BA (Melbourne), BPhil (Oxford)
(Deceased), 2014-06-28

Alan Howard Boxer


Alan Boxer was born in 1927 in Hong Kong, where his father was a missionary and later registrar of Hong Kong University. At the outbreak of the war with Japan, together with his mother and sister, he was evacuated to Melbourne where he attended Scotch College and matriculated in 1945 as dux of the college. In residence at Queen’s College from 1946 to 1949, he graduated with first class honours in arts at the University of Melbourne and was awarded the Wyselaskie Scholarship in political economy. He proceeded to do a BPhil at Christchurch, Oxford, returning to a lectureship in economics at the University of Melbourne in 1952. He was promoted to senior lecturer in 1959 and reader in 1967

Apart from teaching, Alan carried a number of administrative duties—including sub-dean of the Faculty of Economics and Commerce, chair of the Board of Studies in Public Administration, chief examiner in matriculation economics, and chair of the Victorian Universities and Schools Examination Board.

He was associated with the Economic Record, successively as review editor, associate editor and joint editor, for 15 years. In a tribute to him on his retirement from the journal, the editor, Richard Downing, wrote ‘The Economic Society owes him an enormous debt. Its tally is recorded in the high quality, the immaculate presentation and the balanced content of the issues of the Economic Record from December 1961 to June 1975’. His contribution is best appreciated by those who shared joint editorship with him, as became all the more evident when Alan’s move to Canberra caused some interruptions to his availability. He readily accommodated moves to widen the sources of referee advice, both within Australia and internationally, while remaining concerned that increasing mathematical and technical content might erode the broader Australian readership base of the Record, an issue that has proved a continuing one for later editors.

He was an effective communicator as a teacher and a writer. Although wide-ranging in his teaching duties and his research work, Alan developed a special interest in taxation. While his special interest in public finance was well known to students, less so was his teaching of international economics to honours students at a time, the early fifties, when this was not regarded as a strength of the Melbourne department.

Together with Richard Downing and Heinz Arndt, he co-authored in 1964 Taxation in Australia: Agenda for Reform. He also edited and contributed to a number of books mostly on aspects of the Australian economy. He later assisted the Commonwealth Taxation Review Committee (Asprey Committee) which reported in 1975. He was elected Fellow of the Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia in 1974 to mark his academic standing.

His expertise on taxation matters led to his appointment to the Commonwealth Treasury in 1975 as Assistant Secretary in the General Financial and Economic Policy Division. He was promoted in 1977 to First Assistant Secretary. In 1980 he was seconded to the Australian Financial System Inquiry and was posted in the following year to Tokyo as Minister (Financial). He returned to the Treasury in 1984 as Assistant Secretary Level 2 in the Taxation Policy Division until his retirement in 1986.

He occupied his retirement by pursuing his interest in Australian art, adding to his collection, begun in the 1950s, of artists including Arthur Boyd, John Percival and Sydney Nolan among others, a large number of indigenous paintings. Alan made his decisions about art purchases swiftly and privately. Those of us who accompanied Alan on lunchtime visits to galleries would usually find his ‘stickers’ already on his chosen pieces. He was also active in trading earlier purchases for new works. He contributed a paper on the Australian art market to an Economic Society forum on the arts, published in Economic Papers in 1971. Part of the Boxer Collection, one of the best private collections in Australia, was exhibited in a number of capital cities. The ANU published Crossing Cultures Art from the Boxer Collection when his collection was exhibited at the ANU. He left much of his collection to the National Gallery of which he was for a time a guide.

His friends and colleagues remember him as a warm, gentle, kind and generous person. He was in poor health in his last few years. He died on 28 June 2014 at the age of 86.

Joe Isaac and Roy Webb