The Institute of Public Affairs (IPA) is a right wing ‘think tank’ which is in essence a lobby group for big business. It has provided a significant number of members of parliament for the Liberal Party, National Party and Liberal Democratic Party, while some other members have links to the organisation. Such members include Tony Abbott, Eric Abetz, Simon Birmingham, Michaelia Cash, George Christensen, Mathias Cormann, Mitch Fifield, Josh Frydenberg, David Leyonhjelm, Ian MacDonald, James McGrath, Scott Morrison, Kelly O’Dwyer, James Paterson, Scott Ryan, Tony Smith, Alan Tudge and Tim Wilson1,2. It is therefore not surprising that the IPA’s manifesto has strongly influenced that of the Coalition government.
Other people linked to the IPA include columnist for ‘the Australian’, Janet Albrechtsen, commentator Tom Switzer and mining billionaire (and Barnaby Joyce benefactor) Gina Rinehart3.
Given that some of the biggest donors to the IPA are fossil fuel companies, the organisation denies the fact of human induced climate change. It is not surprising that many of the IPA-linked politicians are also climate change deniers4. In the past, some of the IPA’s donors have been tobacco companies, so the IPA fought against plain-packaging of cigarettes3. It would be interesting to see how many of the IPA affiliated politicians would overturn plain packaging if given a chance. Indeed, given their bizarre behaviour over climate change, it makes you wonder if any still believe tobacco is harmless.
One of the IPA ‘policy initiatives’ they have put forward for years is that the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) should be privatised3. For years the Coalition have been whining about perceived bias of the ABC. They do not do it now because the ABC is in the process of being tamed. Apparently, the first step in this process was to install former Murdoch employee, Michelle Guthrie. She seems to be attempting to ‘dumb down’ the organisation by getting rid of or abbreviating several current affairs programmes, although she did say that there will be a dedicated and substantial investigative unit, which will be a cross-platform unit5. While this sounds excellent and may work, it is a smoke-screen, and is simply a way of decreasing the attention paid to short-term political and economic issues. As such, the hard questions to politicians about day-to-day politics will likely disappear. It is perhaps pertinent that you never hear any in the Coalition now complaining of bias from the ABC. That is because now it is widely perceived that there is a bias towards the government, something about which they are quite happy.
While privatising the ABC would be a difficult sell for the Coalition, particularly in the bush, the government and its IPA hacks will eventually attempt to do so. They may continue to use the standard neoliberal technique; you underfund a government function, the public becomes dissatisfied with its performance, the government then outsources parts of the functions one at a time until it is all gone. The damage done to the ABC is already significant; to lose it completely would be devastating for our democracy. Those who wish it to be privatised are not interested in democracy, all they want is power with as little accountability as possible.