1997 in which he summarised the arguments against the privatisation of infrastructure services and in favour of properly constructed funding mechanisms while leaving the community in control of the identification of social priorities.

Max was a strong and active member of the Uniting Church. The conservatism of his Methodism gradually evolved from the conventional views of his youth, especially as he began to realise that it provided a framework for his increasing radicalism. His engagement with and concern over environmental issues, while radical, must be seen as originating in a desire to protect and preserve nature from what he saw as the mindless outcomes of the market. It was one of the ways he could give effect to his belief that his God loved all creatures great and small. He increasingly found himself focusing on the social ends of equity and environmental issues, seeing economics or efficiency as a debate about the means to achieve those ends which was simply an extension of his view of the ‘right’ way to do things. His commitment to social justice flowed from his Christian principles in that he felt society had to protect the gains made by human progress in the rights and humanity of people. This led him to sponsor disadvantaged children and support groups and organisations that worked for underprivileged people.

Max saw his commitment to indigenous Australians and the need for reconciliation as the logical first step in recognising their rights, their culture and their spiritual needs. He served on the Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research Advisory Committee from 1990 to 1998, and was Chair for the period 1991-94. He sought, in a very practical way, to support the cause of justice for indigenous Australians by devoting most of his last five years to assembling and regularising the information base relating to the range of education, health and welfare services. He undertook this task because he wanted to provide an unassailable statistical base which would make it difficult for the racist elements in Australian society to claim that indigenous Australians were receiving more that their share of resources. He has produced figures to show that they are not.

This latter commitment flowed logically from his long concern that we should assemble the statistical base of a full range of our activities in order better to discuss social policy alternatives. He was the longest serving member of the Australian Statistical Advisory Council. He had a life long commitment to procedural justice and was distressed when he saw or experienced departure from the ethical principles which informed those procedures. For example, his strong defence of the leasehold system in the ACT came from a concern that its administration produced irregularities, contradictions and possible corruption which he felt would lead to its destruction.

He was very private man but he could not hide his distress or the concern and love he displayed for his wife Peggy during her long illness up to her death in 1994. Max’s marriage to Marjorie in 1996 provided him with a renewed inspiration and drive to contribute to our understanding of Australian society. As it became obvious that he was slowly losing his battle with cancer, many former scholars and colleagues commented on how much of a modest, gentle, thoughtful man he was and how much he went out of his way to help them. His second passion was in his love for classical music - a love he shared with his daughter Judy and Marjorie.

The public side of Max Neutze was to be found in his protest over the war in Vietnam when it was not fashionable and in his support for reconciliation. As a public intellectual he argued the case for public housing, for better urban planning, against the privatisation of public services, in defence of the leasehold system in the ACT and in supporting heroin trials. In his role as public intellectual he became the foundation Chair of the Australia Institute in 1994. He also served on a number of bodies including the Canberra Commercial Development Authority, the Victorian Urban Land Authority and as Chair of the group which reviewed the Metropolitan Plan for Perth.

Within the academic system he was frequently called on to undertake reviews of Programs and Departments and to provide advice on research priorities and funding in other universities. In the halls of academe he also protested the direction the Australian academic system in general and the ANU in particular was taking. His distress at the direction taken by the ANU led him to dissociate himself from it early in 2000, a decision he took after much soul searching.

He had a great capacity for friendship and loyalty combined with a firm critical sense. He had a wicked, dry sense of humour. In all of his travails he was never heard to complain. He truly did turn the other cheek. His friends and colleagues take solace in the knowledge that his influence will continue through his writing, the statistics he helped to construct, his students, the influence he had on his colleagues both in Australia and overseas and on his contribution to public policy. He was the author of 5 books, 10 monographs, 42 journal articles and 31 chapters in books and conference proceedings.

Max Neutze is survived by his children Stephen, Judy and Paul and by his wife Marjorie.

Patrick Troy

(A version of this obituary first appeared in The Canberra Times 27 October 2000.)

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