Considering the grave implications of their decisions, you would think that parliamentarians, who have no specific qualifications or expertise, would listen to the best advice available.
Experienced public servants who might suggest “that is a bad idea” are replaced by people who advise “this is how you can sell it”. Experts are ignored in favour of lobbyists.
In October 2015, just after Malcolm Turnbull had staged his leadership coup and in the lead-up to the Paris climate change talks, some of our country’s world-leading climate scientists travelled to Canberra to brief representatives from all parties on climate science.
Global Change Institute director and marine biologist and coral reef expert Prof Ove Hoegh-Guldberg obviously had similar hopes to many of us that Turnbull might make a difference.
“With the change of leadership [to Malcolm Turnbull] the issue has advanced rather smartly. It has moved from anti-science to something more like a competition between the three parties [Liberal, Labor and the Greens] as to who can be the most responsive to the issue.”
In a separate meeting, three of the scientists also provided a briefing to the Coalition’s backbench committee on the environment led by former footballer Craig Kelly who, in his infinite ‘wisdom’, decided to invite along three representatives from the IPA to make their own presentations to provide ‘balance’ and to ‘debate’ the experts.
Dr John Church, a world-leading scientist on sea level rise from the CSIRO, said “It was not what I would call a debate – that is a contest of ideas. Rather the loudest and shrillest voice was what prevailed and playing the person seemed more important than the quality of the facts.”
Prof Hoegh-Guldberg described the meeting as “unpleasant”.
“We had people shouting. We have heard all of the old arguments before a million times – ‘CO2 is plant food’ … ‘climate change isn’t happening’ … that sort of thing. It was disappointingly uninformed. The scientists were from premier institutions taking time to address the committee. Then we had three people from the IPA – clearly lobbyists. What they were saying was not based in reality or science – it was an anti-intellectual environment.”
What a difference two years has made.
We are now living in a crazy world where those backbenchers, along with the Joyce-led Nationals, are calling the shots and Malcolm Turnbull is championing coal. We have a ‘wind commissioner’ to listen to all the people who think wind turbines are making them sick. All mention of climate change has disappeared, replaced by the apparently more serious conundrum of how to keep using the coal no-one else wants and how to afford the gas we own but which the government allows to be shipped offshore.
Thanks to Turnbull’s completely unnecessary double dissolution election, Pauline Hanson’s band of miscreants are extracting increasingly weird promises in return for support for totally unrelated legislation. Nick Xenophon, who could always be counted on to vote whichever way was most popular with focus groups, has seen his main chance at being important being provided by a blackout in South Australia, so off he heads to save the day. How will be revealed at some time after he sniffs the wind (so to speak).
The aim of businesses is to make a profit. The aim of lobbyists is to help them do that. The aim of politicians is to get re-elected (or to make the contacts for future employment). The aim of scientists is to find out the truth.
Our goal should be to be discerning about who we listen to and who we vote for.