(Image: Unsplash/Matt Howard)

Institute for Public Affairs

The Institute for Public Affairs (IPA) is perhaps the best-known of Australia’s free market think tanks, though its funders are a closely-kept secret.

The institute has “concluded” that hazard reduction and fuel loads are “clearly” the primary issue in the spread of bushfires and that the government needs to get rid of the red tape which has got in the way of clearing vegetation.  

“Native Vegetation Laws in Australia need to be completely overhauled to empower property owners,” said IPA head John Roskam.

As the fires raged in early December last year, the IPA conducted a survey of 1016 people which found:

  • 58% of Australians believe Australia has too much red tape
  • 64% of Australians believe unelected bureaucrats have too much control over our lives.

“This polling confirms Australia is in a red tape crisis,” said IPA Director of Research Daniel Wild.

The Bushfire Front

The Bushfire Front (BFF) is a Western Australian outfit that has gained a national profile in the pages of The Australian.

It argues for better techniques for managing fires and denies the role of climate change in the bushfire crisis. According to the its website, committee member Roger Underwood has more than 40 years experience in managing bushfires and is a former general manager of the Western Australian government’s now defunct conservation and land management department.

Underwood, too, focuses on fuel load as a prime cause of bushfires. At the same time he has lashed “Emergency Leaders for Climate Action”, a group of former fire chiefs led by ex-NSW fire and rescue commissioner Greg Mullins, who pointed to climate change — and the government’s inaction — as a key factor during the bushfire crisis.

Underwood has trodden the well-worn path reserved for climate contrarians, also getting a run on Sky News and 2GB.

Writing in the conservative Quadrant magazine, Underwood alleged “the climate change industry” was  benefiting from bushfires because governments have been “taken in by the scam advice that climate change is causing bushfire disasters”.

“There is no question,” he wrote, “that the renewable energy industry has been (albeit indirectly) a significant beneficiary of large, damaging bushfires.”

The Green Shirts Movement

The Green Shirts Movement describes itself as a grassroots movement that is “not aligned politically”.

In truth, it is highly organised with ties to the National Party and represents a powerful new voice in the modern climate-denialism movement. 

Formed in 2018 in response to proposed changes to Queensland’s vegetation laws, it has since emerged as a leading voice for rural workers and farmers fighting against environmental protection laws, which they say are threatening their way of life.

The group is seeking to “reclaim green” from environmental groups who it calls “lawbreaking extremists”. It vehemently disputes evidence of climate change and says claims that the Great Barrier Reef is dying have been fabricated.

In September the group travelled to Canberra with controversial IPA-backed scientist Peter Ridd (see below) in order to fight new measures limiting fertilisers and pesticides to protect the Great Barrier Reef, which it says are based on “questionable science” and will cause significant cost to industry. 

The group’s connection to the Nationals runs deep. In October, then-Nationals deputy leader Bridget McKenzie and Nationals MP Matt Canavan couldn’t resist donning a green shirt for a photo opp in Rockhampton, alongside another Nationals MP, Michelle Landry.

Landry and Canavan have been key drivers of the pro-coal Go Adani and Go Galilee Basin campaigns in regional Queensland.

The group’s founder and chief organiser is Mackay regional councillor and former rugby league footballer Martin Bella, who has previously run for the National Party in the state seat of Mackay. 

The group is also closely aligned with Queensland farm lobby AgForce, which drew criticism last year for deleting more than a decade’s worth of data from a government program that aimed to improve water quality in the Great Barrier Reef.

Australian Environment Foundation

The Australian Environment Foundation portrays itself as “a different kind of environment group” with an emphasis on “facts, evidence and scientific analysis”.

While it might sound like a greenie group, it has been claimed that the foundation was started as a front organisation for the IPA.

One of the foundation’s directors is former James Cook University professor Peter Ridd, whose cause has been championed by the conservative media after he was sacked by the university over comments questioning climate change science around the Great Barrier Reef. He was later awarded $1.2 million in an unfair dismissal payout. 

The foundation says it exists to protect the environment, while — like its cousin the IPA — preserving “the rule of law, property rights, and the freedom of the individual”. 

Volunteer Fire Fighters Association

The legitimacy of the Volunteer Fire Fighters Association (VFFA), which calls itself “the voice of volunteer fire fighters in NSW”, was called into question at the height of the bushfire crisis in January.

It was revealed that the VFFA is closely associated with former Shooters and Fishers Party candidate Mick Holton. The group hammers the theme that the real cause of catastrophic bushfires is fuel load mismanagement, not climate change.

“We are concerned that the Emergency Leaders for Climate Action are overlooking key elements of land management practice,” the association says. “Climate change is not the culprit, poor land management and bureaucratic fire service mismanagement is more to blame.”

The VFFA quotes the views of retired Monash University researcher David Packham, who also denies a link between global warming and fires. Packham has been quoted as a “leading scientist” by SBS, among other outlets.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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