In this newsletter:
The New York Times, 16 October 2021
2) Marc Thiessen: It’s the 1970s all over again, and Joe Biden is the new Jimmy Carter
The Washington Post, 15 October 2021
3) Biden suddenly loves frackers
The Wall Street Journal. 16 October 2021
The Australian, 16 October 2021
5) UK fracking ban should be reviewed in light of energy crisis says Craig Mackinlay MP
Kent Online, 12 October 2021
The Australian, 16 October 2021
The New York Times, 16 October 2021
WASHINGTON — The most powerful part of President Biden’s climate agenda — a program to rapidly replace the nation’s coal- and gas-fired power plants with wind, solar and nuclear energy — will likely be dropped from the massive budget bill pending in Congress, according to congressional staffers and lobbyists familiar with the matter.
As a result, White House staffers are now rewriting the legislation without that climate provision, and are trying to cobble together a mix of other policies that could also cut emissions.
A White House spokesman, Vedant Patel, declined to comment on the specifics of the bill, saying, “the White House is laser focused on advancing the president’s climate goals and positioning the United States to meet its emission targets in a way that grows domestic industries and good jobs.”
A spokeswoman for Mr. Manchin, Sam Runyon, wrote in an email, “Senator Manchin has clearly expressed his concerns about using taxpayer dollars to pay private companies to do things they’re already doing. He continues to support efforts to combat climate change while protecting American energy independence and ensuring our energy reliability.”
West Virginia’s other senator, Republican Shelley Moore Capito, said she was “vehemently opposed” to the clean electricity program because it is “designed to ultimately eliminate coal and natural gas from our electricity mix, and would be absolutely devastating for my state.”
The $150 billion clean electricity program was the muscle behind Mr. Biden’s ambitious climate agenda. It would reward utilities that switched from burning fossil fuels to renewable energy sources, and penalize those that do not.
Experts have said that the policy over the next decade would drastically reduce the greenhouse gases that are heating the planet and that it would be the strongest climate change policy ever enacted by the United States.
“This is absolutely the most important climate policy in the package,” said Leah Stokes, an expert on climate policy, who has been advising Senate Democrats on how to craft the program. “We fundamentally need it to meet our climate goals. That’s just the reality. And now we can’t. So this is pretty sad.”
The setback also means that President Biden will have a weakened hand when he travels to Glasgow in two weeks for a major United Nations climate change summit. He had hoped to point to the clean electricity program as evidence that the United States, which is historically the largest emitter of planet-warming pollution, was serious about changing course and leading a global effort to fight climate change. Mr. Biden has vowed that the United States will cut its emissions 50 percent from 2005 levels by 2030.
The rest of the world remains deeply wary of the country’s commitment to tackling global warming after four years in which former President Donald J. Trump openly mocked the science of climate change and enacted policies that encouraged more drilling and burning of fossil fuels.
“This will create a huge problem for the White House in Glasgow,” said David G. Victor, co-director of the Deep Decarbonization Initiative at the University of California, San Diego. “If you see the president coming in and saying all the right things with all the right aspirations, and then one of the earliest tests of whether he can deliver falls apart, it creates the question of whether you can believe him.”
Democrats had hoped to include the clean electricity program in their sweeping budget bill that would also expand the social safety net, which they plan to muscle through using a fast-track process known as reconciliation that would allow them to pass it without any Republican votes. The party is still trying to figure out how to pass that budget bill, along with a bipartisan $1 trillion infrastructure bill.
For weeks, Democratic leaders have vowed that the clean electricity program was a nonnegotiable part of the legislation. Progressive Democrats held rallies chanting “No climate, no deal!”
Mr. Biden had hoped that enactment of the legislation would clean up the electricity sector, which produces about a quarter of the country’s greenhouse gases. He wanted a program with impacts that would last well after he leaves office, regardless of who occupies the White House.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said at an event in San Francisco Friday morning that she was still pushing for the strongest possible climate change provisions in the bill.
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2) Marc Thiessen: It’s the 1970s all over again, and Joe Biden is the new Jimmy Carter
The Washington Post, 15 October 2021
Want proof that the Biden administration is really the second incarnation of the Carter administration? We have runaway inflation, Americans trapped overseas, a member of the first family who tried to do business with Libya and a president begging the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and allies (OPEC Plus) to increase oil production. It’s like the 1970s all over again.
The 39th and 46th presidents of the United States, back in the day. Photo: Shutterstock
Gas prices have risen $1 a gallon since Joe Biden’s election, while crude oil prices have doubled since November to $83 per barrel — and some analysts predict they could rise by another $10 before the end of the year. Natural gas prices have shot up more than 150 percent in the same period, which means winter heating bills for the half of American homes that use natural gas are projected to be 30 percent higher than last year — 49 percent higher in the Midwest.
This is the result of deliberate policy choices. Biden has made clear his intention to tax and regulate the fossil fuel industry out of existence. During the 2020 campaign, he declared, “I guarantee you. We’re going to end fossil fuel.”
Well, those threats have consequences. Today, the number of rigs producing oil across the United States is 528, roughly half its 2019 peak under President Donald Trump. When you tell oil producers you plan to put them out of business, they are not going to bolster production or drill more wells. When your $3.5 trillion “Build Back Better” plan would impose punitive taxes oil and gas, the producers are going to get the picture that building back better doesn’t include them.
And when you make clear you plan to destroy an industry, banks and investment firms stop investing in it. The New York Times reports that the “flow of capital from Wall Street has slowed to a trickle after a decade in which investors poured over $1.4 trillion into North American oil and gas producers through stock and bond issues and loans” as woke capitalists “pare their exposure to fossil fuels to meet the commitments they have made to fight climate change.” BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager, has announced that it intends to have “net zero emissions across our entire assets under management by 2050.”
The result? Less fossil fuel production and higher prices — with lower-income Americans who can afford it the least penalized the most at the pump.
Biden’s energy policy is not only hostile, it is incoherent. The president canceled the Keystone XL pipeline between the United States and Canada, but then greenlighted the Nord Stream 2 pipeline between Russia and Germany. He declares his intention to reduce fossil fuel production at home in the name of climate change, but then asks OPEC Plus to produce more oil abroad. Increased production will result in the same carbon emissions no matter where the oil is drilled. Why not produce it here in America?
Under Trump, the United States became an energy superpower. He withdrew from the Paris climate accord, approved the Keystone XL pipeline, opened the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to exploration, rolled back Obama-era regulations such as the Clean Power Plan that held back domestic exploration and production, and enabled the United State to supplant Russia and Saudi Arabia as the world’s largest oil producer. That not only created millions of jobs, it made America energy independent for the first time in years. And it transformed the national security landscape, strengthening the United States vis-a-vis Russia, China and Iran.
Now Biden seems determined to cede our status as an energy superpower. In just a few short months, he has brought us back to where we were in the Carter years — pleading with a foreign oil cartel to increase production rather than increasing production ourselves.
During the 1970s, when America was locked in a twilight struggle with Soviet communism, what did the left demand? Nuclear disarmament. It took the election of a new president, Ronald Reagan, who launched a massive nuclear buildup, to secure our position as the world’s preeminent nuclear superpower and win the Cold War.
Well today, America has become the world’s preeminent energy superpower. And what is the left demanding? Energy disarmament. At the very moment the United States has achieved strategic dominance in a critical area for our economic and national security, the Biden administration and its progressive allies want to unilaterally disarm.
And with energy prices skyrocketing, Americans are now paying the price for the Democrats’ war on fossil fuels. All we need is for bell bottoms and disco to come back, and our transformation into the Carter era will be complete.
The Wall Street Journal. 16 October 2021
After waging war on the industry, Biden wants its help to reduce gas prices.
Falling poll numbers concentrate the presidential mind, and the result can be startling. Look no further than this nominee for headline of the year from Politico this week: “ Biden team asks oil industry for help to tame gas prices.”
Stranger things have happened, but we can’t recall one. For nine months President Biden has been pursuing policies to squeeze oil-and-gas producers to limit production and eventually go out of business. Having begged OPEC in vain to boost oil production, Mr. Biden is now having to suffer the humiliation of beseeching an American industry he vilifies as destroying the planet to save the day.
This is the politics of falling job approval. Crude oil prices have doubled since the November election, and this week closed above $80 a barrel. This has flowed into gasoline prices paid by voters, with the national average for a gallon up more than $1. A federal agency is warning that Americans who use natural gas for heat could pay 22% to 50% more this winter.
A Reuters report says the White House is now “speaking with U.S. oil and gas producers” about “helping to bring down rising fuel costs.” Politico adds that this “outreach” to the oil industry is “an awkward shift.” No kidding, and it’s worth going down the list of ways this Administration has tried to punish U.S. producers.
At a presidential debate last year, Mr. Biden said he would “transition away from the oil industry.” His first day in office, Mr. Biden revoked the permit for the Keystone XL pipeline, which was supposed to carry oil from Canada and the Bakken Shale to refineries on the Gulf Coast. A week later he issued an order placing a moratorium on new oil-and-gas leases on federal lands and waters.
A court blocked that moratorium, but the Interior Department got the presidential message. It approved a mere 171 drilling permits on federal lands in August, down 75% from April. The Biden Administration also moved to suspend existing leases in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and it initiated a fresh review of Alaska’s National Petroleum Reserve that could put it off limits as well. Get it—a “petroleum reserve” will be off limits for petroleum.
Mr. Biden also signed a Congressional resolution that vitiated the Trump Administration’s regulation on methane leaks from fossil-fuel production. The White House probably will replace it with a stringent standard that will make fracking more expensive.
The Administration is also unleashing financial regulators against the industry. The Federal Reserve and other bureaucracies are looking to impose new rules on “climate-related financial risk,” as a May order from Mr. Biden put it. The purpose is to close off sources of funding and raise the cost of capital for the industry, and it’s succeeding.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which oversees natural-gas pipelines, has signaled it probably will start requiring a climate study before approving even the smallest infrastructure upgrades. That will raise the bar for worthy projects, while creating costs for climate mitigation. As one sign of the regulatory gantlet, two different proposed pipelines in the past two years have won a case at the Supreme Court and then been canceled anyway.
Progressives in Congress, meantime, want to use the Democratic reconciliation bill to punish the industry by doing away with expensing for intangible drilling costs, the oil depletion allowance and more. The bill’s Clean Electricity Performance Program is expressly designed to punish fossil fuels, including natural gas. Mr. Biden and his party have sent signals that are loud and clear, in accord with the larger cultural message that fossil fuels are the new tobacco and the world doesn’t need them.
That isn’t true, as Mr. Biden is finding out the hard way. Despite all the subsidies for renewables, fossil fuels provide about 80% of America’s energy, and high prices weigh on consumers and the economy. The White House says rising energy costs are a global problem, and that’s true in part. As the economy began to revive from the pandemic, it was only natural, and in fact a good sign, that demand for energy would rebound.
But the U.S. has been the world’s leading oil producer and thus a major player in global supply and demand. American crude-oil production in March 2020 was 12.8 million barrels a day, per the Energy Information Administration. That fell sharply when Covid hit, and now it’s barely inching back up. July’s output was only 11.3 million barrels a day, more than 10% below the pre-pandemic trend.
In other words, this is Mr. Biden’s energy crisis. Given the pressure from his wealthy climate donors and the left, he is never going to yell “drill, baby, drill.” But if Mr. Biden is serious about wanting U.S. producers to help reduce prices at the pump and at home, he will change his punitive policies. Progressives will be upset, but his poll numbers might go up.
The Australian, 16 October 2021
Graham Lloyd, Environment editor
Confirmation on Friday that Chinese President Xi Jinping will not attend the UN Climate Change Conference, known as COP26, underlines a bigger point. India, too, is not interested in the push to curtail the use of fossil fuels.
A reading of international headlines this week paints the picture of a world finally catching up to the scale of the task. “China rethinks path to climate goals due to energy crisis”, pro-climate action Bloomberg News said on Tuesday, and “UK turns to coal as low wind output increases power prices”. Newsweek screamed: “Gripped by energy crisis, Europe considers breaking climate promises and turning to coal.” And Britain’s The Telegraph thundered: “Net zero heralds the demise of British manufacturing as glassmakers threaten to move overseas.”
As Scott Morrison and Coalition partners the Nationals agonise over the politics of tougher action on climate change, in the real world the two biggest carbon dioxide emissions nations, China and the US, are facing a new coal reality. US power plants are on track to burn 23 per cent more coal this year, the first increase since 2013, despite President Joe Biden’s ambitious plan to eliminate carbon emissions from the power grid.
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang has recommitted his nation to coal, gas and oil. In a statement that highlighted the need to continue building up the nation’s capacity in fossil fuels, Li said China needed to prioritise its economic development, which “holds the key to solving all its problems”.
“Energy security should be the premise on which a modern energy system is built, and the capacity for energy self-supply should be enhanced,” Li said. “Given the predominant place of coal in the country’s energy and resource endowment, it is important to optimise the layout for the coal production capacity, build advanced coal-fired power plants as appropriate in line with development needs, and continue to phase out outdated coal plants in an orderly fashion. Domestic oil and gas exploration will be intensified.”
That means China’s twin goals of peak emissions by 2030 and carbon neutrality by 2060 should be achieved in a “sound and well-paced” manner that will require “long and hard” effort.
In Europe, dumbstruck by a lack of wind and high prices for gas because of post-pandemic demand in Asia and a geopolitical squeeze by Russia, policymakers are looking for answers. With Angela Merkel gone in Germany, French President Emmanuel Macron is pushing hard for a renaissance in nuclear power across the EU. In the meantime, the use of fossil fuels is back on the rise.
The dilemma is doubly embarrassing because it is all happening in the weeks leading into the Glasgow climate summit, which is supposed to be the gathering at which fossil fuels are consigned to history.
Unexpectedly, energy has trumped environmental science and bad weather in popular discussion, when tectonic forces are reshaping the world’s power structures on multiple fronts.
The Morrison government has judged that financial pressure and potential opportunity leave little option but for Australia to get on board with a push for a net-zero target by 2050. This is difficult politics. A lot depends on whether, as Atlassian boss Mike Cannon-Brookes suggests, we are seeing the last gasps of a dying fossil-fuel industry. Or are events simply acknowledgment that energy transitions are more difficult than supporters would have you believe? The bottom line is a mega-trend towards decarbonisation is well entrenched, but the pathway to get there is far from clear.
The transition is loaded with contradictions. Industry and government want clean energy, but they need reliability of supply more. Consumers want a clean, green world for the future, but they still are not prepared to pay much, if anything, to achieve it.
A YouGov poll this week showed most Australians wanted the government to act on climate change but 43 per cent of respondents said they were not prepared to pay extra on their power bill. A further 28 per cent were unwilling to pay more than $25 a month. Fourteen per cent were prepared to pay up to $50 a month and only 15 per cent were prepared to pay more than that. Overwhelmingly, respondents wanted Australia to stick with coal exports and gas.
The findings are consistent with international polls. Two-thirds of those surveyed in the US were opposed to an additional payment of $120 a year on their electricity bill. But the International Energy Agency’s Net Zero Emissions by 2050 assumes a carbon price of $US75 a tonne of CO2 in 2025, which implies a cost for consumers of more than $1000 a year.
In Britain, green levies already account for about a quarter of energy bills. The push now is to put additional burden on to gas, used to heat houses, or straight to consolidated revenue.
There is plenty of evidence that consumers have a breaking point; the French yellow shirts rebellion is one example.
The Economist magazine warned last month that high-cost policies could lead to a Brexit-style popular revolt. “Brexit transformed Britain by tapping into ordinary people’s resentment of distant elites, and anti-greenery could do the same,” it said. “Environmentalism is driven by populists’ two big bogeymen, scientific experts and multilateral institutions. In the public mind, greenery is coming to mean global confabs that produce yet more directives, and protesters who block city centres and motorways.”
But big business and financial markets have seized on a transition they believe is paved with gold, good intentions and power. Nay-sayers are simply in the way. Investment funds are calling the shots, warning there will be no money for countries that do not co-operate, and business is betting big on technologies of the future, such as hydrogen and electric vehicles, and asking government to help.
Success in reducing global greenhouse gas emissions will involve moving well beyond constraints on energy. International forces are marshalling to extend the decarbonisation agenda into a much bigger goal of biodiversity protection and restoration. Where companies are now required to account for greenhouse gas emissions in the boardroom and on the balance sheet, in future they may have to account for impact and protections of natural systems as well. Serious work is being done on how to value the various attributes and services of nature so they can be accounted and traded.
Environment Minister Sussan Ley this week committed Australia to the Kunming Declaration pledging to end the extinction of known threatened species, protect at least 30 per cent of the land, including key biodiversity areas, revegetate the damaged bits and embed nature in decision-making using accurate and transparent national environmental data.
Green groups say $2bn a year will be needed for land repair but analysis suggests this could store an estimated 913 million tonnes of greenhouse gases across 55 years. After a decade of vegetation growth, 13 million tonnes would be stored annually – equal to 16 per cent of the emissions reduction required under Australia’s Paris Agreement obligations. If the carbon stored by the project were translated into carbon credits, the potential revenue could be between $12bn and $46bn.
The objective of the UN is eventually to fold the biodiversity COP process, held this week in China, into the existing climate-change framework. This holds great promise for those who believe nature-based solutions can help address climate change.
John Connor from the Carbon Market Institute says the value of tradeable Australian carbon units has been rising faster than house prices in recent months. The carbon units are backed by land-repair initiatives and carbon farming. Higher prices will encourage greater supply, including from direct capture of CO2 from the air to be used in industrial products or buried underground.
Demand for carbon units is being driven by pressure on businesses from consumers to deal with their CO2 emissions. Big financial players, including hedge funds, oil and gas companies and airlines, have moved into the space in the expectation it could be a $US1 trillion industry globally by 2050. Connor says it would be worth $US800bn in capital value, bigger than oil and gas is now.
“Australia should be a player in that but we need to make sure we don’t shoot ourselves in the foot before then,” Connor says. He estimates that up to $24bn in revenue will go into regional Australia from carbon projects in the next decade.
“It’s a bit like any new industry, a bit like the wind turbines and fracking gas as well, there is a bit of fear of the new and a bit of a backlash that happens,” Connor says. “It is still a job for this industry to sell itself as a reasonable partner in the communities in which they participate.”
For Connor, Australia is at an inflection point similar to the floating of the Australian dollar on global markets, which happened under the Hawke government in 1983. “We need a carbon pricing mechanism that guides investment,” he says. “Like the floating of the dollar it frees up the market; we are at that sort of inflection.”
Like many, Connor argues the federal government should encourage businesses to act. “Let business be the driver again with a market-based solution,” he says.
It is an idea not supported by Energy Minister Angus Taylor, who maintains he is consumer-focused and wary of “crony capitalism”. Any suggestion of a carbon price is a bridge too far.
In Australia the debate is cast in terms of geopolitics on two fronts: first, the potential for exclusion from global financial markets unless action is taken on net zero; and second, on the need to co-operate with our AUKUS partners in the interests of regional security.
But it is possible to see the geopolitical implications of the net-zero agenda through a different lens, one in which the developed world is being outplayed by the Chinese Communist Party. Within the UN’s climate process the divide has always been most pronounced between developed and developing countries.
In a paper published this week Jun Arima of the University of Tokyo sounded the alarm over how events are playing into China’s hands. Arima is one of Japan’s most experienced climate-policy diplomats, having represented Japan at 15 previous UN climate conferences including several as a senior negotiator and a lead author of the IPCC Sixth Assessment Report.
Arima argues the net-zero agenda being urged on the world fatally damages the pragmatic and fragile consensus achieved in 2015 with the Paris Agreement, setting the West against the developing world, to the benefit of the CCP.
“The net-zero climate policies are creating a divided and acrimonious international environment that will permit China to greatly enhance its global economic presence and political influence, while the developed, democratic world becomes weaker in every way,” Arima writes.
He says dramatic emissions-reductions pledges in the West are irrelevant without corresponding reductions in the developing world, but China, India and Russia, which account for nearly 40 per cent of world emissions, have not made relevant commitments.
In this context, the 45 per cent reduction in global emissions by 2030 required to limit temperature increases to 1.5C has a near-zero probability of being achieved. By setting a carbon-neutrality target for 2060, 10 years later than that of the other developed countries, China has secured room for manoeuvre, and as soon as the failure of net-zero policies becomes evident China will criticise the West and procrastinate over its own decarbonisation target.
Meanwhile, Arima says, Chinese companies are the principal beneficiaries of the green agenda, holding 70 per cent of the global solar market and representing seven out of the 10 largest wind turbine manufacturers.
He says the trend towards electric vehicles is particularly advantageous for China, sweeping away decades of accumulated technological advantage in internal-combustion engines of its international competitors and providing a shortcut to automobile power status.
While dependence on Middle Eastern oil has long been the achilles heel of global energy security, a shift towards renewables, battery storage and EVs could cause a different risk, namely growing dependence on China for fundamental strategic minerals and the high-value components manufactured from them. Arima says low-carbon policies in the West will reduce the cost of fossil fuels to China while increasing energy costs in the West, delivering competitive advantage to China.
China’s plans for a regional, then a world, electrical power grid raises security concerns on cyber attacks and politically or militarily motivated disconnections. China is promoting the concept of “global energy interconnection”, claiming this could reduce costs through electricity trading, as well as promoting the spread of renewable energy and supporting decarbonisation.
With the State Grid Corporation of China at its core, this concept aims at the completion of an international power grid in each continent, including Asia, by 2030, the construction of an intercontinental grid by 2040 and connection of the entire world through a high-voltage power grid by 2050.
Arima says the divided and acrimonious world being created by net-zero policies will permit China to enhance its global economic presence and influence further, while the developed, democratic world becomes economically, politically and militarily weaker.
Arima’s bleak assessment provides a reality check for policymakers. But it also highlights the opportunity for Australia to help other countries avoid becoming hostage to dominance by China.
While the government considers a net-zero pledge to be politically and diplomatically expedient, the bigger imperative must be to ensure adequate supply lines of strategic materials for the green transition in like-minded nations. This is the substance of discussions being held by Quadrilateral Security Dialogue leaders, including Australia, Japan, the US and India.
The technology-first approach adopted by government is a recognition of the task ahead. Developing new and alternative energy supplies must be a priority. As a big country with a small population, Australia has another natural advantage in land-based solutions.
The World Economic Forum said on Thursday that breakthrough technologies such as hydrogen-based fuels, bioenergy and carbon-capture storage solutions are needed to hit the global goal of zero emissions by 2050. To scale these technologies and take them to market will require at least a tenfold increase in investment.
Australia’s challenge is to stay involved as part of the energy revolution without surrendering its communities, strengths or interests along the way.
Kent Online, 12 October 2021
A Kent MP has called on the government to review a ban on fracking for shale gas, saying it could play a part in easing the energy crisis and bring down fuel bills.
South Thanet's Craig Mackinlay said the UK’s reliance on supplies of gas from Russia was “crackpot” and other avenues should be explored.
“No matter what our movement is towards Net Zero, whether it is fast or slow – and slower would be my preference – we're going to be using fossil fuels for some time.”
He said relying on other countries such as Russia for energy supplies when there were adequate reserves for the UK to be energy secure “seems to be absolute greenwash lunacy”.
Fracking is a process of extracting oil or gas which involves injecting liquid at high pressure into subterranean rocks, which many argue can cause soil pollution or cause earthquakes.
But Mr Mackinlay said it was a mystery why the government had pulled exploratory fracking trials in 2019..
When there was enough gas supplies for potentially 50 years it was “incomprehensible” that the UK should be relying on a foreign government, he added.
“There's the issue of spending your own foreign currency, creating a balance of payments problem when you could be doing this domestically. It just makes no sense whatsoever.”
The prospect of Russia supplying gas to other countries surfaced last week when President Putin stated it could make more gas available.
The Australian, 16 October 2021
It is official. The High Court ruled on Wednesday that I was legally fired for 18 counts of serious misconduct – and I am proud of every one of them.
The ruling raised two major weaknesses that exist in university work agreements. The first is the power of confidentiality (secrecy) provisions to silence academics for talking about unlawful actions by their university that curtail academic freedom. I know other examples where an academic, right now, is having their academic freedom curtailed but they cannot openly mention it for fear their university can lawfully fire them.
Secrecy, together with spying on communications, is an incredibly powerful tool in the hands of any authoritarian organisation, whether it be the Stasi or an Australian university. It silences dissent, isolates the victim and establishes where the power lies – with the university. The academic is crushed.
The other issue is that the High Court ruled that only topics inside an academic’s “area of academic competence” are covered by academic freedom. This may seem reasonable at first, but in my case this meant I was not allowed to say: “In my view our whole university system pretends to value free debate, but in fact it crushes it whenever the ‘wrong’ ideas are spoken. They are truly an (sic) Orwellian in nature.”
I wonder what area of expertise an academic would need to make a comment like that. Irrespective of the strict legalities of the matter, perhaps all academics should have a right to say this. I can picture Orwell smiling, especially as James Cook University found this comment by trawling through all my emails.
The new voluntary code of conduct for academic freedom, and the new legislation on academic freedom introduced by Education Minister Alan Tudge this year, although excellent in many regards, will not solve the problems revealed in this case. Both will need to be amended to have any prospect of being effective.
Before the minister might act, more fundamental problems must be answered. Is the culture of universities so rotten that it is impossible to do anything useful to reform them? Are true academic advances nowadays coming from outside the university anyway? Is university-funded research and commentary doing more harm than good?
I think it is still worth trying to reform the universities. If nothing else, the high-profile cases of misbehaving universities, around the world, have shown the public cares about these issues. It affects academics from across the political spectrum. In my case we had the Institute of Public Affairs and the National Tertiary Education Union on the same team.
For that to happen, universities must be doing something spectacularly wrong. Politicians can take comfort from such alliances. It is safe to act boldly.
The dust needs to settle, and cool legal heads must turn their attention to what can be done in legislation to further protect academics. Academics must know they are well away from the cliff edge and will be protected.
Satisfactory protection should be explicitly written in work agreements. We also need active policing of transgressions, and penalties against universities. The penalties must hurt. With a few notable exceptions, universities presently only pay lip-service to academic freedom.
One possibility is that university councillors, who are equivalent to the board of directors of companies, should be held personally responsible for freedom of speech transgressions. Company directors have all sorts of legal obligations that largely keep them honest. University councillors need to feel the heat.
A final question must be raised about my case. Why did JCU act so aggressively to silence me for saying there were quality assurance problems with Great Barrier Reef science institutions? This was a legal battle over a work contract, but its root cause was a debate about the reliability of science.
Maybe JCU’s extreme reaction was because I was saying something true.
The reef seems to agree – the latest statistics show that all three regions of the reef have never had more coral since records began. This despite three supposedly devastating, unprecedented, bleaching events in the past five years. Somebody must have been exaggerating. Maybe there is the odd “untrustworthy” institution doing political activism rather than science.
So let’s not forget that academic freedom matters. The debate about the reef affects every major industry in north Queensland. Farmers are being wrongfully blamed. They feel the financial pain of pointless legislation, but also the emotional pain of being accused of destroying the reef. There must be a free and open debate. It must not be constrained by confidentiality (secrecy) provisions, and intimidation or harassment by institutions. Otherwise we damage any prospect of getting close to the truth.
Peter Ridd has researched the Great Barrier Reef for decades and is the author of Reef Heresy? Science, Research and the Great Barrier Reef (Connor Court). He's a member of the GWPF's Academic Advisory Council