Judith Neilson Institute’s plans for a “massive vanity project” – in the form of an international prize of 10 million. USD for a number of years for ideas – was the drop for the billionaire philanthropist.
Judith Neilson, who funded the institute to the tunes of $ 100 million in 2018put kibosh on plans for an award as what was her original idea blew out to include events, conferences and international speakers.
Last week, the institute appointed two new directors Donor’s daughter Beau Neilson and her lawyer Daniel Appleby – after the four independent directors resigned in protest of plans to change the direction of the institute.
The institute’s chief executive, Mark Ryan, is negotiating his exit with lawyers following an altercation with Neilson and her allies on the board. Ryan has declined a request for comment.
Sources told Guardian Australia that Neilson believed the concept of the award had changed. She “blew on it”.
Sources close to Neilson say the board was made aware from the start that the patron would stop funding if she did not like the department’s direction, as she supplemented it up each year. She also had the power to change directors for the same reason.
In 2018, when the information on the funding of the institute was first published, the message stated: “Judith Neilson will be the patron of the institute, but she will not play any direct role in its management or programs. It will be an independent and partisan institution.”
“As an avid consumer of news, I recognize the need to support evidence-based journalism and the pursuit of truth in an increasingly complex and confusing world,” Neilson said at the time.
“I am pleased to support the establishment of this institute and I will be looking for experienced journalists and other experts to lead and guide its work.”
Initial grants included: ABC for a media literacy program across remote communities; Australian Financial Review for Reopening a Southeast Asian Office in Jakarta; Guardian Australia’s Pacific Project and Ngaarda Media, a local radio station in Roebourne, Western Australia, to support news coverage.
When Neilson ignored the idea award, Ryan and the Independent Directors – former New South Wales Chief Justice James Spigelman, the Australian’s Editor – in – Chief, Paul Kelly, the Free TV Chief, Bridget Fair, and the former Director of the State Library by Victoria Kate Torney – protested.
Tensions over the board’s independence led to the resignation of the four directors, who maintained that independence from the source of funding was crucial.
Ryan, a former adviser to Prime Minister Paul Keating and recently Westfield founder Frank Lowy, is also on the board of the Lowy Institute along with Spigelman.
Like the JNI, the Lowy Institute is an independent, non-partisan organization, but the founder and benefactor, Sir Frank Lowy, and two of his sons, David and Steven, are on the board.
The four independent directors felt they were overseeing a grant, training and event program based on specific criteria, and they were unhappy when Neilson told them her family wanted to be more involved in decision-making.
Neilson, who has broad philanthropic interests and owns the White Rabbit art gallery in Sydney’s Chippendale, will refine her vision of funding social change journalism before appointing a new team.
The Neilson Family Trust declined to comment.