Michael Hintze
Michael Hintze with former senator Richard Alston at a gala dinner, 2008 (Image: Australia Day Foundation)

Little known Australian hedge fund owner Sir Michael Hintze, whose role in conservative climate politics Inq detailed this week, has made a practice of signing up senior Liberal politicians looking for a life after official office. 

Apart from his patronage of former prime minister Tony Abbott — last heard from denying the reality of climate change at a speech to a leading US free market think tank — Hintze has given roles in his hedge fund company CQS to senior Howard-era conservatives Richard Alston and Alexander Downer.

Both moved into their positions after completing stints as Australian high commissioner to London.

Hintze is a central figure in the ultimate power grouping of UK and Australian conservatives Conservative Friends of Australia, which brings together Downer, former PM John Howard as well as the Liberal Party’s polling, strategy and dark arts guru Sir Lynton Crosby (founder of Crosby Textor).

Their UK counterparts include former Tory leader William Hague.

Hintze and Abbott have refused to disclose why Hintze picked up the tab for the then-member for Warringah’s 2016 travel to, and accommodation in, New York and London. Whatever benefits there might be for Hintze, for Abbott a relationship with the best-connected Australian conservative in London can open doors. 

Since losing the prime ministership in 2015, Abbott appears to have found a friend in veteran Eurosceptic Daniel Hannan, a founder of the European Research Group, the parliamentary group of Tories supporting Brexit and Boris Johnson.

Hannan’s Alliance of European Conservatives and Reformists has paid for Abbott’s visits to Europe and Abbott is on the advisory board of another Hannan-linked think tank, the Initiative for Free Trade.

To complete the circle, Hannan was a founder of the Vote Leave campaign which in turn was financed by Hintze.

Fabulously wealthy hedge fund owners such as Hintze have been heavy backers of Brexit Tories because, it is argued, they want to be rid of what they regard as Brussels’ over-regulation.

Free market think tanks in the UK led by Hintze’s powerful Institute for Economic Affairs have argued the case for Brexit and also for scepticism on climate change, which in turn is linked to rising populism.

Tony Abbott recently brought those emerging themes together in a speech at conservative US think tank the Heritage Foundation. He denied any link between climate change and Australia’s bushfire crisis, while heaping praise on US President Donald Trump and Scott Morrison. 

The Heritage Foundation spruiks itself as the most potent of the US free market think tanks, promoting “the principles of free enterprise, limited government, individual freedom [and] traditional American values”.

It is awash with cash and, like think tanks around the world, it seeks to write policy for governments to enact. It claims Trump’s 2018 budget adopted 64% of its policy prescriptions. 

The power of secretly-funded free market think tanks around the world exposes holes in parliamentary democracy and the weakness of disclosure laws. It also lays bare an overarching conflict: while championing the values of democracy and the free market, they resist full transparency or external accountability.

And it raises a critical question: who really owns conservative governments? 

Peter Fray

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