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Think Tanks, ‘policy experts’ and ‘ideas for’ education policy making in Australia

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This paper provides a case study of the Centre for Independent Studies (CIS) in Australia with a focus on its education policy work, specifically the report, School funding on a budget (SFoB). CIS is a conservative right wing advocacy think tank, established in 1976 in the aftermath of the Whitlam government’s policy activism, framed by classical liberalism or neoliberalism with a provenance in the political economy of Hayek and Friedman. As such, it is committed to smaller government, individual responsibility and more market driven solutions to social problems. CIS gives more emphasis to academic research than other think tanks of its kind. This paper theorises think tanks as hybrid, boundary spanning organisations that work across academic, media, political and economic fields. An argument is proffered that it is the restructured state, with its loss of research capacity and fast policy making, which has strengthened opportunities for think tank influence across the policy cycle in education. With SFoB, CIS used a political moment, the first Abbott federal government budget focused on ‘budget repair’, to argue a case for reducing government educational expenditure as a percentage of GDP in the long term. That policy moment was used for recommending the abolition of the federal department of education and further dismantling of public schooling. SFoB is shown to be exemplary of the conservative advocacy think tank report genre in its usage of ‘mediatized’ language, surface accoutrements of academic research, and user focus. SFoB is a manifestation of what can be seen as the ideas for policy work of CIS, dressed up as research.

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  1. Bob would like to thank the two anonymous referees for their helpful comments on an earlier version of this paper. He would also like to thank Greg Thompson, Glenn Savage and Sam Sellar for their constructive comments on the paper as well.

  2. I debated this report with Dr Buckingham on Radio National’s Life Matters Program anchored by Natasha Mitchell, shortly after its release on 30 April, 2014, just prior to the ‘tough’, ‘deficit-reducing’ and widely criticised May, 2014 Abbott/Hockey federal budget.

  3. Dr Buckingham has a PhD from Macquarie University Special Education Centre on the use of phonics in the teaching of reading.

  4. The new Coalition Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, has indicated the government might rethink this rejection of the full Gonski funding package.


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Correspondence to Bob Lingard.

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Lingard, B. Think Tanks, ‘policy experts’ and ‘ideas for’ education policy making in Australia. Aust. Educ. Res. 43, 15–33 (2016).

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