Australian Consensus Centre

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS ( 15:53 :32 ): I rise to speak on why South Australian universities should 'stop the Borg' and reject the Bjørn Lomborg climate consensus centres as WA has done. As members would be aware, the University of Western Australia recently decided to decline $4 million offered to them by the Abbott Government, having originally agreed to host Bjørn Lomborg's proposed Australian Consensus Centre. This came after an outcry from faculty and students who were concerned that Lomborg's views on climate change and other environmental issues were not based on the level of objective analysis expected of universities.

In response, Minister Pyne decried this decision as 'a sad day for academic freedom'. He voiced his concerns that staff at a university had silenced a dissenting voice rather than test their ideas in debate. The minister's words were also echoed by the Human Rights Commissioner, Tim Wilson, who weighed in on the debate condemning the University of WA for engaging in what he called 'a culture of soft censorship'. I agree with the words of Will Grant who says that universities censor bad ideas all the time; it is called learning. It is not a culture of soft censorship; it is a culture of rejecting soft science.

The Bjorn Lomborg Consensus Centre is now looking to be located at Flinders University of South Australia, and I note that it has been met within the academic community there, with similar concerns, most notably voiced by a PhD candidate, Josh Holloway, who is also a former member of the Hon. Mark Parnell's staff. He notes that in fact the idea of bringing Lomborg to Australia was established through minister Pyne himself, who could find $4 million for such a centre in what is a very cash-strapped academic environment where universities would be sorely tempted to take this money and run. To the credit of the University of WA—and I hope that Flinders University of South Australia will follow suit—this soft science has been rejected by that institution.

Indeed, Lomborg has a weak academic record. In terms of qualifications he is a political scientist—not a climate scientist, an environmental scientist or an economist—I repeat: he is a political scientist. In fact, the vast majority of his work has been published outside of the peer-review process through which the credibility, accuracy and validity of academic ideas are, of course, tested. He has an exceptionally low H-Index, which is one of the leading measurements of the peer-reviewed publishing history of an academic, and the impact factor of that published work.

He has certainly championed his ideas and I note that he has previously, in his homeland, had this consensus model funded by the government but it withdrew that funding some 2½ years ago. What I would say in this time of advocating of free speech, this free speech is not free; it comes at a $4 million cost to the taxpayer.

If it is to be based on what I would see, and certainly what other academics have derided as soft science, then why on earth is the Abbott Government finding $4 million for a think tank that is not even credible? We have a climate emergency before us as a planet; we only have one planet. Our universities are cash strapped as it is and they should be leading the way on real science, and we must be getting real action on climate change in this country. The Consensus Centre is not real action and it is yet another diversion by the Abbott Government on taking what I would call real direct action.

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