Anyone who doubts the influence of think tanks needs only to consider Tony Abbott’s short tenure as prime minister (2013–2015).
Most of his initiatives were derived directly from a legislative wish-list drawn up by right-wing Liberal think tank, the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA).
Similarly, the left side of politics fund their own depositories of wisdom. Labor’s think tank, for example, The Chiffley Research Centre, compiles reports and policy positions.
As a publicly funded think tank, The Grattan Institute has perhaps the highest public profile.
In March 2015, its director John Daley famously demolished former treasurer Joe Hockey’s arguments regarding negative gearing on ABC’s Q&A.
Daley then went on to spar with Malcolm Turnbull over negative gearing in April.
Who won? Probably Daley, considering he had the last word and addressed all of Turnbull’s arguments – it’s available here.
With more than 40 active think tanks in Australia, where do think tanks get their funding from to create their ‘facts’?
Just as politicians and parties prefer to play down their financial backers/corporate donors, many think tanks also operate under a lack of transparency when it comes to who funds their activities.
Back in May 2013, ABC’s Media Watch asked the nation’s top think tanks to provide a list of their leading donors.
Presenter Jonathan Holmes reported that, ‘Four of them: the McKell Institute, The Australia Institute, The Centre For Independent Studies and the Institute of Public Affairs, said they generally don’t disclose the names of their donors, [while] the Grattan Institute, Per Capita and the Centre for Policy Development do.’
Unsurprisingly, it’s the right-leaning organisations who aren’t keen on sharing who keeps them afloat, while the left-leaning ones are more comfortable with transparency. The full funding picture remains very sketchy indeed.
The ‘who’s who’ of influence
The leading right-wing think tanks that dominate the media landscape include the Institute of Public Affairs (the Liberal Party think tank), the Menzies Research Centre, the H.R. Nicholls Society, the Lavoisier Group, the Mannkal Economic Education Foundation, the National Civic Council, the Centre for Independent Studies, the Samuel Griffith Society and the Sydney Institute.
Leading left-wing think tanks include the Chiffley Research Centre (Labor Party’s think tank), the Australian Fabian Society, The Green Institute (The Greens), Per Capita, the McKell Institute, The Australia Institute, Beyond Zero Emissions and the Centre for Policy Development.
The leading think tanks that claim they are non-partisan/and or are government funded include the Grattan Institute, the Australian Institute of International Affairs, the Lowy Institute, the Australia Institute of Policy and Science, Australian Policy Online, the Australian Research Council, the Committee for Economic Development of Australia, the The Brisbane Institute (Uni of QLD), the Development Policy Centre.