The Australian Heartland

A while ago, the Chicago-based Heartland Institute, a conservative/libertarian/denialist thinktank, got into a lot of trouble by putting up billboards with pictures of people like the Unabomber who, Heartland claimed, were climate change believers. A lot of corporate sponsorships got pulled, and Heartland’s insurance research group broke away en masse to form a new, non-denialist group, the R Street Institute.

The Institute of Public Affairs is Australia’s Heartland. Not only does it share the same positions (anti-science on tobacco, climate change and the environment, pro-corporate hackery and so on) there are close organizational ties. The IPA promotes Heartland events like its annual climate change denial conference (a bit more on this over the fold), and IPA Fellows such as Bob Carter have joint affiliations with Heartland.

And, lately, the IPA has run into its own version of the billboard scandal. Not long ago, IPA fellow Aaron Lane (former president of the Victorian young Libs) whose IPA output consisted mostly of low-grade attacks on unions and workers, was a Liberal party candidate in the Victorian state election. Lane was dumped, and lost his IPA gig, when he was found to have posted a string of homophobic and sexist tweets. A much bigger blow was the sacking of longtime Director of the IPA Deregulation Unit Alan Moran, over a string of tweets, of which the most damaging was one saying “Is there ever anything but evil coming from Islam”.

Quite a few interesting points arise here.

The most notable is: How long can Abbott persist with “Team Australia” rhetoric, implying the need for a united national effort, while his own support base is pursuing divisive vendettas like this? The things for which Lane and Moran were sacked aren’t aberrations. From my observations, Lane’s juvenile but damaging misogyny is typical of Young Liberals, while Moran’s remarks are tame compared to much of what Andrew Bolt writes (search on Bolt + Islam immediately produces headlines like “Just one week in the world of Islam. What is wrong with this faith?”). Abbott’s continued coddling of Bolt, (and for that matter Bolt’s continued employment by the Murdoch press) demonstrates much lower standards than those of the IPA and the Victorian Liberal Party, which is saying something. IF they want any credibility on this, Abbott and Murdoch need a Sister Souljah moment with someone like Bolt (perhaps Tim Blair would be more expendable).

The second, closely related, is the implication for the campaign to repeal or modify Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act. If you’re going to lead such a campaign, as the IPA has loudly announced it will, you need to be able to take the Voltairian high ground “Much though I disagree with what you say, I will defend to the death ..” etc. Presenting as “Bigots united in defence of the right to be a bigot” doesn’t play so well, as George Brandis has already found out. That presumably, is why Moran got the chop.

Finally, there’s the question of how long the IPA can avoid the fate of Heartland, which has lost most of its corporate sponsors (except for a few diehards from the fossil fuel sector) and is a shell of its former self. the IPA has already gone a fair way down the same track, and is now, in large measure, a private plaything of Gina Rinehart. In return for her bounty, she has demanded the most humiliating obeisances, most notably support for Northern dam projects like the Ord River scheme. Until recently the IPA was a reliable critic of such boondoggles.

It would greatly advance public debate in Australia if the IPA shut up shop and handed over the business of free-market advocacy to the Centre for Independent Studies (the local offshoot of Mont Pelerin). The CIS has at least attempted to put a reasoned case, which is perhaps why it has been ignored by the LNP in recent years. The handful of decent thinkers still associated with the IPA (most notably Chris Berg) would do far better with the CIS, and the rest of the organization would be no loss.

41 thoughts on “The Australian Heartland

  1. Speaking of think tanks on the right has anybody any thoughts on the Lowy institute?

    I heard some worrying hawkish mutterings about nuclear power and maybe weapons not that long back and their site is replete with documents on this matter – the one I checked on Iran interestingly had zero comments. But there are another 1300 references to check.

    Also if Wiki is to be believed their directors include an old favourite Judith Sloan (I will refrain from commenting with the exception of !@@####$$$?????)

    On the other hand I found a reference where JQ is given a quick pulpit

  2. Alan Moran’s downfall genuinely amazes me, at a time of life when not much does. Funny how these ostensibly suave, sophisticated talking heads are always, always undone by their social media antics, rather than by perils of older vintage.

    It doesn’t seem to matter how many MBAs or degrees in political science such a talking head has adorning his walls. Let the old darling (as Horace Rumpole would put it) acquire a Twitter or Facebook presence, and you might as well hand out booze vouchers to Perce the Lush of Paul Hogan Show fame circa 1977, complete with Scott Joplin soundtrack.

  3. In my observation, the IPA has been emboldened by the electoral victories of the coalition. Once their preferred party occupies the government benches, they appear to feel they can do or say anything, demand any action, and all will be right, and all that is not right (in their actions and words) will be excused. At that point, the IPA and its ilk start to become an embarrassment to the elected representatives, many of whom are “oncers” in unsafe seats. The interesting question is then: something must give! The recent coalition withdrawals from the right-wing Christian moralist conference shows that in the light of scrutiny and instant social-media criticism these promiscuous bedfellows may find themselves getting, or giving, the cold shoulder, rather than spooning in the warmth of their togetherness.

  4. The IPA has been spectacularly successful at getting its extremist message across. I congratulate them. The difficulty is that people don’t like their message. I think the great Australian descriptor “ratbag” describes them well. Fundamentalist economics that perverts what economic theory instructs. I agree with you – the CIS relies more on reason.

  5. Oh, the IPA’s craziness is nothing – just routine dishonesty in pursuit if vested interest.

    It seems Gina may have been funding much crazier people than them in pursuit of “northern development”. If you want a good laugh do have a look at this recent ABC story, presented in all seriousness. Now that’s a proposal that makes the Great Trans-WA Water Canal idea of some years back look a model of economic rationalism. It is appropriate that the “consultants” proposing it are based in Berserker, Qld (a suburb of Rockingham).

  6. the Voltairian high ground “Much though I disagree with what you say, I will defend to the death ..”

    As you’d no doubt know, the famous ‘Voltairian maxim’ was not attributed to him until 1907 in a book by S G Tallentyre, 149 years after the controversy over Helvetius’s book which had apocryphally prompted it.

  7. It’s Mont Pelerin, after the resort in Switzerland near Vevey where the society was founded. The “Acton-Tocqueville Society” sadly didn’t make the cut, as it gives the flavour much better. They dropped the accent: it’s Mont Pèlerin, pilgrim. A sad concession to the ignorance of ?? ??????.

  8. I’m pretty sure IPA is the bedrock of Team Australia, leaving it for the common Joe to take one for the team (and boy, haven’t we common Joes and Josephines copped a spallucking lately). I wouldn’t be surprised if the IPA involvement in ABC TV shows is scaled back, however, and same for the MMSM. After all, when the big knives come out for the ABC, best not to be seen on it too much.

  9. JQ, you’ve done it again – there is a link to News Corp in this piece (re: Blair).

    That gives money to Rupert.

  10. My brief flirtation with the IPA left me with the distinct impression that they are just a bunch of wannabes who think that wealth equals success and hitching their wagon to bright and shiny stars will make them rich. Most rich people don’t believe in trickle down which will be all that the IPA will be left with, smelly wet boots.

  11. The rationality of the CIS has its limits. Since at least 1997 it has been spouting egregious nonsense on family structures, vilifying working, single and cohabiting mothers in a manner that is deeply dishonest, bizarrely incompetent, or both.

  12. @Megan and James, fixed now

    @Paul That was a bizarre turn on their part, which seems to have coincided with (precipitated?) their decline in influence

  13. I attended a conference hosted by the CIS in 2010. The intellectual standard was if anything below the level of the IPA. Many of the talks were on climate change: to imagine the content, picture Bolt and then suppose his standards were even lower. I got the impression from talking to Greg Lindsay that he was aware that his speakers were awful (in the main: there were exceptions), but he wasn’t doing anything about it.

  14. @Neil

    Sorry. I just can’t imagine anyone with lower standards than Bolt. Nobody is getting under the height of the intellectual limbo bar that Bolt slithers under.

  15. @Fran Barlow
    Bolt makes an effort at presenting what look to the casual eye as reasoned arguments, backed up by facts and figures. You and I know that he’s distorting his sources or cherry picking, but its quite different from saying (I kid you not) “this is a lump of carbon. See it’s not doing me any harm. So much for worries about global warming”. I guess you could make a claim for Bolt having lower standards, in that he gives some kind of evidence that he could actually do better.

  16. @Neil

    Until I felt soiled I followed Tim Lambert’s The Australian’s War on Science, which when I stopped looking was about 70 pieces. Bolt was the standout in that.

    One piece that comes to mind was Bolt claiming that a proposal by a UK crematorium to use excess heat to run a heat pump to save energy buttressed his view that Greenies are the kin of Nazis.

    What can one do but gasp at such barefaced nonsense? I doubt anyone can beat that.

  17. This gulf war III effort is depressing . Embarrassingly there is so much public support for it that Labor has squibbed it, today they joined with the Govt to ensure it wont be debated in parliament -its ‘above politics’. The defence minister said he is unsure if our special forces are in Iraq yet or not.
    I can understand Australian Muslims feeling targeted. Abbotts regular little caveats about ‘this not being about the majority of good Muslims’ don’t fool me. He said the Middle East is a “witches cauldron” of trouble ,and Howard said Aust is a “Judeo- Christian country” ,and that he feels “confronted” by Muslims. Abbott uses Christians in danger in the Middle East as his reason to act. Abbott is a Christian worrier who sees Islam as backward and dangerous. He is a Christian supremacist. Why pick out one trouble spot (and obsess over the worst images available from there to justify military action) when there is trouble in so many other places ? There have been heinous acts committed by Christians too. Is it as simple as the fact that we are aligned with the US and Israel, and Abbott needs help with public support at home?
    Abbott is guaranteeing that there will be a terror incident here now by placing us at no. 2 on ISIS hit list. It will be something low tech like an attempted be-heading in the street . We then reply with more bombs and laws .A self justifying and perpetuating circle of extremist behavior results.

  18. @Fran Barlow
    I think The Australian’s War on Science was at number 81 when it left off in around January 2013. Tim Lambert seems to have given up acting blogging, so it’s likely the count would be higher had he kept it up.

  19. @sunshine

    This morning Chris Bowen moved a motion in the House of Reps to do with ISIS.

    In his speech (not on Hansard yet) he used the word “christian” about 20 times. There was a conga line of speakers from the ALP and LNP supporting it and they all used that word copiously.

    Wilkie tried unsuccessfully to suspend standing orders to argue about why the parliament couldn’t debate going to back to war on Iraq. ALP and LNP joined together to shut down any such discussion. They also did that in the senate.

    The decision to go to war was made in secret 2 weeks ago. The ALP were told on Friday and the News Corp outlets were given the “exclusive”. Nice chummy little club they’ve got going.

  20. @Megan

    Indeed. The Greens, Wilkie and Xenophon and Leyonhjelm are right. There should be a proper parliamentary debate on military action taken by Australia, with oversight if we go ahead, for that matter.

    That said, I have no basic problem with supplying arms to the Kurds to defend themselves against ISIS and ultimately to have a Kurdish state, though I’d prefer the PKK get them rather than the apparently corrupt Peshmerga.

  21. @Fran Barlow

    It would only be fair, since we armed ISIS in the first place!

    And PUP’s Jackie Lambie voted with the Greens, Xenophon and Leyonhjelm.

    That mix voting together in favour of democracy against the might of the ALP/LNP machine speaks volumes.

  22. Pr Q said:

    Abbott’s continued coddling of Bolt, (and for that matter Bolt’s continued employment by the Murdoch press) demonstrates much lower standards than those of the IPA and the Victorian Liberal Party, which is saying something. IF they want any credibility on this, Abbott and Murdoch need a Sister Souljah moment with someone like Bolt (perhaps Tim Blair would be more expendable).

    Some Young Liberals behave like sophomore jerks and some tabloid journalists call a spade a spade. ‘Twas ever thus. This storm in a tea cup is supposed to be politically on a par with the catastrophic, and largely self-inflicted, dysfunction afflicting the African-American community at the tail end of the Crack Wars. (I was there at the time, I know where-of I speak.) Thereby obliging the political Right to perform an ideological intervention, cleansing the think-tank and MSM Right.

    The urge to purge dies hard on the Left. I remember that after the Rudd 2007 election win a whole bunch of the usual Left-liberal suspects (Robert Manne, Jon Faine) were calling for an ideological cleansing of the Right-wing media on the grounds that they were “out of step with the electorate” or some such. Now seven years and one landslide defeat later, the Left still want a purge. The rhythm changes but the song remains the same.

    Obviously Pr Q would only be happy if the entire Right-wing (economic, ecologic, ethnic, strategic) drew stumps and put itself out to pasture. This was the thesis of one of his more recent spleen-vents. That would certainly simplify things, with politics reduced to an internecine Left-wing stoush. I can barely contain my enthusiasm.

    The whole business of reading the flaws in the Right off the punditry of its most prominent media mouthpieces is wrong-headed to begin with. Whatever the faults of the L/NP, and defects in its policies, they bear little or no relation to the antics of a few Right-wing jesters. Marginal voters, ambitious operators and heavy-hitting donors are where the real political action is. So hyperventilating over a bit of rabble-rousing is a waste of breath. That ship has long since sailed.

    News Flash: The MSM, including shock jocks, is hemorrhaging market share of readership. Recent (2014) circulation figures bear this out:

    Most of Australia’s major metro mastheads have once again posted double digits declines in the last round of print circulation figures. According to figures released today by the Audit Bureau of Circulation,..Amongst the News Corp Australia stable many of its newspapers also posted double digit declines with tabloids The Daily Telegraph and Herald Sun posting weekday declines of 12 per cent and 12.3 per cent respectively. The Telegraph had a weekday circulation of 293,512 last quarter while its Victorian counterpart had 394,597.

    These Right-wing jesters do not change political preferences, they amplify them. They preach to the converted or infuriate the opposition. Raising the blood pressure of the media-academia Left is, I suggest, their main aim and the main source of complaint against them. Certainly I enjoy the show and I am Left-wing on all political issues not related to the Culture War.

    Can I suggest therapeutic treatment? If you don’t want to snap at the bait and be played like a sucker then don’t read Bolt or Blair. Don’t feed the trolls. It’s simples. I know I feel much better now that start my day by ignoring the tedious pieties of Fran Kelly and Jon Faine.

  23. @Jack Strocchi

    I never heard Faine but I felt a lot better when I stopped paying attention each morning before work to that vapid RW laundress of memes, Fran Kelly and her pompous and equally vapid political gossip mongerer, Michelle Grattan.

  24. Fran Barlow @ #25 said:

    I felt a lot better when I stopped paying attention each morning before work to that vapid RW laundress of memes, Fran Kelly and her pompous and equally vapid political gossip mongerer, Michelle Grattan.

    I wish I had said that.

  25. Right-wing think tanks are heads of a many-headed hydra. Each time a head bites itself off, two more heads grow.

  26. @Fran Barlow

    Hilarious! The “holy gas” must be allowed to go up the flue unimpeded. A heat pump might extract the soul on the way out. The next time you feel tendrils of warmth about your ankles at the crematorium, please relax and feel comfortable. That’s grandma warming you up!

  27. @Jack Strocchi
    The right are just as much into purges as the left – have you been paying any attention to the activities of the Abbott government as they install their tiresome superannuated cultural warriors? The rest of the country is moving on and these antics are really wearing thin.

  28. @sunshine

    Just checked Hansard and by my count Bowen managed to squeeze 16 “christians” into his speech.

    You have to wonder if he understands how weird it is to make this point:

    By some reports, before the fall of Hussein, there were well over 1.4 million adherents to the Christian faith in Iraq. Now there are potentially somewhere between 250,000 and 500,000 left. Churches have been desecrated and destroyed. Murders and rapes have been committed. Towns like Mosul and Tikrit, the Nineveh Plains, home to the Christians of Iraq, have been taken over or are under threat. The Christians of Iraq in Iraq need to know and those in Australia need to know, and those around the world need to know, that Australia stands with them—and that this House stands as one, across the divide, with them.

    So Chris, you do get that about a million christians were better off under Saddam Hussein than under your neo-con US empire illegal war of aggression stunt?

    Remember, Chris Bowen is a US stooge (i.e. he is a “protect” in the WikiLeaks Cables).

  29. @Megan

    If the US goal was to de-stabilise, not conquer, then they have been extraordinarily successful. I am not saying it was their primary goal but it could be seen as a secondary goal. If the “borderlands” or peripheries of Russia and China, the other rivals for hegemony, cannot become vassal or tributary states of US/NATO then they must become chaotic and failed states. That would seem to be the US strategy.

    I find it hard though to believe that the US has a coherent strategy. If they had a coherent strategy they would avoid strategic overreach. If they had a coherent strategy they would avoid de-industrialising and permitting world manufacturing to gravitate to China. If they had a coherent strategy, they would have a plan already in operation to deal with or ameliorate the impacts of limits to growth and climate change. If they had a coherent strategy, they would be protecting the economic heartland of America and its people with a New New Deal, not arming up Homeland Security as an internal security force in preparation for martial law.

    Sure the USA has a strategy, it’s just not a coherent or realistic one. But that’s the way all corrupt empires go. The parasitic elites get completely out of touch and forget that it is the productive base of the people as a whole which generates all the wealth.

  30. The guests of honour at the IPA 90th(?) birthday bash were Tony Abbott, George Pell, Rupert Murdoch, and Gina Reinhardt .The event MC was Andrew Bolt. Pity there was no food poisoning mistake there .

    Pell is so out of touch ,why dont his subjects rise up and get rid of him. Any Catholic I know is embarrassed about him. He is arrogant and clearly not used to anyone addressing him as an equal . The new pope seems ok . Abbott is out of line with the popes view that ‘unfettered capitalism is a form of tyranny’. Abbotts Govt is stacked with Catholics .

  31. @Megan
    Megan, I’m struggling a little to understand why you’re so exercised by Bowen’s motion in Parliament yesterday. Bowen was not in Parliament at the time of the 2003 invasion, which was in any case opposed by the Labor Opposition of the time, FWIW. Given that he was not in Parliament at the time, it seems something of a stretch to hold Bowen morally responsible for the invasion, or to accuse him of hypocrisy for pointing out that Iraqi Christians were better off under Hussein. The plight of Iraqi Chaldeans and Assyrians is actually something Bowen has been banging on about for years.

  32. Fran Barlow :
    @Jack Strocchi
    I never heard Faine but I felt a lot better when I stopped paying attention each morning before work to that vapid RW laundress of memes, Fran Kelly and her pompous and equally vapid political gossip mongerer, Michelle Grattan.

    Faine is as left as you get from the ABC.

  33. @sunshine

    I am not a Catholic nor even religious in any way but I applaud the Evangelii Gaudium of Pope Francis. Chapter 2 (I) has sub-section headings like;

    – No to an economy of exclusion [53-54]
    – No to the new idolatry of money [55-56]
    – No to a financial system which rules rather than serves [57-58]
    – No to the inequality which spawns violence [59-60]

    These are statements that should be in our Consitution.

    The new Pope has hit the nail on the head. Of course, all the chest-thumping, Bible-bashing Neocon “Christians” like Abbott are not really Christian at all. Imagine what Abbott would have to change in his economic policy if he took these sections of Evangelii Gaudium to heart.

    “No to an economy of exclusion –

    53. Just as the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say “thou shalt not” to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills. How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points? This is a case of exclusion. Can we continue to stand by when food is thrown away while people are starving? This is a case of inequality. Today everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless. As a consequence, masses of people find themselves excluded and marginalized: without work, without possibilities, without any means of escape.

    Human beings are themselves considered consumer goods to be used and then discarded. We have created a “throw away” culture which is now spreading. It is no longer simply about exploitation and oppression, but something new. Exclusion ultimately has to do with what it means to be a part of the society in which we live; those excluded are no longer society’s underside or its fringes or its disenfranchised – they are no longer even a part of it. The excluded are not the “exploited” but the outcast, the “leftovers”.

    54. In this context, some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system. Meanwhile, the excluded are still waiting. To sustain a lifestyle which excludes others, or to sustain enthusiasm for that selfish ideal, a globalization of indifference has developed. Almost without being aware of it, we end up being incapable of feeling compassion at the outcry of the poor, weeping for other people’s pain, and feeling a need to help them, as though all this were someone else’s responsibility and not our own. The culture of prosperity deadens us; we are thrilled if the market offers us something new to purchase. In the meantime all those lives stunted for lack of opportunity seem a mere spectacle; they fail to move us.

    No to the new idolatry of money –

    55. One cause of this situation is found in our relationship with money, since we calmly accept its dominion over ourselves and our societies. The current financial crisis can make us overlook the fact that it originated in a profound human crisis: the denial of the primacy of the human person! We have created new idols. The worship of the ancient golden calf (cf. Ex 32:1-35) has returned in a new and ruthless guise in the idolatry of money and the dictatorship of an impersonal economy lacking a truly human purpose. The worldwide crisis affecting finance and the economy lays bare their imbalances and, above all, their lack of real concern for human beings; man is reduced to one of his needs alone: consumption.

    56. While the earnings of a minority are growing exponentially, so too is the gap separating the majority from the prosperity enjoyed by those happy few. This imbalance is the result of ideologies which defend the absolute autonomy of the marketplace and financial speculation. Consequently, they reject the right of states, charged with vigilance for the common good, to exercise any form of control. A new tyranny is thus born, invisible and often virtual, which unilaterally and relentlessly imposes its own laws and rules. Debt and the accumulation of interest also make it difficult for countries to realize the potential of their own economies and keep citizens from enjoying their real purchasing power. To all this we can add widespread corruption and self-serving tax evasion, which have taken on worldwide dimensions. The thirst for power and possessions knows no limits. In this system, which tends to devour everything which stands in the way of increased profits, whatever is fragile, like the environment, is defenseless before the interests of a deified market, which become the only rule.”

  34. LOL, I quote from the Evangelii Gaudium (though I am not a religious person) and I get moderated!

  35. @sunshine

    Pell is so out of touch ,why dont his subjects rise up and get rid of him. Any Catholic I know is embarrassed about him. He is arrogant and clearly not used to anyone addressing him as an equal.

    I doubt many Australian Catholics were upset when they shipped him off to the Vatican.

  36. Sunshine writes: “The guests of honour at the IPA 90th(?) birthday bash …

    No, it was the 70th birthday, not the 90th birthday. The year 1943 is the date most frequently given in discussions of how C.D. Kemp and others set up the IPA.

  37. @Jack Strocchi
    I’m broadly sympathetic towards the idea of responding to professional liars like Bolt with a kind of low key contempt. But if you have a close look at the Abbott governments program, it seems that the subject of this post (namely the IPA) is exactly where the action is in determining current policy priorities.

    On a another point, I know nothing of Faine but I call complete bullshit on your Robert Manne accusation. To the contrary, he spent most of the Howard years arguing that the public had drifted very far out of step with Left wing ideas. More recently wrote an article in the Monthly about how damaging the ongoing purge of all but the most right wing voices in the Australian media has been, but nowhere does he call for retribution. In fact, he concludes there’s little realistic hope of turning back the tide at all.

  38. @sunshine

    I was an altar server at St Patrick’s Cathedral Melbourne way back when Pell was Archbishop there. On two or three occasions, I was “introduced” to him. It always seemed like it was supposed to be an honor, with Pell condescending for a few moments to vaguely look in our direction and say something that involved words.

    Then I would go out onto the altar and be a piece of furniture for him, holding the gospel book up high enough for him to read off it…

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