Australia’s richest person, mining magnate Gina Rinehart, has been revealed as a key funder of the right wing think tank the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA) – a major pusher of climate science denial.
Rinehart’s company, Hancock Prospecting Proprietary Ltd (HPPL), donated $2.3m to the IPA in 2016 and $2.2m in 2017, according to disclosures made to the New South Wales Supreme Court.
As part of a long-running legal dispute over the use of company funds, Gina Rinehart’s daughter Bianca had served a subpoena to access documents that would have shed light on the two donations from HPPL to the IPA.
The IPA is an influential right wing think tank with close ties to Australia’s governing Liberal Party. IPA fellows regularly appear in the media. The payments suggest that more than a third of the IPA’s income in 2016 and 2017 was from HPPL – majority-owned privately by Gina Rinehart.
According to Forbes, Rinehart was the seventh richest woman in the world in 2017 and Australia’s richest person, with current wealth estimated to be $17.6 billion.
The IPA is a registered charity but is not legally required to disclose its funders and has declined to reveal them in recent years, citing concerns that donors could be “intimidated”.
According to the court judgement, Bianca’s solicitors had been provided with a schedule of “donations and sponsorships” from HPPL where it was disclosed, the judgement said, “that HPPL paid or provided amounts to IPA in a total of $2.3 million for the 2016 financial year and $2.2 million in the 2017 financial year.”
The donations also raise questions about the way the IPA has disclosed the nature of its revenues.
The IPA‘s 2017 annual report declared $6.1m of income but said that “86 per cent” had come from individuals. HPPL’s $2.2m donation constituted more than a third of the IPA’s income that year.
In 2016, the IPA reported that 91 per cent of donations were from individuals, but that year HPPL’s $2.3m donation constituted almost half the IPA‘s income of $4.96m that year.
DeSmog has emailed HPPL asking why it was supporting the IPA, if the donations were linked to specific work and if it was still a supporter. DeSmog also asked the IPA about the donations and if supporters should be concerned that so much if its income is derived from one person. IPA spokesperson Evan Mulholland replied: “No comment.”
Rinehart’s climate science denial
The IPA has long pushed climate science denialism – publishing books and sponsoring speaking tours of prominent climate science denialists.
Rinehart’s own views on human-caused climate change match those promoted by the IPA.
In 2011, she wrote in a magazine column that she was “yet to hear scientific evidence to satisfy me that if the very, very small amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere (approximately 0.38%) was increased, it could lead to significant global warming.”
She added: “I have never met a geologist or leading scientist who believes adding more carbon dioxide to the atmosphere will have any significant effect on climate change, especially not from a relatively small country like Australia.”
Rinehart has also supported Australia speaking tours of U.K. climate change denialist Lord Christopher Monckton. Professor Ian Plimer, another prominent geologist who rejects climate change science, sits on the board of HPPL subsidiary Roy Hill Holdings.
An IPA agenda
In 2010, Rinehart led “axe the tax” chants at a rally to oppose government plans to introduce a “carbon tax” – a campaign also heavily pushed by the IPA.
In 2015, the IPA was a finalist for an award from international network of so-called free market think tanks, the Atlas Foundation, for its work opposing policies to put a price on greenhouse gas emissions.
The IPA also partnered in 2012 with Rinehart’s lobby group – Australians for Northern Development and Economic Vision – to run a campaign to promote economic growth and special treatment for the north of Australia. John Roskam, the IPA’s executive director, regularly wrote bulletins.
In 2013, the IPA gave Gina Rinehart a “Free Enterprise Leader Award” – an award she accepted at a dinner alongside then soon-to-be Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Rupert Murdoch (Murdoch’s father, Sir Keith Murdoch, helped found the institute and Rupert served on its council from 1986 to 2000). In 2016 Rinehart was made an “honorary life member” of the IPA.
The IPA has also promoted massive export-focused coal mines planned for the Galilee Basin, arguing they would help lift Indians from poverty. Rinehart has a direct stake in GVK Hancock – one company looking to develop coalmines in the Queensland deposit.
The IPA is seen among progressives as having an outgrown influence on Australia’s Liberal Party. Current Liberal MP Tim Wilson and Senator James Paterson are both former IPA staff members.
In May, it was reported the IPA had been proposed as a potential co-host of a later-cancelled visit to Australia by former United States EPA chief Scott Pruitt.
An IPA-sponsored climate study that claimed most global warming was natural was heavily promoted among conservative media outlets around the world. Climate scientists who reviewed the paper, which had appeared in a journal, described the work as “junk science”.
DeSmog had not heard from the IPA or Hancock Prospecting at the time of publishing. UPDATE: 18 July 2018, 3.35pm AEST IPA spokesperson Evan Mulholland replied: “No comment.”