August 25, 2013
Ben Schneiders and Royce Millar
Some of the world’s largest companies have dropped financial support and membership of free-market think tank the Institute of Public Affairs amid concern at its vociferous campaign against action on climate change.
Petroleum giants ExxonMobil and Shell and large miners are among the multinationals that have confirmed leaving the Liberal-linked IPA, led by party member John Roskam, who this year was compared to Jesus Christ with his disciples by Opposition Leader Tony Abbott.
Despite the loss of this support The Sunday Age can reveal the IPA is now Australia’s wealthiest private think tank after a surge in donations and fund-raising from individuals that helped it double its revenue in just four years.
”We stretch the boundaries of what’s possible,” Mr Roskam said. ”Tony Abbott will not privatise the ABC, but we will talk about privatisation of the ABC because we believe in it, our members want us to; and because it stretches the boundaries.”
Former prime minister John Howard said the IPA was an important influence on the Liberal Party, saying it ”contributes very strongly to the intellectual debate on issues, and that in turn has an impact on what attitude the Liberal Party takes.”
But corporate sources said it was hard for multinationals and big companies to keep supporting the IPA due to its hardline positions on many issues. One senior source called its position on climate change ”nuts” and ”lunacy” and embracing ”fringe” elements.
News of the high-level disagreement over climate change action comes as Mr Roskam claimed a key role in destroying the political consensus around climate change, killing off the local government referendum and repelling Labor’s proposed media reforms.
He said the IPA had had ”clear influence” in the climate change debate and
recalled how in the mid-2000s a conservative columnist criticised the IPA for its ”radical position” against an emissions trading scheme. ”Not so radical in 2013 is it?” he said, ”boundaries do change”.
As part of its long-running campaign, the IPA sponsored a visit to Australia by Vaclav Klaus, then president of the Czech Republic, who came to talk about the ”mass delusion” of climate change, and former Thatcher-era frontbencher, Lord Nigel Lawson.
Mr Roskam admitted the IPA had lost corporate support because of its climate change stance. ”I was told by more than one big company public affairs manager that ‘we can’t support you because you’re climate change sceptics’.”
British Tobacco has confirmed it is a financial member. Mining magnate Gina Rinehart is a major supporter. Media mogul Rupert Murdoch has been a financial backer and an active member in the past. However Mr Murdoch’s News Corp confirmed the company was not a member.
In a survey of 20 major companies, only British American Tobacco publicly confirmed membership. The IPA has been a vocal critic of increased regulation of tobacco.
ExxonMobil confirmed it had not been a donor for ”several years” as did Shell. Neither company would be drawn on its reasons for leaving.
BHP Billiton is also no longer a member, while Rio Tinto, which has had long links to the IPA – Mr Roskam is a former employee – sought to keep its distance. ”We’re not a member and we don’t really want to be mentioned,” a spokesman said.
A source said the IPA would maybe have only one donor among Australia’s top 100 listed companies.
The IPA’s current make-up is a marked change from a few decades ago, when it was supported by large blue-chip companies and a who’s who of the Australian business establishment.
The Sunday Age can reveal that corporate donors now represent about a quarter of its funding with individuals about 60 per cent.
But the IPA, which this year celebrated its 70th anniversary as a research agency, has also drawn criticism for the corporate funding it receives; which it has always refused to disclose.
Mr Roskam confirmed it had received money from a Gina Rinehart-backed organisation, Australians for Northern Development and Economic Vision. The IPA collaborated with Mrs Rinehart to promote northern development through special cuts to taxes and regulation.
Both major parties now broadly support that policy.
Mrs Rinehart, the major shareholder in Fairfax Media (owner of The Sunday Age), did not respond to requests for comment.
Philip Morris refused to confirm or deny membership.
Courtesy of The Age.