I was devastated this morning to learn my interview with one of the party’s candidates had been cancelled. Here’s why the term he took offence to is far from unfair, writes Thom Mitchell.
This morning Pauline Hanson’s running mate on One Nation’s Queensland Senate ticket asked me to “define what the term ‘denier’ means in regard to climate”. So I will.
On one level the answer is you, Malcolm Roberts. You are a dyed in the wool climate denier, and if you make it into the Senate there’s a very real risk you and yours will undermine this country’s already flaccid response to climate change.
More generally though, a climate denier is someone who drank the jet-fuel: A person who believes – without the benefit of expertise – that they are correct where more or less all of the climate scientists, governments, and major institutions in the world are wrong.
But Malcolm Roberts doesn’t like labels, which is why he cancelled a scheduled interview this morning. By text, he told New Matilda “it disappoints me that NM uses terms like ‘denier’ to describe those who base conclusions on empirical evidence”.
“Science,” he tells us, “is decided by empirical evidence not emotion, unfounded opinions and ideology”. Which is why One Nation is pushing for a royal commission into the ‘unfounded’ science of anthropogenic climate change, and a review of work done by the Bureau of Meteorology.
At the same time, Pauline’s party would have us pull out of the United Nations process on climate change, and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. It will work to remove any carbon tax, emissions trading scheme, renewable energy target, or other mechanism that might help stave off the impending climate disaster.
— Graham Readfearn (@readfearn) July 6, 2016
An actual climate scientist at the University of Melbourne, Professor David Karoly told New Matilda that Roberts and One Nation are peddling “complete and utter conspiracist rubbish”.
“It’s the usual sort of climate change denier stuff that he pulls out from websites,” Prof Karoly said. “As far as I’m aware the only conferences [Roberts has] been to are ones that have been funded by the Heartland Institute in the US, which is funded by the fossil fuel industry.”
It’s not that surprising, really, given Roberts used to manage coal mines for a living.
According to Readfearn, who specialises in tracing the shadowy links between the fossil fuel industry and climate scepticism, Roberts is one of Australia’s most “enthusiastic” deniers.
“In short,” Readfearn wrote yesterday, “Roberts thinks there’s an international cabal of bankers and socialists cutting across the United Nations, science institutions and the financial institutions – including the US Federal Reserve – who have conspired in some way to push ‘climate fraud’ on the world”.
“He’s a cog in a wheel: He’s one of the cogs that turns a bit faster than some of the other ones do,” Readfearn told New Matilda. Other cogs have always turned slowly in the Federal Parliament, where outright climate denial is usually suppressed, but lurking somewhere not too far from the surface.
No doubt many in the Liberal and National Parties would love a royal commission to undermine the debate about climate science and the nation’s response to it. In fact, just last June a cabal of Liberal Party MPs tried to force a parliamentary Inquiry into ‘the science of climate change’.
On Monday, Pauline Hanson singled out Queensland Nationals MP George Christensen – who like Roberts has spoken at the Heartland Institute – as someone in the Coalition who shares her party’s views.
A member of the moderate segment of the Liberal Party, Attorney-General George Brandis said earlier this year he is “agnostic” about climate change and does not believe the science is settled.
Tony Abbott, of course, famously said climate change is “crap”. His hand-picked chief business advisor, Maurice Newman, penned a piece for The Australian last year in which he argued climate change is a foil for the global socialist takeover.
And one of the more well-known climate sceptics in Coalition ranks, Cory Bernardi, this week began a splinter group of conservatives which will serve to undermine Liberal leader Malcolm Turnbull as he seeks to form a government.
Politics is unstable, and the time is ripe for horse-trading in extreme ideas. The return of Pauline Hanson’s One Nation, in and of itself, is a point in case. Roberts is in with a chance at a Senate seat in Queensland, and Pauline Hanson is assured of one.
The One Nation leader this week put the media on notice that if the Party is not taken seriously, they will simply opt-out and use social media to go direct to the people.
Given they clearly attracted substantial support from a segment of society, that’s a worry. But traditional media are not divorced from what media academic Elaine McKewon calls the “rhetorical arsenal of denial”.
McKewon is finishing off a PhD on media reporting of climate change, and said denial could find a sympathetic ear in the pages of the News Corp press. “The conspiracy theories are basically that scientists are nothing but rent seeking frauds, that climate science is a religion, that kind of thing,” she said.
“These are really just repeated ad-nauseam through the editorials and opinion columns of The Australian. A lot of that stuff gets syndicated and there’s a lot of sympathy in the ranks throughout the other mastheads of the Murdoch press.
“I would expect it to get quite a bit of oxygen there, but I don’t think it would in Fairfax,” McKewon said.
Either way, with Hanson in and Roberts still a chance, outright denial will clearly be breathing in the upper house of Australia’s Parliament. As one academic put it to me while I was researching this story: “At least [Hanson’s] got less money than Clive Palmer.”