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Jul 16, 2013


Climate specialists?

John Potter writes: Re. “Sydney Institute ‘has diverse views‘” (yesterday). Gerard Henderson makes the point that Clive Hamilton and Robert Manne have no qualifications in science or engineering. True, but neither do they have qualifications in woodworking, hairdressing or circus arts, which are as relevant to still-called global warming as engineering. Perhaps if Henderson found a hairdresser or bearded lady who shared his unscientific beliefs he might be cajoled into further relaxing his already malleable standards as to who may speak at his events.

As it is, Henderson is missing the point entirely by comparing Hamilton and Manne’s public profiles with that of (formerly Professor) Murry Salby. Hamilton and Manne make no claims in studying the science themselves and make it clear that they are merely promoting the consensus of every major scientific organisation on the planet — a consensus that has yet to be overturned by overenthusiastic doubters such Salby.

Colin Ross writes: Gerard Henderson just cannot help himself.  If he is as evenhanded as he thinks he is, why only include Clive Hamilton and Robert Manne for his snide remarks? What about sneering at a couple of unqualified climate sceptics for balance?

Incidentally, as a 1959 engineering graduate of UWA, I am not sure that my degree gives me any authoritative status on climate change.  In my day we studied physics and chemistry alongside specialists in those disciplines, and the only time we went near the zoology department was, traditionally, when that course covered human reproduction.

If the Sydney Institute is going to include engineers and zoologists et al in their list of approved speakers, then the bar has been set too low.

Rudd’s class warfare

Martin Gordon writes: Re. “Novel ALP vision has Kim Williams reaching for Lenin” (Friday). Margot Saville had a good pick-up on the Rudd speech and similarity to the Chris Bowen book quote. While Kevin Rudd has claimed not to believe in class war, at least one of his candidates (by my local ALP MP) put out material that is blatantly divisive, and very old class war.

Rudd seeks to liken himself as healer, which flies badly in the face of his policy failures (asylum seekers, some cack-handed stimulus items, and disregard of advice by Peter Garrett for one on the insulation batts), his poor reputation in Queensland Labor under Wayne Goss and his remarkable sacking (and colleagues’ subsequent fierce attacks). The claimed Hawke era consensus came to be derided as “CON-census” and as a marketing slogan. Is this more Rudd phony marketing and sloganeering?

Reviewing the numbers on China

Steve Davies writes: Re. “Is China in for a hard landing, or is this the new normal?” (yesterday). The Kouk says the maths is simple, but the numbers don’t add up, unless there is something more complicated going on, because 12% of $US 1 trillion is $120 billion; 7% of $US 8 trillion is $560 billion. Not $15 billion and $60 billion as reported.

The premise of the article remains, 7% growth in today’s China dwarfs 12% growth in the China of 20 years ago.


Apr 27, 2012


So Clive Hamilton believes our documentary, I Can Change Your Mind About Climate, was an attack on truth and an irresponsible act of treason by the ABC?

My partner Dick Smith and I envisaged the program as a response, perhaps even an antidote, to the very ugly turn the debate had taken in Australia. When a noose is held in front of visiting climate scientists, when journalists are threatened outside Parliament House for doing their job, then it’s clear things have taken a very nasty turn.

In this environment, the substance of the science was being lost in a shouting match of “truthiness”, where anyone could become an expert with just five minutes of googling. How to turn this around? How to kick-start a new national discussion on this most vital of issues?

Our idea, which the ABC and Screen Australia bravely accepted, was to take two people with very different views around the world to seek divergent opinions, and in the process take a journey in the footsteps of their ideological opponent. They would conduct the discussion with civility and they would show that it is possible to have a constructive discussion without the venom that has so poisoned the debate in Australia.

Anna Rose and Nick Minchin bravely agreed to take on the challenge despite both having much to lose, and trusted us to treat them fairly.

Ultimately this was not to become an argument about the science. Attempts to do this in the past became easily side tracked, leaving audiences none the wiser. We decided to concentrate on exploring why people believe what they do, giving the viewers an opportunity consider their firmly held positions in a new light.

Now he has at last had the opportunity to see the program, I hope Hamilton can see the point. This was not a simple matter of “equivalency” of argument or false balance. Viewers were given the opportunity to weigh the kitchen table science of sceptical bloggers such as Jo Nova against those of professional climate scientists such as Matthew England. They could listen to Yale psychologist Anthony Leiserowitz explain to Minchin how closely he fitted the typical profile of the middle-aged, well-educated, conservative male. Positions on climate are largely dictated by one’s values, not by one’s understanding of the science.

For most this would be new information. And I hope that even Hamilton is grudgingly willing to concede that in the Q&A panel that followed last night’s doco, we had what was probably the most constructive public discussion on climate Australia has seen in several years. Divergent, strongly held views argued with good manners and good will. And is that such a bad thing?

I am grateful to Rose and Minchin for participating, and sorry (but not surprised) that Hamilton, and others from the extreme ends of the spectrum attacked them for doing so.

Far from “grabbing the opportunity with two hands”, the truth is I had to do quite a bit of arm-twisting to convince Minchin to participate. He smelled an ABC conspiracy. I countered that if there was the slightest whiff of a set-up then we had undermined our purpose.

In fact it was Hamilton who heavied Rose not participate, in the most manipulative manner, by placing the entire future of the environmental movement on her young shoulders. It is a measure of Rose’s strength that she decided to continue, because she too is concerned that the debate in Australia has spun off into what she calls the “madlands”.

Hamilton of course thrives on the conflict; indeed it has become his raison d’etre. In his world we have the blathering Lord Monckton and his swastika-led assault on one side, while on the other a white horse carrying St Clive, ready to smite the infidels with his sword of scientific purity.

In the real world, however, it’s not such an heroic struggle. There is confusion, uncertainty, and most worryingly, disengagement. Should we ponder the real risks of climate disruption, then the dangers are far too ghastly to contemplate. And we know that the weasily rhetoric and limp action from our political class in no way meets the challenge. Everyone is trying to con everyone else.

Hamilton would do well to ponder the findings now being amassed by the social scientists, which tell us that the doubters will not be swayed by science alone. In fact on the extremes, it will drive people into worse denial. Human psychology is often times not rational, especially when faced with existential threat, and this helps explain why the policy of exclusion and dismissal had so manifestly failed to convince vast numbers of Australians that action now is better than chaos later.

Climate deniers are not mad, Hamilton, they are human. And the sooner you begin to engage with them rather than dismiss them, the better chance you may have of bringing a few along with you. Better still, encourage young and impressive people such as Rose to do the job rather than trying to shut her down too. Time is desperately short.


Feb 23, 2011


It must be sad to be an old environmental warrior: to reminisce about the days of barricades, placards, chants, feathers, drums and, well, copious amounts of hair. Clearly Clive Hamilton has been in a reminiscent mood. Perhaps he’s been fretfully stroking his shiny cranium while remembering the good ole Franklin Dam protests and what they achieved. Perhaps he nibbled on one of those special cookies that were so popular in those days.

How else could he come to the conclusion that mainstream environmentalism has failed because of “the professionalisation of environmental activism over the past two decades?”

Perhaps you, like me, read this and muttered the classic teenager response, “huh?”

Perhaps you, like me, wondered if you had totally misunderstood the clean-shaven and articulate environmental activists that have emerged over the past two decades. Why is it that we found them persuasive and convincing when Dr Hamilton says they were sell-outs to incrementalism and professionalism?

What did we miss?

Perhaps it’s not what we missed, but that which is being missed by the well-meaning Dr Hamilton.

Just like the far-left elements of the Labor Party and some of the Australian Greens, Clive is simply feeling cast adrift because environmentalism is now mainstream. In fact, the broader concept of sustainability — the combination of economic, social AND environmental responsibility — is being embraced across business, government and the broader community.

Admittedly, we have a long way to go. Australians are big talkers when it comes to environmental action and don’t always follow through with consistent actions, but our minds and hearts are open to opportunities to do something for the common good. The outpouring of support for Queenslanders affected by the floods is a perfect example.

Surely Clive Hamilton is being disingenuous when he says that:

We need a new environmental radicalism made up of those willing to put their bodies on the line; because no one ever achieved radical social change by being respectable.

Does Australia really need more radicalism, at a time when religious radicalism is being blamed for racism and other forms of bigotry?

Surely the incremental, professional and constructive way to approach environmental responsibility makes the most sense?

Yes it does.

Many words have been written elsewhere about environmentalists realising that they had to dress, think and talk like corporates and government policy makers if they were going to influence environmental decision-making within either type of institution.

As a result, green activists were sourced from a broader range of disciplines including economics, law, the physical sciences like geography and chemistry, and the behavioural sciences such as psychology.

Only once they were equipped to step into corporate boardrooms and departmental meeting rooms, and speak the same language as their antagonists, were environmentalists able to make ground on a raft of issues.

Without the professionalism of green activists, and their acceptance of incrementalism as a means to an end – two of the three weaknesses identified by Clive Hamilton – many of the environmental reforms we take for granted today would not be in place. These include the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, the National Pollutant Inventory, and the programs to protect Australia’s native forests and the Great Barrier Reef. None of these reforms are perfect, but they are a vast improvement on what existed before, which was nothing at all.

I can’t conclude this note without mentioning a few green activists whose achievements are the best counterpoint to Dr Hamilton’s fretful illusions.

Each of these people put on a suit, learnt to talk in corporate-speak and made a material difference to the way the environment is valued and managed by corporate Australia and the Australian government (and none of them will thank me for mentioning them):

  • Paul Gilding was CEO of Greenpeace International and after he left was a trail-blazer in advising corporations how to adopt sustainable practices. He now works with individuals, businesses, NGOs, entrepreneurs, academia and governments.
  • Tricia Caswell was head of the ACTU and then went on to be executive director of the Australian Conservation Foundation. After that she was the executive director of PLAN Australia and then went on to found the Global Sustainability Institute at the RMIT University that initiated most of the discussions around triple-bottom line reporting for business in the early 2000s.
  • Michael Rae was with WWF Australia when he worked with the Australian minerals industry to improve their performance on environmental and social matters. Michael also led the charge at the international level, during the Global Mining Initiative, to stop the use of cyanide in the mining and production of gold. He now runs the Responsible Jewellery Council.
  • Erwin Jackson progressed from Greenpeace to the ACF and is now the deputy at the Climate Institute, which is so derided by Clive Hamilton. Strangely, Dr Hamilton does not mention that he used to be chairman of the Climate Institute, and perhaps this is the real source of his bitterness. That aside, Erwin has been instrumental in keeping the Australian government’s hand to fire when it comes to climate action, and his patient approach suggests he knows that this is a long game to be won by engaged experts and not by the whingers braying on the sidelines.

Clive Hamilton would probably call these people environmental sell-outs. I call them true environmental activists and ultimately, success stories. They have kept to their principles but adapted to the corporate/government world, and they have made a material difference.

This is something that the reminiscent Clive Hamilton can only aspire to.

*This first appeared on Drag0nista’s Blog: Views from the aerie.


May 10, 2010



Mar 2, 2010


Yesterday the ABC’s Drum site published a piece by Alan Moran attacking mainstream climate science. It was the first of what is promised to be a week of pieces “commissioned from noted writers on the sceptic side of the climate science debate”, apparently prompted by that site’s publication last week of a five-part article by Clive Hamilton on the campaign being waged against mainstream science by climate denialists.

Moran is obviously entitled to his views regardless of whether they are easily shown to be false. The question is more why they were given a run on The Drum without some basic fact-checking or balance. Moran’s article did not “balance” those of Clive Hamilton, who wrote on a specific aspect of the climate change debate in which he is professionally involved. Moran can at least claim – unlike Tom Switzer – that he has expertise on climate scepticism, having been working on the issue for the IPA for some time, including speaking at international conferences.

But yesterday, while he began on the issue of the public credibility of climate science, he quickly drifted onto climate science itself, and he isn’t a climate scientist.

This is a further example of the ABC’s balance without judgement on the issue of climate science. Out of an editorial concern for balance, the ABC gives time not to experts who are in a position to offer credible scepticism about aspects of the anthropogenic global warming hypothesis, but to bloggers and right-wing commentators. The rollcall of Drum sceptics this week says it all: none of Alan Moran, Tom Switzer, Bob Carter and Jo Nova are climate scientists.

Moran’s piece is comprehensive in its listing of sceptic and denialist claims. A number of them were recycled by Tom Switzer in the second climate denialist piece today.  They’re worth going through in detail to illustrate how thin the climate denialist case is when checked against the evidence.

Moran: “The leaking of emails in October last year from the premier global centre of climatic panic, the Climate Research Unit (CRU) of the University of East Anglia, provided evidence that scientists leading the charge on climate change were keen to avoid scrutiny.”

As is now clear to anyone who has considered the emails themselves in their context, there is no “evidence” of any scientists avoiding scrutiny, only of scientists deeply unhappy with the constant efforts of denialists to waste their time and discredit them.  The now-famous “trick” to “hide the decline” refers a technique of plotting actual data alongside reconstructed data, and the “decline” refers to the decline in the reliability of temperature data from tree rings. Kevin Trenberth’s “travesty” that “we can’t account for the lack of warming at the moment” relates to his paper on global energy accounting and how there’s as yet no explanation for how natural variability accounts for rising heat levels.

Moran: “[Mistakes] started back in 2003, when Canadian researchers McIntyre & McKitrick undertook statistical analysis of Professor Michael Mann’s “hockey stick”. Representing a one thousand year temperature trend, the “hockey stick” with its upward trajectory in the 20th century appeared to refute previous thinking… McIntyre & McKitrick deflated the statistics behind the “hockey stick”…”

Wrong. The US Congress requested the National Research Council to investigate the issue. It found some minor flaws in Mann et al’s work but concluded “it can be said with a high level of confidence that global mean surface temperature was higher during the last few decades of the 20th century than during any comparable period during the preceding four centuries… less confidence can be placed in large-scale surface temperature reconstructions for the period from A.D. 900 to 1600.”

Presently available proxy evidence indicates that temperatures at many, but not all, individual locations were higher during the past 25 years than during any period of comparable length since A.D. 900.” The “hockey stick” has since been confirmed repeatedly by data from a variety of sources such as the National Center for Atmospheric Research.

Moran: “We have seen the evidence of imminent Himalayan glacier retreat refuted in spite of sneering attacks on the questioners by the IPCC head, Rajenda Pachauri.”

The IPCC process indeed failed on this claim – and not just or even primarily because the claim was included in the first place (the original text is actually self-contradictory) but because the IPCC editors did not act on numerous comments by climate scientists (and even the Japanese Government) at the time that the claim was not backed up.  However, there is considerable peer reviewed evidence that glaciers are in retreat in the Himalayas, China and Tibet, and in at least one case the rate of retreat is accelerating.

Moran: “We have seen evidence that the Amazon rain forests disappearance is exaggerated…”

Wrong.  This derives from the claim that an IPCC statement was sourced from a WWF document. In fact the WWF drew on peer-reviewed literature on critically-low levels of soil moisture in the Amazon.  The IPCC statement that 40% of the Amazon is under threat from a small reduction in rainfall is backed by peer-reviewed literature.

Moran: “…that half of the Netherlands is not, after all, facing oceanic inundation…”

The 2007 IPCC report said 55% of the Netherlands was below sea level, based on advice from the Dutch Environment Assessment Agency.  The Dutch subsequently altered their advice to say that 26% of the country is below sea level and another 29% is susceptible to river flooding.

Moran: “…and that hurricanes are not increasing in intensity or frequency.”

Wrong.  Climate change has not been clearly linked by climate scientists to increasing hurricane frequency but there is a suggested link made by climate scientists between climate change and hurricane intensity. There is peer-reviewed evidence of hurricanes gaining in wind speed since the 1970s.

Moran: “Warming itself has appeared to have stopped, perhaps temporarily, a fact that even the defrocked high priest of the rising temperature trend, CRU’s Professor Phil Jones, has been forced to concede.”

Wrong, and Moran’s IPA colleague John Roskam who was busted claiming this last week.  This is what Jones said – asked if there had been no statistically-significant global warming in the last 15 years, Jones said:

“Yes, but only just. I also calculated the trend for the period 1995 to 2009. This trend (0.12C per decade) is positive, but not significant at the 95% significance level. The positive trend is quite close to the significance level. Achieving statistical significance in scientific terms is much more likely for longer periods, and much less likely for shorter periods.”

Interviewer: How confident are you that warming has taken place and that humans are mainly responsible?

Phil Jones: “I’m 100% confident that the climate has warmed. As to the second question, I would go along with IPCC Chapter 9 – there’s evidence that most of the warming since the 1950s is due to human activity.”

Contrary to Moran’s statement that “there is no new data about climate trends”, the end – or at least faux, media end – of the 00s decade enabled NASA to conclude that 2009 was the second hottest year on record – just shy of either 2005 or 1998, depending on your data set.  And the decade was the hottest ever, beating the 1990s, and the 1980s.

Moran: “And the IPCC estimated climate trend prior to 1980, which predates accurate satellite based records, is also under a new assault because crucial data has disappeared and many claim records are contaminated by local warming.”

Wrong again.  Peer-reviewed evidence shows no noteworthy impact of factors such as urban warming, and NASA adjusts its data to remove any impact anyway – although a large minority of readings show urban records are cooler than rural records because many monitoring units are located in parks.

Moran can’t even get the rhetorical stuff right. “There are no new findings about… the likelihood of people in rich countries contracting heat induced dengue fever.” Which would come as a shock to Singapore, which is dealing with a significant rise in dengue fever as temperatures have risen over the last decade and earlier, and to Taiwan or for that matter Florida, which last year saw the return of dengue fever for the first time in fifty years.

If the ABC wanted to provide genuine balance on the issue, it could invite contributions from Roger Pielke, a climate scientist who has criticised the IPCC, particularly on the important of CO2 in global warming. Or ask Australia’s Garth Partridge about whether anthropogenic impacts are large enough to significantly affect climate. Ask George Kukla about how much human activity accounts for the current warming. Ask John Christy about over-reliance on modeling. Or ask scientists who welcome global warming, believing it will provide net benefits to humanity, including increased plant growth.

It’s not hard to find credentialed climate scientists, with credibility amongst their peers, who dispute elements of the AGW hypothesis.

Instead, the ABC asks the same group of conservatives and professional denialists, none of whom have expertise in climate science and whose work involves serving up the cream of the denialist blogosphere, despite their claims being repeatedly shown to be wrong. Their views, with errors intact, now come with the ABC logo, giving it a credibility it didn’t previously have – just like Chris Monckton’s falsehoods and distortions went uncorrected during his extensive airtime on the ABC recently.

Balance without judgement isn’t balance at all.


Dec 16, 2009


Most people accept that the federal Liberal Party is in a bad way, but it doesn’t lack its boosters. This morning’s Age features Peter Costello celebrating the party’s victory in the Higgins by-election, while criticising the Greens for their arrogance and poor tactics, and offering them some free political advice into the bargain.

Most of what Costello says is quite sensible. It’s hard to beat this, for example, as a summation of Greens’ candidate Clive Hamilton:

The Greens chose a bad candidate. Their central command overrode local supporters to impose someone who lived in Canberra. Most people think an MP should represent locals to Canberra. The Greens had the idea they could represent Canberra back to the locals.

It’s also true (although hardly a revelation) that the Liberals were helped rather than hurt by Labor’s decision not to field a candidate. Nor does Costello shy away from drawing a moral: “To maximise their joint position, the Greens and Labor need to run three-cornered contests, just like the Liberals and Nationals in regional electorates.”

It’s been psephological orthodoxy for a long time that the coalition is hurt rather than helped by three-cornered contests. The truth is probably a lot messier — sometimes it helps, sometimes it doesn’t — but it will be interesting to see if Costello’s supporters now reverse themselves and argue for running candidates against the Nationals across the board.

It’s fine to celebrate one’s victories, but the danger for the Liberals is that they will misunderstand, and therefore systematically underestimate, the threat from the Greens. If you’re convinced, as Costello claims to be, that almost all Greens votes come from Labor, you won’t see any need to adjust your own policies to stem the flow of Liberal voters to the Greens.

It’s true that Labor can deliver most, but not all, its votes to the Greens as preferences, or as primaries if it doesn’t run. But that doesn’t tell us anything very interesting, since exactly the same is true of the Liberals. (Costello also thinks “the Greens can deliver more than 90% of their preferences to Labor”, whereas the real figure is a bit under 80%.)

More generally, Costello and his party need to guard against falling prey to the same faults they identify in others. The Greens may have a problem with over-confidence (although I wonder if this is an urban myth — the Greens I talk to always seem to err on the side of modesty in their expectations), but they would hardly be alone in that: how many of the twenty-something losing Liberal leaders of the past decade have conceded in advance that an election was a lost cause, or even admitted afterwards that the result was worse than a minor setback?

Similarly, self-righteousness and overblown rhetoric are not confined to the Greens. The warning that “moral absolutists rarely deliver what they promise” should not be lost on Tony Abbott and Kevin Andrews. And Costello’s closing line, “Sanctimony can make you feel good but it rarely appeals to the listening audience”, while undeniably true, might also be thought to have a wider application.


Dec 16, 2009



Dec 8, 2009


Higgins is often caricatured as the haunt of “doctors’ wives” (although the feminisation of the medical profession probably means there are more doctors’ husbands in the electorate).

But it’s much more diverse than most realise, ranging from the youthful and funky streets of Prahran and South Yarra (where the Greens won several booths), to the traditional Labor suburb of Carnegie (where we also won a booth), and across the swathes of comfortable affluence in the middle and north of the electorate (where the Greens vote was lower but that saw some of the biggest swings away from the Liberals).

Did we succeed in our goal of turning the Higgins by-election into a referendum on climate change? We know a third of those who voted in Higgins are open to a strong climate message.

Yet, after weeks of door-knocking and delivering leaflets across the electorate, I formed the impression that too few Australians have truly engaged with the problem of climate change and what it means for our future.

This will change as it becomes untenable to continue to ignore the transformed climate and the scientists’ warnings. Yet change is likely to be too slow, the more so because the Opposition has been captured by those who prefer ideological conviction to scientific evidence.

Nearly three in 10 Higgins electors didn’t even cast a vote.

Election campaigns are as much about the management of expectations as anything else. Voting behaviour is sticky but expectations can fluctuate wildly. Yet it is the gap between the two that determines how the outcome will be interpreted.

With a substantial share of Labor supporters opting for the conservatives, the unchanged Liberal total vote means a similar number of former Liberal voters ticked the Greens box. This is the “anyone but Abbott” factor that should worry the Liberal party.

Although the unique circumstances made forecasting the Higgins by-election result difficult, the Greens’ psephologist was in no doubt that a 35% primary vote was the best the Greens could expect. And on the day that was the outcome.

The only comparison is with the Kooyong by-election in 1994 when, in the absence of a Labor candidate, Peter Singer for the Greens secured 28% of primaries.

The Greens were asking the voters of Higgins — for the most part a secure and comfortable part of the country — to endorse a program of urgent and far-reaching change, a program of economic restructuring commensurate with the science but unprecedented in Australian history, other than in wartime.

So in Higgins on Saturday we did as well as could be realistically expected. Expectations, however, had been driven up to unrealistic levels by the turmoil in Canberra and the excitability of certain election analysts.

A day or two before the election, Liberal party operatives told the press gallery they were worried they might lose. As a media trick it’s an oldie, but it’s a goodie because of the gullibility of some journalists. Besides the media wanted Higgins, and to a lesser extent Bradfield, to be a test of voter reaction to Tony Abbott’s accession to the Liberal leadership.

Perhaps some indication of the political impact of Abbott’s victory can be had by examining the difference between Liberal support on election day and support among the 14% of voters who lodged pre-poll and postal votes in the three weeks before December 5.

The party was led by Abbott for only the last four days before the election and there was no last-minute rush to vote. On a two-party preferred basis, before election day 68.8% of pre-poll and 76.5% of postal votes went to the Liberal candidate. On election day, the Liberal vote fell to 57.6%.

The political ramifications of the Liberal party’s capture by climate deniers will play out over a long period. The party room, and the party membership, is now dominated by paleo-conservatives whose hatred of environmentalism has induced them to jettison 300 years of faith in science.

I fear we are seeing in Australia a repeat of the electoral polarisation over global warming in the United States that began in the autumn of 1997 when the Republicans launched a sustained campaign against President Clinton, the imminent Kyoto protocol, environmentalism and climate science.

It was a campaign that was to split beliefs on party lines. Before the Republicans’ “war on science” there was little difference between the attitudes of Democrat and Republican voters on climate change and the need to respond to it. Now there is a vast gulf in which, on the right, rejection of climate science has become a marker of cultural identity, a point of difference for those who cannot utter the word “liberal” without a snarl.

In this country it is unlikely we will see quite the depth of anti-environmentalism that infects the US right. Tony Abbott — who dropped his guard and declared “the argument about climate change is absolute crap” — must pretend he believes in human-induced warming while doing everything he can do prevent effective policies to counter it, including visiting a coal mine to say protection of the coal industry is the first priority.

On the whole, Australians like to think of themselves as concerned about the environment. But they are conservative people who do not change their voting behaviour easily.

Elections are fought over the votes of a small proportion of flexible voters, certainly less than 10% of the total, yet a shift in sentiment among these few is often described as a “landslide” or a “historic change”.

After all the talk about the historical significance of Barack Obama’s win, we should not forget that 49% of American voters preferred the Republican successor to the most inept President in history.

Clive Hamilton was the Greens candidate for Higgins and has returned to his position as professor of public ethics.


Dec 7, 2009


With The Australian’s new wizz-bang website, comes problems for my computer. ‘A script is not working on this website’ announces the error message. ‘What would you like to do — ‘continue’ or ‘stop script’?’

But, of course, you can’t stop the script with The Australian. This morning they were out in force to announce the return of the Abbott through the city gates, shouting heahs and hosannas, with Dennis Shanahan back in his happy place.

THE Liberal Party’s biggest gambles in decades — electing Tony Abbott as Leader of the Opposition and rejecting Labor’s ETS in the Senate — appear to have paid their first dividends, and in exactly the way the Liberal Party had hoped they would.

It took George Megalogenis to put a little water in the Kool-Aid (I sometimes think they keep him on in the office as a reality tester —  “should we stick our tongues against the radiator bar? Would that be dangerous?” “how the hell would I know — I have no contact with reality. Let’s ask George”. “Don’t stick your tongues against the radiator bar” “OK thanks George”). While the vote in haute-bourgeois sections of Higgins went for Clive Hamilton in quite staggering ways, in more conventional middle-class areas, the old Labor vote split evenly between the Greens and Libs, with half of it going back to Kelly “Tracey Flick” O’Dwyer.

This tells us a bunch of things we already know — that Labor is a coalition of two forces, a socially conservative suburban vote (formerly working class, now middle class, in consumption terms) and a distinctly left formation, and that on key issues these two forces are poles apart. Indeed, part of that split may be the old Catholic DLP rump, or their children — unwilling to support the current DLP because it has been taken over (or revived) by medievally far right, and an influx of the Lyndon LaRouche mob.

Whether any Green would tempt them across is worth asking, but we can be pretty sure that a neo-Puritan austerity roundhead like my good friend Clive Hamilton would not do the job.

But but but … here’s the big question. How does that 50-50 split match previous Labor Green preference flows? If the Labor-Green leakage was previously significantly smaller than 50%, then this vote is a one-off refusal — I’ll let my prefs flow to whoever you want, but I’m not going to make my first preference someone who is so inimical to my basic cultural and political sense of the world.

The Labor vote split prompted the most hysterical reaction of all from Glenn Milne — on the evidence of it, it seems likely his brain is being affected by that cheap hair dye he uses on his reverse mullet.

Assailing an irritating and now infamous article about Chadstone shopping centre by my good friend Catherine Deveny — in which consumers rather than consumerism became the target of the criticism — Milne gleefully observed that the Chaddyites were not lemmings, as Deveny had observed. Had they been they would have followed Clive Hamilton all the way over green gulch.

Say what now? Deveny’s point was that people at Chadstone were wreathed in consumerism (a point she made in a fairly elitist way, but anyhoo). Hamilton’s argument was that the planet was dying of over-consumption among other things. If anything, the Chadstone vote rather makes Deveny’s point.

But any idea that a 0.3% swing towards them is a victory for the Liberals in Higgins is nonsense.

To really think about what’s going on, we have to step back and try and imagine that someone such as  Hamilton had contested Higgins 20 years ago. Let’s face it, in terms of Nick Minchin’s charge that the greens and climate change are simply anti-industrial new leftists,  Hamilton is straight from central casting.

He believes that Western society needs to be radically reconstructed, that democracy may need to be suspended to do this, that eco-crisis is simply the outer form of a wider spiritual crisis and that there is a deep ethical metaphysics one can tap into to find “the Truth”. His writings hold more hostages to fortune than Colombia’s FARC, including a long disquisition on the ethics of bestiality.

Had he stood without Labour in Higgins a generation ago, Hamilton would have got 5%, and possibly sectioned. The fact that he can get a third of voters to put him first is surely a deep rip in the legitimacy of the Liberal Party as a mainstream outfit. It reminds me of the famous World Cup qualifier where San Marino held England to 1-0 until half-time, causing one commentator to remark that “I have just realised we are losing to a mountain-top”.

Whether a more acceptable celeb candidate — a Rob Gell type — would have done the deal for the Greens in Higgins remains to be seen. You work with who sticks their hand up, and Malvern Road would not come to the mountain-top, so the mountain-top came to Malvern Road (I’ll unpack it later, Mark Day).

But it says nothing about the wider acceptability of Tony Abbott in a full-bore landslide. The Australian has shown signs of being a real newspaper before the Abbott elevation. This is no time to restart the script.


Dec 4, 2009


So how will Tony Abbott’s ascension this week affect the green vote in the Higgins and Bradfield by-elections this weekend, if at all?

Apart from voxpopping the streets of Malvern and sniffing round the food court of Chatswood Chase, it’s hard to say…

Antony Green writes on his election blog:

With the clarity that only comes with hindsight, Labor will now regret having decided not to nominate in Higgins. With Labor polling well in Victoria, and with last week’s internal liberal brawls, Higgins would have been open to a vigorous last week campaign by Labor. That is not to be, but Dr Hamilton could now benefit from the Liberal Party suddenly making climate change policy central to the campaign.

It still seems unlikely that the Liberal Party would lose Higgins, though some observers such as Malcolm Mackerras have made bold predictions that the Greens will win.

With no Labor candidates, implications from either result for next year’s Federal election result will be difficult to draw. Having been in the job less than a week, it will be hard to blame a bad result new Leader Tony Abbott, though that will stop many from doing so.

The Liberal party should be able to ride out a poor result. That is unless they lose Higgins, in which case the animosity of a week ago may be re-fuelled.

And if the rhetoric on climate change in the campaign literature is anything to go by… things are hotting up in Higgins at least. This morning Greens candidate Clive Hamilton appeared on ABC 774’s morning program to debate star Liberal candidate Kelly O’Dwyer but she declined to appear.

Host Waleed Ali said: “I should be asking questions of an empty chair in the Bill Peach tradition. [Peach] would interview an empty chair if guests refused to attend. That’s the situation we find today…the debate between Clive Hamilton of the Greens and Kelly O’Dwyer of the Liberal Party is attended by only one of them. Kelly O’Dwyer wouldn’t call in.”

O’Dwyer did, however, send this letter out to residents this week:


Meanwhile, the Greens’ latest campaign brochure has been slapped with a star quote from the new Liberal leader:


This morning our number cruncher Possum Comitatus took the pulse, “Just a quick one, has the election of Abbott changed the chances of the Greens getting up in Higgins or Bradfield? Anyone on the ground have info or vibe on how Abbott as leader has gone down with the locals in those two seats?”

Higgins resident ‘Dewgong’ responded:

I live in Higgins and will be voting Green on Saturday, but can’t really speak for the rest of the electorate on how they will vote. O’dwyer seems to be pulling out all stops this last week, shes been spamming my (and presumably other’s) mailbox constantly with election material, and after Tony Abbott’s elevation as Liberal leader sent out one of those letters designed to look personalized reaaffirming that she believes climate change is man made and happening, but says we need to balance it with protecting jobs etc etc. I think that she had to send that letter means she feels somewhat vulnerabel at the recent turn of events.

Her election material seems to be focused on local issues, she talks about reducing street crime, better health care, protecting green spaces and has “already secured a $200,000 grant from the next Coalition government” to these ends (in what, 20 years or so?) but all in all, very generic commitments.

This is really just a hunch but I suspect there will be a significant protest vote this Saturday and it will be a close run thing.

Fredex wrote:

I see that in Higgins the bloke at the top of the ballot paper, Murphy, is a climate change ’sceptic”

Hamilton for the Greens and O’Dwyer for the Libs are not denialists.

So Murphy at the top could get a fair few ’skeptic’ votes from Lib folks not willing to vote for O’Dwyer as well as reaping the ‘donkey’ vote.

So I wouldn’t be surprised to see him get more votes than expected and for such to be complemented by some of the other candidates such as the DLP bloke whose preferences might flow to Murphy.

Deconst wrote from Bradfield:

I was handing out GreenVoice outside Chatswood station yesterday evening. My feeling is that there’s a general apathy towards the by-election and I think it’ll pretty much be business as usual. I would say there doesn’t seem to be the outright public resentment to the Liberals to cause either seat to fall to the Greens.

Nick of McEwan wrote:

I’ve been volunteering for the Greens in Higgins, both doorknocking and handing out HTVs at the prepolling. Whilst all this evidence is anecdotal, we’ve had some good vibes, particularly since Tuesday morning.

Although Kelly has put out a statement this week (see Dewgong @4), prior to that she seemed determined not to be drawn on the issue of climate change. She has repeatedly refused interviews to the AYCC, who tried to interview all candidates, and has nothing in her material about it. When we were doorknocking on Tuesday night, we had one guy who said he’d voted Liberal all his life, and had over recent weeks tried to get a statement on CC out of O’Dwyer’s office, and got nothing. He was concerned because he’d greened up his business significantly beyond what the ETS would require, and hoped that it would pass so that he’d get some financial reward for his foresight. After getting nothing from Kelly, he told us he’d be voting Green.

I’ve also doorknocked lots of people who didn’t know Labor was (sic)  running a candidate and upon hearing this, said they’d definitely vote Green. I know this shouldn’t be too exciting, as the Greens would be hoping for almost all of the Labor vote in order to make it close, but it’s still nice to hear.

Yesterday at the prepoll station, a couple of people coming to vote made a point of mentioning Abbott: i.e. one guy took Clive’s how to vote card and said “Now your party aren’t climate change deniers are they” – stuff like that.

It’s always hard to tell, but I’ve found the doorknocking more positive than I expected. Most people are polite and don’t give much away, but of those that are open with their intentions, there have been more in sympathy with the Greens than outright against. Also plenty of the “wouldn’t be voting for the Libs at the moment” kind of sentiment.

I think there’s a very good chance that the Liberal primary will drop below 50%. Below 48% would be a huge victory for the Greens. I think Kelly will get in, but if the 2PP is 53-47 or closer, the Greens will probably be happy.

And coconaut writes:

I was leafleting in Higgins yesterday, and I generally spend a lot of time in the area.

This is all my own opinion, I don’t think the electorate is particularly excited about this election, or rather, I haven’t detected any huge enthusiasm.

If voters are turning from the Libs to the Greens/others, I would say it is more because they disapprove of Liberal-leadership-squabbling than any actual issue like global warming or Abbott’s beliefs.

The most Liberal parts of Higgins are solid middle to upper class – I reckon they vote for business professionals rather than for issues, so the infighting in the Libs is bad for the Libs as much as Abbott’s anti-climate credentials.

Hamilton a long shot as he has a lot of ground to make up on election night!