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Federal

Jun 20, 2011

Lord Monckton participation ruffles feathers at mining gabfest

The CSIRO and Geoscience Australia have rejected conflict of interest concerns over their $6,000 sponsorship of a conference addressed by notorious climate change denier, the Third Viscount Monckton of Brenchley, Christopher Monckton.

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The CSIRO asked to be removed as a principle sponsor of a mining industry conference after organisers booked notorious climate change denier, the Third Viscount Monckton of Brenchley, Christopher Monckton, to deliver the keynote address.

Both the CSIRO and Geoscience Australia are listed as “session supporters” of the Association of Mining and Exploration Companies’ annual gabfest, kicking off at the end of the month at Perth’s salubrious Burswood Casino. The CSIRO has donated the equivalent of $3,000 by providing a free speaker at the closed-to-the-public event, which also boasts speeches from opposition leader Tony Abbott and Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest.

Crikey understands that when news of Lord Monckton’s keynote began to circulate, senior CSIRO staffers requested its involvement be downgraded from a general sponsor to something less auspicious. The organisation was then asked by AMEC to provide a counterpoint speaker, but the CSIRO refused to be drawn into a facile back and forth on a debate it considers settled.

Monckton’s address is entitled “How many beans make five? Math lessons for climate-crazed lawmakers”, however that includes a “TBC” disclaimer, suggesting the House of Lords wannabe is still mulling his attack angle. Other stars on the bill include Lyne MP Rob Oakeshott, whose vote is crucial to the passage of the Gillard Government’s Minerals Resource Rent Tax through parliament and WA Liberal Senator Matthias Cormann.

CSIRO’s view on climate change is well known, with its head, Megan Clark, speaking out in defence of climate change scientists last year and noting that the science behind global warming was beyond doubt. The organisation has since produced a handy book, Climate Change: Science and Solutions for Australia, a cut down version of which will be circulating at the casino.

In addition to the AMEC get together, the Monckton trip, auspiced by the fringe Climate Sceptics party, includes stop offs at prestigious locations such as the “German Club” in the Melbourne suburb of Windsor and the Starlight Room in Wests New Lambton, a suburb of Newcastle. The Lord’s co-speakers at the regional fixtures, entitled “A Carbon Tax will Bankrupt Australia: the science will not justify it”, include Dr David Evans and Jo Nova, who both believe the earth is cooling.

In Perth, Monckton will also give the Hancock Free Enterprise Lecture at the private Notre Dame University. The lecture has atrophied following its set-up in 2000 using cash from Gina Rinehart’s Hancock Prospecting, but the iron ore heiress was apparently keen to resurrect it this year with the Lord’s assistance.

It follows his inaugural visit last year, when Monckton was feted by mainstream broadcasters like the ABC’s Fran Kelly and Deborah Cameron thanks to the efforts of crack PR outfit Jackson Wells.

A spokesperson for the CSIRO, Bob Chamberlain, told Crikey that the CSIRO “…were not really interested in debating with people like Lord Monckton”.

“We did make a judgement call on whether we would or should be there but we thought the value to the industry of our involvement was worth more than the sort of things you’re suggesting [our participation] might be perceived.”

Chamberlain said the sessions were there to “help the exploration industry. We’re not there to argue or debate climate change”, noting that because AMEC was the peak body for small explorers it was vital to help them access new technology.

In an emailed statement, a spokesperson for Geoscience Australia said the body had been involved with the AMEC convention for the past couple of years. But the participation of Monckton had come as a shock.

“We accepted an invitation to be one of the sponsors of the AMEC Convention 2011, and at that time the speakers’ list had not been finalised. Geoscience Australia was neither consulted about the choice of speakers, nor do we endorse their views.”

AMEC is the major lobbyist for small and medium-sized miners and explorers. It has emerged as a furious opponent of the Gillard Government and the $7.4 billion MRRT and last year spent $273,000 on attack ads claiming that everyday Australians would get “whacked” by the PM.

The group is expected to be central to a mooted High Court challenge to the draft MRRT legislation if it passes federal parliament later in the year, arguing the impost would impact unfairly on emerging iron ore players like Forrest’s Fortescue Metals Group.

A spokesperson for AMEC declined to comment, saying they didn’t disclose commercial arrangements with sponsors.

Andrew Crook —

Andrew Crook

Former Crikey Senior Journalist

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