The Institute of Public Affairs and Gina Rinehart seem to be inextricably connected. In the last two weeks it has been revealed she gave a donation to the IPA which amounted to half of their entire budget for two years. Yet the source of this donation was not revealed on the IPA web site. Given the IPA’s influence on the present government, should it not be much more transparent in its revelation of those who in turn influence it?
Once again the IPA is in the news for the revelation of a 4.5 million dollar donation given to them over a two-year period (2016-17) by Gina Rinehart. Such financial support–though perhaps not of that magnitude–for the IPA has been previously well known, even if the organization refuses to publish the size of individual contributions, except in broad bands concealing individual identity. It might be an arguable principle that organizations like this should be able to keep the donors of their members anonymous, though the desire for transparency might overcome this principle when, with such a large donation in evidence, one might be excused for thinking the IPA has become Gina Rinehart’s personal fiefdom. It would likely have been of a greater success for her had she succeeded in acquiring a major interest in Fairfax media when she began buying shares in the company in 2012, only to be rebuffed in various quarters. Ironically, her goal of turning it into a right wing mouthpiece may now be achieved by Nine Entertainment’s acquisition of Fairfax.
In their 2017 Annual Report the IPA records membership of 4559, and 1046 IPA Young Members. Of their donors in 2016-17 only 14 were listed as giving more than $50,000, but names of the individual donors are not recorded. Revenue in 2015 was $3, 473, 000, in 2016 $4, 083, 000, and in 2017 $4, 559, 000. On this basis if the IPA were a listed company Gina Rinehart would be the controlling shareholder, and it is surely reasonable to speculate whether it increasingly does her specific bidding, though it is clear that ideologically what they both want coincides, even if her goals are more pecuniary than philosophical. And given the IPA’s magisterial emphasis on “freedom” in so many of its publications and on “securing freedom for the future”, it is difficult to see how this desire for freedom can be sustained when one donor provides virtually half of its income. On its web site it declares that “The Institute of Public Affairs is an independent, non-profit public policy think tank, dedicated to preserving and strengthening the foundations of economic and political freedom.” But only for one person, we are now entitled to ask.
From a different perspective, and no doubt less noticeable, yet related to this negative publicity, is the increasing conflation many observers are making of the LNP with the IPA. Descriptions such as “the Liberal-IPA coalition” or “the LNP/IPA machinery” have become very frequent, especially on the blogs of the Age and Crikey.com. These imply both groups are virtually one and the same. That many bloggers are conflating the two has considerable justice, no doubt. It is not just that the IPA provides the ‘philosophical’ underpinning of Liberal Party (less so the National Party) ideology, but in practical terms it is being increasingly publicized that several of their members have seats in the federal parliament. No other think-tank, of which I am aware, has enjoyed such success in getting its prominent members into parliament, and of achieving exposure in the media, the Grattan Institute being a possible exception.
I suspect the IPA would prefer this conflation, many are now making, to be underplayed. If it were to be seen to be intimately connected to a prominent political party, to the level that they were almost regarded as being identical, one might ask why it would need to continue to exist as an independent entity, and not as a grass roots organization and charity, beholden to nobody. At present though, it is unlikely the IPA is known outside of a circle of political activists, bloggers and some prominent business people and the mining industry. The majority of voters have probably no consciousness of it, although this may be less so of those who are ABC listeners on some weekday mornings. Nonetheless this has not yet reduced its influence in the parliament.
In contrast, Get Up, the bête noir of the LNP and other conservative groups, is far more transparent in its sources of financial support. It raises far more money from donations than the IPA ($10,178, 377 from 558, 887 donations in the last year according to their website) and all donations are placed on their website within 30 days, with the names of the donors given. This is the epitome of transparency. We also have to bear in mind that Get Up has none of its members in parliament and as a grass roots organisation is essentially reacting to government legislative proposals in its activities, whilst attempting to be strongly proactive in its publicity given to Climate Change and the plight of refugees. Like the IPA its activities rest on a particular ideology of equity, transparency and fairness, with freedom never being mentioned.
Society and politics would be much the poorer without the presence of think tanks and other lobbying groups on the both the left and the right. Yet given that the IPA is so significant in propagating a particular ideology in the public arena and in legislating this through its members in the parliament, it is of utmost importance that it be transparent in every respect. Get Up provides an excellent example of such transparency.
Dr. Greg Bailey is an Honorary Researcher,College of the Arts,Social Sciences and Commerce, Latrobe University