Michael Pascoe: Trussonomics lives on in Australia – and via our man at the UN

Michael Pascoe says the organisation that did most to have Conservatives install Liz Truss is similar to the Gina Rinehart-backed IPA.

Michael Pascoe says the organisation that did most to have Conservatives install Liz Truss is similar to the Gina Rinehart-backed IPA. Photo: AAP/TND

Trussonomics lives on in Australia – and via our man at the UN. Liz Truss is gone as British Prime Minister, but the forces that elevated her live on – both in the UK and here.

Indeed, they arguably are less damaged here than there as Ms Truss’ nearest and dearest associates have inevitably copped splatter as the Trussonomics hit the fan.

As previously argued, the financial world’s wholesale bagging of the Truss fiasco should serve as the official end of a four-decade political mission to force Reaganomics/ Thatcherism/ neoliberalism/ trickledown on the world  and a longer campaign by the wealthy vested interests behind the politics to shrink government in order to pay little tax.

For now at least, pragmatism is on the rise to replace right-wing dogmatists.

The organisation that did most to have Conservative Party members (not Conservative MPs) install Ms Truss as leader was the Institute of Economic Affairs – a British version of Australia’s Institute of Public Affairs, only more successful.

Ms Truss and the IEA have been pretty much one and the same thing for many years, reinforcing the prejudices of the well-off with the now-usual concocted dogma that government needs to be privatised down to its barest bones, market forces allowed unfettered reign, organised labour neutered, and taxes reduced to the bare minimum, especially income and capital gains taxes.

It must be a terrible disappointment to the IEA that, having succeeded in having its Manchurian Candidate installed, the reality of its agenda was instantly rejected.

Like the use of the IPA in Australia, when British media needs right-wing commentary on any subject, the IEA has someone to oblige. The IEA has worked on the Tory membership the way the Murdoch media works on Liberal and National Party members.

In the case of the Murdoch media, the IPA is very much “think tank in residence”. While not the IPA’s biggest financial supporter, the Murdoch mob provides enormous “in kind” backing.

But it’s not just Murdoch. Our little IPA was quickly in the pages of the Australian Financial Review bemoaning the destruction of Liz Truss, seeing it as a rallying call for neoliberals to redouble their efforts to “make the argument for economic freedom”.

“The response to Truss’ mini-budget revealed in a stark, almost shocking way what has long been suspected,” wrote the IPA’s John Roskam.

“The ideas of free market economics – understood in broad terms as lower taxes, less regulation and a smaller state to create an environment for private enterprise and initiative to grow – are, if not quite ‘dead’, at the very least in retreat.”

Aux barricades, mes enfants!

Philosophically and financially, the IEA and IPA are shadows of the major American neoliberal lobby groups – a more accurate description than “think tanks”.

They proclaim transparency but are secretive about their own funding, happily taking the coin of Big Tobacco, Big Carbon, Big Mining, Big Anything really that might want a fig leaf of compatible “research” and appropriate opinion.

Australia’s richest woman, Gina Rinehart.

In the IPA’s case, the identity of by far its biggest backer, Gina Rinehart, was disclosed by Ms Rinehart’s family legal squabbles – more than $2 million in each of the two years’ accounts that were disclosed.

Understandably, the IPA congratulated Ms Rinehart on receiving an AO on Australia Day this year.

“The entrepreneurial drive, risk-taking, and passion of Ms Rinehart has unlocked economic and social opportunities to the benefit of millions of Australians,” said Mr Roskam.

“The 8000 members of IPA around Australia take great pride in Ms Gina Rinehart AO as an Honorary Life Member of the IPA.”

The IPA is supposed to be opposed to government interference in markets and spending – but Ms Rinehart is a fan of government money being splashed around northern Australia, so the IPA has been, too. Purely coincidental, no doubt.

Like the IEA, the IPA’s power comes from being embedded in the right wing of conservative politics, grooming candidates for parliament among its own ranks, providing them with ideologically-appropriate staffers, driving networking opportunities between politicians and IPA supporters.

The influence is pernicious. Crikey has credited it with playing a major role in promoting climate denialism within and beyond politics.

“The IPA exists as a conduit between the respectable mainstream right, represented by the Liberal Party, and fringe climate deniers, whose marginal views are largely rejected by the rest of the scientific community,” wrote Kishor Napier-Raman. “Their greatest success, mirroring that of other free market think tanks in the United States, has been to stitch climate denialism into the very fabric of the conservative political identity.”

As John Roskam told the Sydney Morning Herald: “Of all the serious sceptics in Australia, we have helped and supported just about all of them.”

Back in John Howard’s day, the IPA was designated an Approved Research Institute and thus effective charity status for tax deductable donations.

It is possible the IPA has published some credible research not pushing its neoliberal agenda at some stage, but I’ve never noticed any. It is less than lightweight.

There is some irony in the past government threatening the tax status of charities if they might be considered taking a political stance on behalf of their stakeholders, while the IPA does nothing else.

The demise of the small-l Liberals suits the IPA – leaving a smaller but more attuned party to work through.

Sure, this political action machine lost one of its own – Tim Wilson – in the last election and Georgina Downer never made it, but it still has IPA-to-the-core James Paterson reliably representing the cause in the Senate and many more members and fellow travellers embedded in the machinery thanks to the Coalition’s wholesale stacking of government appointments.

Communications Minister Mitch Fifield said it would be dangerously to introduce net neutrality rules "pre-emptively".

Mitch Fifield, Australia’s permanent UN representative is openly IPA. Photo: AAP

Indeed, Australia’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, the undistinguished former Communications Minister, Mitch Fifield, was openly IPA.

I thought it had to be some sort of Coalition inside joke to give the Communications portfolio to Senator Fifield, someone who had been of the opinion that there was merit in privatising the ABC.

It was as cynical as the Abbott Government making Tim Wilson Australia’s Human Rights Commissioner – a role Mr Wilson as IPA policy director thought should not exist.

Oh, that’s right, Tony Abbott – an IPA “Distinguished Fellow”, whatever that is, “working with the IPA in the fight for mainstream Australian values”.

I’ve actually seen what the IPA would like Australia to be and, in my opinion, presumably what its main financial backer would like it to be: Dubai.

The Emirate’s elite live income tax free and enjoy the benefits of a workforce that is subject to minimal conditions and global competition and pay rates.

The system provides very cheap labour – the pay for workers only has to be a little more than what it might be back home in Bangladesh or India or wherever to entice them to sign a contract.

Health and education are privatised. You cannot work in Dubai without health insurance and you cannot stay in Dubai if you don’t have a job – or are rich enough not to need one, perhaps buying residency.

And of course media is supportive of the system.

No, there’s no democracy – it is a feudal kingdom – but that’s hardly important compared with small government and no income tax. “Freedom” indeed.

Topics: Liz Truss
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