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. 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.

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

  3. @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!

  4. @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.

  5. @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).

  6. @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.

  7. 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 .

  8. @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.

  9. 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.

  10. @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.”

  11. @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.

  12. 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.

  13. @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.

  14. @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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