WHEN speaking to script, Australia’s new conservative Prime Minister Tony Abbott will say that he accepts that human emissions of greenhouse gases are having an impact on the world’s climate.
Yet the Liberal Party leader appears to be surrounding himself with ministers and advisers who reject the science of human-caused climate change, with the most outspoken anti-science advocate being Maurice Newman, recently appointed as chairman of the Prime Minister’s Business Advisory Council.
According to Newman, the current government’s two key climate science agencies – the CSIRO and the Bureau of Meteorology – “continue to propagate the myth of anthropological climate change”, as he wrote last month in the Australian Financial Review.
Writing in The Australian newspaper in July, Newman described the science of human-caused climate change as a “smokescreen” for “vested interests” and criticised US President Barack Obama for continuing to “champion discredited research”.
Last November Newman, a former stockbroker and chairman of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, was again dripping with hatred for climate scientists and “believers”, who he described as being part of a global throng of “fundamentalists” who had “collected hundreds of billions of dollars from naive governments that adopted their faith”.
Since entering Government in September, Tony Abbott has already abolished Australia’s publicly-funded Climate Commission, re-iterated his “blood oath” to repeal the country’s carbon price legislation and has pushed on with attempts to scrap the $10 billion Clean Energy Finance Corporation. The CEFC has made a reported $500 million in loans since July which have attracted a further $1.6 billion in private investment to projects it has backed.
Maurice Newman is unlikely to approve of those loans which have gone to wind farm projects, given that he has described wind farms as “grossly inefficient, extremely expensive, socially inequitable, a danger to human health, environmentally harmful, divisive for communities, [and] a blot on the landscape”.
But putting a climate science denier and anti-environmentalist in a key advisory position is nothing new for the Liberal party. In opposition, the party’s business advisory group on climate policy included two high-profile climate science sceptics in the form of business figures Hugh Morgan and Dick Warburton. Contempt for climate science and climate scientists is a quality which Tony Abbott has long tolerated among his closest allies.
Former Liberal Senator and powerbroker Nick Minchin, an outspoken climate science denier, was key to Abbott gaining enough support to oust leader Malcolm Turnbull during a bitter leadership contest in 2009. Turnbull’s support for a carbon price was the issue that sparked the contest. Minchin once told the ABC that he believed environmentalism was a cover story for socialists to “de-industrialise the western world” (while no longer a senator, Minchin is reportedly in the running for the job of Australian Consul-General in New York).
Earlier in 2009, Abbott gave a remarkable interview on climate science and policy to ABC Lateline presenter Tony Jones. During the interview, Abbott was asked if he had read the most recent report on climate change from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
He said he hadn’t, suggesting that he was a time-poor politician who had to “rely on briefings”. But he then admitted he had found time to read and publicly cite the book Heaven and Earth, written by climate science sceptic and mining entrepreneur Professor Ian Plimer. Abbott said there were “certainly some reputable scientists… who don’t accept that the most important element in climate change, to the extent that it’s occurring, is man-made carbon dioxide.” In reality, about 97 per cent of published research by climate scientists would disagree with Abbott, as would every national science academy in the developed world.
These days, Abbott is more careful with his language but his appointments to cabinet and his policy positions say much about the extent of his concern for the risks of human caused climate change. At least six members of his 18-strong cabinet have in recent years expressed scepticism over whether fossil fuel burning can cause climate change.
His minister for Social Services, Kevin Andrews, has said the “jury is still out” on whether humans are causing climate change. Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, the only woman in Abbott’s cabinet, wrote a column in 2011 in which she picked quotes from contrarian scientists to argue that climate change might not be caused by humans.
During a scorching, record-breaking heatwave earlier this year, the now Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss ridiculed the notion that heat waves and bushfires could be linked to human-caused climate change.
Employment Minister Senator Eric Abetz chose a speech to Young Liberals in South Australia last year to characterise environmental concerns over acid rain, ozone depletion, pesticide use and climate change as “Chicken Little-type hysteria”.
Not in Abbott’s cabinet is Senator Cory Bernardi, who does not believe that greenhouse gas emissions cause global warming. Bernardi, who helped establish “grassroots” groups to fight Australia’s carbon price legislation, had been Abbott’s shadow parliamentary secretary until he was forced to resign last year over remarks linking same-sex marriage to bestiality.
Even Tony Abbott’s lifelong Catholic spiritual mentor, Cardinal George Pell, is a climate change sceptic. In 2004, Sydney Archbishop Pell told a Catholic business leaders summit in Florida that “some of the hysteric and extreme claims about global warming are also a symptom of pagan emptiness”. In 2011, Pell delivered a lecture for the UK-based Global Warming Policy Foundation which climate scientists said was ““dreadful”, “utter rubbish” and “flawed”.
Later this month, another Abbott mentor, Australia’s previous Liberal Prime Minister John Howard, will also deliver a lecture to the GWPF – titled One Religion Is Enough: How Alarmists Have Hijacked The Climate Debate. It is likely not simply a coincidence that Howard has adopted the rhetoric of Tony Abbott’s new business advisor. Newman counts Howard as a close friend and, as if to close the circle, it was Howard who appointed Newman to be the chairman of the ABC.
Given Australia has just experienced its hottest 12 month period on record, after recording its hottest year on record, after the world experienced its hottest decade on record, and as a report says Australia is more exposed to climate change impacts than any other advanced economy, perhaps it’s time Tony Abbott cast aside the ageing anti-science advisors in his ranks.