Australia’s most prominent right-wing think tank, the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA), has refused to reveal who’s funding its research, citing concerns over the privacy of its donors.
The refusal follows revelations mining magnate Gina Rinehart’s Hancock Prospecting donated $4.5 million to the organisation over a two-year period.
Membership to the IPA, a registered charity that advocates in favour of free market policies and routinely discourages action on climate change, has increased substantially in the past year.
The IPA, which relies entirely on donations, now has 4831 financial members, a spokesperson revealed to The New Daily. At the end of the 2017 financial year, it had about 4500 members.
Membership costs range from $22 to $249 a year. On top of its annual membership fees, the IPA received 2913 separate donations during 2016-17.
Due to its charitable status, the IPA is not legally required to publicly divulge the names of its financial sponsors, nor the details of any donations. Charitable status exempts the organisation from paying taxes.
A subpoena on documents held by Hancock Prospecting, a mining company owned by Australia’s richest woman, Ms Rinehart, revealed it made two separate donations to the IPA in 2016 and 2017 totalling $4.5 million.
In 2017, individual donors comprised 86 per cent of the IPA’s total income, which amounted to $6.1 million, its annual report stated. Only 1 per cent of donations were derived from businesses.
That year, Hancock Prospecting donated $2.2 million, accounting for more than a third of the IPA’s revenue in 2017.
Hancock Prospecting’s $2.3 million donation to the IPA in 2016 constituted almost half of its total income, which reached $4.96 million.
Ms Rinehart, who was made an honorary life member of the IPA in 2016, is “on public record as a supporter” of its research, an IPA spokesperson acknowledged following the public revelation.
Other honorary life members include Baillieu Myer AC, son of the founder of the Myer Foundation, Perth doctor Bryant Macfie, IPA executive director John Roskam, Nutrimetics founder Imelda Roche and former Liberal senator Rod Kemp.
Dr Paul Williams, political scientist at Griffith University, told The New Daily Ms Rinehart “kept the IPA afloat” so it could continue to take the case to the Liberal Party that would support her views.
Dr Williams said “there’s nothing wrong” with groups donating to political parties to try and influence public policy, but said such transactions should be made public.
When asked by The New Daily to reveal its donors, the IPA declined to disclose who funds its “independent” research, citing privacy considerations.
“We are very grateful for their support and we respect their privacy,” the spokesperson said, conceding its members are “free to identify themselves if they choose”.
“That’s not good enough,” Dr Williams said.
Privacy concerns are not a legitimate reason to keep the names of its financial benefactors concealed, he said.
“Political parties can’t use that as a get-out-of-jail-free card.”
A powerful entity like the IPA which can influence political decisions should not be exempt from public scrutiny, Dr Williams said.
The need for transparency and public accountability outweighs any privacy concerns that the IPA may have, he said.
“If we don’t want to go down the path of cashed-up groups calling policy shots, the IPA must be as open and transparent as possible.”
Tobacco giants Philip Morris and British American Tobacco are reported to have donated to the IPA.
A spokesperson for Philip Morris declined to comment on the reports.
British American Tobacco (BAT) Australia has not been a member of the IPA “for some time”, spokesperson Nick Booth told The New Daily.
Liberal MP Tim Wilson and Senator James Paterson have strong links with the IPA, being the institute’s former policy director and deputy executive director of the group, respectively.
A spokesperson for Mr Wilson confirmed he is still a member of the IPA, while Senator Paterson declined to comment.
The New Daily also sought to confirm speculation that the IPA received money from prominent oil, gas, energy and mining companies.
The following claims were made by some of the companies contacted:
- BHP Billiton is not a member of the IPA nor has it donated money
- ExxonMobil Australia is not a current financial member or donor
- Shell Australia is not a current member
- Synergy has never donated money
- Beach Energy has never donated
- Origin Energy paid fees for membership of an energy forum – this ceased in 2014
- Arrow Energy has not donated
- Murray Irrigation has made no donations since 2008
- Energy Queensland has never donated