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When It Comes To Climate Change, Honesty Is Going Up In Smoke

We live in a time where it is not considered essential to have a climate scientist on the Climate Change Authority.

11/07/2017 12:27 PM AEST | Updated 11/07/2017 12:28 PM AEST
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Steam billows from the cooling towers of the Loy Yang coal-fired power station operated by AGL Energy Ltd. in the Latrobe Valley, Australia, on Wednesday, April 29, 2015.

Late last week news broke that the Turnbull Government has been sitting on a year's worth of data on Australia's polluting emissions.

Documents obtained by the Australian Conservation Foundation through a Freedom of Information inquiry revealed that emissions are up by 1.4 percent with big leaps in emissions from electricity use and gas consumption. This is hardly surprising given the Turnbull Government's relentless undermining of clean energy, obsession with coal and public backing of gas.

This information should have been released early this year. Instead, it was buried by the Turnbull Government in a move that is sadly -- and frighteningly -- becoming the new norm of government double talk.

The most stark example of secrecy in recent times has been the Abbott-Turnbull Government's attempt to 'stop the boats' by refusing to discuss them. 'On-water matters' has become the catch cry of a government determined not to talk about intercepting boats at sea, and to evade public scrutiny for its conduct and casualties.

And the Labor Party has been more than complicit. It built the detention centres offshore -- out of sight of the Australian people and away from the lawyers, the advocates, the community members and the families who could provide support to the people the government was determined to lock up, and who could raise public opposition by exposing the cruelty of these policies.

The Labor Party supported the Government's decision to silence teachers, doctors, nurses and social workers reporting on the conditions on Manus Island and Nauru, and the Labor Party stood with the Government and threatened journalists with jail time for reporting on matters of national security.

As clean energy policy analyst Michael Mazengarb tweeted on Friday:

While the secrecy shrouding 'on-water matters' has received the most public attention, this same secrecy has subtly but pervasively infiltrated into other areas of government policy -- the highly secretive negotiations surrounding the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, for example.

But perhaps the second biggest area of government secrecy, and deliberate attempt to silence dissent and critique, is climate change.

Under Tony Abbott's prime ministership the Climate Commission was disbanded -- a direct and unequivocal attack on the public's right to information about climate change and its impacts.

Then came the attacks on the Climate Change Authority. Unlike the Climate Commission, the CCA is a statutory body and cannot just be disbanded. Instead, Prime Minister Turnbull stacked the CCA Board with former government advisers and MPs.

Last week, the CCA lost its last climate scientist, as Professor David Karoly stepped down at the end of his five-year term. He is the only climate scientist to last the full term, and if government comments are anything to go by -- he may very well be the last climate scientist on the CCA.

It's extraordinary to think that we live in a time where it is not considered essential to have a climate scientist on the Climate Change Authority.

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The Government has attempted to remove the charitable status of environment groups to starve them of funding, and insidiously silence these important not-for-profit organisations that hold the government to account.

Futhermore, the Government has tried to amend the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Act to clamp down on environment organisations, local community groups and citizens from challenging Ministerial decisions in court.

In an era where the President of the United States appears to have only a cursory regard for the truth, where 'alternative facts' are bandied about and reported online, and where the crisis of trust in democracy has reached such a fever pitch that conspiracy theories are flourishing, now more than ever we must demand transparent and accountable government.

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