The Climate Science Denial Promoters Behind Queensland's Energy Scare Election Headlines

In the final week before an election, the biggest-selling newspaper in the Australian state of Queensland screamed a front-page headline that cut into one of the poll’s most divisive issues.

Nervous Energy” read the headline, claiming an “Exclusive” on a “Dire warning of power station closures, blackout.”

According to the Courier-Mail, a just-published report had warned that the center-left Labor Party’s target of 50 percent renewable energy by 2030 would cause “statewide blackouts” for “up to 15 percent of the year.”

According to the report, the policy would also cut dividends to the state’s treasury and push power prices up even further. Labor rejected the claims, saying the state owned the coal power stations and it had no plans to close any prematurely.

The report was from the Australian Institute for Progress (AiP) and provided a perfect echo of the center-right Liberal National Party’s (LNP) warnings to prospective voters in the state poll. But this is not surprising, when you learn who is behind the AiP.

We Did Not Model That

The Courier-Mail report gave only a hint — the report’s author, Jonathan Pavetto, was a “former LNP Federal candidate,” the newspaper briefly disclosed.

Pavetto ran in the Federal Queensland seat of Kennedy against Bob Katter in the 2016 election. But the AiP’s links to the LNP go far deeper than that. The “institute” is stacked with current and former senior Liberal National Party members. 

What’s more, the same institute has heavily promoted the rejection of the science linking fossil fuel burning to dangerous climate change.

But there also appears to be serious questions about the conclusions made in the AiP report.

The AiP report says: “The Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO), Australia’s independent energy markets and power systems operator, has modeled the impact of a proposed 50 percent renewable energy by 2030 plan on the state’s electricity generation sector. This analysis was conducted as part of AEMO’s annual National Transmission Network Development Plan (NTNDP) update.”

This claim has caused some head scratching in AEMO, and so it should. The NTNDP report makes it clear that the proposed Queensland target was not part of its modeling.

An AEMO spokesperson told me: “To date AEMO has not modeled a 50 percent renewable energy target in Queensland in our 2016 NTNDP or any other reports.”

How can a report make claims based on a set of modeling, when that modeling has not actually been done? An email and phone message to Pavetto have gone unanswered.

But the AiP report also comes to other questionable conclusions. 

The report is based on one modeling scenario used by AEMO that assumes demand for electricity will drop by one third within 20 years — a scenario deemed highly unlikely.

Under this AEMO scenario, it is this drop in demand for electricity that could see coal plants closing earlier, not a 50 percent target for renewable energy.

The “blackouts” claim depended on a scenario where two interstate powergrid connections simultaneously failed — also highly unlikely and also undisclosed in either the AiP report or the Courier-Mail story.

Institute Pushes Climate Science Denial

But what is the Australian Institute for Progress and should anyone have expected it to be a non-partisan voice on energy policy during a heated election campaign?

Soon after launching in 2014, the AiP hosted Canada-based climate science denier Patrick Moore, who claims there is no evidence that human emissions of CO2 are warming the planet — a position at odds with all the world’s major scientific institutions.

In July 2017, the AiP hosted a Brisbane screening of Climate Hustle — a film produced by the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow (CFACT), a U.S.-based climate science denial group. 

Several climate scientists reviewed the film for DeSmog and described it as “muddled,” “misleading,” and “the usual rubbish from the usual suspects.”

The AiP was also a “founding think tank partner” of the October 2017 LibertyFest conference in Brisbane that featured two prominent climate science deniers.

Political Allegiances

The AiP also has strong and enduring political ties to the LNP.  Graham Young, AiP’s executive director, is a former campaign chairman of the state Liberals.

Young also rejects the evidence that human-caused climate change is a problem and, as publisher of the OnLine Opinion website, has given a platform to several climate science deniers.

AiP’s chairman, Bob Tucker, is a former Liberal Party president who ran as a federal candidate in the 2001 by-election in the seat of Ryan.

Practically all of the directors listed on the AiP website also have strong links to the LNP.

Barrister Amanda Stoker is on an LNP state policy committee, is a former editor of the party’s policy magazine Dialogue, and has appeared on the LNP Senate ticket in federal elections.

Fellow AiP director Carol Cashman is a former general secretary of the Queensland division of the Federal Liberal Party and was a Brisbane City Councillor for the Liberal party for 12 years.

Dan Ryan, another AiP director, is also on an LNP policy committee and appeared on the LNP’s Federal senate ticket in 2016. According to the LNP’s 2015 annual report, Glenn Ferguson was a member of the party’s Sunshine Coast regional executive.

That only leaves Gary Johns — former Labor Party MP who was defeated in 1996 and went on to serve almost a decade as a fellow at the climate science denial “think tank” the Institute of Public Affairs.

So the Courier-Mail promoted a report from a group with deep and current political ties to LNP and with a record of promoting pseudo-scientific climate science denial. 

Energy Policy Debate

The Courier-Mail has been consistently negative towards Labor and its policies, according to citizen journalism site No Fibs, which has been tracking coverage from the Rupert Murdoch-owned newspaper. 

Energy policy and the future of the proposed giant Adani coal mine has been a key feature of the state election campaign.

The Labor Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has promised a policy to reach 50 percent renewable energy generation by 2030 — a proposal that matches the party’s stance at a national level.

Palaszczuk’s opponents in the center-right Liberal National Party have branded the proposal as reckless, and have used it to push fear among voters that it could mean statewide blackouts and further rises in power prices. Climate change is rarely, if ever, mentioned.

The LNP has pushed for the building of more coal-fired power stations while backing to the hilt the Adani project.

The mine would be the biggest in the southern hemisphere in a state that already ships more coal overseas than any other state in a country that’s the world’s biggest coal exporter.

Palaszczuk has said if the Federal government’s Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility approves a $900 million taxpayer loan to Adani, she will block it. Numerous polls have shown that taxpayer support for the mine is deeply unpopular across the state.

The Adani mine has caused ructions within the Labor party — Palaszczuk has been an enthusiastic supporter of the project, claiming it will bring jobs to the north Queensland region.

She claimed to have reached the decision to block the loan because news was about to break that her husband had been working with Adani through consultants PwC on its loan application.

Polls hint at an election that will be tight run, with neither of the main parties projected to win enough seats to form a government in their own right.

But the LNP has said it would be willing to team up with far-right “populist” party, One Nation, which thinks human-caused climate change is mostly a hoax.

Former One Nation Senator Malcolm Roberts, a former coal miner and anti-climate science activist, will run for the party in the seat of Ipswich. 

Queenslanders will go to the polls on 25 November.

Main image: A screenshot from Sky News coverage of a Queensland Election 2017 People's Forum leaders debate, showing Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk answering questions about the Adani coal mine.

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