REJECTION of the Abbott government’s $4 million grant for an Australian Consensus Centre on climate change at the University of Western Australia (UWA) is a “disgrace”, federal Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce has conceded.
During a television interview with Andrew Bolt yesterday, Mr Joyce was quizzed about UWA’s decision to forgo hosting the centre, linked to Danish political scientist Bjorn Lomborg’s controversial climate change views.
The political commentator said UWA’s original decision to host the self-proclaimed sceptical environmentalist’s views had “outraged left-wing academics, the ABC and warming alarmists like Tim Flannery”, and that deciding to cut the centre last Friday was “a disgrace”.
“Yes, it is, Andrew,” Mr Joyce replied.
“Apparently, you're not allowed to have fascists, ISIS or Bjorn Lomborg speaking at the University of Western Australia.
“Obviously, they don't believe in the debate.
“Don't stand between a bureaucrat and hundreds of millions of dollars worth of consultancy fees - and I think that's the biggest threat that Bjorn Lomborg is to them - that he might actually question this unparalleled commitment to reporting about reporting about reporting for reporters' sake.”
Last week, UWA vice chancellor Paul Johnson said the proposed centre was untenable and lacked academic support.
In praising UWA’s move to cancel the $4m contract, UWA student guild president Lizzy O'Shea said students were concerned about the centre’s impact on the university's reputation.
“It's a really good sign as far as community action goes that if enough people have mobilised against something, and don't support it, that people will change their minds,” she told ABC.
But Mr Joyce told the ABC he wanted to see “an exciting world where you can hear challenging points of view, even if you disagree with them”.
During Sunday’s interview, Mr Bolt said UWA saying “we don’t welcome debate” was “a very bad look” for an industry that earns the national economy $15-billion a year from foreign students.
Mr Joyce replied: “Especially in Western Australia ... where the steel industry is”.
“Iron ore - if you don't like it, take it out and you won't have the University of Western Australia,” he said.
“You'll be stone motherless broke.”
Education Minister Christopher Pyne has said the government was seeking legal advice on the status of its contract with UWA and was confident of finding a new home for the centre.
“What a sad day for academic freedom when staff at a university silence a dissenting voice rather than test their ideas in debate,” he said on Twitter.
Asked by Mr Bolt whether he blamed global warming for the prolonged drought that’s occurring in Queensland - which the government provided a $333m drought package for on Saturday - Mr Joyce said “no”.
He said it was just part and parcel of what Australian poet Dorothea Mackellar talked about: “Droughts and flooding rains, pitiless blue sky is what we have out west”.
“It’ll rain again and then those people will be back in production and we've got record prices in beef and record prices in sheep for them to enjoy,” he said.
“We've got to look after them until they get to that point because then they'll deliver bucketloads of money back into our national economy.
“So, there's a logic behind this - it’s not a permanent removal of rain.”
Mr Joyce said there would be wet and dry periods over a large section of time but he’s “always sceptical of the idea” that the climate can be changed with “bureaucrats and taxes”.
He said that approach was “a self-fulfilling prophecy”.
“I make you feel guilty so I can get your money and put it in my pocket and send reports backwards and forth to one another,” he said.
“I want to make sure that we're effective in delivering outcomes.
“I'm absolutely certain that single-handedly, Australia will do nothing to change any temperature, and there’s an ebb and flow in temperatures all the time.
“I just get a real sense of annoyance where someone says: ‘I'm going to make you feel guilty. I'm going to lumber you with a whole heap of sort of fear and loathing about the future for the purpose of then saying you - I now demand that you pay me money. I demand that by way of a tax. I demand that you support all the institutions that I think are morally right’.
“Because really, that's just is a form of, you know, guilt piracy and we don't want that.
“If people were fair dinkum, they'd be saying: ‘Well, if I want zero emissions, let's talk about the nuclear power industry. Let’s bring in nuclear power’.”
On the government’s drought support package, Mr Joyce said it was in the national interest to see communities and people survive the drought because “they will deliver an immense wealth back into our economy”.
“But they've got to be there to do it, and the mechanics have to be there to do it, and the shops have got to be there to do it,” he said.
“If I was to say to you or any of your listeners or politicians: ‘Look, I'm only going to pay you when it rains and it hasn't rained for the last three years’, I bet you those people would all be arriving at the government saying: ‘Look, I think we need some help’.
“This is beyond the capacities for people to manage.”
Mr Joyce said for him, a 1- to 10-year drought, “you just manage it yourself”.
He said for a 1 in 20-year drought the States should be asked for help and over that the federal government had a role to play, “because it starts becoming extraordinary in its duration”.
“And we can't expect any business to survive here and say: ‘Look, you're just going to have no income for three or so years’,” he said.
“It obviously calls on the role of the government.
“(But) once the double-deckers and B-doubles and B-triples start filling up with cattle and heading off overseas to the markets in the Middle East and Indonesia, and Europe and the United States of America then that money ends up back in Market Place and Collins Street - it goes right around our economy.
“It's one of the fundamental parts of our economy, always has been.
“It’s our soft commodity market and this is one of the ways we manage it.”