Category Archives: Journalism

Open letter to Jay Weatherill on #fuckwitgate

Dear Jay,

we are both busy (you with trying to implement climate and energy policy while the Federal Government supplies only ridicule and chaos, me with finishing a thesis) so I will keep this as brief as I can.

When I read what was reported in today’s Australian (1)  ‘Jay says nay on right-wing remark‘  I was both confused and exasperated.  I do not understand why you would wait a week before claiming “I think I might have been misheard. I think I said…” 

I note there are lots of qualifiers there (and no outright denial) and it’s followed by a claim about background noise.  On that, I would point out that you don’t flag any problem with my hearing everything else you said – all those quotes which reflect (well) on your actions since the September 2016 blackout..

I wonder if you worry, that this Clayton’s denial – the denial you have when you’re not having a denial –  just feeds into the public narrative that politicians will try to wriggle out of things they said and that they later wish they hadn’t?

Clearly my prediction that this was going to be a ‘one-day wonder’  was misplaced. Oh well.  I have no interest in continuing this non-controversy, because in the absence of a sound recording, everyone can just say ‘no evidence’ and it goes all Rashomon.  The following  questions seem obvious though-

  • Why did you not claim that you had been ‘misheard’ at the time?  Why is that, as Giles Parkinson pointed out in the Australian article today,  neither you nor your office sought a retraction, correction or apology?
  • Why did you call the remarks ‘lighthearted’ if they were simply indeed ‘rightwing  sceptic’?  That’s not particularly light-hearted, simply banal.  By referring to your comments as light-hearted the day after, surely you were tacitly admitting what you had said?
  • Why did the  entire room burst into laughter and applause if all you did was describe Kenny as a right-wing sceptic?
  • Why did you offer a mock apology ‘oh sorry’ at that time?
  • Why did none of the other 100 people present at the book launch – fans of you and Mark Butler- come forward to challenge my account?  (Of course, some may now do so, now that you have signalled that this is something you want to bury)
  • Why did you call the event – and continue to call it – a private function? It was a book launch, or heaven’s sake!  If you can’t get that right, why should anyone believe what you “think” you said?

Am I surprised by your behaviour? A little. But I  am more disappointed – I thought you had more guts.  But perhaps you have to save those guts for challenging the Federal government’s egregious inaction on climate and energy, and water. If that’s the case, well, then, so be it, and good luck.
Marc Hudson

Footnotes

(1) Of course, the Australian has a very long (27 year) history of reporting climate stories badly. Examples available on request. On the book launch beat up they managed not to credit their source and then mis-identify the location of the book launch (it was at the Publishers Hotel, not the University of Adelaide.  Then, on Friday of last week its stablemate the Advertiser managed to get the day of the launch wrong.  So maybe you were ‘misquoted’ (oh the irony) or were speaking with your tongue in your cheek?

Turnbull, #climate and the National Press Club #auspol

On February 1st Malcolm Turnbull will make a major speech on the Coalition’s climate and energy policy at the National Press Club.In his last public utterance on the topic, at the Sydney fish market in December last year, he spilt coffee , perhaps trying to douse the flames caused by Josh Frydenberg’s declaration that carbon pricing would be considered in this year’s policy review. Turnbull ruled that out, so who knows what he  will say on Wednesday. One well-informed and immensely experienced observer reports that

“Turnbull will announce new vehicle emissions standards and a new energy efficiency scheme. He and his office are looking at “technological solutions” – bright new ideas in solar thermal, or battery or carbon storage technology that might fill the policy void. But all those technologies need government policies to provide investors with incentives and certainty, and without actually confronting the climate doubters no one can imagine what that policy might be.”

(Another similarly-credentialled observer says he is the weakest Prime Minister since Billy McMahon )Who knows, perhaps Turnbull will dust off the ‘Greenhouse Challenge‘ voluntary programme for industry that Prime Minister Paul Keating started and  John Howard extended. We will know soon enough.

Meanwhile, the National Press Club has a long and interesting (if you’re a pathetic geek like me) history with climate change, and it tells us something about Australian journalistic responses to climate change.

Clubbing together
The Press Club began life as a press luncheon club, the result of some journalists having an (uncharacteristic for the profession) drinks in a Canberra watering hole. It seeks “to provide a genuine national forum for discussion of the issues of the day by the personalities who help shape them.” (A cynic might say that it is a way for journalists to have stories handed to them literally on a plate, with some nice plonk alongside.) The first speaker, on 17 May 1963, was Chief Justice and External Affairs Minister Sir Garfield Barwick.  Soon after Barwick helped establish the Australian Conservation Foundation.  The Press Club initially only held a few events a year, but it has grown steadily and there are now about 70 a year. Early environmental speakers included conservationist Harry Butler (October 3 1979) and in mid 1984 the German Greens Petra Kelly  who you can hear here 

The Club, naturally, reflects the concerns of the day, and politicians of the day fly kites and announce policies.  The climate issue seems to have reached the Club in October 1988,when the Liberal Senator Chris Puplick, the Opposition’s Environment spokesperson  launched the Opposition’s environmental policy and spoke on past Coalition.  It seems bizarre now, but Puplick then  went on to develop a policy on climate change that was more ambitious than Labor’s and took it to the 1990 Federal election.

Puplick and his Labor opponent Graham Richardson debated at the Press Club on March 7, 1990, just before the Federal election, and it was from  the club that Bob Hawke made his final (and successful) appeal to green-minded voters, calling on  disaffected voters not to vote green but, if they did so, to direct their second preferences to Labour. He warned. “When you wake up on 25 March there won’t be a Democrat government or a green independent government.”

In June 1989,  the inaugural Chief Minister of the Australian Capital Territory,  Rosemary Follett,  had appeared at the club and said that she was

“particularly concerned with environmental issues of national and international significance. The people of the ACT can be assured that the government intends to act locally in addressing issues such as the Greenhouse Effect and Protection of the Ozone Layer.”

Richardson had appeared shortly afterwards,after two cancellations for lack of journalist interest.. He talked tough (it’s how the man rolls) on the Federal government perhaps using its constitutional powers to override state decisions on environmental matters. He also confirmed a report by Michelle Grattan about a Cabinet meeting at which Treasurer Paul Keating had vetoed his proposal for a 20 per cent reduction in Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions by 2005 (the so-called ‘Toronto Target’ ). He told the assembled hacks

“… When I put this target to our Cabinet, I came under close questioning by the economic ministers. I couldn’t sustain my argument with sufficient science.

“I haven’t yet learnt how to lose gracefully so I was angry. I delved into the department’s records so that I could write to my Cabinet colleagues and demand a reconsideration. The cupboard, however was bare, and the letter was never written.”

[Dunn, R. 1989. Cabinet reduces greenhouse target. Australian Financial Review, 26 July.]

Sir Ninian Stephen, by then Australia’s first Environment Ambassador, spoke wittily in late 1990 on the topic of  “the environment: a passing storm or an issue for all seasons” (you can listen here –  He argued that it didn’t matter what he said, only if he blundered in the Q and A.

The following year the Canadian entrepreneur behind the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, Maurice Strong, spoke. In November 1992, after Rio, Jeremy Leggett, a former geologist who had become  Greenpeace International’s Atmosphere and Energy Campaign leader spoke (his book The Carbon War is a terrific read, btw).

Worth remembering
Amid all the advocates of action (Ian Lowe, Peter Garrett, David Suzuki, Bob Brown, Gro Harlam Brundtland, Nick Stern), perhaps the one we should most remember is President Kinza Cloduma of Nauru.  In late 1997, when the Australian government’s diplomatic push for special treatment at the impending Kyoto Protocol meeting had silenced the South Pacific Forum’s attempt at a strong pro-action statement, Cloduma told the journalists

“I am not impressed when Mr. Howard openly scorns the critical nature of the situation in order to bow to the will of the fossil fuel industry.”

There have been peaks and troughs of concern since then, with scientists speaking  in September 2000 “Greenhouse Science Forum: How Real is Climate Change? What does Science Tell Us?”,  Ian Lowe spoke in 2005 on “ Is Nuclear Power Part of Australia’s Global Warming Solution?” (his answer was ‘nope’).

In the white-heat of the 2008-9 carbon pricing battles, Ross Garnaut seems to have had a camp-bed at the NPC, so often was he using it to launch various drafts of his climate reviews.  The Greens’ Christine Milne argued on 17 June 2009 that “The Climate nightmare is upon us.”  Bob Brown and  Ziggy Switowski debated nuclear versus renewables in April of the following year [thanks to the reader who alerted me to this!]

Less emphatically,  Penny Wong, Kevin Rudd, Greg Combet and Julia Gillard all used the NPC to launch various climate policy papers. In mid 2011, Gillard, under ferocious attack over her carbon proposal launched “The Government’s plan for a clean energy future”. She  was asked by Mark Riley about journalist famously suggesting that journalists ‘don’t write crap – it can’t be that hard.’

Since then the club has seen – among others –

Two way traffic
It hasn’t been one-way traffic. An early example of a sceptical perspective came in mid 1992 when Prof Richard Lindzen, Professor of Meteorology at  Massachusetts Institute of Technology spoke. (He had been brought out by the CSIRO atmospheric science division, which was then headed by G.B Tucker. Tucker had been aware of the issue in the mid-70s, and written an early monograph – The CO2-climate connection : a global problem from an Australian perspective–  in 1981, but in retirement wrote pieces for the Institute for Public Affairs with titles like  ‘The Greenhouse Panic’. But I digress)

Three years later the Club heard from  Dr Patrick  Moore who was billed as a “ Canadian Environmentalist and one of the founders of Greenpeace”.The first term can be debated. The second cannot.

Climate change exploded as a public policy issue in Australia in late 2006.   It’s ironic to remember now, but when John Howard’s hand-picked emissions taskforce suggested that a low tax on carbon emissions — less than $5 per tonne –  might give Australia a start in preparing for an eventual global emissions trading system , the  Minerals Council of Australia chief executive Mitchell Hooke argued at the press club that while Australia should not embark on unilateral action, there was scope for “unilateral leadership”. He said

“I don’t want a blunt economic instrument of a carbon tax [but] I would see that kind of low order price as being part of a cap and trade framework.”

Hooke hardened his line, of course, as time went on.  At the peak of the 2011 carbon pricing battles, in June, the Australian Coal Association’s Ralph Hillman spoke on “The mining industry’s position on the carbon tax.”

The same month,  Lord Monckton  and the Australia Institute’s Richard Denniss squared off in a debate. Two weeks later  former President Vaclav Klaus President of the Czech Republic  spoke on “Climate Change: A new ideology”

Bjorn Lomborg followed up his October 2003  visit with another ten years later in December 2013.  Now that he won’t be having his ‘consensus centre’ , the trend suggests it might be another 6 years before he appears again.

Journalism and climate change
The Press Club’s willingness to host those who deny basic scientific facts is indicative of a broader difficulty that journalism has had with this issue.  Academic studies of the journalism profession’s dilemma over climate change. One influential paper argues that “balance is bias”, given the overwhelming scientific argument (and dare we say ‘consensus’) on anthropogenic climate change. The authors argue that

“the prestige press’s adherence to balance actually leads to biased coverage of both anthropogenic contributions to global warming and resultant action.”

John Oliver put it more visually with this stunt on ‘Last Week Tonight’

Australia’s experience has been extensively studied – see here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here. For starters.

All this is part of a battle for hearts and minds – what counts as ‘common sense’ and shapes or sustains the institutions  – “stable, valued, recurring patterns of behavior” – underpinning society.

Recently scientists have been admitting that studying climate change exacts an emotional toll. Journalists are following suit.

Malcolm Turnbull first addressed the club on March 18 1992, wearing his Australian Republican Movement hat.  He might need better head-wear this time round.  When Kevin Rudd launched the White Paper of his ill-fated and unloved Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme three protesters were dragged out The numbers of protesters there to greet him on February 1st will probably fall closer to that than the 1500 who turned up to say g’day to Pauline Hanson in 1997

But on the day, and indeed all through the year, Turnbull will – like other endangered Australian fauna – be feeling the heat.

Now THAT’s a life: Louis Herren

“When a politician tells you something in confidence, always ask yourself Why is this lying bastard lying to me?

Always good advice, I think.

Louis Heren, the guy behind it, led an extra-ordinary life.  And I’d never heard of him.

Louis Philip Heren (6 February 1919 – 26 January 1995) was a foreign correspondent. He spent his entire career on The Times and was an author of political theory, memoirs and autobiography.

Heren was born in the East End of London. His father, a printer on The Times, died when Heren was four years old. As it was a paternalistic company in those days, Heren was able to leave school at 14 to begin work as a messenger on the newspaper. He moved up to work in various departments before the onset of World War II. He joined the British Army as a private soldier in 1939, commissioned and served in France, the Western Desert, Burma and the Netherlands East Indies. After being demobbed as a major in 1946, he returned to The Times and was made a foreign correspondent.

Here’s the Indie’s obit.

There’s five minutes of footage of him being interviewed in 1972 about growing up in the East End in the 20s and 30s…

Clearly gonna have to read his books, and re-read  Greene’s ‘The Quiet American’

 

Last week in #Australian #Climate Politics – a bluffer’s guide

What happened?
turnbullThis week the government executed a massive policy backflip and its backbenchers weakened a leader who they despise and will probably knife quite soon. The opposition rolled its eyes and sighed and secretly squealed with delight. There were assurances that Australia is on track to meet its international obligations on emissions reductions when in fact it is a gazillion miles away.  Meanwhile the media piled in and business stood there mouths agape like a goldfish whose bowl is ever more full of… dirty water.  Economists slammed inch-think reports on desks. The scientists and environmentalists bleated about ecological catastrophe, but everybody ignored them for the fun of the horse-race politics.

So, a normal week in Australian climate politics then?
An abnormally normal week perhaps, but yes, point taken.

Then why is everyone running around as if it’s the end of the world?
Because – as Lenore Taylor has been exhaustively reporting (see here, here, here, here, here, and here), the last environment minister, Greg Hunt, had spent ages trying to slip the framework – or the necessary ambiguity – for an “emissions intensity scheme”  into the government’s policy. Of course, it had to be done in a way that wouldn’t lead to a bloodbath.  Julie Bishop had pointed to possible carbon trading after 2020 when she was in Paris last year for some international meeting. It was a very very badly kept secret, but economists, business lobbyists and even some greenies hoped it might work.  

And?
On Monday morning, at just after 8am in an ABC radio station,  it all went Very Horribly Wrong.

Yeah, I think I heard something about that. So the new environment minister – Josh Frydenberg’s few words- “We know that there’s been a large number of bodies that have recommended an emissions intensity scheme, which is effectively a baseline and credit scheme. We’ll look at that.”–   are as fatal as Gillard’s February 24 2011 ill-fated agreement that a fixed price for an emissions trading scheme could be considered a ‘tax’?
We will see.  Probably.  But before using poor Josh as a pinata, remember the wiggle room  to skirt around the issue was always going to shrink.  The can had been kicked down the road as far as it could. Someone was going to have to piss or get off the pot.  The boil was so big that it…

Yes, yes, thanks, we get it. But surely people like Julie Bishop and Greg Hunt manned… sorry, staffed the barricades, belted out ‘La Marseillaise‘ and stiffened their innovative leader’s spine when the spittle started flying?
Strangely, no.

How odd. So,moving on –  which pundits said what?
Well, you’ll be shocked to learn that ink was spilt in the Saturday papers, and electrons set to work. The Guardian’s Lenore Taylor reminded Malcolm of his fine words in 2009. The Fin’s Laura Tingle had already commented that the Turnbull government had achieved a ‘rare’ trifecta.

Eh?
Oh, more Tingle gold, you know – or you should – “governments sometimes get policy right but the politics wrong; or the politics right but then stuff up on process. But the statements of Environment and Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg – and the even more strident statements of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull on Wednesday – have managed to stuff policy, process and politics all in one deft manoeuvre.”

Annabel Crabb had fun, sharpening her knives in that kitchen of hers, with a wry piece about political correctness and trigger warnings preventing proper debate of issues.  Jacqueline Maley knitted Pauline Hansen’s thousand-miles-from-bleaching-(and-reality)-snorkelling stunt to Canberra in a bravura sketch of a world “where policy-making is as fantastical as a go-nowhere boat trip over a bleached-out coral reef.”

Could we have some old white men now please? They seem under-represented in punditry these days.
Thought you’d never ask. Paul Kelly reckons that Turnbull has to prepare for renewed ‘carbon policy war’. He argues that industry dreams of Coalition and Labor coming together on climate change policy were just that — dreams” and that  “Turnbull has no wish to repeat the mistakes that cost him the leadership in 2009, hardly a miraculous conclusion. He has buried any ETS nostalgia and this can be assumed for the rest of his prime ministership”. However long that might be…  Chris Kenny was… Chris Kenny.  Something about Banquo, but he forgot to call Julia Gillard Lady Macbeth.  Richo reckons Malcolm deliberately used Josh as a human shield, a la Scott Morrison on the GST. Laurie Oakes reckons Josh Frydenberg is a marked man and how “game-playing takes precedence over good policy and process in Australian politics today.” 

Who knew?
Quite. Jack Waterford has a very interesting piece in the Canberra Times  on the using crises to push through policy changes.  He implies that Turnbull doesn’t have the skills – or perhaps the spine. Meanwhile, the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age have both editorialised on Malcolm Turnbull, calling him a climate policy girlie man.

Really, they said that?
Not in so many words –  I am channelling my inner Mathias Cormann.

So everything will calm down now, yes, and the grown-up government can continue?
Oh, absolutely.  The right won’t dismiss the Climate Review as ‘housekeeping’, or imply Alan Finkel is a raving incompetent pinko in league with Gillian Trigg.  The states will decide to wait for the Federal government before taking any further action on climate or energy policy. The Climate Review, which is taking place for almost a year will be led by a non-partisan figure – probably Dick Warburton or Maurice Newman – and the hearings and discussion papers will not be hijacked by leaking, stunts and smearing; it will be an ideal speech community to warm the cockles of Jurgen Habermas‘s heart. Internationally, Donald Trump will be a steady – if slightly small – hand on the tiller.

Oh, thank goodness for that, you had me worried for a minute.
I have a bridge in Sydney to sell you.  Cash only.

 

[If you so much as smiled, let alone laughed, please think about retweeting/emailing/facebook.  Cheers!!]

PS  Here’s a (much) longer article, with less snark

PPS And here is my piece on the Conversation about climate backflips over the last ten years

“British Lord Vestey, and Vincent Lingari”… and Phillip Knightley

There’s a great Paul Kelly song From Little Things, Big Things Grow, about an Aboriginal Land Rights struggle.

It opens thus-

Gather round people let me tell you’re a story
An eight year long story of power and pride
British Lord Vestey and Vincent Lingiarri
Were opposite men on opposite sides

Vestey was fat with money and muscle
Beef was his business, broad was his door
Vincent was lean and spoke very little
He had no bank balance, hard dirt was his floor

Vestey of course was a self-made man.  No imperialist invasion by the state to set the conditions for his wealth.  No tax dodging by him to keep it. Absolutely not.

This leapt out at me from the good obituary of Phlllip Knightly.

A more individual triumph happened accidentally in 1979, when he took the time to listen to a Canadian economist visiting the office to speak to another journalist, who had gone to lunch. The result, after more than a year of research, was a piece that showed how the Vesteys, who were then one of Britain’s richest and best-connected families, ran a business empire that had been entirely structured to avoid tax. At its peak, Vestey cattle, Vestey ships and Vestey butcher’s shops supplied Britain with most of its beef, and yet, to take the example of the family’s Dewhurst butcher’s chain, a profit of £2.3m in one year yielded a tax bill of £10.

It was a fascinating life (took in the thalidomide investigation, and much much else.) Here’s how the obituary ends;

He was twice made journalist of the year in the British Press Awards. “I know now that the influence journalists can exercise is limited and that what we achieved is not always what we intended,” he concluded in his autobiography. “It is the fight that counts.”

“Hierophantic condescension and stolid obviousness” #Australia journalism

Well, that’s Amanda Lohrey off a couple of Christmas card lists!!

“One of the reasons we need a civics program in schools is because we learn so little about the complexity of government from the Canberra press gallery. From the hierophantic condescension of Laurie Oakes to the stolid obviousness of Michelle Grattan, what we mostly get is a repetitive loop of myopic opinionating with scarcely any factual analysis of policy, never mind depth of historical context.” [Lohrey goes on to point out the role of political parties as social gatherings in the pre-television/radio days]

(The piece is about how much Australians don’t know about their own history and politics, kinda echoes Laura Tingle on Political Amnesia). Fwiw, I have learnt a lot about Australian politics from reading Oakes and Grattan, though the former is slow to mention the following –

“Thanks to former ALP leader Mark Latham’s pugnacious 2005 memoir, Rudd’s leaking – particularly to Oakes – was already infamous. Latham outlines in The Latham Diaries how he suspected Rudd of being the source of numerous damaging leaks before and after the 2004 federal election – “his pompous language is a give-away” – and details a curious trap he set by feeding Rudd false information. The information, concerning nonexistent focus groups, was prominently reported in Oakes’ Bulletin column the next week.”

Jensen, E.  2013. The Saboteur. The Monthly, May.

To save some of you googling-

A hierophant (Ancient Greek: ἱεροφάντης) is a person who brings religious congregants into the presence of that which is deemed holy.[1] The word comes from Ancient Greece, where it was constructed from the combination of ta hiera, “the holy,” and phainein, “to show.”

Podcast on #Australia #climate policy #auspol

The very cool people at Beyond Zero Emissions, on 3CR (community radio in Melbourne)  interviewed in November.  Here’s a link to their page about it. (it’s cut and paste below)

BZE radio talks to Marc Hudson:

Marc is studying the strategic responses of the Australian coal industry to the challenge of climate change. He is in the final year of a PhD at the Sustainable Consumption Institute: Manchester University. Marc is a regular contributor to The Conversation.

BZE Technology Radio Show: 11 Nov 2016: Podcast:

A historical perspective of contradictory statements from politicians and bureaucrats.

Marc talked about:

  • Coal usage in Australia from soon after White settlement, and the rapidly expanding export of coal to Japan from the late 1950s onwards, which was important for Japan as it rebuilt after World War Two.  Japan was the single most important market until the late 1990s, and is still very important.
  • China becoming a market for Australian coal from 2008 – but these exports have been decreasing as China produces most of its own coal, and is recognising coal as a health risk, and a political one, due to air quality in Chinese cities.
  • The chopping and changing of Australian climate policy, with dizzying peaks and troughs, alongside the basic bipartisan support for increasing coal exports
  • Prime Minister Julia Gillard and our short lived carbon pricing,
  • Malcolm Turnbull’s overt support for renewables until he became prime minister,
  • The election of climate denier Malcolm Roberts of One Nation to the Senate
  • The appointment of climate denier Craig Kelly as Chair of the Federal Environment Energy Committee.
  • The Australian recent ratification of the Paris agreements
    The current Morocco conference
  • The election of Trump in the US
  • Australian climate change activism.

Further reading

Out of step: marching for climate justice versus taking action
(The Conversation: Marc Hudson: 27 Nov 2015)

The sound of silence: why has the environment vanished from election politics?
(The Conversation: Marc Hudson: 23 June 2016)

Beyond Zero Emissions interviewers: Kay Wennagel, Michael Staindl, Natalie Bucknell

Broadcast from Radio 3CR in Melbourne, Australia

Based on a write up by Bev McIntyre