Vale Peter McCawley

Australia – and the Asia-Pacific region more broadly – has just lost one of its most gifted development economists. Dr Peter McCawley, AM, died peacefully in Canberra, Australia, on 18 July, having had cancer for some time.

A person is obviously much more than their CV, but Peter’s CV is worth noting. Even just reading the first six items in his CV – all written in Peter’s characteristic short, sharp, clear style – tells us he was a person committed to international development and policymaking at the most senior levels, right from the beginning. His CV starts:

1972-1974 Lecturer, Faculty of Economics, Gadjah Mada University, Yogyakarta
1974-1975 Economic Adviser to (then) Mr Bill Hayden, MP, Minister for Social Security and later Treasurer of Australia
1976-1985 Research Fellow (1976-80) and Senior Research Fellow and Head, Indonesia Project (1981-85), Dept of Economics, Research School of Pacific Studies, Australian National University
1986-1991 Deputy Director General, AIDAB; (1) Policy Planning and Management Division (1986-89); (2) Community, Commercial and International Programs Division (1989-91)
1991 Economic Adviser to Mr John Kerin, MP, Treasurer of Australia
1992-1996 Executive Director, Asian Development Bank, Manila (representing Australia, Hong Kong, Cambodia, Federated States of Micronesia, Kiribati, Nauru, Solomon Is., and Tuvalu)

And that is just a truncated version. Peter’s CV also includes being Dean of the Asian Development Bank Institute in Tokyo; a visiting fellow in the Arndt-Corden Economics Division at the ANU College of Asia and the Pacific; a member of the Jackson Committee on the Review of the Australian Overseas Aid Program; economic adviser to the Indonesian Planning Agency, Bappenas; an adjunct professor at the University of Queensland; and a member of the board of The Asia Foundation. And so on.

He published seven books, including a history of the first 50 years of the Asian Development Bank which was translated into both Japanese and Chinese. Several of his economic books were written or co-authored in Bahasa Indonesia. He published over 30 articles in newspapers on development issues, and over 30 book reviews. He published 63 articles in journals and books, often in Bahasa Indonesia. The articles covered a wide range of topics, all with brisk, concise titles. To name just a few: “The price of electricity” in the Bulletin of Indonesian Economic Studies; “Aid and poverty: how Australia’s aid program helps the poor”; and “Forty years of Australian-Indonesian relations: what have we learned?”

But Peter was much more than a bureaucrat or academic author. He was a bridge-builder between Australia and the countries in our region. To illustrate, he once drew up a table on how rich countries and developing countries can view the same development challenge from almost totally different perspectives – on environmental challenges, for example, the “green and blue” agenda of deforestation often being of primary concern to rich countries, the “brown” agenda of power generation often of primary concern to developing countries.

Peter was passionate about poverty reduction, seeing it as the central goal of development, but one that could only be tackled in poor countries by broad-based growth. His was a perspective borne of his economic training, his first-hand experience, and his enormous empathy. It is a perspective that is all too rare today among multilateral and bilateral donors.

Peter was generous with his time and knowledge. He was respectful of, and interested in, cultural diversity. He was mischievous and witty when encountering the pompous. He was a lover of Shakespeare. And a hater of long sentences.

He will be missed.

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Ian Anderson

Ian Anderson is an associate at the Development Policy Centre. He has a PhD from the Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University; over 25 years of experience at AusAID; and since 2011 has been an independent economics consultant.


  • I am very sorry for the passed away of Peter McCawley. I just knew this info and feel very sad. He is really a very “down to earth” person, a very kind person, not only for his works but really he is in the real world. I made a book with him and he didn’t want to put his name as first author, even almost all information came from him and all information is really real, he didn’t want to hide even it is close with politics. I was so impressed with his personality who is humble, helpful and friendly. Not many people can compare with him, he is really special man, he is really big man but never think he is big. Rest In Peace, pak Peter…I pray for your best place next to Allah and ask Him to take care of you…

  • Thanks for your reflections, and for the affirmation of Peter’s contributions.
    I remember him as deeply interested in those around him, to help them maximise their potential, be they students in Java, staff at international institutions, or old friends who had long since retired. I was a beneficiary of this approach to life.
    I remember too the long-term commitment to building better institutions, to enable the building of a better world, where all could reach their potential.
    These two areas of focus were linked – he worked at the macro and micro level, in the interests of those whom he engaged with and of a more just world.
    Vale and thank you, Peter. RIP.

  • Thank you for sharing such heartfelt words about Peter, Ian. He was not just a colleague but also a dear friend, and his absence will be deeply felt. My visits to Peter at ADBI revealed his immense popularity, both within the Institute and beyond, a testament to his character and impact on those around him.

    Peter’s willingness to share his time and offer valuable advice to others was a true reflection of his generous nature. However, what truly leaves an indelible mark on my memories of him is his sharp and witty sense of humor, which never failed to brighten any moment.

    As we bid farewell to Peter, let us remember the joy he brought to our lives and the positive influence he had on so many. His legacy will continue to inspire us, and he will always be dearly missed. May he rest in peace, my dear friend.

  • Ian, you’re right about Peter’s views on long sentences. He particularly disapproved of using the word ‘and’ to link different ideas. His circular on how to write influenced my writing enormously, to this day. I often think back on it with gratitude. I worked as Peter’s executive assistant for a year or so around 1997-98. I think I had stars in my eyes being able to work with someone I admired so much. He was very easy to work with, and I remember there was always a bottle or a cask of red wine at late afternoon meetings with division heads. Thank you for your very thoughtful eulogy.

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