The Australia Institute

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The Australia Institute
TAI with tagline blue.jpg
Abbreviation TAI
Formation 1994
Type Public policy think tank
Ben Oquist

The Australia Institute is an Australian think tank conducting public policy research, funded by grants from philanthropic trusts, memberships and commissioned research.

The institute began in 1994 in order to construct and commission research and policy analysis on public debates and political and social issues and trends. The institute is based in Canberra, Australian Capital Territory. When it was founded the institute used a sprig of golden wattle for its logo with the motto "For a just, sustainable, peaceful future."

The current Executive Director is Ben Oquist. The previous Executive Director was Richard Denniss who is currently the chief economist. Denniss' immediate predecessor was Clive Hamilton.


The institute is left leaning [1] and describes itself as "the country’s most influential progressive think tank"[2] as well as saying that:

"The Institute is determined to push public debate beyond the simplistic question of whether markets or governments have all the answers to more important questions: When does government need to intervene in the market? When should it stand back? And when regulation is needed, what form should it take?"[2]


The institute's researchers are prominent commentators on public policy issues, including work on climate change and emissions trading, taxation policy, paid parental leave and unemployment. The institute is also known for its work on environment, taxation, health, consumer affairs and trade practices.[citation needed]

Climate change[edit]

The institute is active in promoting global warming mitigation measures, and has been critical of the Australian federal government's perceived lack of action on climate change. The institute was critical of the Howard Government's decision to refuse to ratify the Kyoto Protocol. It claims that the former Prime Minister and some senior ministers deny the scientific evidence for global warming and that the resources sector drives government energy policy. Leaked minutes of a meeting between the Energy Minister, the Prime Minister and fossil fuel lobbyists provide evidence for these claims.[3][4]

The Australia Institute has been active in promoting renewable energy development, and other mitigation measures, and it has campaigned strongly against developing a nuclear industry in Australia.[5]

The institute has provided a critique of the proposed Australian emissions trading scheme (or Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme), based on concerns that the proposed scheme failed to adequately take into account voluntary action.[6]

More recently, the institute launched the initiative No New Coal Mines,[7] calling for a moratorium on the construction of new coal mines and the expansion of current coal mines. The call followed from the demand from Kiribati President Anote Tong, which was subsequently backed by Pacific Island nations in what was known as the Suva Declaration.[8]

Tax reform debate[edit]

The Australia Institute employs several economists[9] who have published papers arguing for tax reform, particularly in the areas of superannuation tax concessions, negative gearing, capital gains tax and goods and services tax.[10] During the Australian federal election, 2016, the Institute published a series of critiques of the Coalition's proposed policy of cutting the company tax rate.[11]

Media regulation[edit]

The Australia Institute was sued by retail department store David Jones for allegedly engaging in misleading and deceptive conduct: David Jones Ltd v The Australia Institute Ltd [2007] FCA 962.[12] David Jones objected to a media release by the Australia Institute entitled "Corporate paedophilia – Sexualising children by advertising and marketing". The press release contained the statements: "It is particularly disturbing that this exploitation of young children appears to be becoming accepted or mainstream. Major retail chains such as David Jones and Myer have jumped on the bandwagon. When family department stores show no conscience on these issues, or are inured to the effects of their behaviour, the situation is very unhealthy." David Jones claimed that this statement contained a number of misleading and deceptive representations - including that "David Jones eroticises children in order to obtain profits". The matter was later settled.[citation needed]

Mandatory Internet filter[edit]

Electronic Frontiers Australia criticised the Australia Institute for its proposal for mandatory filtering of Internet access by Internet service providers, which in 2008 became policy of the Federal Government: "The proposed implementation of [this] system... would block innocuous and educational information and infringe Internet users' privacy."[13][14]


The Australia Institute is funded by donations from philanthropic trusts and individuals, and commissioned research. It has no formal political or commercial ties. The Institute states that it "is in a position to maintain its independence while advancing a vision for a fair and progressive Australia."[2]

The institute has been largely funded by the Poola Foundation and the Treepot Foundation - philanthropic organisations run by the Kantors, an offshoot of Rupert Murdoch's family.[1]


  • John McKinnon, NGO director, and philanthropist, formerly worked in funds management and international development (Chair)
  • Barbara Pocock, Director, Centre for Work and Life, University of South Australia (Deputy Chair
  • Elizabeth Cham, former CEO of Philanthropy Australia (96-06) national umbrella body grantmaking trusts and foundations
  • Samantha Hardy, Philanthropy Advisor, Callum Hardy Consulting
  • David Morawetz, Clinical/Counseling Psychologist, Founder/Director of the Social Justice Fund
  • Spencer Zifcak, Allan Myers Professor of Law, ACU and Barrister and Solicitor, Supreme Court of Victoria
  • Lee Thomas, Federal Secretary, Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation
  • Andrew Dettmer, National President of the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union

Former board members include:


External links[edit]