THE WORLD TODAY
FRIDAY, 24 APRIL 2015
SUBJECT/S: BJORN LOMBORG CENTRE
KIM LANDERS: The Federal Opposition has questioned the political motivation of a $4 million government grant given to a controversial think-tank hosted by the University of Western Australia.
The Australian Consensus Centre will be headed by self described sceptical environmentalist Dr Bjorn Lomborg.
The centre itself will evaluate government policies and proposals.
The Federal Government has defended the multimillion dollar grant, but Labor insists it raises serious questions about the integrity of education and research funding.
Jessica Kidd reports.
JESSICA KIDD: Danish academic Dr Bjorn Lomborg heads the Copenhagen Consensus Centre.
His own website declares that he challenges mainstream concerns about development and the environment, and that policymakers need to focus their attention on the smartest solutions.
Now he's been given a $4 million grant to set up the Australian Consensus Centre at the University of Western Australia.
The centre has been pitched as an economic think-tank but Senator Kim Carr, Labor's spokesman for higher education, research and innovation, says it's clear the grant is politically motivated.
KIM CARR: There's no doubt that there is very heavy levels of political intervention by the Prime Minister or other senior government ministers, that this is an initiative taken by the Government rather than the university, and it raises serious questions about the integrity of our research program in this country.
JESSICA KIDD: Senator Carr is critical of the fact the Consensus Centre has been given a multimillion dollar grant at a time when other university departments and research institutes are facing significant funding cuts.
KIM CARR: Just recently the Education Minister felt it necessary to threaten jobs of hundreds of scientists through the NCRIS (National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy) program if he couldn't get what he wanted in the Senate.
But now they can find $4 million but we don't know where that's come from, whether or not it's been taken out of the ARC (Australian Research Council) or somewhere else.
We need to know exactly where that money's coming from but the inconsistencies in the Government's statement on this matter do need thorough investigation and it is the Labor Party's intention to pursue this matter through the Senate estimates.
JESSICA KIDD: Education Minister Christopher Pyne has defended the grant, hitting back at media reports saying it was politically motivated.
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: I don't remember them reacting that way when Labor put $7 million into the Whitlam Institute at the University of Western Sydney or the $3.5 million into the Conversation when they were in government.
This went through exactly the same processes as those particular grants.
Bjorn Lomborg runs a Consensus Centre, a place where discussions and deep thinking is done about the economy. He is not a climate sceptic.
JESSICA KIDD: On Radio National this morning the Environment Minister Greg Hunt was asked whether he was comfortable that Dr Lomborg had been given $4 million of Federal Government funding, given the Climate Commission was abolished due to budget considerations.
GREG HUNT: Look, I feel very comfortable.
This is obviously a decision in the education area but this is somebody who has been engaged by the UN, who is a deep believer by the way in climate science and the fact of human impact on climate.
JESSICA KIDD: Mr Hunt says the reason Dr Lomborg has copped so much criticism is because he doesn't advocate a carbon tax as the only solution to climate change.
GREG HUNT: He brought together a panel of Nobel economic laureates to look at the most efficient way to do it and the fascinating thing is, of 15 mechanisms, all based on the presumption of a need to act and a need to act quickly, the worst three, the least effective were all variations of the carbon tax.
The real point, why he's criticised, is it doesn't fit the narrative of those who want to punish people with higher electricity and gas prices.
He's saying you can reduce emissions, you just don't need a massive electricity and gas tax.
JESSICA KIDD: But academics across Australia are critical of the Government's position.
Marine ecologist Dr Luke Hedge from the University of New South Wales says it appears Dr Lomborg has been given the money without having to go through the usual grants process.
LUKE HEDGE: Dr Lomborg's $4 million grant from the Federal Government is quite alarming, particularly to home-grown scientists who have to go through some fairly rigorous steps to set up a centre of this size and receive Federal Government funding.
The funding arrangements for setting up a centre this size is quite involved, it can take many years, it can involve researchers collaborating together across institutions to try to come up with extra funding and in kind support.
So its alarming to us that Dr Lomborg is getting somewhat of a free ride here without the normal checks and balances.
KIM LANDERS: Dr Luke Hedge ending that report by Jessica Kidd.