Is the CIS to blame for Australian greenhouse policy?

I was rather surprised to find myself mentioned in the latest greenhouse book, Guy Pearse’s High and Dry. But there I am, on page 244. How I managed to make any appearance in a book on an issue that is a very long way down my list of interests requires some explanation.

High and Dry
analyses why (at least until recently) the PM was a climate change sceptic. From what I have read, it is a more detailed version of Clive Hamilton’s book Scorcher, arguing that the influence of the fossil-fuel industry and ‘neo-liberal’ think-tanks explains the PM’s stance (Hamilton, one of Pearse’s PhD supervisors, draws on Pearse’s research).

To argue that ‘neo-liberal’ think-tanks influence Howard, Pearse has to show their connections to the government. And this is where I come in:

Andrew Norton, while not so vocal on greenhouse policy, is another at CIS with close links to the Howard government. He was once an adviser to former environment minister David Kemp.

‘Not so vocal’? ‘Not vocal at all’ would be closer to it. So far as I can find, my only expressed opinion on greenhouse policy was this passing reference in a blog post this February that does not support Pearse’s case:

There is a political consensus that something needs to be done about climate change, not because we are necessarily 100% certain about the science, but because policymakers cannot do nothing in the face of potentially catastrophic risks. Few decisions are made with perfect information.

I write on subjects I know about and when I think I have information or a perspective that is un- or under-represented in the debate. Greenhouse policy fails both these tests, and so I have only mentioned greenhouse in other contexts – in criticising the McCarthyist flavour of recent anti-denialist campaigning (which prompted the quote above), in examining public opinion on the issue, and in commenting on the origins of climate-change scpepticism and the CIS’s role in the debate when Scorcher came out. In any case, somehow I doubt that http://www.andrewnorton.info is bookmarked on the PM’s computer.

Pearse also misleadingly gives the impression that I advised David Kemp on environmental issues. I was one of his advisers when he was education, rather than environment, minister. So far as I can recall we have never discussed greenhouse policy or climate change.

This he-was-once-in-the-same-room-as-Brian-Burke kind of joining the dots goes from silly in my case to ludicrous in the case of my CIS boss, Greg Lindsay. On page 265 he is eight in the ‘PM’s XI’ , Pearse’s list of people ‘whose work to deny the science or delay action has been critical to the capture of John Howard by our biggest polluters.’

Perhaps Greg’s work is telepathic, because as Pearse himself admits on page 279:

he has not been a major player in the greenhouse debate so far … to date, however, he [Greg Lindsay] has not engaged personally on climate change.

Without any actual evidence, Pearse has to resort to connections and indirect influence. In this case, it seems to be that Greg Lindsay is President of the Mont Pelerin Society, some of whose members are climate change sceptics; and because Alex Robson, who has written for the CIS, has also published a couple of climate change sceptic newspaper articles (though not for the CIS); and because he controls the CIS. Yet the whole CIS has had only marginally more to say on the issue than its silent Executive Director. As I noted in comments to my Scorcher post, the CIS has published only a handful of articles on global warming, and nothing for several years.

On this logic, Pearse himself, who still claims (page 33) to be a member of the Liberal Party, has much stronger denialist connections than Greg Lindsay. After all, the most Mont Pelerin members or the CIS can do is advance ideas, the Liberal Party can actually implement policies.

Clutching at another straw, Pearse suggests that Lindsay could use his influence:

The CIS is widely renowned as the PM’s favourite think-tank, and Lindsay has been described as probably the most influential man in Australia. …if Lindsay was to change his view … the policy floodgates might well open. The foundations for the work of neoliberal activists would suddenly be shaky.

The endnote to the first sentence in that quote is to this interview I conducted with Greg last year, on the occasion of the CIS’s 30th birthday.

It’s worth quoting a little of the relevant passages:

AN: What about your personal influence? Eighteen months ago, The Bulletin said that you were probably the most influential man in Australia.

GL: That assertion notwithstanding, I don’t seem to appear on most lists of such people, so either I am not or I work in very mysterious ways. …Despite, apparently, being the Prime Minister’s favourite think tank, in the 10 years of the Howard government, I have spoken to the Prime Minister maybe 10 times and have never been to the Lodge nor Kirribilli House.

Think-tanks certainly set out to influence policy – but their impact is often modest even when they are trying hard (such as the effort the CIS has put into tax over the last few years, or my many years of advocating higher education reform). Their chances of success when they are putting little or no effort in would seem to me to be zero.

Regardless of what Greg Lindsay privately thinks about global warming, he has no responsibility for government policy and Pearse should concede this point. His book’s website has a corrections and clarifications page (I hope he is setting a trend on that at least), which would be an appropriate place to set the record straight.

26 thoughts on “Is the CIS to blame for Australian greenhouse policy?

  1. Yeah, I skimmed the extract of Pearse’s book in the Good Weekend and saw it as yet more evdence of The Age’s decline. Next time I will buy the Herald Sun when I want the movie listings.

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  2. Jeremy – Though what’s unusual is that in this case I can use facts supplied by Pearse himself. Perhaps it is a sign of some internal struggle on his part – he’s picked up the conspiracy theory virus from his left-wing friends, but the factual antibodies of his more scholarly self are fighting back.

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  3. I always find “link” and its derivatives (especially when expressed in the passive voice, e.g. X is linked to Y) to be the sign of a weak argument.

    If you accept the six degrees of separation theory, everyone is linked to everyone else. Andrew Norton was a staffer to a Howard government minister, and so was Guy Pearse, therefore Andrew Norton is linked to Guy Pearse! Try it for yourself: Paris Hilton is linked to the Pope, Vladimir Putin is linked to your dad – hours of endless fun there, and maybe a book deal from Clive Hamilton.

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  4. “Though what’s unusual is that in this case I can use facts supplied by Pearse himself. Perhaps it is a sign of some internal struggle on his part – he’s picked up the conspiracy theory virus from his left-wing friends, but the factual antibodies of his more scholarly self are fighting back.”

    Perhaps. I think a more likely explanation is that he has NFI.

    Either way, it’s not reassuring.

    June was a great month for academia: a law professor argues against the right of kids to choose which uni they attend, a history professor argues against kids learning history, and now this.

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  5. What a confused man he must be. Of course he must be more of a denialist than me since he’s been a member of the Liberal party which I’ve never been 🙂

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  6. It’s strange that Pearse didn’t cite Diana Bagnall’s article in the Bulletin (28/7/04).

    It starts under a large picture of Greg Lindsay:

    “HOW THIS MAN CONTROLS YOUR FUTURE”

    “Conspiracy theorists take note. This is the face of, perhaps, the most influential man in Australia…”

    And there’s more:

    “Lindsay’s name rarely reaches the papers, and those who get their news from television bulletins probably will not even register his organisation’s name. Yet its fingerprints are all over this country’s political agenda, on both sides. The ideas it propagates have seeped out into talk shows and letters pages without too much bother about their source. The people who matter know…”

    Fingerprints Andrew! They’re everywhere!

    Nothing I’ve read since Bagnall’s article matches it. She says the CIS eats it competitors.

    And wasn’t Lindsay a member of the Workers Party? Didn’t the party’s founder John Singleton once say that “Democracy is inherently immoral”? (Rip Van Australia p 77).

    When it comes to conspiracy theories, Pearce seems pretty tame.

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  7. Meanwhile, he gets $30 for his book and you don’t even have a google adsense thingy I can click for you.

    Amazon Affiliate program would be the go. Anyway when I asked Andrew about it a while ago he declined to try it out.

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  8. And Lindsay a former math teacher too – who would have thought that a math teacher would CONTROL YOUR FUTURE? “ha ha ha ha ha ha!” Math people have risen and will take over the world!

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  9. Why is this a surprise, Andrew? It’s the modern day version of a witch-hunt. These days there are people like this author (and others who feature prominently on the web) that will try to burn anyone who isn’t of the same “religious” denomination.

    If you were a smoker 30 years ago this could somehow be turned around and massaged to mean you are in the pockets of the cigarette companies.

    What is truly disgraceful is that more than a few well-known academics are actively participating in these witch burnings.

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  10. “Meanwhile, he gets $30 for his book”

    Knowing the publishing industry he will get a very small proportion of the $30 his book sells for.

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  11. All too true Stephen, mostly because the big name authors like Bryce Courtenay suck up most of the publishing budgets, leaving no money for other authors.

    A travesty. We need a salary cap :p

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  12. Andrew,

    One thing which occurred to me last night: if Clive Hamilton was one of Pearse’s PhD supervisors, and used some of Pearse’s material for his own book, Scorcher, then there is a good chance that he knew that Pearse would write, or was writing, High and Dry.

    If so, then why would Hamilton have written Scorcher, which (as far as I can tell) deals with the same issue, from the same perspective, but in less detail?

    It reminds me of an episode of The Office, where the insecure David Brent speaks to his staff over the top of the training consultant.

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  13. Jeremy – I have not read enough of the books to know in which ways they differ and how much of Hamilton is drawn from Pearse – but a lot of the stronger evidence of excessive influence comes from the interviews Pearse did with members of the anti-greenhouse lobby. Hamilton has, however, been doing climate change work for many years (presumably why he was a co-supervisor for Pearse) so his book flows naturally from that.

    I don’t have enough evidence to make any criticisms of Hamilton, though it is certainly bad luck for Pearse that he has written a similar book. Hamilton’s book was out first, Hamilton is a strong brand, and and Hamilton’s book is shorter – perhaps not quite three strikes and you’re out, but not good for sales.

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  14. How exactly does Hamilton qualify as a PhD thesis supervisor of an ANU student? Does he currently lecture any classes at the ANU? Does he hold an official academic position there?

    The links between the Australia Institute and the ANU seem to be a bit strange or at least not fully transparent.

    If you search the ANU Staff Directory for Hamilton, his address comes up as “The Australia Institute”. TAI is physically located on the ANU campus, but does that actually mean it is part of the ANU? If so, is it funded by the ANU, and to what extent? None of this information seems to be available on the TAI website or the ANU website.

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  15. Richard – I’m no fan of Hamilton’s worldview, but he’s perfectly competent to co-supervise work like this – he has a PhD himself, has published in the field, and is a player in public debate, which the thesis is about.

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  16. Richard wrote:
    The links between the Australia Institute and the ANU seem to be a bit strange or at least not fully transparent.
    Go looking for a conspiracy and likely you’ll find one I expect.
    The simpler explanation is that the ANU merely rent out offices to the TAI in the same way most universities rent out corners of space here and there. Tthe organisation I work for certainly does that, but the University has no special interest in our work other than as an extra bit of funding. The convenience is all on our side as some of the contracted services we require are here.

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  17. “a lot of the stronger evidence of excessive influence…”

    Andrew, what do you mean by ‘excessive’? I suspect that, for Hamilton and Pearse, it means ‘more than I would like’.

    David,

    If you are right, then we come back to Richard’s question: how does Hamilton qualify as a PhD supervisor if all he is doing is renting space at the Uni?

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  18. Jeremy wrote:
    If you are right, then we come back to Richard’s question: how does Hamilton qualify as a PhD supervisor if all he is doing is renting space at the Uni?
    You don’t necessarily have to be an employee to be a supervisor – you just have to be qualified. It may well be a bit of quid pro quo that helps both organisations – I have no idea. I do know trying to tie the ANU to some partisan political idea that Pearse’s observations are necessarily evil. Andrew pointed out they are flawed – turncoats seldom make half measures (it doesn’t make much of a story if they do). Either way, I wouldn’t trust him as far as I could kick him, given the company he used to keep 🙂

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  19. Thanks David. I didn’t know the ins and outs of PhD supervision.

    I don’t think we should be too harsh on Pearse – it’s not like he was in the YOUNG Libs. 🙂

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  20. Andrew, You’re right. Why pick on you? You’re statement seems equivalent to “Even if I didn’t like chocolate, it’s still a good idea to have it in your pack when hiking through snow”.

    Of all the righties around, even at the CIS, from this lefties view you’re probably one of the most reasoning, evidence-driven and straight-talking of the bunch, whereas the climate cabal he talks about seems to have less honorable motives (and I do think there’s some form of short-term self-interested machinations going on).

    You’re certainly not like some IPA types, who when I read them, make me think “they can’t really believe that, surely?”. Those guys, in a conspiracy, I could believe.

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  21. I was not questioning Hamilton’s competency or looking for a conspiracy.

    I simply want to know how a person who is not an academic, who does not teach or appear to contribute academically to the ANU in any way, shape or form (other than renting office space there) is permitted to supervise an academic thesis at the ANU. That was what I meant when I said “qualified”.

    There are presumably several people at the IPA and the CIS who have PhDs. If the CIS was to move from Sydney to Canberra and rent space at the ANU, would that automatically mean that its employees could supervise ANU PhD students (assuming they themselves had PhDs in the relevant field)?

    My guess is that they would not, but I don’t know the answer to this question because I am unfamiliar with the ANU’s PhD supervision rules.

    It just strikes me as being a bit unusual – that is all I am saying.

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