The Sydney Institute was formally opened on 23 August 1989 at its 41 Phillip Street premises by New South Wales Premier Nick Greiner with supporting remarks from Bob Carr (the then NSW Opposition leader).

The Sydney Institute is a privately funded not-for-profit current affairs forum encouraging debate and discussion.  The Institute is genuinely pluralist and a wide and diverse range of views are heard at its forums.  In 2010 both Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott addressed the Institute.

The Institute conducts about 60 policy forums a year (held usually between 6 pm and 7 pm) on a wide range of issues – including economics, politics, international affairs, literature, history, film, social policy – along with a well attended annual dinner/lecture. Past speakers at the dinner have included George Miller, Shirley Hazzard, Peter Cosgrove, Simone Young, Andy Thomas, Peter Doherty, Patricia Hewitt, William Shawcross, Kate Jennings, Richard Tognetti, Clive James, Tom Friedman, Kevin Rudd, Quentin Bryce and Simon Schama.

All speeches given at the Institute are published in The Sydney Papers Online which has a wide and influential circulation list – including business, media, university, college and school libraries. The Institute also publishes The Sydney Institute Quarterly incorporating “Gerard Henderson’s Media Watch” (which commenced publication in April 1988 and was first into the field of media watching in Australia).

The Sydney Institute receives support from the Australian business community – but has no agenda beyond supporting debate and discussion.  Nicholas Johnson is the Institute’s chairman, Rob Ferguson is deputy chairman and Paul Murnane is treasurer – and the Institute’s board includes Joe Gersh, Carolyn Kay, Carol Schwartz and Craig Shapiro. Supporters of the Institute extend well beyond the business community and include academics, public servants, editors, journalists, commentators, writers and members of the professions – as well as other Australians who recognise the importance of debate and discussion.