“STOP ACADEMIC CENSORSHIP” screamed the full caps headline on the half-page advert in the Murdoch-owned The Australian newspaper earlier this week.
Referring to the Danish climate change contrarian and US think tank boss Bjorn Lomborg, the advert claimed: “We stand for academic freedom. We stand with Dr Lomborg.”
For those playing catch-up, a research centre based on the methods of Lomborg’s Copenhagen Consensus Center think tank was to be established at the University of Western Australia (UWA).
After it emerged the centre was being funded with $4million of taxpayer cash, academics and students at UWA protested at Lomborg’s apparent lack of academic credentials and the questionable methodology of his centre, particularly when it came to how it dismissed the urgency of cutting greenhouse gas emissions.
In a statement, the university’s Vice Chancellor Paul Johnson said Lomborg’s centre was in an “untenable” position and so he would be handing back the $4 million. Lomborg would no longer take an adjunct professor role at the university.
This, as I wrote on The Guardian, was the cue for Australia’s conservative commentariat to lose the plot. Now the Australian Government has pledged to find a new home for Lomborg.
Placing the advert was the Australian Taxpayers’ Alliance – a private company run from a Sydney apartment unit by its “executive director” Tim Andrews.
The ATA had been fundraising for just over a week on the GoFundMe website with a $22,500 target before the advert was placed in The Australian. The campaign came with a fundraising video voiced by Melbourne-based Christopher Field, who also directed a video project based on work by climate science denialist Lord Christopher Monckton (that project included interviews with a who’s who of climate science misinformers, included Marc Morano, Fred Singer, Donna Laframboise and blogger Anthony Watts).
According to one supporter of the ATA ad campaign, “these climate fascists need to confronted” while another reckoned “green religion bigots” had been exposed. Another suggested there should be more adverts “to challenge the climate hoax”.
Koch Ties Among Bjorn Lomborg’s Fan Network
So what is the Australian Taxpayers’ Alliance and who is Tim Andrews?
Andrews is a graduate of the Koch Associate Program in the US – an effort by the billionaire Republican activist Koch brothers to train activists to push their free market libertarian ideals.
The Koch’s and the foundations they control have pushed millions into organisation that push climate science denial and campaign to block laws cutting greenhouse gas emissions.
Andrews also spent time as an intern at the Koch-linked Cato Institute. In a 2011 article in the right-wing The Spectator magazine, Andrews was described as one of the “masterminds” of Australia’s anti-carbon tax protests of that year.
When Andrews created the stopgillardscarbontax.com website to help drive the 2011 protests, he recruited Cato Institute climate science denialist Patrick Michaels as an advisor.
Michaels, who once admitted that about 40 per cent of the funding for his work came from the fossil fuel industry, is now a member of an academic advisory board at the ATA.
According to its website, the ATA is a “unique grassroots advocacy & activist organisation comprised of over 25,000 members dedicated to standing up for hardworking Australian taxpayers”. The site states:
We oppose the high taxes, wasteful spending, and crippling red tape that are hurting Aussie families and businesses, and provide a voice for everyone who opposes the big-government agenda.
The ATA is a private company registered to a unit address in Sydney. Records provided to the Australian Securities and Investments Commission show two shareholders – Tim Andrews and his mother.
Free market activists
As the ATA was gathering support before its early 2012 launch, its business plan, written by Andrews, explained how the organisation was driven by a particular ideology, rather than what was necessarily good for “hardworking taxpayers”.
According to the business plan, ATA had a goal “to become Australia’s leading and most influential centre-right grassroots advocacy body in order to transform Australia to a new level of free market public policies by focusing on cutting tax, regulation and waste”.
For close watchers of the network of US think tanks backed by the Koch brothers, the language is glaringly familiar.
When the ATA launched its Perth chapter in November 2012, the special guests were climate science denialist bloggers JoNova and David Evans and fellow denier, David Archibald, who has a background in oil and mineral exploration.
The ATA is also listed as a sponsor of the Heartland Institute’s upcoming conference for climate science denialists to be held in Washington DC next month.
From the start, the ATA has engaged with climate science denialists while opposing any plans to put a price on greenhouse gas emissions. It seems to me inconsistent that a group supposedly there to stand up for taxpayers is barracking in favour of a $4million taxpayer-funded grant handed out secretively and arbitrarily with no competitive process and no consultation whatsoever.
Rather than representing “hard working taxpayers” it appears the ATA is instead representing climate science denial and the interests of free market activist billionaires like the Koch brothers.