Federal Attorney-General George Brandis is correct to say that unorthodox views have a right to be presented by whoever desires to present them. However, Mr Brandis must in turn agree the views of dissenters must be assessed on the basis of their credentials and not the power of the voice used to convey them.
Freedom of speech means the freedom to express an opinion. However, knowledge, by definition, can only be expressed by those who have it. This is why it is essential the Government, and politicians as a whole, respect the importance of credentials and make policy decisions on that basis. Especially when it comes to matters of science.
To say that the Government’s proposed action on climate change is vastly inadequate isn’t just mere opinion. It is a statement informed by the work of thousands of the most qualified and experienced experts who have dedicated their lives to the field.
It is not the job of Mr Brandis, nor is it the job of his colleagues as elected officials, to pass judgement on the veracity of the outcomes of scientific endeavour.
Perhaps, it could be argued, that the Minister for Science would be responsible for facilitating such evaluation. A ministerial posting once held by Liberal Prime Ministers Menzies, Gorton and Fraser at various times in history.
The current Government unfortunately dissolved that position for the first time since 1931.
Instead, the inner-circle of the Coalition Government is filled with those that have questioned the merits of science. Those who openly question the science of climate change, the capability of renewable energy technologies and advice on how to best manage our old-growth native forests and the Great Barrier Reef.
This raises a question the Government needs to answer. When an unorthodox opinion is presented, how much weight should you attribute to it? Does it make a difference whether this is a qualified expert, a colleague, or a punter you meet on the street?
What if it is one of your closest confidants, someone like the Chair of the Business Advisory Council, Maurice Newman? Certainly, Mr Newman has substantial business acumen, but he is not credentialed in any form of science, despite his apparent yearning to share his opinions on the science of global warming.
How intently does the Government listen to Mr Newman when he tells the ABC that there is absolutely no evidence that global warming is being driven by our greenhouse gas emissions? Despite every major scientific body, including the Australian Academy of Science, the CSIRO, NASA and the Royal Society concluding the exact opposite.
Those asking for rapid and effective action on climate change ask that in return for the continued tolerance of dissenting voices, who contradict the overwhelming evidence in support of our view, that the Government acts like it acknowledges the role of credentials. That it performs its duty on the basis of the current orthodoxy, and not conjecture.
When the Minister for the Environment, Greg Hunt, claims to accept the science of climate change, he must demonstrate this by leading the Government to implement policies based on what science had told us needs to be achieved to avoid the worst impacts.
For when you commit to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by just 5 per cent, you contradict the advice of scientists, as well as the expert policy advisors assembled by both the Climate Change Authority and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
The Direct Action Plan, for which new details were recently released via the Emissions Reduction Fund White Paper, is a policy that members of all sides of the political spectrum have agreed will be ineffectual.
This assessment, that the Direct Action Plan will be insufficient to meet the Government’s inadequate targets, let alone what science tells us needs to be achieved, is backed by an almost unanimous assessment by expert policy analysts.
The fundamental design of the Direct Action Plan has been questioned by Ross Garnaut, Ken Henry and Bernie Fraser. This trio, of course, limited their criticism to the policy itself, for which they have ample qualifications and experience to speak on with authority, without presenting their own opinions about the science behind it.
The vast majority if people who recognise the work of scientists for what is and call on the Government to act aren’t being “ignorant and medieval”. We are simply asking that the advice of those most qualified to provided it, be heeded by those elected to act on our behalf.
Michael Mazengarb is a post-graduate student Australian National University, completing a Master of Climate Change. An environmental mercenary, he has worked numerous roles pursuing environmental conservation and climate change action. Michael edits Omnishambles, and generally writes with a progressive perspective.
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