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.