It's not unusual for politicians to wish their opponents were less effective at spreading their message. But Australians should be extremely wary of those who seek to misuse the heavy hand of government to ensure that is the case.
There have recently been calls for think tanks like the Institute of Public Affairs and other third-sector organisations to be regulated like cash-for-access lobbying firms. As the most prominent advocate for free markets in Australia, we've copped a disproportionate share of these attacks, but regulation is also unjustified for think tanks elsewhere on the ideological spectrum, no matter their size or effectiveness.
Some have suggested that the IPA and others like it should be forced, by law, to reveal who our members and donors are.
This is necessary, they argue, because the IPA's continued advocacy against excessive government regulation and nanny-statism might be motivated by support from some of our donors.
On the contrary, the IPA has been utterly consistent in its advocacy for free people and free markets since its foundation in 1943. Regardless of the issue, you'll find the IPA arguing against overbearing government and for the rights of the individual.
IPA staff members are idealistic and genuinely committed to the philosophy of individual freedom. No amount of money in the world would convince them to argue against it.
Indeed, most of our staff could easily earn more lucrative salaries by offering their services as lobbyists to anyone who is willing to pay. But no-one comes to work at a think tank hoping to get rich. They do it because they care about public policy and scholarly debate.
There is no weaker intellectual argument than one that relies on casting aspersions about the motivations of your political opponents. Because if you delegitimise their opinions by suggesting they are driven by financial incentives, you can avoid confronting the merits of their arguments.
People on both sides of the ideological spectrum are guilty of this, but that does not make it any more convincing. For instance, does anyone really think that the Climate Institute only argues for extensive government regulation to combat climate change because some of their donors might be renewable energy companies who benefit from it? Of course not. Their staff and members are as committed to their chosen green ideology as IPA members and staff are to the philosophy of personal liberty. The same goes for the plethora of left-wing think tanks like Per Capita and the Australia Institute.
If applied consistently, the logic that would require think tanks to disclose their supporters would also ensnare almost anyone engaging in public policy debate, including innocuous organisations such as charities that campaign for Australia to increase its overseas aid.
Past experience has taught us that we have very good reasons to want to protect the privacy of our members. It also reveals exactly what some people have in mind when they call for the confidential details of our members to be freely available.
In 2006, then Labor frontbencher Kelvin Thomson wrote to many of Australia's largest mining and resources companies, demanding to know whether they provided financial support to the IPA or other organisations like it. Thomson was angered by the IPA's failure to endorse drastic government action to address climate change, and 'requested' that any companies who donate to the IPA cease to do so. You can read the letter for yourself here.
This kind of intimidation, from someone who, if not for an ill-advised letter of reference, could have easily been a senior cabinet minister in a federal government, demonstrates the lengths some people are prepared to go to in order to silence those who disagree with them.
Think tanks from across the ideological spectrum are fundamentally different to lobbying firms. For one, we won't simply take up the cause of the highest bidder. We don't pride ourselves on our ability to open doors, nor our skill at milking money out of companies to introduce them to our friends and former colleagues. Think tanks also have values that guide us in everything we do - whether they are social democratic or classically liberal - and everyone who is exposed to our work knows we have a point of view.
This article can be accessed at: http://www.abc.net.au/unleashed