Revealed: radical escalation in US war machine funding for Australian Government “think tank” ASPI

by | Nov 24, 2020 | Government

Scott Morrison says Australia’s position has been wrongly interpreted as siding with the US over China. Yet two of the main funders of the Federal Government-owned think-tank ASPI, a constant critic of China, are the US State Department, whose secretary Mike Pompeo has led the charge of global anti-China sentiment, and foreign weapons makers. Marcus Reubenstein investigates.

The Australia-China relationship has hit new lows, with China’s ban on a range of imports threatening $20 billion of Australian exports. However, just in the past few days Prime Minister Scott Morrison has said Australia’s position has been wrongly interpreted as siding with the United States over China, and that his government would not make a “binary choice” between the superpowers.

Which makes the funding of the Federal Government-owned think-tank the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, a constant critic of China, even more curious. Two of its biggest sources of funding are the US State Department, whose secretary Mike Pompeo has led the charge of global anti-China sentiment, and foreign weapons makers.

ASPI’s annual report, which has just been tabled in Parliament, shows that funding from the US government skyrocketed by 367% over the past financial year alone – to $1,369,773.22.

Moreover, the limited disclosure buried on page 157 of the report suggests all the funds were in some way directed to research projects attacking China. The US payments primarily came through the State Department.

The mother country also tips in

Other foreign governments made significant contributions, with the bulk of their funding contributing to ASPI programs that were either directly or indirectly linked to reports critical of China. The UK was ASPI’s second biggest foreign benefactor, contributing a total of $455,260. The governments of Japan, Israel, and Netherlands and NATO poured in another $66,072.

In the 2019-20 financial year, foreign (non-US) government contributions to ASPI were up more than 30 times on the previous year.

Weapons makers front and centre

ASPI’s loyal supporters in the military industrial complex once again stepped up. Lockheed Martin, a continuous sponsor since 2004, provided $25,000, while its US counterpart Northrop Grumman paid $67,500.

The French did their part sending over $63,300 from Thales and Naval Group.

Department of Defence captured by foreign weapons makers Thales, BAE

Thales was awarded the contract to supply the Australian Army with Hawkei off-road light military vehicles in circumstances seriously questioned by the Australian National Audit Office. Completely ignoring that controversy, in September ASPI produced a report praising the Hawkei’s capabilities.

Former Defence Minister Dr Brendan Nelson, a paid advisor to the Thales Group from 2015 until December 2019, was appointed to the ASPI Council earlier this year.

Majority French-government owned Naval Group won the contract for Australia’s controversial $80 billion future submarine project.

Murder, corruption, bombings – the company at centre of Australia’s submarine deal

In February 2016, ASPI’s executive director Peter Jennings wrote a glowing opinion piece on the Naval Group submarines under the headline “Vive Australia’s choice of a French submarine”.

Two months earlier the French government bestowed France’s highest national decoration, the National Order of Légion d’Honneur, on Jennings.

Annual report tabled late

The publication of ASPI’s annual report – more than a month late – and its late tabling in the Senate by Defence Minister Linda Reynolds ensured ASPI’s finances could not be scrutinized by the Senate Estimates Committee, which investigates how government agencies spend public money.

While the front end focused on the supposed gloomy news that ASPI’s core Defence Department funding had dropped to an all-time low of just 34% of total revenue, the reality is that the federal government is lining ASPI’s coffers at an alarmingly increasing rate, handing it a record number of contracts over the past financial year.

Defence Minister Linda Reynolds, who had a stint working with giant weapons maker Raytheon and co-founded the WA Defence Industry Council before entering politics, moved into her portfolio 18 months ago. In that time ASPI has filed two sets of annual accounts that show total government funding has risen more than 50%, from just over $5 million to $7.6 million.

Linda Reynolds

Moreover, under Minister Linda Reynolds the total value of government contracts awarded to ASPI has leapt by 126% over the past year.

ASPI funding

In their preface to the annual report Jennings and his Chairman retired Army chief Kenneth Gillespie, wrote, “We would like to thank the Minister for Defence, Senator the Hon Linda Reynolds CSC, for her continuing close personal engagement and support.”

That close personal engagement between the Defence Minister and ASPI’s executive director extends back two decades when both were chiefs of staffers to ministers in the Howard government.

Tracking its own finances

While ASPI’s financial statements are audited by the Australian National Audit Office, ASPI is not required to provide a detailed breakdown of its income and expenditure.

ASPI’s audit committee comprises three people with an independent chair. Its members are ASPI Council member Air Vice Marshall (Ret’d) Margaret Staib, and Geoff Brown, chief audit executive of the Department of Defence. The chair is Kate Freebody, a director of accounting consultancy FreebodyCogent Pty. Ltd., whose major client appears to be the Department of Defence. FreebodyCogent does not have a website or any published phone numbers or contact details.

According to Department of Finance records, this year her company was awarded $5.86 million in management advisory contracts with the Defence Department.

Zero disclosure on ASPI’s financial beneficiaries

One key area where ASPI has zero transparency is the money it spends commissioning reports and hiring outside people, including academics and journalists.

Last financial year it spent $2,940,454 on contractors and suppliers, yet there is no public disclosure on who it hired and what they were paid. These contributors were paid from funds mostly derived from Australian taxpayers and foreign governments.

One ASPI contributor is federal MP Dave Sharma, who produced a report for ASPI while running as a Liberal candidate for the seat of Wentworth in the 2019 election.

ASPI has 18 Visiting Fellows who, it says, “produce a range of written analyses, contribute to ASPI program areas and provide mentoring for staff”.

Among them are ABC journalist Stan Grant; former journalist and ASIO adviser John Garnaut; former deputy NSW Police Commissioner Nick Kaldas; former federal Labor politicians Stephen Loosley and David Feeney; and former Australian Signals Directorate chief Simeon Gilding.

In August last year the Australian Signals Directorate, the nation’s international spy agency, paid the think tank $99,354.85—an amount ASPI did not report anywhere.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Marcus Reubenstein

Marcus Reubenstein

Marcus Reubenstein is an independent journalist with more than twenty years of media experience. He spent five years at Seven News in Sydney and seven years at SBS World News where he was a senior correspondent. As a print journalist he has contributed business stories to most of Australia’s major news outlets. Internationally he has worked on assignments for CNN, Eurosport and the Olympic Games Broadcasting Service. He is the founder and editor of China-focussed business website, APAC News. You can follow Marcus on Twitter @ReubensteinApac.

20 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Just like to clarify one thing, Marcus. You call ASPI a government-owned entity. Is that correct or is it part-owned by the Federal Government?

    • Avatar

      It was established by the Commonwealth and given that it has multiple financiers, its owned by no one.

  2. Avatar

    How many smokescreens can Morrison run before they become a suffocating blanket?

    As for Dave Sharma’s flippant comment regarding ‘Independents’ and ‘voices of’ campaigns, only time will tell that he is not on the best side of history.

  3. Avatar

    I fully support the exposure of ASPI in this way. But can anyone tell me one think tank in Australia that is not fairly predictable in its biases? One uses up so many grains of salt.

    Sure, Morrison will remain gender-fluid, as between the US and China. But, when push comes to shove, we should still go with the former. And that’s what the voters think too, according to Lowy poll.

    Being a China-appeaser is just one of the many things which makes Albanese a non-starter.

  4. Avatar

    Two organisationis, ASPI and the US Studies Centre have enormous representation on the ABC. Often, especially with ASPI, you are not told about the panelists role at that organisation. Anti-China commentary passes through largely without challenge. We, as a country, have been militarised and this practice is expanding.

    • Avatar

      US Studies Centre often has a legitimate role in media as a relatively neutral and academic source of analysis related to the US; ASPI is given similar latitude but unclear what its expertise is outside of defence industry?

  5. Avatar

    Foreign political and commercial interference subsidised by taxpayers. Only the Liberal Party could engineer something so corrupt.

  6. Avatar

    Interesting to learn the names of persons that do not give a damn about the damage to Australia’s economic ties with China.
    Also, there seems little concern by patriotic federal government ministers of the volume of political interference by the nation renowned for its illegal military invasions and mass slaughter of civilians in the Arab States over the past 20 years, Yes, the USA.
    America’s military intelligence outfit barks and Australia’s Federal government ministers perk up their attention to the excessive external interference in our national political affairs, which, according to the Australian Electoral Act 1918 becomes a criminal action.
    https://www.nfplaw.org.au/disclosureobligations
    (One must read read the content contained in the link reference to establish Australia’s current leadership government obligations and this same political leadership party’s digression and or diversion to circumnavigate around Australia’s Electoral Act 1918. this includes any revisions to this Act.)
    By acquainting one’s self to the full context of the Australian Electoral Act, only then will you learn of the dark side of the L/NP coalition government in its covert dealings.
    The foreign or external to Australia donations to the ASPI is a necessary and distinct matter for concern.

    Very little has been published about Thales Group (largely owned by the French government) and their questionable success in winning such as the $80 Billion dollars Australian Defense contract; to provide Australia’s new fleet of Submarines, along with the contract for supply; of the above referred to military vehicle fleet… by this sinister Thales Group.

    One should beware of France and its poisonous French frogs, with their equivalence to that of Australia’s introduced feral reptile known to us as the poisonous and hugely obnoxious Cane-Toads.

    Given the non-disclosures by the ASPI this is suggestive of much cloak and dagger goings-on and or engagements therein, through and by this current L/NP coalition party leadership government.
    One must be aware that Scott Morrison would not have any clue about such goings on as he is little other than an obedient slave to America’s influences, also that of their huge mining entities seeking gain control of Australia’s rare earth mineral resources.
    (A detriment to Australia’s economics and its injury to our annual GDP.)

    This same claim is relevant and should apply from the commencement of the John W Howard role as Australia’s Prime Minister, Howard (and Alexander Downer) his partner in their secret intrigues and their treacheries engaged in against the best interests of the Australian people.

    • Avatar

      There is so much rot today that can be traced back to Howard…

  7. Avatar

    Interesting but no discussion of Sydney Univesity amateur US Studies Centre

  8. Avatar

    Sorry, but why was my comment deleted? This whole article is about the offshore funding of ASPI, and when I asked why the article hadn’t posted a disclaimer about the offshore funders of the author’s news site, it was removed?

  9. Avatar

    ASPI looks suspiciously more like a creation to channel US defence interests and White House policy while being funded mostly by the Australian government; economic form of astro turfing being paid by one state to promote your own sector’s interests in another state?

    Possibly no coincidence that the IPA which channels radical right libertarian socio economic idoeology from the US, former head Des Moore had been with ASPI; another arm of (LNP) government policy development (or fait accompli?) to match US interests or ideology.

    Further ‘The governments of Japan, Israel, and Netherlands and NATO poured in another $66,072’, compared with other donors modest, but involving these nations and NATO is more about appearances or credibility and broad support?

    As they say in the states on think tanks ‘follow the money’ if you can, plus how the funding was raised.

  10. Avatar

    I fully respect your shining a light on this Marcus. Yet ASPI is doing an important job of its own in investigating serious geopolitical issues such as concentration camps in Xinjiang. They have to get their money from somewhere. That the vast majority of their funding comes from liberal democracies is not only unsurprising, it’s admirable in a way. Yet the tone of this piece suggests something more sinister, and in doing so, directly supports the narrative of the Chinese Communist Party. Is there a balance between forcing transparency (a good thing) and destroying credibility?

    • Avatar

      “Doing an important Job,” are you serious? ASPI and it’s brothers Atlantic Council and Council on Foreign Relations have been established primarily to concoct security threats for the purpose of diverting citizen taxation to defense spending on armament and ordinance manufactured by those who fund the concoction of security threats. Why else would the war profiteers be involved. ASPIs Uyghur concoction is beyond a joke equivalent to claiming that TAFE is a detention indoctrination camp, all based on looking at a few spy satelite photos provided by those who also are deception financiers. They can’t even be bothered to visit China to see for themselves. Seriously pathetic. Yet you have to admit it is a very successful strategy for all the financiers have won major defense contracts here and OS. More resources for foreign corporate war pigs and less for health and aged care…we live in a beautiful world.

      • Avatar

        Do you think ASPI is concocting security threats or responding to them? Have you seen what happens when independent researchers try to go to Xinjiang to do research?

    • Avatar

      Many other international entities and/or media have investigated and highlighted Xinjiang from several years ago, ASPI presents as if they did? However, ASPI has hardly been timely or prescient, and have used this issue as a new reason not to trust China or highlight that the Chinese Communist Party has influence in China (what a revelation!)? The language seems more about firing up ageing voters and allowing the Australian government to follow White House instructions and/or think tank policy that gives some PR leverage against China?

  11. Avatar

    Marcus’ article was well-researched and to the point. I wonder why MSM does not report his authenticated findings.

  12. Avatar

    Jennings isa nothing burger,trying to defend murders are proof this insolent deplorable unanzac/nazi strategists are only in it for debted economics,substandard ethics of fascim which contadics all fields of national security where our main 40.5% trade importer in our aistrasion region is supposed to be suppressed for its chosen few in frankfurt?
    Wisen up ye all,this vile zealout insolent punk does not represent Australias best interests but rather unconstituates:

  13. Avatar

    No future in fascism nor the lgbtq,you khazar nazis lost,get over it,you will not control the pacific long as I breath the air it will remain part of the commonwealths whom I may add successfully with the communists defeat your incests!
    saspffs;

  14. Avatar

    That was then,this is now,there will be justice and they the cowards responable for blatant murder of unarmed civilians dealt with swiftly yet effectively,no ifs no buts,there is the wporldwide taxpayers rippoff incentives from these vastly underperforming corporations,whoms representitives only follow the rule of evil not the commonwealth nor constituates where ever that may be,however the ultimate price for failing to address the real enemy of mankind can only lead to out right desolation particullary come push to shove and have no where near the ability to defeat science
    not the truth,nor constituates,nor justice,seems to me there is a serious national risk to all Australians sure ain’t china

    nor russia,personally Most of the commonsense world in the real know are gratefull CCCP stopped the vile incestry:

    Got a problem with the truth,geta sex change or grow a real set,feminists!

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