Someone online asked me and others to explain why we could not vote for the Morrison government (not that I ever would), I replied:
“The constant lies, misogyny, racism, idiocy, petulance, corruption, pork barrelling, religious nutjobbery, hatred of expertise, shirking of responsibility, shifting of blame to the blameless, the stealing of credit from the creditable. #WhyIWantChange”1
This is the sixth instalment and deals with their hatred of expertise. The first instalment dealt with the government’s constant lying and their misogyny1; the second with their racism, and their use of it, as well as the extraordinarily idiotic things members of the government say2; the third with their petulance and corruption3; the fourth with the government’s pork barrelling4; and the fifth dealt with their religious nutjobbery5.
Hatred of expertise
In March 2018, David Roberts wrote a piece in Vox bemoaning the state of the op-ed page of the New York Times; the main thrust being that these pages do not have enough diversity of opinion, but particularly he stated that while it carries some conservatives, these authors do not reflect the madness of US conservative politics; they are “alienated from the animating force of US conservatism, which is Trumpism”6. One of the paragraphs that struck a chord with me was the following:
“So what motivates this swell of right-wing support for Trump? At this point, though many people on all sides still refuse to acknowledge it, the evidence is overwhelming: It was cultural backlash, against immigrants, minorities, uppity women, liberals, and all the other forces seen as dislodging traditional white men from their centrality in American culture.”6
There is one other aspect of the US experience which Roberts missed, and that is the influence of religion. Religion is declining across the world and the religious can see their power and influence declining (and their tax-free status being at risk), and they will do anything to prevent this decline continuing. That is why so many of them threw their lot in with Trump and, in Australia, why they have largely taken over the Liberal Party. While this may seem like it has little to do with a hatred of expertise, it is intimately linked, insofar as the religious believe they have the answer to almost everything. So, when someone who knows something about a particular scientific topic says something that the Liberal Party doesn’t like, the latter feel justified in shouting them down. While in science there are some questions that cannot be answered, religion is about answers that cannot be questioned.
The Liberal Party and their Nationals rump have denied climate change for decades. Former Prime Minister Howard may have seen the light with an Emissions Trading Scheme in 2007, but that was simply a sop to try to avoid electoral defeat. It failed, with Howard losing his seat as well as government7. Howard has subsequently described himself as a ‘climate change agnostic’8. This is a lie. Given all the evidence accumulated over the last four decades9, agnostics are simply deniers who are afraid to use the latter word. It is akin to creationists who call themselves ‘intelligent design’ advocates and want to give equal time to this rebadged creationism in biology classes.
Tony Abbott, the next Liberal Prime Minister after John Howard had, some years earlier, famously said that the “so-called settled science of climate change” was “absolute crap”. In July 2014, the Abbott government repealed the only successful method of decreasing Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions, the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme. In 2017, as a backbencher, he spoke to the climate change denialist organisation, the Global Warming Policy Foundation and said that climate change is “probably doing good” and that policies to combat it are akin to “primitive people … killing goats to appease the volcano gods”10.
Fortunately, Abbott is gone, but his attitudes still prevail. When Malcolm Turnbull was Prime Minister, the government came up with the National Energy Guarantee (NEG). This was the government’s policy mechanism to retain existing resources and encourage new investment in the National Energy Market, while attempting to ensure that emissions standards are met and the system operates reliably. As Simon Holmes à Court said at the time “The National Energy Guarantee is an attempt to put a band-aid on the festering wound within the Coalition on energy policy”11.
Although the NEG was essentially designed to do nothing, the far-right religious rectum of climate change deniers in the Coalition seemed to think it would do too much, especially in decreasing emissions. It would be the NEG which would be the catalyst for the demise of Turnbull’s prime ministership and his replacement by Scott Morrison, after Peter Dutton forgot how to count the number of his supporters12.
Scott Morrison’s lasting parliamentary legacy will be his dancing and shouting at the opposition while holding a lacquered lump of coal13. His appearance at the Glasgow Climate Change conference was farcical. All he could manage to do with the recalcitrant climate change deniers in the National Party was to remove the word ‘preferably’ from the government’s non-policy of getting to ‘net-zero emissions preferably by 2050’14.
Morrison is not the only climate change denying idiot in the federal government. There is Celia Hammond, who has stated human contributions to global warming are “very minimal”. She acknowledged that climate change was a concern among voters, and given she thinks the human effect is minimal, must therefore believe that voters are misguided, or stupid15.
Tasmania senator Eric Abetz gave a speech to the Young Liberals in South Australia in 2012 in which he characterised environmental concerns over acid rain, ozone depletion, pesticide use and climate change as “chicken little type hysteria”13.
Queensland senator Matthew Canavan has said: “Despite what you might hear in the media…climate change science has become less certain and gives us less reason to worry since the last major climate conference in Copenhagen six years ago.” In support of this he uses quotes from some climate change deniers13.
Recently ex-LNP member and now One Nation senate candidate, George Christensen attended a Heartland Institute (ultra-right wing and climate change denial lobby group in the USA) function and described concerns over climate change as “hysteria” and calls for action to combat it as like something out of a science fiction film. He has said: “The weather and climate in Australia has not changed in the last century”. Any perusal of the data from the last hundred years will show how much the climate has changed13.
Liberal member, Alex Hawke has stated that “To say that climate change is human induced is to overblow and overstate our role in the scheme of the universe quite completely over a long period of time. He stated that those who spoke in the House of Representatives asking for action on climate change as “amateur scientists, wannabe weather readers, people who want to read the weather, people who like to come in here and make the most grandiose predictions about all sorts of scientific matters without even a basic understanding of the periodic table, or the elements or where carbon might be placed on the periodic table13.
Nationals member, Barnaby Joyce probably exemplifies the idiot end of the climate change denialism spectrum better than anyone in parliament except perhaps for Craig Kelly. Joyce has said that he was “always sceptical [that] anybody’s going to change the environment”. He later actually realised that the climate is changing, but, as if to further illustrate his monumental ignorance, initially blamed the Sun’s magnetic field for climate change (yes, seriously). After being ridiculed for this, he blamed his god for it and suggested that if we try to fix it his god would not be happy13.
Victorian Liberal senator James Paterson is a member of the Institute of Public Affairs, the ultra-right wing lobbying organisation, which seems to pull the strings in the Liberal Party. It is stridently opposed to any action to mitigate climate change, because it insists it does not exist13.
Liberal member Angus Taylor has been a long-term opponent of the renewable energy target and the renewable energy industry, and has said in parliament: that human-induced climate change is “the new climate religion” and that “religious belief is based on faith not facts. The new climate religion, recruiting disciples every day, has little basis on fact and everything to do with blind faith”13.
Liberal member Alan Tudge has written that the “greenhouse crusade rests on flawed logic” and rambled on about everything that depended on energy would be shut down. In 2007, he said sarcastically: “Shut down our coal industry – our children’s wellbeing is at stake!”13
Nationals member and former Deputy Prime Minister, Michael McCormack, in 2019 slammed the climate change concerns of many as the “ravings of some pure, enlightened and woke capital city greenies” and that “we’ve had fires in Australia since time began”. These are all common refrains from deniers, that those concerned about climate change are deranged and that the 2019-2020 fire season was normal, despite just about everyone who knows agreeing that this is unprecedented and is catastrophic13.
Perhaps most idiotic of all is the effort by Queensland Liberal National Party (LNP) senate candidate Gerard Rennick, who has accused the Bureau of Meteorology of tampering with their temperature data in order to “perpetuate global warming hysteria” and of “rewriting weather records to fit in with the global warming agenda”16.
So, as if accusing climate scientists of either not knowing what they are doing, or of being involved in a massive conspiracy was not enough, the Morrison government demonstrated their hatred of expertise by excluding universities from JobKeeper, on purpose. However, four private universities (Torrens, Bond, Notre Dame and Divinity) were granted an exemption17. Two of these universities, Notre Dame University and the University of Divinity (yes you read that correctly) are religious, the former is a Catholic university, while the latter is associated with numerous churches. It is interesting to note that the former Vice Chancellor of Notre Dame University was Celia Hammond, who is now the Liberal member for the seat of Curtin15.
As a result of this exclusion of public universities, their job losses were huge, with an estimated 35,000 jobs being lost up to May 2021. Initially, these job losses were mostly restricted to casual staff, however later they were more common among full time and permanent staff. Over 60% of the job losses were borne by women18.
This government has always looked upon education as a cost rather than an investment in the future, whereas the reverse is true. They have also looked upon what befalls women as collateral damage for the boys’ club.
People like these science-denying and scientist-abusing charlatans are not only united by their ignorance of how science works, but also by their belief that they better understand a field of science than thousands of scientists most of whom have spent decades studying and understanding that field of expertise. In this, these climate change denying buffoons are no different to creationists, flat-earthers and anti-vaccination advocates.