Another prominent Australian conservative think tank, and the oldest, is the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA). It was set up in 1943 by a group of Melbourne businessmen concerned that the use of government intervention to regulate Australian society during the war might be extended into peace time. The IPA’s mission was to oppose the Australian Labor Party (ALP) and assist with the establishment of the Liberal Party and the development of policies for it. Branches were formed in other states.
The IPA began publishing Review in 1947. According to David Kemp—whose father Charles ‘Ref’ Kemp was a founding member and Director of the IPA—and who became a Minister of the Liberal Government (1997-2004), this publication “has been perhaps the single most influential private source of liberal economic analysis over the years, both within the Liberal Party and beyond.”
It is now Australia's wealthiest think tank:
It has a burgeoning media presence with an eightfold increase in TV, radio and newspapers mentions in the last decade.
And it is expected to be an important player in the event of an Abbott government, pushing the Coalition to take a harder line on issues - privatisation of the ABC is a key one - as part of its strategy of shifting public debate towards the free market and libertarian causes it promotes.
From the late 1970s to the mid-1980s, under the direction of Rod Kemp (pictured), David’s brother and a Liberal Party Senator and Minister, the IPA enjoyed a corporate-fed revival. Kemp was approached to be director of the IPA by Sir James Balderstone, who sat on the boards of BHP, Westpac Bank and AMP Insurance and the IPA was relaunched with Hugh Morgan, Balderstone and other business leaders on its board. Morgan became treasurer of the IPA in 1982 and John Stone was appointed as Senior Fellow in 1984. Corporate membership of IPA, although always considerable, increased from 350 in 1985 to 980 in 1987.
IPA renewed its “faith in old-style competitive capitalism, the free market and the social and political values which match them”. Despite its early origins, the IPA embraced economic rationalism, advocating, among other things, “less regulation and smaller government generally”, privatisation, free trade and “rational economic policies.” It ran conferences in conjunction with the American Enterprise Institute. The NSW IPA referred favourably to the reforms in Chile, where the Chicago School economists had introduced free market reforms at great social cost.
The Australian Institute of Public Policy (AIPP) was set up in 1983 with seed money from the US-based Atlas Foundation and later support from mining companies CRA and WMC. The AIPP modelled itself on the Heritage Foundation in the US as well as the British Institute for Economic Affairs (IEA). Its first executive director was John Hyde. It too pushed privatisation, deregulation, and market solutions for almost everything. In the 1980s it published ‘Mandate to Govern’, modelled after the Heritage Foundation’s Mandate for Leadership. It amalgamated with the IPA in 1991 and John Hyde became director of the new IPA.
In 1990 thirteen business organizations—including the Australian Chamber of Manufacturers, the Business Council of Australia (BCA), the State Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Victorian Employers Federation and the Victorian Farmers Federation—commissioned the Tasman Institute and the IPA to establish Project Victoria to advise on privatisation of government enterprises in the state of Victoria. Project Victoria was far reaching. It covered water, ports, electricity, public transport and workers compensation. The Kennett Government implemented most of Project Victoria’s recommendations after it was elected in 1991.
The authors of Project Victoria argued that:
There has been a secular and disturbing willingness to replace business and commercial decisions with political decisions. In this way advantages and privileges could be obtained through politics, rather than through risk-taking commercial and industrial activity. The rationale for this political interference in business life has often been that of assisting the needy through (usually disguised) state enterprise subsidies.
The consequent transformation of the Victorian State was comprehensive and far reaching. From 1992 to 1998, the Victorian government sold $34 billion of assets. Most of these asset sales were in electricity and gas but “included trams, trains, aluminium smelter shares, forests, ports and gambling business. There was also new private investment allowed in such traditional government areas as: roads, prisons, hospitals and courthouses.”
The funding of the IPA is not a matter of public record. However it is known that mining companies, including BHP and Western Mining, have been major funders. And the influence of these companies in setting the IPA agenda has been acknowledged by IPA fellow Alan Moran.
At one time almost one third of IPA’s $1.5 million annual budget came from mining and manufacturing companies but now it mainly comes from subscriptions and conferences/seminars. Corporate donors have included Dick Pratt's Visyboard, Telstra, ExxonMobil, Rio Tinto, Western Mining and BHP Billiton, British American Tobacco, Phillip Morris, Caltex and Shell. Its council has included Rupert Murdoch as well as other conservative business leaders.
Like many of the US conservative think tanks, the IPA has good connections in the media via right wing commentators with regular columns in major newspapers. It also has good political connections. As well as Rod and David Kemp both being Ministers in the Howard government, former Finance Minister Peter Costello was also a member of the IPA.
In 1990 the executive director of the IPA, Peter Kerr, who had been adviser to two Liberal Party leaders, told the Australian Financial Review: “My experience with politicians is that unless someone is out there and constantly monitoring them and pushing agendas, then you don’t get change”.
According to a later executive director, John Roskam, the IPA pushes the boundaries of political debate to make room for politicians to follow. The politicians do not go as far as the IPA and are therefore seen as pragmatic and reasonable.