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THE BUMPY ROAD TO THINK TANK TRANSPARENCY IN AUSTRALIA

Rosie Williams


During the week I received a response to my enquiry to the ATO requesting a list of Approved Research Institutes (some of which are think tanks like the IPA) however, as you will see from the response, the problem of think tank transparency in Australia has a lot of hurdles to overcome before we will be in a position to understand who is funding them.

Australian tax law prevents the disclosure of organisations with Deductible Gift Recipient status which would presumably affect transparency regarding Approved Research Institutes that have DGR status. I'm not sure why I was not provided with a list of ARI's that do not have DGR unless every ARI in Australia also has DGR, thus preventing disclosure. Given the secrecy provisions, who knows? See the thread below for a discussion of the issues surrounding think tank transparency.

ABC editorial policies should be amended to require transparency/disclosure of any vested interest financiers of advocacy/policy 'think tanks' for their mouthpieces: IPA, CIS, ASPI, Sydney Institute, Australia Institute etc. Public has a right to know who is paying the piper. httpst.dYWERpbwHx

- Quentin Dempster (@QuentinDempster) July 23, 2018

International debate leans toward expecting greater transparency from think tanks. Transparify recently released its annual report, rating think tank transparency around the globe, announcing that overall, funding transparency is improving.

How has think tank transparency evolved in 2018? Growth is the outlook according to our newest report, yet there is still significant room for improvement. Read the 2018 Transparify global report to find out more: https://t.co/SQPBDqOHLB pic.twitter.com/Z5NnNCjdAt

- Transparify (@transparify) July 17, 2018

A couple of Australian think tanks made the 4 star rating but the IPA does not rate a mention presumably because Transparify's report names the organisations high on transparency as opposed to those who receive less than 3 stars.

Interestingly, the charity regulator (which does not decide who gets DGR- that is carried out by the ATO) has argued in the past for secrecy provisions to be removed for better public education and policy analysis. Now that the IPA-linked Garry Johns is running the ACNC it will be interesting to see what the ACNC's first 5 year report which is due this month has to say on these matters.

Hi Rosie,

Thank you for your email. Please find below our response - apologies for the delay in getting back to you. You're welcome to attribute the below to an ATO spokesperson. We have also included further details on relevant parts of the law as they relate to Approved Research Institutions.

Please let me know if we can help any further.

Unfortunately we are unable to provide a list of organisations that are endorsed as Deductible Gift Recipients (DGRs) by the ATO under the Approved Research Institution (ARI) category.

The reason for this is that unless a specific exception applies, taxation officers are prohibited from disclosing information about the affairs of organisations that is not publicly available (see Division 355 of Schedule 1 of the Tax Administration Act 1953).

The DGR category that an organisation is endorsed under is not publicly available information.

Please note, an ARI may be a charity, an entity that is not a charity, or an institution, association or organisation that is part of an entity. In order to be eligible for endorsement by the ATO as a DGR it must be approved as an ARI by one of three possible approving authorities - namely, CSIRO, the National Health and Medical Research Council or the Department of Education and Training's Research and Higher Education Infrastructure Branch.

Further detail on the Australian Business Register and the ARI category:

Whilst the Australian Business Registrar must enter in the Australian Business Register certain information about DGRs that have an ABN (see s30-229 of the Income Tax Assessment Act 1997(ITAA 97)), that does not include information as to whether the organisation has been endorsed by the ATO as a DGR in the ARI category (item 3.1.1, s30-40 ITAA 1997).

Kind regards


While the list of ARI's is not publicly available information (much less who funds them), some DGR data is publicly available and while that does not include Item 3 organisations (ARI's), it does include the funds they create and register with the ACNC as a requirement of registering as an ARI.

I have combined the Department of Industry DGR list with ACNC charities data in AusGov so am able to provide the financial information lodged with the ACNC of Australian think tanks which have DGR status although it should be noted that organisations including the IPA have additional corporations receiving funds separately and in addition to their charitable trust. I do not have access to information on the ASIC registry but IndependentAustralia recently looked into the IPA's finances here.


ABN Name DGR Date
49008627727 INSTITUTE OF PUBLIC AFFAIRS LIMITED 30 Mar 2006
33886902896 The Trustee for Institute of Public Affairs Research Trust 22 Apr 2008


Australian think tanks:

The Menzies institute appears to have DGR status according to ABR but this information does not appear to be part of the open dataset.


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