The Guardian’s New War On Free Speech

Written by
22 January 2021

On the 21st and 22nd of January the Institute of Public Affairs received correspondence about a planned register of think-tanks in Australia by The Guardian Australia “to improve Australian public debate through the creation of a database about think tanks and organisations that seek to paricipate in political discussion in Australia.”

The Guardian Australia is planning to use the database to attempt to twist its journalism by stating the funding of organisations it quotes in its stories every time it mentions said organisation, and would encourage other media to use it too. The IPA believes this is a censorious attack on the free speech of mainstream Australians who would seek to donate and join organisations like the IPA.

In the interest of “transparency” the IPA has published the full email exchange with the Guardian Australia.

The person contacting the IPA is an intern at the Guardian, so I’ve blacked out their name.

From: Evan Mulholland
Sent: Friday, January 22, 2021 5:01 PM
To: @theguardian.com>
Cc: Anne Davies <[email protected]>; [email protected]
Subject: RE: Guardian Australia Media Enquiry


On your comment: it is in the public interest to know who funds organisations like the IPA that seek to participate in political discussion in Australia.

To support your argument that it is in the public interest to know who funds organisations like the IPA, the Guardian Australia is seeking to use bullying and threats in the name of “transparency” in an attempt to identity mainstream Australians who support the Institute of Public Affairs, and sadly people are threatened and intimidated based of political belief and support in Australia.

It is a free speech right of Australians to be able to make a contribution to an organisation like the IPA, without fear of identification which would result bullying or threats. As you would be aware, the IPA has consistently fought for freedom of speech in Australia, so much so we even defend the free speech rights of GetUp, an organisation that is on the opposite end of the political spectrum. It even appeared in The Guardian, under The Guardian’s flawed idea of a database for think tanks, presumably the author would have to acknowledge funding criteria that is completely unrelated to the issue being discussed.

The IPA absolutely respects the privacy of our members and donors so we will not be providing their information to you.

You say: I should inform you that when Guardian Australia publishes its database about think tanks, we will be highlighting that the IPA did not disclose this information to us.

The thinly veiled ad hominem argument is that the IPA ought to breach its privacy obligations to reveal the identity of its supporters in order to participate in public debate.

The IPA was founded in 1943. This year we are in our 78th year. We are the world’s oldest free market think tank. For 78 years the IPA has conducted research, which demonstrates the moral and practical reasons why the best public policy is that which allows individuals to thrive and prosper: free markets, individual liberty, small government. People choose to support us due to their connection with these values.

All of the research the IPA undertakes is public – anyone with an internet browser can read our research free of charge. The IPA is entirely funded from voluntary donations. The IPA is situated in the mainstream of public opinion in this country, which explains our growth and success.

Speaking of the public interest, was it in the public interest for Australians to know that when Guardian Australia was reporting on Malcolm Turnbull – both in the lead up to his ascension to Prime Minister and as Prime Minister – that he also helped to establish The Guardian Australia?

If you’re going to hold others to such a high standard. It is also probably in the public interest for people to know that the Guardian seeks advertising from large renewable energy companies when commenting on renewables.

This is beside the point. Because I know that Guardian writers and readers come from a position of genuine belief in wanting more renewable energy in Australia, I might disagree with that as a public policy position, but I don’t doubt that those views are genuinely held.

The problem is that it doesn’t go both ways, people like Anne and yourself, and many readers of the Guardian, genuinely believe that their ideological perspective is so pure that anyone and everyone who holds a differing opinion must be bought or brainwashed. This is a very sad way of viewing public policy, and a central reason why the left don’t really win any big debates anymore.

How can you expect the Australian public to take you seriously if you don’t first acknowledge and respect that their viewpoints are genuinely held?

In his terrific paper for the Centre for Independent Studies’, ‘The Role of Think Tanks: A Reply to Critics’, Dr Jeremy Sammut points out ‘[c]ritics who promote the myth that all centre-right think tanks are Machiavellian backroom enterprises that pull the strings of feeble-minded politician-puppets’ fail to understand that think tanks’ influence via legislative outcomes is always subject to the democratic process.

This censorious campaign by The Guardian Australia has nothing to do with transparency. What it’s really about is removing liberal and conservative perspectives from public debate.

I will be publishing this email to the IPA website.

Kind regards,

Evan Mulholland
Director of Communications
Institute of Public Affairs

From: @theguardian.com>
Sent: Thursday, January 21, 2021 3:54 PM
To: Evan Mulholland <[email protected]>
Cc: Anne Davies <[email protected]>
Subject: Re: Guardian Australia Media Enquiry


Dear Evan,

I appreciate that the IPA guards the confidentiality of its members and donors. Nevertheless, I would like to emphasise that it is in the public interest to know who funds organisations like the IPA that seek to participate in political discussion in Australia, and it is for the sake of improving transparency in the Australian public debate that the Guardian is creating a database about think tanks. I should inform you that when Guardian Australia publishes its database about think tanks, we will be highlighting that the IPA did not disclose this information to us.

Thank you for passing on your annual report to me. Could you please answer the following questions, which do not require you to disclose the identity of your members or donors:

  • What is the difference between a donation and “general contribution”?
  • Could you please further break down the donation by IPA directors of $79,050 – did all directors contribute to this sum?

Can you also please confirm the below information that is already in the public domain, including information available on your website and official legal information available on caselaw.nsw.gov.au. I give you the opportunity to confirm these links because they may be referenced in our database.

Her work at CQU was wholly funded by the B. Macfie Family Foundation, and this continues to be the source of funding for her employment at the IPA.

I know that this is not a direct donation to IPA but would you like to comment on the donations received by the following companies to authors you have published in IPA publications?

Stewart Franks reportedly received $85,000 in 2006-07 from electricity provider Macquarie Generation, which has been one of the largest carbon dioxide emitters in Australia (source: https://thenewdaily.com.au/news/national/2019/06/10/institute-of-public-affairs/)


Thank you in advance for your assistance.




On Wed, 20 Jan 2021 at 16:48, Evan Mulholland <[email protected]> wrote:


Thanks for your call.

The IPA do not disclose the identity of our members or donors.

Our most recent Annual Report is available on our website https://ipa.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/IPA-Limited-2020-Financial-Report.pdf

Kind regards,

Evan Mulholland
Director of Communications
Institute of Public Affairs

From: @theguardian.com>
Sent: Wednesday, 20 January 2021 3:57 PM
To: Evan Mulholland <[email protected]>
Subject: Guardian Australia Media Enquiry

Dear Mr Mulholland,

Guardian Australia is working on a project to improve transparency in the Australian public debate through the creation of a database about think tanks and organisations that seek to participate in political discussion in Australia.

Often media organisations, the Guardian included,  quote these organisations, but do not fully inform our readers about what the organisation stands for or, importantly, who funds it.

There is a saying: “He who pays the piper calls the tune”. While this might not always be the driving motivation, we believe the public is entitled to make their own judgements about the possible influence of funding on research.

We have already visited your website and other publicly available sources to obtain details of your mission statement, structure and key personnel.

However we request the following information to complete our project:

o    Who were the major donors to your organisation in the last two years? (Please provide calendar year or financial year data, indicating which. Please include all donors over $10,000.)

o    In your 2020 financial statement (page 27 under Note 15) it says directors donated a total of $79,050 to the IPA. Did all directors contribute donations and are you able to break up this figure more specifically for me?

o    Other media have reported that some of your donors include Hancock Prospecting, the Cormack Foundation, Exxon, Shell, Caltex and BHP-Billiton (Please see the full list and sources below). Can you confirm whether these sources were correct at the time and if so, are they still current donors?

o    What proportion of your income comes from these major donors? How many donors/ members did you have below this threshold?

o    Does the organisation have a capital sum that helps fund the organization  and where did it come from?

o    Do you accept donations or financial support or support in kind from overseas organisations? Please list them.

o    Please provide a link to the place on your website where you disclose how you are funded. If you don’t disclose it, what is the reason for non-disclosure?

o    Do you have charitable status?

o    Who were the founders of your organisation and what prompted it?

o    Any other information about the organisation that you would like to draw to our attention.

Please reply to this email by close of business on Friday 22nd January. I can be contacted on – or via this email address if you require any further details.

Once our project is established, we hope to make the database public and to use links in our own reporting to allow our readers to be further informed. We would encourage other media to use it too.

Thank you in advance for your assistance.

List of media and other sources reporting on IPA donations:



The Guardian | Australia

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Evan Mulholland

Evan Mulholland is the Director of Communications at the Institute of Public Affairs

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