Daniel Wild, director of research at the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA), says the Abbott government’s 2014 decision to end plans for a price on carbon was one of the think tank’s greatest achievements in shaping Australian public policy.
To get to know some of the behind-the-scenes advisers to Australia’s policymakers, The New Daily asked five different think tanks for the top three changes they helped steer, which have yielded tangible benefits to the public.
A non-profit organisation established in 1943 by a group of prominent Melbourne businessmen, led by supermarket founder GJ Coles, the IPA has in recent years been routinely accused of pushing climate-change denialism.
The carbon-pricing scheme, originally introduced in 2011 by then-prime minister Julia Gillard, aimed to mitigate global warming by taxing energy sources that produced carbon dioxide.
Mr Wild told The New Daily that the Abbott government’s decision to abolish the carbon scheme was one of the IPA’s three greatest policy achievements and a “victory for mainstream Australians over the political class”.
“IPA research focused on demonstrating how the carbon tax imposed significant and irreparable economic and social damage without delivering a discernible environmental benefit,” he said.
Also making Mr Wild’s list of the top three policy changes the IPA helped steer, was the defeat of the Labor government’s proposal in 1947 to nationalise Australia’s private banks.
He said the IPA provided “substantial research” that outlined how then-PM Ben Chifley’s plan to gain full control over the country’s economy after World War II would have resulted in “significant and irreparable damage” to the economy and “Australian way of life”.
“It was a major victory for free enterprise over socialism and ensured that the reach of socialist ideology in Australia would be ring-fenced,” Mr Wild said.
Lastly, Mr Wild said the IPA was central in advocating for the deregulation of the financial sector during the Hawke-Keating era.
He said the process of financial deregulation in Australia led to “sustained economic growth” and “expanded economic opportunity for Australian workers and families”.
Who funds the IPA?
The IPA has garnered almost 200 new financial members since it was revealed in July last year that Gina Rinehart’s mining and agriculture empire, Hancock Prospecting, made two separate donations, totalling a whopping $4.5 million.
The IPA registered a charity in 2007 called the IPA Research Trust. It contains close to $650,000 from donations and bequests.
In a statement to TND, IPA spokesperson Evan Mulholland confirmed a strong membership base of almost 5000 people.
The IPA has remained tight-lipped on funding sources, citing privacy concerns, but Mr Mulholland maintains donors “are free to identify themselves if they choose”.
Leaked documents in 2012 revealed a “monthly payment” of $US1667 ($2412) was funnelled to IPA emeritus fellow Bob Carter by the Heartland Institute, a US right-wing think tank notorious for championing climate-change scepticism.
Heartland, which reportedly received funds from (tobacco giant) Philip Morris parent company Altria, and fellow tobacco corporate, Reynolds American, sponsored Mr Carter, who died in 2016.
The money was part of its program to finance “high-profile individuals who regularly and publicly counter the alarmist [anthropogenic global warming] message”.
According to the documents, Heartland also funded IPA author Joanne Nova’s trip to Bali in 2007, where the self-described climate sceptic attended the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and subsequently wrote a piece accusing the UN of exploiting climate science to “increase their own power”.
The B Macfie Family Foundation has funded the work of IPA author Dr Jennifer Marohasy since 2003, according to her author profile page on the IPA website.
Speaking to TND, biologist Dr Marohasy, an adjunct research fellow at Central Queensland University (CQU), strongly defended her long list of writings for the IPA, saying she is an “empiricist” who has only ever reached evidence-based conclusions.
Dr Marohasy has previously accused the Bureau of Meteorology of tinkering with temperature data to corroborate the global warming “theory”. The BoM later issued a statement confirming it “is not altering climate records to exaggerate estimates of global warming”.
Over a decade, IPA author and astrophysicist Dr Willie Soon collected more than $1 million from major US oil and coal companies ExxonMobil, the American Petroleum Institute, Koch Industries and Southern, a Greenpeace investigation revealed in 2011.
In a CNN interview, IPA author Patrick Michaels, when pressed by interviewer Fareed Zakaria, estimated that about 40 per cent of his research was funded by the petroleum industry.
In 2009, ExxonMobil disclosed on its website that it had funded the Science, Health, and Economic Advisory Council of the Annapolis Center (AC), a US think tank of which IPA author Richard Lindzen was a member.
Dr Lindzen, a professor of meteorology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), told TND that he “received no funding through the AC, and parted with the body because “it was not sufficiently strong in its opposition to climate alarm, which I personally regard as the greatest abuse of science in history”.
Since 2009, the MIT has provided him $20,000 a year. He said he was supported by NASA and the National Science Foundation during most of his career.
“These sources ended in the 1990s but a small grant from the Department of Energy continued until 2009 … I have had several of those, but they were independently funded by their home country, the Republic of Korea,” Dr Lindzen said.
“There is no question that funding does have an influence.”
In 2009, IPA author and the UK’s former Chancellor of the Exchequer, Nigel Lawson, formed the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF), a UK-based climate sceptic think tank.
The group was exposed in 2014 as having accepted donations from two sources linked to the Institute of Economic Affairs, a free-market think tank, which has previously admitted to collecting money from fossil fuel companies and has also argued against climate-change mitigation.
GWPF director Dr Benny Peiser told TND that it rejects “gifts from either energy companies or anyone with a significant interest in an energy company”.
When questioned by a parliamentary committee, Mr Franks claimed the money went to a “student” and not himself.
This is part two of a five-part series on Australia’s most influential think tanks. Tomorrow, we look at the Lowy Institute