Cindy Baxter looks into the background and associations of the author of a stark attack on re-elected Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern
As I read the outrage at the negative outlier of an article about Jacinda Ardern’s victory in The Australian, I thought it was worth putting this piece into context.
The author, Gideon Rozner, is the head of policy at Australia’s powerful right wing think tank, the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA), an outfit that has been at the heart of the anti-climate change sentiment reflected in the Australia’s Murdoch press – and the Liberal Party – for decades.
That Rozner describes Labour’s 100 percent renewable plan as “bloodcurdling,” the Greens as having “climate change evangelism” and a proposed target for electric vehicles as “silly” is hardly surprising. That his piece appears in The Australian is also not surprising: Publisher Rupert Murdoch’s father Keith was one of the IPA’s founders in 1949, when they worked together to fight controls against the tobacco industry.
It’s not surprising Rozner dislikes Ardern: he and the IPA have campaigned all year to stop lockdowns in Australia, releasing a video in April taken from the streets of lockdown Melbourne. So Ardern’s approach also comes under fire.
I’ve been following the IPA for quite some time, as part of my research into the history of climate denial. Its funding model has been less than transparent, but Australian journalist Graham Readfearn cracked at least some of the mystery in 2018: one of its main funders, at least in 2016 and 2017, was coal magnate Gina Rinehart, who gave the IPA A$4.5 million over those two years. This only came to light because of a court case.
The Sydney Morning Herald found in 2010 that A$2 million of the IPA’s annual funding “comes from corporations with a direct stake in the climate change debate, not including contributions from its 1000 individual members, some of whom also have a personal interest in climate change.”
Over the past 10 years, we’ve seen countless leadership “spills” in the Australian government, snap elections and an endless parade of new Prime Ministers. At the heart of every single one of those spills, be it Julia Gillard’s rolling of Kevin Rudd, or Tony Abbott’s ousting of Malcolm Turnbull (twice) has been one consistent issue: climate change and energy policy.
A driving force behind much of this has been the IPA, in concert with the Murdoch media. Former PM Abbott was one of the main proponents of the most recent spill where Malcolm Turnbull was rolled in favour of Scott Morrison. At the centre of the problems the right wingers had with Turnbull was his proposed, very moderate, energy policy: the National Energy Guarantee that would oblige energy retailers to cut emissions. IPA, according to the same Sydney Morning Herald article, was behind the first ousting of Turnbull, again for climate change policies.
Going back to the 1990s, when the Kyoto Protocol was being negotiated, the IPA worked with the American think tank the Competitive Enterprise institute, then heavily funded by ExxonMobil, to take the first climate science denier Fred Singer to Australian shores. Since then, the IPA has funded an onslaught of international deniers to tour the country, shoring up the main rationale they used in those days: that climate change was a hoax, and therefore no government should act on it.
The New Zealand connection
The IPA is a member of an international network of think tanks, the Atlas Network, based in the US and heavily funded by the likes of the Koch brothers, the oil industry, and the new dark money foundations set up to launder – and hide – the fossil fuel industry cash going into these think tanks.
Alongside the IPA, the Atlas Network Australian partners includes a plethora of new, libertarian think tanks, which work alongside each other to run trainings for new groups and staffers new to their ranks.
A recent training for this group of think tanks in Australia in November last year included a presentation by Ben Guerin, of Topham Guerin, a New Zealand-founded company proud of creating the “boomer-meme industrial complex” which helped Scott Morrison win the 2019 Australian Federal election.
There are two New Zealand members of the Atlas Network: The New Zealand Initiative and the NZ Taxpayers Union. The NZTU’s Jordan Williams is quite the hero at Atlas – in 2015 he was paid to travel to one of its trainings, and received a fellowship in 2018 for his work. The Atlas Network claims Williams’ campaign was instrumental in getting Ardern to dump the idea of a capital gains tax.
Both groups have been active during the 2020 election campaign. Day after day, the NZTU churned out press releases challenging the Greens’ Wealth Tax, Labour’s spending plans, and calling for New Zealand to look to Sweden’s model in its economic treatment of Covid-19.
The New Zealand media seems to unquestioningly take up proposals by both of these think tanks, but there’s been some pushback, such as the New Zealand Initiative’s proposals for schools that ranked New Zealand low on an international system that got widely panned by professionals here.
From the IPA to the NZ Initiative to the Taxpayers’ Union: New Zealand should be wise to the provenance of these think tanks, and at least aware of their international libertarian connections. That our own think tanks are being trained up by Koch and dark money-funded libertarian networks should give us cause for concern.