The Australian Four Corners TV program has returned to the airwaves for 2006 with an important documentary titled “The Greenhouse Mafia” that exposes the deep seated industry / Federal government suppression of scientific advice that runs counter to government policy on global warming. Sound familar?
Although the program deals with the greenhouse gas / climate change issue and suppression of scientists from the Commonwealth Science and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), a similar story can be told of the dismantling of the CSIRO’s radiophysics division that was investigating non-ionizing radiation bioeffects and the sacking of scientists who dared speak out for public health over corporate profits. The government even went to the extent of having a respected science communication expert sacked from the CSIRO to be replaced by a new communications director who’s only qualifications were stated to be that she was ‘highly respected in both government and corporate circles’. It turned out that her previous job experience was by chance having executive positions with both the Australian Tobacco Institute and Philip Morris as a spin doctor!! Depending on one’s viewpoint these can be good qualifications – If one can work spinning science for Big Tobacco there’s nothing one wouldn’t do to hopple inconvenient science.
The program will be repeated about 11pm Wednesday 15 February and also on the ABC2 digital channel at 7pm and 9.15pm Wednesday. You can also go to the Four Corners web site and download all the transcripts. Well worth a read.
Following is just a taste of the program:
Read the full transcript of Janine Cohen’s report “The Greenhouse Mafia”, Four Corners, Monday 13 February, 2006.
Reporter: Janine Cohen
JANINE COHEN: The latest extreme climate change forecasts for Australia are alarming – more droughts, more bushfires, more cyclones, more heatwaves, more disease.
DR BARRIE PITTOCK, CLIMATE CHANGE EXPERT: I think the government just hasn’t yet understood that it’s urgent and that there are uncertainties which might be at the high end and which might be disastrous.
JANINE COHEN: But has the Federal Government misunderstood, or is there something else driving the agenda? This man thinks so. A Liberal Party insider, he claims a powerful group of industry lobbyists have hijacked greenhouse policy. Their influence, he says, leads all the way into Cabinet.
DR GUY PEARSE, SPEECHWRITER, ENVIRONMENT MINISTER, 1997-2000: Having found out what I’ve now found out, I find it impossible to continue with a clear conscience without speaking out.
JANINE COHEN: And speaking out on what needs to be done to combat climate change isn’t always a good career move. Eminent scientists claim they’ve been gagged from the public debate when it reflects badly on government policy.
DR GUY PEARSE, SPEECHWRITER, ENVIRONMENT MINISTER, 1997-2000: I was told that I couldn’t say anything that indicated that I disagreed with current government policy, and I presume that meant Federal Government policy.
JANINE COHEN: Tonight on Four Corners – the politics of climate change, how it’s impacting on science, and what it could cost Australia.
JANINE COHEN: Guy Pearse is graduating with his doctorate of philosophy. His focus – how special interest groups try to influence government policy. And Guy Pearse knows more than most about the inner workings of government, he’s worked for several Liberal politicians.
DR GUY PEARSE, SPEECHWRITER, ENVIRONMENT MINISTER, 1997-2000: I joined the Liberal Party because, at a pretty young age, I decided I wanted to play a role in government in Australia. And in Australia, that means that you really have to be a member of one of the two major parties.
JANINE COHEN: After completing his Masters in Public Policy from Harvard University in 1996, Guy Pearse has mostly worked for government and industry. One of the highlights of his career was working as a speechwriter for a former Environment Minister, Senator Robert Hill.
DR GUY PEARSE, SPEECHWRITER, ENVIRONMENT MINISTER, 1997-2000: It was a great time to be involved in one of the top-priority issues and also, for me, Senator Hill had been a mentor for many years and it was a wonderful opportunity to work for him.
JANINE COHEN: But it was during his time working for government that Guy Pearse first noticed a powerful group from the top end of town. They were lobbyists from the high-energy-using industries who seemed determined to undermine the Environment Department and block any greenhouse reforms. They were well connected to other government departments – but just how well, Guy Pearse didn’t realise at the time.
DR GUY PEARSE, SPEECHWRITER, ENVIRONMENT MINISTER, 1997-2000: It wasn’t clear to me just how and why they were having such influence, and that only became apparent more recently.
JANINE COHEN: In 2001, Guy Pearse left his job at the Federal Environment Department to research his doctorate. To support himself, he also worked as a consultant for the Business Council of Australia and for industries including sugar cane and timber. But in his doctorate, he focused on business groups with a vested interest in government policy on climate change.
DR GUY PEARSE, SPEECHWRITER, ENVIRONMENT MINISTER, 1997-2000: I’ve been around the traps in Canberra a reasonable amount of time. I know how government operates from a range of different perspectives, through my interviewees for my PhD research, I think a lot of my naivete was washed away.
JANINE COHEN: What the former government insider discovered surprised even him. After much consideration, Guy Pearse decided to talk to Four Corners.
DR GUY PEARSE, SPEECHWRITER, ENVIRONMENT MINISTER, 1997-2000: I had to weigh up a lot of issues. I’ve thought long and hard about going into politics myself one day and certainly the opportunities are there, and that might now change.
JANINE COHEN: What, because you’re speaking out?
DR GUY PEARSE, SPEECHWRITER, ENVIRONMENT MINISTER, 1997-2000: Sure. Sure. It might be that I don’t get the same level of encouragement that I have had in the past. I also work as a lobbyist here in Canberra and mostly for industry clients and for government. I’ve got contracts with government and business at the moment, and it may be that I will lose some work over speaking out.
JANINE COHEN: He believes Australia isn’t doing enough to reduce emissions because greenhouse policy has been hijacked.
DR GUY PEARSE, SPEECHWRITER, ENVIRONMENT MINISTER, 1997-2000: In my experience, there’s no question that this access that the fossil fuel industry has enjoyed and their influence over greenhouse policy in Australia is extraordinary.
JANINE COHEN: There is a view that Australia is not doing enough to reduce emissions on greenhouse. Is this because industry has hijacked government policy?
SEN. IAN CAMPBELL, FED. ENVIRONMENT MINISTER: I think it’s a silly question. I mean, Australia… I don’t know who says we’re not doing enough. It’s obviously someone with a, you know, political or an ideological objective. Australia is doing more than most countries in the greenhouse policy area. We’re respected internationally for our policy efforts, for our investments and for our practical outcomes.
DR GUY PEARSE, SPEECHWRITER, ENVIRONMENT MINISTER, 1997-2000: But Dr Pearse says Australia’s dependence on fuels like coal and petrol has given these industries huge leverage. Coal is Australia’s largest commodity export – last year earning about $18 billion.
DR GUY PEARSE, SPEECHWRITER, ENVIRONMENT MINISTER, 1997-2000: Australia exports more than twice as much coal as any other country, so they’re burning our coal in these developing countries so that means that we have arguably an even greater responsibility to respond to this problem.
DR CLIVE HAMILTON, CLIMATE INSTITUTE: The big winner of any attempt to reduce Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions would unquestionably be the gas industry. Gas has about half of the greenhouse gas emissions per unit of electricity generated compared to coal.
JANINE COHEN: Most of Australia’s electricity is also supplied by coal-fired power stations. And the scientific consensus is that emissions from burning coal and other fossil fuels are the main reason the planet is warming.
DR CLIVE HAMILTON, CLIMATE INSTITUTE: In Australia, without a doubt, the biggest producers of greenhouse gas emissions are our coal-fired power plants, particularly in the La Trobe Valley and the Hunter Valley. They contribute perhaps 40 per cent of Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions.
DR GUY PEARSE, SPEECHWRITER, ENVIRONMENT MINISTER, 1997-2000: I don’t for one minute suggest that we should get out of coal. In fact, I own coal shares, have done for many years. I’ve worked for coal companies. I think coal, the coal industry and the other industries make a significant contribution to Australia. But their political influence is as if it’s still 1900. I can’t understand why an industry that generates 2 per cent of our employment has got the keys to the greenhouse policy car.
JANINE COHEN: Guy Pearse decided to investigate why the fossil fuel industries had so much political clout. He taped interviews for his doctorate with industry lobbyists who were very frank about their power and influence. Dr Pearse said they were candid because he promised not to identify them. They told him they referred to themselves as the ‘mafia’. Four Corners has used actors to repeat what industry insiders told Guy Pearse.
DR GUY PEARSE, SPEECHWRITER, ENVIRONMENT MINISTER, 1997-2000: Does anyone else use the term ‘mafia’?
ACTOR, RECONSTRUCTION: Yes, we all talk about ourselves that way.
DR GUY PEARSE, SPEECHWRITER, ENVIRONMENT MINISTER, 1997-2000: Yes, but does anyone else use it outside?
ACTOR, RECONSTRUCTION: Does anyone else use it outside? No. (Laughs) It’s an in-house term.
JANINE COHEN: So what is the Greenhouse Mafia? Dr Pearse says it’s a group of people over the years from the Australian Industry Greenhouse Network. This network of industry associations lobbies government for a better deal for its members on greenhouse policy. It is based in an office in this building in Canberra. The association has among its membership those industries heavily fossil fuel dependent – coal, electricity, aluminium, petroleum, minerals and cement.
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