11 Jun 2006, Comments Off on I’m from the IPA and I’m here to help you

I’m from the IPA and I’m here to help you

Author: Helen

Is there any institution more dismal and useless than the corporate shill-filled thinktanks that clog up the pages of our MSM with their stuff?

A couple of weeks ago, charities like Oxfam, Red Cross, Caritas Australia and World Vision were rushing to Indonesia to help the victims of the latest natural disaster, while at home, others like the Brotherhood of St Laurence and Smith family are gearing up to do what they do every winter in Victoria – helping those who are falling through the holes in our welfare system.

And what was one of our best-known think tanks doing to help? Well, they were fearlessly taking to their keyboards to produce nasty anonymous press releases, like this one in the AGE the same day (not on the web, as far as I can tell):


Charities and non-profit organisations are poorly regulated, lack transparency and are vulnerable to political manipulation, a report says.

A conservative think-tank, the Institute of Public Affairs, has warned that there are no clear rules governing the rapidly expanding sector, which accounts for up to 10 per cent of the economy and gets billions of dollars each year in tax breaks and donations.

The report said there were examples of organisations undertaking activities that were either “clearly not charitable in nature, not appropriate for an organisation of their status or directly break laws.”

(No byline– well, would you admit to stuff like that?)

Isn’t a blanket accusation that organisations are “break(ing) laws” defamatory? Is the IPA hoping the NGOs are too busy doing real work to protest or prosecute, or does the absence of a specific target make the statement too diffuse to attract a defamation charge?

The IPA is a pest which entwines through our public discourse like feral lantana. In the same edition of the AGE, on page one, Gary Johns – an IPA regular, though wearing his Bennelong Society / Menzies Research Centre hat– advocates taking from remote Aboriginal communities the last thing they own, namely, their cultural heritage. (Funnily enough, the IPA is inhabited by the kind of people who’d passionately resist removing the western “cultural heritage”, such as Shakespeare and Latin, from schools Down South).

Quelle coincidence, Gary Johns is also the originator of the “NGOs are crooks who ought to be investigated” report, which he wrote for the Federal government a couple of years ago. They took a fee from the government for “consulting” on that, but didn’t mention it until those pinko socialists at the ABC outed them. They also rarely mention their links to the American Enterprise Institute.

The rationale for this scattershot accusation and defamation is the idea that NGOs have too much influence and power. Since it’s unusual these days to open a newspaper without encountering some fresh IPAspeak, and their utterances are apparently taken seriously by government ministers (the last linked “report [was] endorsed by federal Education Minister Julie Bishop”, and Peter Costello absolutely loved the idea of muzzling the welfare NGOs). And yet we’re not supposed to be concerned about them?

Imagine coming to after an earthquake like the one in Java: instead of a Red Cross or Unicef worker, saline or bandages, food or water, the first thing you see is an accountant in a nice suit, with arch lever binders and laptop at the ready to give you a damn good auditing.

Comments (0)

  • harry clarke says:

    Helen, Among the charities claiming tax exemption is the Church of Scientology. Its not only the IPA that are criticising the tax exempt status of church and other groups. The Rationalists are as well.

    But the compare this critique with the giving of aid to charitable organisations suggesting that the critique implies you shouldn’t give. That is not sensible. The line:

    ‘Imagine coming to after an earthquake like the one in Java: instead of a Red Cross or Unicef worker, saline or bandages, food or water, the first thing you see is an accountant in a nice suit, with arch lever binders and laptop at the ready to give you a damn good auditing’.

    Is quite stupid and you must know it is. The idea of auditing these groups properly and of contributing to them are totally different. I gave to Oxfam but I support the view that the not-for-profits generally need to be examined.

    Why not criticise the IPA views. Not just emotively attack them with literary though foolish irrelevancies.

  • phil says:

    Well said. Isn’t it ironic that it’s always “the left” that gets excoriated for wanting to tell people how to live their lives and that government should get out of the way, but here are some services being delivered to an evident “market” and what do this lot want – more regulation!

    The worse earthquake image wouldn’t be the accountant but the policy wonk from the IPA telling you to get out of the mess yourself.

  • boredinHk says:

    I am all for transparency and accountabilty .
    And this is should be required in all public organisations , those for profit and otherwise. Accountability allows the public to engage with these organisations with confidence they are being treated fairly and that when this doesn’t occur they will have recourse to an effective complaint process.
    An NGO can be infiltrated and corrupted by employees and I’ll give you one sad example. This is an animal welfare organisation. It receives bequeths and donations direct from the public and runs many competitive retail outlets.
    Many years ago I wa employed by another company to source and animal product from unowned animals – surrendered by the public in the expectation they would be kept and either their owner found or the animal could be rehomed. Except we needed large animals for this product and for 4 weeks 20 large animals each week never found their way into the area where their owners could find them. They were conatined away from public view and we harvested our product undisturbed.
    Or if that isn’t grim enough – at another time our company had a backlog of product and the public charity organisation came to the aid of the owners of this company. Their communications director ( related to the CEO) went on radio and proclaimed their was a disease outbreak sweeping the outer suburbs. Public panic ensued- at the time this was novel disease and I was in the weird position of being part of the technical
    department and it was my job to advise the profession and several radio “experts ” . Well, we said “Don’t panic there is no evidence of any disease .” and “There is no need to use the product being promoted at this time.” All to no avail however as the credibility of the public charity was too great. NGO to the rescue of the company with a stock backlog – hardly what anyone would believe?
    Calling for accountabilty should not be viewed an an attack on NGOs rather as a call for open and transparent conduct.

  • Helen says:

    Harry and bored, I’m glad you brought that one up. It’s a short post and it doesn’t cover the issue exhaustively. But if you read the link to Background Briefing, it points out that the NGOs themselves aren’t opposed to regulation and transparency, at all. They’re happy to be audited just like any other organisation. It’s the IPA which goes too far pointing at other NGOs and suggesting they’re all up to dirty tricks and they have far too much influence on governments. If we can’t open a newspaper without reading something cooked up from a press release from the IPA, CIS, Bennelong Society etc. and which is looked on with approval by Liberal cabinet ministers, aren’t we to conclude that it’s the thinktanks which have more ideological clout at the moment?

  • boredinHk says:

    Perhaps the IPA sees itself as speaking truth to power ?
    The current government may be sympathetic to certain think tanks but other governments will change this.
    I don’t read from this that the IPA distrusts all NGOs rather that a certain confusion as regards their aims and outcomes exists. More communciation from all involved would be preferable.

  • rachy says:

    I can see where you’re coming from but I have to agree that there is a lot of corruption and mismanagement in certain NGOs, Oxfam are the best and I have thus donated to them for a very long time, but other organisations like world vision spend obscene amounts of money on administration. The problem is any time they are criticised for this they can say that because they do some good work they shouldn’t be criticised for anything, and yes I agree that they do good work that this doesn’t mean that they should not be accountable for the money they pull in… it smacks of hypocrisy that they get so much money through donations and it doesn’t always go to help the people it is meant to help

    Also, if the press release was anonymous how do you know it was them?

  • rachy says:

    my last question does not mean that I’m defending the IPA, I’m just curious that’s all

  • Helen says:

    Rachy! Does this mean you’re out of hospital? (haven’t gone over to your blog for a look yet…)

    I can see where you’re coming from but I have to agree that there is a lot of corruption and mismanagement in certain NGOs, Oxfam are the best and I have thus donated to them for a very long time, but other organisations like world vision spend obscene amounts of money on administration.

    I’m with Oxfam too. The same transparency and auditing standards should apply for all organisations, including private corporations and NGOs. However, the IPA isn’t worried about private corporations such as ABC learning or Gunn’s Ltd, or government corporations like the AWB (while it’s linked to a Liberal government.) They are actually saying that there should be special provisions for keeping tabs on NGOs. Gary Johns’ recommendation was for a special web site to be set up to keep tabs on them. Why not the AWB, Enron or Gunns Ltd? Why just the NGOs?

    Remember the furore a few months ago where Peter Costello was advocating muzzling the opinions of charity organisations, cutting their funding if they were seen to be doing advocacy instead of simple welfare work? That was an IPA-generated idea. Remember Julie Bishop’s recent approving response to the idea that Aboriginal culture should no longer be taught in NT schools? That was in response to the IPA and Bennelong society (which appears to overlap in its people and agenda.)

    The agenda of the IPA is that NGOs have too much input into government decisions and popular opinion. Which is a nonsense, since I can hardly open the AGE any more without seeing an article by John Roskam, Gary Johns, Jennifer Marohasy or another IAPer, and, as I’ve described above, they often have the approving ear of the current government. Much of what they say appeals to this current Cabinet greatly. Therefore, for the IPA to cry that left-wing advocacy groups have too much influence is a complete nonsense. What they are really trying to do is eliminate the opposition- as if after winning at the world cup the Australians had demanded extra rules be placed on the Japanese.

    yes I agree that they do good work that this doesn’t mean that they should not be accountable for the money they pull in… it smacks of hypocrisy that they get so much money through donations and it doesn’t always go to help the people it is meant to help

    If you read the Background Briefing link, you’ll see the NGOs are happy to be accountable. The idea that they do not want to be accountable is a straw man put up by Johns. As for the Red Cross, well, I hardly think they are a consistently dishonest organisation, otherwise I wouldn’t give them my blood. They are terrible employers and their employees sometimes do dumb things, but if we’e talking about veniality, let’s start with the AWB or Gunn’s ltd.

    Also, if the press release was anonymous how do you know it was them?

    It was an article based on a press release rather than the PR itself. It was in the sidebar on page 3 or 5, one of those smaller articles which would have been cobbled together by a lowlier writer and not by-lined. Para 2 starts: “A conservative think-tank, the Institute of Public Affairs, has warned …” now, I’m sure the AGE is not your favourite paper, but I don’t think it’s very likely that they made that up!

    Anyway Rachy,, it’s more than just a call for transparency, they’re claiming NGOs are engaging in criminal activities. You can’t say that about people or organisations without putting up or shutting up – it’s actionable. But the IPA does seem to get away with an awful lot. Up to last year, when the report was already out calling for more scrutiny of NGOs, the IPA didn’t even bother to have their current Annual Report on their website. They’ve improved since.

    I hope you are continuing to improve and not going too crazy with all those crrrazy nurses .

  • Helen says:

    Oh and happy birthday for today! Hope you got some champagne

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