Milo is an Arts student studying Media and Sociology at the University of Melbourne. He writes about music, pop culture and politics. He has declared no conflicts of interest in writing this piece.
Image source: Crikey @ Andrew Crook
Online content that serves a hidden corporate or political agenda is an increasingly worrying issue within Australia. Nowhere is this more evident than in partisan ‘think tanks’. The Institute of Public Affairs (IPA) has emerged as one of the most prominent, and most troubling examples of these, through its consistent bastardisation of academic principles to serve the purposes of larger conservative and corporate interests.
The IPA’s Liberal allegiance dates back to its conception in 1943. The Institute was specifically conceived to resist the growing post-war left-wing sentiment that caused the Labor party’s victory in the 1943 federal election. Today, former Liberal leader Tony Abbot is a “long-serving” member of the IPA, speaking at their 2013 70th birthday celebration. These Liberal ties have correlated with the IPA’s actions. Their 2013 support of the Abbott government’s amendment to the Racial Discrimination Act increased the number of Liberal donations at an “astonishing rate,” with that year’s total amount increasing from 222 to 3503. The IPA has a similar relationship with wider corporate entities. For example, also attending this 70th anniversary conference was mining billionaire Gina Rinehart, who was made an “Honorary Life Member” of the IPA in 2016. These mining interests correlate with the IPA’s many ‘climate sceptic’ publications, such as an exposé on the supposed manipulation of ”Australia’s temperature data” by the Bureau of Meteorology. This Liberal and corporate agenda has put the IPA, like it's devout member Rupert Murdoch, in direct opposition with the Australian government’s funding of the Public Broadcasting System (PBS). The “Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) and the Special Broadcasting Service (SBS),” presents a roadblock to these corporate interests. They draw profits away from corporations that privately own other Australian channels, such as Murdoch’s Newscorp. Despite a virtual monopoly on the paid TV market, both Murdoch and the IPA see these PBS as a challenge to corporate profit. Therefore, a key talking point for the IPA has been the shift of the ABC from “public to private management”.
These allegiances and interests make the IPA more than biassed, it makes them dangerous, with their actions bordering on acting against the Australian public interest. For instance, Gina Rinehart was only recently revealed as a “key funder'' of the IPA, having donated $6.5m to them between 2016-2017. This undoubtedly would have biassed their climate studies, but was not revealed to the public. Similarly, the IPA’s April 2020 ‘Coronavirus Lockdown’ video was accused of jeopardising public health for the sake of economic interests, with its blind call to end lockdown only months since it began, solely for maintaining workflow. This is a realisation of the trend the IPA has followed to this point, their corporate and politically motivated content now crossing moral and legal boundaries to a damaging extent. The privatisation of the ABC and SBS that the IPA seeks to achieve also arguably conflicts with the public interest. For example, the SBS provides Australia with key “multilingual and multicultural” representational and informative content, through programs like Living Black and World News Australia. These would likely not be available if it was privatised, as “media consolidation” typically results in decreased “minority viewpoints” and “educational content”. Legislature to address this issue should focus primarily on transparency. The IPA being an “Approved Research Institute,” allows it to be endorsed by anonymous “tax-deductible donations”. Many state that “organisations'' like this, who seek to “persuade governments” and receive funding, should be as accountable for transparency as “public authorities or journalists”. The fact that many corporate figures donate to these kinds of institutions on the “condition of anonymity'' furthers this argument. Therefore, the Australian government has a public interest to intervene on these kinds of corporate funded think-tanks. This could be achieved through a legislature that forces transparency for their funding, and a wider distribution of this information to inform all citizens.