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Nimbin The Australian Michael Balderstone
(Image: The Australian)

Amidst bushfires that both climate scientists and firefighters explicitly say were exacerbated by global heating, The Australian last week chose a different tack with the front page story “Hippies of Nimbin admit bush got too wild” featuring HEMP Party president Michael Balderstone.

Originating earlier this decade as a dead-cat strategy against climate science, the argument that opposition from “greenies” to hazard-reduction has something to do with the current crisis was brought up last week by Barnaby Joyce. Balderstone’s apparent support for the anti-Greens line has been cited in a subsequent editorial condemning the Greens, and a Miranda Devine op-ed outright blaming the party for the fires. (The Greens, it needs to be stressed, neither oppose hazard reduction nor have any power over it.)

But as politically useful as an anti-Greens hippy might be, Balderstone, has since called bullshit on the original article.

Speaking to independent paper The Echo, the Nimbin resident says he was not aware Lloyd was writing his comments down, and has specifically taken issue with the writer’s general characterisation of him. In Balderstone’s view, Lloyd characterised him as someone who believes “the greenies have a lot to answer for over the incendiary state of the Australian bush”.

“That’s complete bullshit — I did not say that,” Balderstone said.

For clarity, only two of Balderstone’s direct quotes about “greenies” make it into the article itself: “They (greenies) own it”; and, “The Greens have to cop it on the head, they have been obsessed with no fires and no burning.”

However, he argues his comments to Lloyd were closer to agreeing that the Greens would again face the “hazard reduction” attack from the Coalition, rather than making that argument himself.

“I think that’s how he got that quote from me,” Balderstone told The Echo. “I said something like, ‘Yeah they’ll cop it on the head, there’s been some Greens obsessed with no fires … I remember a few years back, someone wanted to ban fires’.”

Speaking to Crikey, Lloyd said he gave Balderstone notice that he would be quoted and believed the aggravating sentence accurately reflected the HEMP president’s views, but had “no interest in causing him any discomfort”.

“I consider Michael a friend and have met several times since the article was published,” Lloyd says. “We have discussed an Indigenous workshop on traditional burning methods.”

The article, only haphazardly implicates the Greens: Richard Di Natale’s acceptance of climate science is contrasted with unattributed “bigger questions … being asked about park management and extraordinary fuel loads”, but neither the party’s support nor power to control hazard reduction (the overall practice of which has actually increased this decade according to the NSW Coalition) is explicitly discussed.

Also not worth a mention: the fact that, according to both firefighters and fire researchers, reductions this year in controlled burns are generally down to fires starting earlier or in newer locations. That, and the fact that the practice is not exactly a silver bullet.

(However, there is some ad-hoc equivocation of climate science and denialism thrown in. For example: “Some say climate is always changing; others think conditions are worse because of it.” Note that only one of those views is supported by BOM, CSIRO, NASA, general observations and so on).

Asked whether he believed the article gives an accurate impression of the Greens’ hazard reduction policies, Lloyd would only say “that is subjective”.

Balderstone, at any rate, has unreservedly apologised to both the Greens and “greenies”. Having now read their actual forestry policy, he also calls it fine.

Interestingly, he also told The Echo that Lloyd first submitted a different headline, Country Gone Wild, and that Lloyd “feels really bad and embarrassed about [the article], like I do”.

“Perhaps he’s been working for Murdoch for too long.”

Lloyd, however, said he does not write or suggest headlines. When asked to respond to Balderstone’s more personal allegation, Lloyd would only describe Crikey’s request to respond an “embarrassing question”.

Which is entirely valid. Embarrassing for whom, however, remains subjective.

Peter Fray

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