Think tanks as lobbyists — put them on the list. When the Special Minister of State Senator John Faulkner gets around to reviewing the effectiveness of the federal lobbyists register he might like to consider these words from Europe’s anti-fraud commissioner, Siim Kallas:

Originally, think tanks were conceived as “universities without teaching,” But they also differ on other points: they have no students, and they are not subjected to the system of peer review that academia uses to promote diversity of thought and scientific rigor. “Normal” academic institutions are expected to conduct their research first and draw their conclusions second.

Some would argue that policy-driven US think tanks have reversed this process: “conclude, then justify.” In the US, think tanks have dramatically grown in size and influence during the past 100 years. Their numbers increased from 8 in 1910 to over 1,000 today! Today, modern think tanks are tax-exempt, political idea factories, with huge budgets. In the US, the top 20 conservative think tanks now spend more money than all of the “soft money” contributions to the Republican Party.

In fact, by being outside the scope of US lobby regulation, US think tanks may be enjoying an unfair comparative advantage.

Mr Kallas was critical of the fact that while European think tanks were included in the EU’s definition of lobbyists, only one had chosen to join the voluntary Brussels register of interest representatives. He argued that while most think tanks did no direct lobbying whatsoever, and would never accept to prepare a report on behalf of a corporate sponsor, the influence obtained through their indirect methods seemed to be a highly appreciated tool. “As a recent survey found,” he said, “75% of corporate interest representatives declares spending less than 25% of their “public affairs” budget on direct lobbying. Therefore, missing the indirect avenues would mean missing an important segment of the market.”

Forecasters very wrong again. This is getting to be a habit: the economic forecasters were very wrong again with their predictions about what is happening to inflation. The regular Bloomberg survey of the predictions of 15 economists on what the quarterly producer price index would show had a median forecast of a 0.6%  rise. The actual Australian Bureau of Statistics figure for the March quarter released this morning was a fall of 0.4%!

The decrease of 0.4% in the final (Stage 3) index reflected a fall of 1.0% in the price of domestically produced items, and a rise of 3.9% in the price of imported items. The domestic component decreased due to price falls in building construction (-1.6%), petroleum refining (-10.0%) and bakery product manufacturing (-7.2%). These decreases were partially offset by price rises in electricity, gas and water (+2.0%), and other agriculture (+4.3%). The imports component increased due to price rises for industrial machinery and equipment manufacturing (+6.9%), motor vehicle and part manufacturing (+4.4%), photographic and scientific equipment manufacturing (+13.5%) and tobacco product manufacturing (+23.2%). These increases were partially offset by price falls in dairy product manufacturing (-35.7%) and basic chemical manufacturing (-48.2%).

Hoons the current catch cry. Motoring hoons seem to be the current law-and-order pre-occupation of State Governments as if young people driving cars at high speeds and in a dangerous fashion was some kind of new development. The experience of the South Australian Minister for Road Safety Tom Koutsantonis is evidence enough that hoons have long been with us.

Mr Koutsantonis, who was sworn in just over a month ago, is the youngest member of the SA Cabinet and the disclosure that he has been fined more than 30 times since 1994, mostly for speeding, is proving more than a little embarrassing for Premier Mike Rann. Mr Rann says he will not stand Mr Koutsantonis down but has issued a warning. “He must never ever offend again,” he said. “People make mistakes and I’ve told him that he cannot re-offend so that’s not negotiable, but I think it’s important to admit one’s mistakes in the past in order to do the right thing in the future.”

The Minister has accumulated $10,000 in fines for speeding, running red lights and talking on his mobile phone while driving. He also lost his licence for three months.

Peter Fray

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