Could the creation of yet another left-leaning think tank be the answer to Labor's identity crisis? Outspoken union boss Paul Howes certainly hopes so.
A bevy of Labor luminaries will gather in Sydney today to launch The McKell Institute -- a progressive think tank that aims to counter the influence of the right wing Institute of Public Affairs and the Centre for Independent Studies.
Howes will sit on the institute's board alongside former NSW deputy premier John Watkins, ex-Labor Council secretary Michael Easson and longtime ALP spinmeister Bruce Hawker.
"A lot of the other organisations out there, on the Left, you wouldn't identify as social democratic or as progressive moderates in the Labor tradition," he told The Weekend Australian.
Richard Denniss, executive director of The Australia Institute, tells The Power Index, "I'm not threatened by more think tanks being established...My view of think tanks is the more the better."
As for Paul Howes' comments, Denniss says: "He's never returned my calls. I don't know why he feels that way."
John Roskam, executive director of the Institute of Public Affairs, says he thinks the McKell Institute sounds like "a fantastic idea".
"Compared to the rest of the world, the think tank scene is pretty thin in Australia."
Roskam says the existing left-wing think tanks do good work but are too "obsessed" with climate change. He would like to see research into tax policy, industrial relations, welfare reform and Indigenous issues.
The Australia Institute, which describes itself on its website as "the country's most influential progressive think tank", is closer to the ideology of The Greens than Labor. Its former boss Clive Hamilton ran for The Greens in the seat of Higgins when Peter Costello stepped down in 2009.
The Per Capita think tank, established in 2007, is widely seen as a more centrist outfit. Several of Prime Minister Julia Gillard's staff members have been closely associated with it and Gillard herself has praised its work.
The McKell Institute, named after former NSW premier William McKell, will host public lectures and roundtables, and undertake research into issues such as housing affordability.
An issue to watch is whether The McKell Institute makes its financing arrangements public. The Centre for Independent Studies and the Institute for Public Affairs – which have received donations from tobacco and mining companies – have been heavily criticised for not making their financing arrangements public.