Home > Economic policy, Environment > Abbott vs Science: The case of the Murray Darling Basin

Abbott vs Science: The case of the Murray Darling Basin

December 19th, 2013

I’m travelling at the moment, so updates are a bit erratic. A few days ago, I had a piece in The Guardian looking at the way the Abbott government is rejecting scientific advice on just about everything, notably including the Murray Darling Basin, on which I worked for a good many years. Comment here or there.

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  1. Hermit
    December 19th, 2013 at 10:32 | #1

    Floods aside everything looks better in La Nina years. Irrigators get their full entitlement and hydro in the headwaters produces maximum megawatts. The bickering starts when it dries off perhaps as we will see in 2014. While the LNP may be boorish and anti-science they may have the insensitivity to do things that need to be done. For example their person non gratis Tim Flannery points out that the artificially impounded lower Murray lakes evaporate 1300 GL a year. The ALP is too politically wimpy to fix that problem i.e. remove the barriers. Sometimes it is better to pull the bandaid off in one go.

    I note approving nuclear power was too much for the LNP, again contrary to the advice of the latest white paper. Perhaps the legacy of the LNP will be to show things in stark contrast.

  2. Donald Oats
    December 19th, 2013 at 12:03 | #2

    Meanwhile, November was the hottest November in all of the years since 1880, when records began (for global temperature calculations, etc). And not even an el Nino year. Source: AFP.

    I’m anticipating some big changes/cuts to organisations that do scientific work: various centres, perhaps CSIRO, and so on. Selling off the assets, cutting of projects that are antithetical to the current policy settings (which are known only to lord and master, PM Abbott), and general unwinding of any alternative expert voices, especially relatively unbiased ones. Placement of theo-neo-cons and libertarians into key positions will happen.

    The ABC is probably the most interesting of the government funded national organisations, as it has been in the sights of theo-neo-cons for at least a decade, and now they are free to play. It won’t be pretty.

    I can’t wait until school books teach us how the sun orbits the earth again…

  3. Tim Macknay
    December 19th, 2013 at 14:09 | #3

    I can’t wait until school books teach us how the sun orbits the earth again…

    Well, with any luck global warming will be solved by that stage, because we will have forgotten how to build and maintain steam turbines and internal combustion engines.

  4. December 19th, 2013 at 17:36 | #4

    Back in the 70′s and early 80′s, the loony left were out in force. They were there before Gough’s fall, and hung around a long time after. Bill Hayden basically whipped the loonies out of the party to make Labor electable again.

    I’m starting to get deja vu. But this time its the loony right who are out of control. If things run their course, we’ll see them and their philosophies on the nose, and the Libs will be in need of a saviour to lead them out of the wilderness.

  5. paul walter
    December 19th, 2013 at 18:05 | #5

    How can you subscribe to the vagaries of science when God himself is there, down from the mountain, to tell you otherwise.
    What would Einstein and Hawking combined know, against the infinite, eternal and divinely inspired Wisdom of Anthony Abbott?
    Tony says it’s flat; it’s flat… now, leave we of the fifteenth century alone to our time; that we may contemplate better the celestial quilt-work; the “Fixed
    Stars”.

  6. rog
    December 19th, 2013 at 18:29 | #6

    Abbotts lack-of-evidence mindset is gaining control of the govt. Fruit canners in Goulburn Valley are asking for assistance to transition to a new industry, PM Abbott said that the govt would not be compensating for bad management.

    It is beyond argument that the biggest hurdle for local exporting businesses, such as those producers in the Goulburn Valley, has been the AUD. Regarding the value of our currency it has been the govt that has ultimate control and it has been the govt that has mismanaged the exchange rate of our $. The govt has welcomed foreign investment in mining yet the govt had not made allowance for this bubble in capital inflow.

    Abbott has yet to demonstrate that he is a better manager.

  7. Ikonoclast
    December 20th, 2013 at 02:05 | #7

    “We’ll all be rooned,” said Hanrahan,” – John O’Brien.

    Of course, the ultimate irony on irony is that Hanrahan will be proven correct in the end. Abbott is bringing on the ruination a bit quicker, that’s all.

  8. jrkrideau
    December 20th, 2013 at 03:09 | #8

    Welcome to my world. In Canada we’ve had the equivalent Conservative government for years. The National Reseach Council –rough equivlent to CSIRO–has been told not to do any basic research. The head of Statistics Canada resigned in protest when the Cons gutted the census and so on. Oh and our diplomats haave been told that their key job is salesman for Canadian business

    The worst is yet to come.

  9. Ikonoclast
    December 20th, 2013 at 09:23 | #9

    @jrkrideau

    It has occurred to me several times (in several contexts) that what the West is doing now is SO stupid that stupidity alone could not account for it. I am aware of the saying “Never impute a conspiracy when stupidity alone can explain things” or words to that effect. However, there is a form of organised, purposive stupidity (rather than chaotic, random stupidity) that seems to now permeate Western decision making. What is the source of this phenomenon?

    If you were writing a playbook on how to destroy the West (by destroying it from within and using its own weaknesses, strengths and momentums against it via a kind of ideological and political-economic judo) you could scarcely do better than what is actually happening.

    “Be extremely subtle, even to the point of formlessness. Be extremely mysterious, even to the point of soundlessness. Thereby you can be the director of the opponent’s fate.

    The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.

    Pretend inferiority and encourage his arrogance.” – Sun Tzu.

  10. Troy Prideaux
    December 20th, 2013 at 10:04 | #10

    @Ikonoclast
    How about someone design and build an airliner that’s designed strictly on opinion and religious belief – no scientific analysis or data based on peer review or empirical evidence allowed for the design or construction process.
    Once built, politicians who hold such contempt for science and evidence based policy foundations should be rightfully allowed to govern under such beliefs (without complaint), but only after taking a ride on the airliner for a significant transcontinental trip.

  11. Megan
    December 20th, 2013 at 10:07 | #11

    @jrkrideau

    What is the “opposition” alternative like in Canada?

    Are they a party that used to broadly represent worker’s interests, the environment, public services, but then became beholden to neo-conservative policies and ideology and are now essentially unelectable but still acting as a bar to any alternative parties?

  12. Ikonoclast
    December 20th, 2013 at 10:37 | #12

    I am in Canada ATM and indeed have been for some time. The interesting thing is that the neoliberal agenda and the attack on workers pay and conditions is about at the same point (or a little more advanced) than it is in Australia. In political economy terms it is like one has done a big trans-Pacific flight and gone exactly nowhere. Same K-rap over here.

    It’s interesting looking at a harsh early winter too. It sure imposes serious energy overheads on running large cities. Of course, the Canucks don’t care. They’ve got all those tar sands to burn… but sooner or later of course, all non-renewables run out.

    No doubt the harsh early northern hemisphere winter this year has all the AGW deniers excited.

  13. Ikonoclast
    December 20th, 2013 at 10:50 | #13

    @Troy Prideaux

    The fleet would decline at the rate of 1 aircraft per attempted flight. I say “attempted” because each neocon designed aircraft would BLVE on the runway.

    (BLVE = Boiling Liquid Vapour Explosion)

  14. Troy Prideaux
    December 20th, 2013 at 11:10 | #14

    @Ikonoclast
    Well, let’s call it “Evolution in Action” then :)

  15. may
    December 20th, 2013 at 12:05 | #15

    “evolution in action from a faith based govt”?

  16. may
    December 20th, 2013 at 12:07 | #16

    i recently heard that there were no tests available for pesticide poisoning…..one would have thought this kind of basic research would have been done years ago.

  17. may
    December 20th, 2013 at 12:37 | #17

    “international health and medical services”

    who profit from the public purse doing a job that until the faith based in “privatised for profit free market”

    look like they are failing where publically run refugee treatment has been handled without the kind of cruelty that is now apparent.

    the immigration dept had the responsibility from the end of WW2 with the concommitent institutional memory until faith in “rationalisation” turned what is a pubically funded duty into a cash cow for Who?

    why are we as contributers to the public purse paying profit for this?

  18. may
    December 20th, 2013 at 12:40 | #18

    and while we are on faith based .

    diplomatic immunity is claimed by foreign state the vatican in relation to documents to do with criminal activity.

  19. Evan
    December 20th, 2013 at 17:40 | #19

    Apologies for being somewhat off topic (although still related to Coalition & sceince).

    JQ, what are your thoughts on the Coalitions green paper on their direct action plan? All I have seen so far is the ABC report here (http://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-12-20/coalition-climate-change-direct-action-policy-explained/5067188).

    To its credit, it seems to avoid the most common complaint against “direct action”; the inefficiency complaint. My initial reaction, which may well be incorrect, is that it will have a similar effect to the offsets scheme that Labor had proposed for agriculture a few years ago.

    If my initial thought is correct, then perhaps this old ABARE paper (http://www.daff.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0011/1893917/a2.pdf) becomes relevant (full disclosure – I am the lead author). In particular, figure d on page 24 illustrates the emissions ‘rebound’ caused by the subsidy effect of the offsets scheme on agriculture. Roughly a quarter of the decline in emissions intensity is undone by the supply response effect.

  20. sunshine
    December 20th, 2013 at 17:49 | #20

    I saw a picture of Abbott sitting in the corner of a suitably modest looking South African coffee shop having tea with the Canadian and NZ PM’s when they were there for Mandelas funeral. Just the 3 of them.

  21. Evan
    December 20th, 2013 at 17:53 | #21

    Test comment. Feel free to delete.

  22. Fred Struth
    December 20th, 2013 at 21:11 | #22

    Who needs scientific evidence or any reputable evidence for that matter when you have faith or perhaps sectoral corporate interests.
    It will be revealing to see how the journalistic meme of the new conservative government being ‘negative’ lasts before the penny drops and the press gallery realises that the Abbott government is not being negative but rather following an ideological agenda.

  23. Hermit
    December 20th, 2013 at 21:38 | #23

    Greg Hunt reckons that Australia will reduce emissions by a whopping 5% by 2020 without trying. That’s either an admission that carbon tax worked slightly or he thinks we’re in for a recession. According to the national greenhouse inventory our original emissions declined 2.3% between 2000 and 2012, from 564 Mt CO2e to 551 Mt. To his credit Hunt has banned dodgy overseas offsets from Direct Action. He has however given the green light to dig up and burn all the carbon buried as coal under the Galilee Basin. Too bad for him if the developers haven’t got the cash needed for new railroads etc.

    Perhaps we could decriminalise selling alcohol to minors if selling harmful products is not the fault of the seller. If Abbott lasts til 2016 I doubt Hunt will still be in the job. Direct Action is supposed to be up and running by mid 2014 but appears to have intractable problems, perhaps why they are still calling for submissions. I think most agree the emissions cut 2000-2020 should be at least 15% so DA is a shambles before it has even begun.

  24. jrkrideau
    December 21st, 2013 at 05:26 | #24

    @Megan
    What is the “opposition” alternative like in Canada?

    Are they a party that used to broadly represent worker’s interests, the environment, public services, but then became beholden to neo-conservative policies and ideology and are now essentially unelectable but still acting as a bar to any alternative parties?

    Well we have a relatively fractured political landscape with (roughly) three main parties, (Conservatives, Liberals, National Democratic Party [NDP]) one national rather minor party (The Greens) and a provincial-level national party–it’s complicated–so things can get a bit fuzzy.

    The Conservatives, who were a somewhat right-wing but not bad party until a few years ago have in the last few years become a party of right wing fanatics and religious fundamentalists with a bit US Tea Party added in.

    They pass themselves off as “efficient managers of the economy and prudent managers”. So far they have managed to blow a large budget surplus that the Liberal Government had accumulated, there are on-going boondoggles in the Dept of Defence where the minister is more famous for his Canadian Forces helicopter taxi from the fishing lodge than for any actual competence as a minister of the Crown.

    In period of falling crime rates the Cons are builing more prison cells but have not managed to follow up on a Liberal government’s plan to impliment a national child care strategy. Logical they are not.

    Canada has also managed to piss off most of the rest of the UN by ignoring pretty well completely AGW, and we have certainlly piss off a lot of Arab or Muslim country since the PM has pleged total support for Israel. He just had a park or conservation area named after him in Israel—he’s not Jewish btw.

    Currently the Cons are fighting a desperate battle over the Senate scandal where in it looks like the PM’s chief of staff, using his own money, but with the knowledge of a goodly number of PMO staffers and some ranking Conservative Party brass, paid off a debt of a bit over $90,000 that a Conservative senator owed for having claimed unjustified benefits from the Senate (the actual mess is a larger). The idea was to make the senator shut up, stop complaining and stop talking to the press. From my point of view, it looks remarkably like an attempt by the government to bribe a senator. The PM, a noted control freak, denies all knowledge of the affair.

    One could go on for hours—you might want to google “G20 fake lake Toronto” for a sample of their fiscal responsibility

    The Liberals, who were and are basically middle of the road, held power for a long time, due in part to a couple of very canny leaders, began to neglect their grass roots, relied more on Bay Street funding (Bay Street ≈ Wall Street but a lot smaller) than grass roots fundraising and organizing. They did, just before getting kicked out of office, have fairly interesting scandal (see the Gomery Commission) which attracted great TV ratings but which in dollar terms was not all the impressive and no Cabinet Ministers were involved.Actually they were not terrible corrupt as far as I can sees though some was there. They’d been in power too long and were getting tired while for a variety of reasons the Conservatives were charged up and out working.

    The NDP are a bit of an unknown, federally, as they have never formed a government. They are a social-democratic party, perhaps roughly equivalent to the UK Labour Party in the 70s or early 80s. They tend to stress social issues, jobs, and apple pie.

    While the NDP have not held power federally they have formed governments in 4 provinces at various times and generally seem decent managers and socially and, to some extent, environmentally, responsible. There was something of an exception of several boondoggles in one period in British Columbia where there was some considerable mismanagement of some major shipbuilding contracts but I don’t remember any corruption. However I live a long way away from B.C.

    The Block Québecois Partly is a federal, provincially-based party from Québec. They are a social-democratic party but, as their main purpose is to get Québec to leave Canada, they are unlikely to form a government. Federally their main purpose seems to be to act as some kind of spoiler in Québec constituencies. However, in a minority situation, they tened to side with the NDP on social issues.

    The Greens are a small environmental party and the leader, Elisabeth May, is something of the environmental conscience of the House. However they got roughly 4% of the vote last election and only have two sitting MPs, one of whom defected from another party. With this low a count they are not even recognized as an official party in the House.

  25. jrkrideau
    December 21st, 2013 at 05:28 | #25

    @Fred Struth
    Just like Canada. The worst is yet to come.

  26. Megan
    December 21st, 2013 at 10:28 | #26

    @jrkrideau

    Thanks, very informative wrap.

    PM has pleged total support for Israel. He just had a park or conservation area named after him in Israel

    That’s interesting. These are usually in the Negev Desert on illegally annexed bedouin lands. They are organised by the JNF as a kind of ‘club membership’ for sycophants.

    John Howard, Bob Hawke, Sir Robert Menzies & Pope John Paul (along with many others) have one too.

  27. Hermit
    December 21st, 2013 at 10:53 | #27

    I have a story I think is about Harper that is 50% likely to be true. Many years ago I sat on a chairlift at Whistler next to a blonde headed politicians aide or so he said. That and the year is consistent with the Wiki bio. I was wearing one those thick chequered flannel jackets made in NZ. The junior politician said he’d noticed my jacket and thought it looked pretentious. Thanks for your opinion mate I said or words to that effect.

    Weird thing about Canada and Australia is that between them they could control world uranium supplies yet they choose to flog fossil fuels, be it tar sands, coal or gas.

  28. alfred venison
    December 21st, 2013 at 13:52 | #28

    @jrkrideau
    do you think harper knew his chief of staff was bribing/threatening the troublesome senator? if you think he did know, do you think it’ll get pinned on him? i know its winter recess “up there”, but how close is corporal horton to getting his production order (warrant) for the senate servers? -alfred venison (ex edmonton)

  29. Alan
    December 21st, 2013 at 18:06 | #29

    It’s probably worth noting that Canadian electoral systems are fairly basic by Australian standards. The federal house of commons and the provincial legislative assemblies are all elected by FPTP. The only upper house, the federal senate, is appointed by the prime minister. The way the house of commons is apportioned between provinces is remarkably complex and remarkably unresponsive to actual population.

  30. Megan
    December 22nd, 2013 at 00:21 | #30

    The Guardian has an interesting article “Conservative groups spend up to $1bn a year to fight action on climate change”.

    Excerpt:

    Whitney Ball, the president of the Donors Trust and Donors Capital Fund, said the organisation had no say in deciding which projects would receive funding. However, Ball told the Guardian last February that Donors offered funders the assurance their money would never go to Greenpeace. “It won’t be going to liberals,” she said at that time.

    “We do not otherwise drive the selection of grantees, nor do we conduct in-depth analyses of projects or grantees unless an account holder specifically requests that service,” Ball said in an email. “Neither Donors Trust nor Donors Capital Fund as institutions take positions with respect to any issue advocated by its grantees.”

    Recipients of the funds also disputed the assertion they were part of a larger effort to undermine climate science or block action on climate change.

    “Each of the scholars that work on any particular issue speaks for his or hers own work,” said Judy Mayka Stecker, director of media relations at AEI, in an email. She went on to write, however, that most of the AEI scholars who have worked on energy and climate change have moved on and would be unavailable to comment.

    David Kreutzer, an energy and climate change fellow at the Heritage Foundation, said Brulle was unfairly conflating climate denial with opposition to policies that would require industry reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

    “We do believe that CO2 is a greenhouse gas and that man-made emissions will lead to some warming,” said David Kreutzer, an energy and climate-change fellow at the Heritage Foundation. “We are opposed to mandatory greenhouse gas emissions cuts.”

    He said many conservatives saw a carbon tax, cap-and-trade and other climate policies as a government takeover by stealth.

    “What we are not interested in doing is a huge shift of power to the government under the guise of preventing some climate problem,” he said.

    I’ve always been leery of the idea that their can be a “market mechanism” to save the planet from climate chaos, but it’s weird that the free-market fundies want to pretend that any proposed ‘solutions’ are actually evil ‘Big Government’ plots rather than faux Band-Aid solutions.

  31. jrkrideau
    December 22nd, 2013 at 02:09 | #31

    Megan :
    @jrkrideau
    Thanks, very informative wrap.

    PM has pleged total support for Israel. He just had a park or conservation area named after him in Israel

    That’s interesting. These are usually in the Negev Desert on illegally annexed bedouin lands. They are organised by the JNF as a kind of ‘club membership’ for sycophants.
    John Howard, Bob Hawke, Sir Robert Menzies & Pope John Paul (along with many others) have one too.

    Thank you.

    I believe you’re correct, I think it was in the Negev.

    BTW a spelling correction: Block Québecois should read Blocc Québecois. My French is reallly getting rusty.

  32. jrkrideau
    December 22nd, 2013 at 02:23 | #32

    @jrkrideau
    Let’s try this again. Bloc Québecois. My typing is worse than my French if that is possible.

  33. jrkrideau
    December 22nd, 2013 at 05:07 | #33

    Ikonoclast :
    I am in Canada ATM and indeed have been for some time.

    Where? Praires? Up ’til a week or so ago we’ve been fairly mild by our standards. I’m in Eastern Ontario (Kingston).

    It’s interesting looking at a harsh early winter too. It sure imposes serious energy overheads on running large cities. Of course, the Canucks don’t care. They’ve got all those tar sands to burn… but sooner or later of course, all non-renewables run out.

    Oh we care but at -20 or -30C one needs heat. Of course, we could be a lot more engery efficient but we need heat! Our weaather can be weird.

    It’s pretty warm here about -2C and we are in the midst of an ice storm. My street, this morning was literally sheer ice, too slippery to walk on. It’s Saturday here and I was in the public library this morning when staff announced that it was closing at noon due to the ice storm.

    No doubt the harsh early northern hemisphere winter this year has all the AGW deniers excited.

    Only too true but then they can get excited by a typo in an IPCC report.

  34. jrkrideau
    December 22nd, 2013 at 05:28 | #34

    alfred venison :
    @jrkrideau
    do you think harper knew his chief of staff was bribing/threatening the troublesome senator? if you think he did know, do you think it’ll get pinned on him? i know its winter recess “up there”, but how close is corporal horton to getting his production order (warrant) for the senate servers? -alfred venison (ex edmonton)

    It is vaguely possible that he did not know the details although given that he is an outstanding control freak it is somewhat difficult to believe.

    This extract from an e-mail that Corporal Horton submitted to the Court strikes me as a red flag.

    “I do want to speak to the PM before everything is considered final,” Wright wrote, according to Horton’s affidavit.

    Less than an hour later, Horton said, “Nigel Wright followed up with an email stating ‘We are good to go from the PM once Ben [Perrin] has his confirmation from Payne.’”

    http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/wright-duffy-accused-of-bribery-fraud-in-new-rcmp-documents-1.2433427

    Whether Harper gets blamed is another matter. He’s generally pretty smart though prone to the occasional vindictive and stupid move and very ruthless. Reportedly his PMO staff (these are political appointees not civil servants) are extremely loyal although not always too politically astute.

    I feel sorry, in some ways, for Nigel Wright. He is a very successful Toronto businessman with, AFAIK, no civil service/public service experience. He may very well have not realised just how egregious his actions were in a government context. At one point I think he was having a lawyer from Justice drafting an agreement for Duffy. This suggests that his actions were not a personal favour to Duffy but something he sanctioned as a government official as he used Government resources.

    As a bit of an aside about the Winter Recess, from a news point of view the mayor of Toronto, Rob Ford, is currently in a bit of a scandal involving gang members, crack cocaine. drunk driving, possible prostitutes and a few other things. So press coverage of the Senate scandel is not as intense as usual and also December with the holidays, Xmas parties and the weather for that matter makes investigating more difficult.

    To the outside observer–everyone in the rest of Canada tends to hate Toronto–it’s difficult to tell if the Ford fiasco is a farce or a sitcom. Actually, I am pretty sure no TV producer would have even considered such an outlandish script. Harper must cringe when there are reruns of him attending Ford’s birthday party with Rob calling him his good friend and fishing buddy.

    Wright seems to be remaining silent although Harper has thrown him under the bus. Originally the story was that Wright resigned and the PM expressed regret at his loss. As things got worse, Harper began to say that he had fired Wright. It would be fun to show the two film clips in sequence.

    I think Horton has gotten the Senate records but I am not sure. What he has gotten is the missing PMO emails. Back in the spring of this year the PMO claimed that a considerable number of emails had been routinely deleted — I’m not sure of the details but I think it was partly due to a staff member leaving and deleting his working files.

    Somehow this Fall the PMO suddenly found them. It is hard to know if this was deliberate (the denial) or just poor knowledge of system on the PMO’s part. My limited understanding is that most PMO staffers are fairly young, fairly fanatical Harper loyalist with little or no experience in the civil service.

    The discovery this Fall is possibly do to disaffection on the part of staffer or a threatened leak from the Governments IT people who “persuaded” the PMO to cough up the material before they pulled a Snowden.

    BTW leaks from the civil service in Canada are quite rare unless it has Government sanction but the Harper Govt arrived with the idea that the civil service was their enemy, which they weren’t, and have continued in that vein ever since.

  35. Paul Norton
    December 25th, 2013 at 10:08 | #35

    I recall asking a visiting Canadian scholar in 2009 whether the Canadian government and business interests saw climate policy primarily in terms of ensuring that the Arctic icecap continues to melt and thus enable unrestrained access to previously inaccessible resources. She confirmed that this was indeed the case.

  36. Paul Norton
    December 25th, 2013 at 10:24 | #36

    I would say that the Abbott government’s agenda goes further than simply tearing down whatever Labor in government set up. I think a case can be made that there is a wider agenda of negativity and destruction involving a synergy of Cold War, class war, War on Science, social revanche and Culture War imperatives with the formative experiences of key members of the current government and their supporters in the Murdoch press, the post-Manne Quadrant and a certain “despicable and degenerate” blog, among others.

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