Peter Newman

11 June – Leading environmental scientist Peter Newman  has blasted The Australian newspaper for misrepresenting him in an article that appeared today (11 June) on federal government funding for schools as part of the stimulus package.

Professor Newman, a board member of Infrastructure Australia and Professor of Sustainability at Curtin University in Perth, told TFE in an interview late Thursday that he was extremely dismayed with The Australian’s representations of his comments and its campaign against the government in general.

The article was headlined: “Adviser slams $14.7 billion school cash as a ‘missed opportunity’.”

It said: “One of Kevin Rudd’s hand-picked Infrastructure Australia board members has slammed the federal government’s $14.7 billion education revolution program, claiming it has missed a generational opportunity to build environmentally sustainable schools across the nation.”

Professor Newman said: “They blew out everything I said. The headline, talking about slamming the government, I didn’t say that.”

In recent weeks the federal government’s tightly scheduled rollout of funding for schools development has been criticised by construction advisers and suppliers because it appears sustainability is missing from the agenda and because there was too little time to implement anything but outdated style building projects, according to industry sources.

But Professor Newman told TFE that he blamed the states for evading their climate change responsibilities and for having no ready sustainable framework prepared for their schools development program and that his discussion of the difficulties of this was misrepresented in the article by The Australian.

[See the whole story here.]

In fact he supported what the federal government was doing, Professor Newman said.

“It’s great, what they are doing. It’s the states that are the problem.

“For years they have been going down a certain way of assessing schools and what they need and the green agenda has not been part of that and suddenly they get money and apply the frameworks that have been set for some time.

“The federal government is saying we want a green agenda to be part of this funding but clearly it’s not.”

“They can’t actually force them to do it and they want it to be done quickly and the states weren’t literally ready and they fall back on the old ways of doing this because the states are not taking climate change seriously.

“The blame has got to be directed at the states not the program.”

Was the time-frame for rolling out the development funding reasonable?

“What’s reasonable when it comes to the environment and global climate change?

“The only reasonable thing to do is to act dramatically,” Professor Newman said.

In a statement issued in response to The Australian article Green Building Council of  Australia chief executive, Romilly Madew, said the federal government’s schools package included a sustainability agenda.

In its $14.7 billion stimulus package for schools, the federal government committed that “any new [school] building will be designed to maximise energy efficiency including insulation, energy efficient solar hot water (where appropriate), energy efficient lighting, energy efficient glazing, energy efficient heating and cooling, and a water tank.”

“We urge the Australian Government, through the Coordinator General, to work
with the states to ensure sustainability measures are integral to their spending on
schools, and that transparent reporting is mandatory,” Ms Madew said.

Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme

Professor Newman said the article in The Australian was part of a wider campaign to attack the government and climate change measures by the newspaper – especially on the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, which he said it was a mistake to oppose.

“They are running a campaign against the government and it’s not a campaign I want to be part of. They are trying to parody everything the government wants to do including the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme,” he said.

This was “playing right into the hands of the Greens who are making merry with it,” Professor Newman said.

“I think it’s a very important  scheme. It’s taking us from business as usual to a significant reduction and from that position.”

It was also very important that Australia be part of a world shift to that new position.

“If we continue to go down the track of idealistic statements that the Greens are making – that it is worse than nothing – that’s ludicrous.

“Anyone who has been involved in climate issues as long as I have – for 30 years – would realise how dramatically better it is to pursue the CPRS rather than the do nothing option which is what will happen.”

“The science is very scary but what is more scary is if at the end of this period we have achieved nothing and we say to our grandchildren we could have put in place a scheme but we didn’t do anything.

“I am very wary of The Australian and their attacks on what the government is trying to do and it’s framed as if they are being green.”

More telling he said was the newspaper’s generous coverage of the climate sceptic Ian Plimer’s recent book Heaven and Earth, despite the book’s dismissal by Australia’s most eminent scientists.

Criticism of Rudd Government misplaced
Professor Newman said suggestions that the Rudd Government had failed to deliver strong enough action on climate change was misplaced.

As well as the CPRS, he said, the federal government had also put in place a budget for urban train travel that was revolutionary.

“Infrastructure Australia has produced a budget for restructuring the country’s transport that is radical and revolutionary.

“They have $5 billion for urban rail which is quite historic.

“The federal government has never given money for public transport…it’s a dramatic step forward.”

POST SCRIPT

Since posting this story The Australian has supplied a note to say that Professor Newman had not lodged any complaint to The Australian reporter. WA Editor of The Australian, Tony Barrass, told TFE that after listening to transcripts of the interview with Professor Newman he did not believe there was any “grey area”  in the reporting.

tperinotto@thefifthestate.com.au

See what Crikey  says about this issue, our story – and The Australian in general