In yet again another moment straight out of Utopia, or at least April Fool’s Day, Environment Minister Greg Hunt has been named “The Best Minister in the World” at the World Government Summit in Dubai. Logic would suggest that also makes him the Best Minister in the Solar System. Perhaps the Universe.
The United Arab Emirates-hosted event, designed in part to expand the UAE’s global brand, partnered with Thomson Reuters to create the award, though the judging process that led to Mr Hunt winning the award over, say, an environment minister that hasn’t overseen the first rise in carbon emissions in 10 years, remains opaque. Thomson Reuters has since distanced itself from the award, saying it was only “responsible for assisting in the administration of the award, to a set of criteria approved by the World Government Summit organisers”. It was “not correct” that it had created the award. This contradicted Mr Hunt’s assertion that Reuters had “said to the UAE government that they’d like to create the award”.
Accepting the award, Mr Hunt told of his heroic plan to wrest the Great Barrier Reef from danger.
“When we came to government just over two years ago, one of the world’s natural icons – the Great Barrier Reef – was on track to be listed as ‘in danger’ by the United Nations World Heritage Committee,” he said, presumably with a straight face.
“This is not an outcome I was prepared to accept.”
Mr Hunt may have forgotten the battle to stop three million tonnes of dredge spoil being dumped into the Reef as part of a plan to expand the Abbot Point coal terminal. While the campaign to stop the dredge spoil being dumped in the Reef was won, in December last year (just before Christmas) Mr Hunt approved the expansion of Abbot Point, with the dredge spoil to be dumped on land and “strict” environmental conditions in relation to all the coal-laden ships that would be floating through the Great Barrier Reef.
Conservationists, however, aren’t as sure as the Minister that the Reef will be protected.
“Abbot Point is on the edge of the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage area,” WWF spokeswoman Louise Matthiesson said.
“We know there are turtle nesting beaches, there are dugongs, there are snub fin dolphins, there are thousands of endangered birds.
“This is a very high conservation area and it’s not an appropriate site for dredging or a coal port development.”
The UN committee, which has postponed its “in danger” status determination, seems to agree.
“The Committee’s concerns over the site relate to planned coastal developments, including development of ports and liquefied natural gas facilities,” it says.
Other policies Mr Hunt spoke of at the awards were the pilloried Emissions Reduction Fund, and the large-scale renewable energy projects instigated by the Labor-created funding body, ARENA, which Mr Hunt’s government is actively trying to abolish.
This is a recurring trend for Mr Hunt, who this week was so effusive regarding the CEFC’s new $250 million community housing fund, while at the same time admitting the government would axe the body in an instant if given the chance.
And let’s not forget dismantling of the carbon tax, abolishing the National Water Commission, attacks on the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, and the renewable investment-damaging RET review and subsequent reduction in renewable commitments.
“Hopefully [the award is] of value to Australia,” Mr Hunt said to 3AW.
Um, well no. Protecting the environment is.
Greens Senator Scott Ludlam, in a YouTube video, congratulated the government on its contributions to “political performance art”. Have a watch.
CSIRO and worldwide shock
Over at the CSIRO, the mood has been understandably sombre as freshly installed venture capitalist CEO Dr Larry Marshall announced he was slashing the climate staff of the science body, after revealing that the question of climate change was “answered”.
The news seems to have even blindsided Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.
Nevertheless, while the World Meteorological Organization has made the unprecedented step of commenting on the situation, saying it would “isolate” Australia, Dr Marshall is standing firm, and has said today that the debate around climate policy “sounds more like religion than science”, and that the “climate lobby [oh dear] is perhaps more powerful than the energy lobby was back in the ‘70s”.
Head of the World Meteorological Organization’s Climate Research Program Dr Dave Carlson said he was “speechless”.
“As a UN agency we would never intervene or interfere like this, but this is just… it’s just so startling and so devastating that we really had to take this stand,” he told ABC AM. Mr Marshall, he said, had a “serious misunderstanding” of climate science.
Dr Marshall today told a Senate Economics committee that he was not planning to withdraw from monitoring and measurement completely, but reducing it instead to focus more on mitigation.
He said he was “surprised” about the international response. Monitoring and measurement, he said, was no more important than mitigation.
Australia’s science community, however, is with the WMO, as the backlash against Dr Marshall’s cuts continues, with some likening his obsession with innovation – with scant regard for the world-leading capacity CSIRO has built up in climate science – as its own religion.
Professor Samantha Hepburn, director of the Centre for Energy and Natural Resources Law at the Deakin Law School said the changes were a product of a “rationalised and streamlined approach to corporate management in line with startup companies such as Netflix”.
“The CSIRO, however, is a crucial agency for social and environmental progression,” she said. “It is not a technology startup.”
She said Dr Marshall’s assertion that since the question of whether climate change existed had been “answered”, those that measured and monitored climate were not best placed to deal with adaptation and mitigation, was incorrect.
“This is a non sequitur. These two issues are inextricably linked.
“As a legal academic who has worked extensively in natural resource and climate change law, I am extremely conscious of the strong connectivity between the nature and pace of climate change and the regulatory and policy mechanisms that are needed to address it.”
Dr Graeme Pearman, a former CSIRO executive member and divisional chief and now honorary senior research fellow at Monash University, said it was time for the CSIRO’s management to be restructured instead.
“I thought I had seen it all before: a new leader, assuming apparently infinite control, driven by narrow and often tired ideological fixations, tampering with a national asset, CSIRO,” he said.
“It is about time that CSIRO is overseen by an inclusive board and that the board is empowered to wrest control of its directions by having the CEO responsible to the board. This would see that the research directions, culture and management are based on inclusive views of what is needed by the nation and its taxpayers, who are still largely its funders; that these directions are cognisant of the now and the future, distancing it from faddish views that, from time to time, arise in narrow sectors of the community and, indeed, sometimes include governments and their overly compliant bureaucracies.”
With each day that passes, and with each new example of government hypocrisy on climate policy, the tethers the Liberal Party has placed on Mr Turnbull are becoming clearer and clearer. Nothing is to change.