Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Greenhouse Mafia runs Aussie government policy

Fossil fuel industry lobbyists writing government greenhouse policy. The nation's leading climate scientists censored at the behest of political masters. Only in America.

Wrong mate. It is happening here. ABC's Four Corners has aired amazing revelations by whistleblower Dr Guy Pearse, Speechwriter to the Environment Minister 1997-2000, that paint a picture of how industry lobbyists, calling themselves greenhouse "mafia", have burrowed deep into the government policy machine to successfully hijack greenhouse policy. In the same program Janine Cohen interviews Dr Graeme Pearman, Former CSIRO Climate Director, who claims that he has been prevented from speaking out on scientific matters adverse to the government's greenhouse policies, and that he is not the only one.

If all this is true, the implications are unsettling in the least. What is big coal and the government hiding?

Dr Guy Pearse joined the Liberal Party at a young age, has worked for Senator Hill and Senator McDonald and a range of state and federal MPs and has been encouraged to pursue his ambitions in politics himself. He also does consultancy work and lobbying for the energy sector. It is these blue ribbon credentials that makes his allegations more explosive:

Q. Now why have you decided to speak out and break Liberal Party solidarity?

A. I'm speaking out because ah I've spent seven years finding out about an issue and I don't think that with a clear conscience I could continue without saying something. One of the things I decided quite early when I joined the Liberal Party or I observed quite early was that the Labor Party tended to have ownership of the environment as a policy area and I felt very strongly that it was an area that they need not have ownership of and that the Liberal Party could do better. I think the Liberal Party has done a lot better since I joined in the late 80s and I'm very proud of a lot of the things that that we've done, um both under my former boss Senator Hill's stewardship and subsequent to that.

Q. So why are you talking now then?

A. I'm talking now because while I'm very proud of a lot of the things that the party has done on environment policy, ah I think climate change is an exception, um and having spent seven years ah writing a PhD and researching the issue and ah it's a very complex one and most people don't have the time to get across it, having found out what I've now found out, I find it impossible to continue with a clear conscience without speaking out.

Q. In a nutshell, what have you found out?

A. Well really I've discovered why ah Australian policy, greenhouse policy is being driven by the mining and energy sectors, ah which I thought was curious along the way, given that they have such a small contribution to the economy. Um in 1900 the commodities generated 30 per cent of our GDP and our employment. Ah today that's more like eight per cent. The mining and energy sectors only generate about two per cent of our jobs.

Q. So are you saying they have a disproportionate amount of influence?

A. That's right and I've found this very curious ah from the beginning of my PhD work and initially I set out to look at another question, which was why other sectors of the economy were playing such a small role and this had become apparent to me in my work for Senator Hill. But in discovering the answer to why some sections of business were so quiet, I couldn't help but discover the story behind the influence of the mining and energy industry - the fossil fuel lobby effectively.

Senator Robert Hill was the environment minister who played hard at the Kyoto conference and came back with some great targets for Australia to achieve (from an economic development perspective) and a good position from which to ratify the Kyoto protocol. He argued that Australia's large rainforests and vegetative biomass function as large carbon sink and this should be taken into account in setting the targets. But we didn't ratify and Dr Guy Pearse says he has since researched why, and how this came to be.

Q. Describe what you did for Senator Robert Hill.

A. I was Senator Hill's speech writer ah from about beginning of 1997 until the end of 99, ah which covered the Kyoto conference periods, so in that time there was a lot of emphasis on climate change as an issue as the Government was formulating its position in the lead up to Kyoto and then afterwards so Kyoto protocol and climate change more broadly made up a pretty large proportion of my work at the time.

Q. And did you enjoy working in that area?

A. I certainly did. As I said I long ago decided that environment policy was an area of great opportunity for the Liberal Party, ah and climate change is obviously the most important of the environmental issues facing Australia and the world and that's well acknowledged so 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 um and it was a wonderful opportunity to work for him and I regard very highly the achievements he had in this area. Getting through the Kyoto target that he negotiated was a magnificent achievement.

Q. Do you think however in some respects he was undermined by the fossil fuel industry?

A. Well the proof's in the pudding I suppose and history would show that he was heavily undermined and ultimately the government ah changed its mind on its ratification of the Kyoto protocol, which he'd worked so hard to negotiate. The work that I've done, it shows conclusively not just that he was undermined but how he was undermined.

Q. And how was he undermined?

A. Well the members of what we now refer to as the greenhouse mafia, and that's their own label for themselves, they bragged in my research about how they undermined Senator Hill ah through the government processes, the relevant cabinet committees and so on.

Q. Now during your time with Senator Hill, you became aware of a small but very powerful group of industry players. Who were they and how influential were they?

A. During my time with Senator Hill my interest in this issue, the question that I was most interested in was why some sections of the economy that seemed to me to have a glaring interest in climate change were silent on the issue and why the ah diary appointments were tended to be dominated by ah a very small section of the economy, particularly the fossil fuel lobby. That was the question that I wanted to investigate and what started out as a fairly innocent academic enquiry, you couldn't help but answer that question without discovering that in fact this small group of fossil fuel industry lobbyists had a highly disproportionate impact on government policy and so whilst I was looking at this other aspect of climate change, it became very apparent that that wasn't the main game.

We all know how this Liberal Government is tight, and how they have locked down the bureaucracy we pay for to the point that if anyone says something inconsistent about or contrary to government policy, it makes a headline. Fossil industry lobbyists feel no such restrictions.

Q. And of course you received amazing access to some industry insiders too.

A. That's right, that's right. That was, I was quite surprised in a way how openly people spoke. One of the things that if you're involved in greenhouse policy here in Canberra you'd know is that there's a high degree of self censorship in the bureaucracy because people have their jobs at risk if they say something that's inconsistent with government policy so they tend not to speak out. What amazed me when I interviewed industry association bosses was that not only were they willing to speak out but they were quite happy to brag about their role in running government greenhouse policy.

Q. What sort of things did they brag about?

A. They tended to ah say that they, because of their previous involvement in government departments, mainly the industry department but other departments as well, before coming out and running industry associations and often playing musical chairs between those associations. They had an incredible corporate knowledge of government policy going back for a generation or so they tended to brag about how much more they knew about government policy than the government. Ah they talked about knowing where all the skeletons were buried.

Q. What did that mean?

A. Well you'd have to ask them but I suspect it meant that ah if they didn't get their way, they knew what buttons to push to embarrass the government.

Q. Blackmail.

A. I wouldn't call it that, you might.

It seems that the fossil fuel industry has organised itself a nice little pincer movement in impacting government policy.

Q. Now if we could just talk about those industry players, did they keep close associations with their former colleagues in the department?

A. The industry association bosses that I'm talking about came from branches within government departments here in Canberra, and often in lobbying the Government on greenhouse policy from their industry association, they were dealing with former colleagues. Often those colleagues had worked under them ah when they had worked in the department, so that was the type of relationship that existed, and there was clear evidence in - the interviews that I conducted that they continued to play a strong role in preparing/advising their former colleagues on the briefs and cabinet submissions that they would send up to their ministers on greenhouse policy.

Q. So they were afforded special privileges because of their past employment.

A. It would appear that they were give incredible access ah to the government process. A number of them mentioned to me that they felt that perhaps since their departure there had been a decline in the skill level in those relevant branches of the departments and that because of their lack of knowledge about previous history, and about a current policy that there was an opening for them then to go in and help them prepare policy for government. So you ended up with this unique situation, a circular situation where the advice that the government was receiving from its bureaucrats was almost identical to the advice they were receiving from industry associations because effectively the same people were writing it.

So that is how it is done. My tax dollars at work, undermining my child's future. Lovely. You can find the links to the transcript of Dr Guy Pearse's interview and the interview with Dr Graeme Pearman here.

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