My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for23 July 2019

by ray goodlass

The gall of Mr McCormack

Hot on the heels of the ongoing story of raids on journalists by the Australian Federal Police (AFP) for simply doing their job of pursuing investigative journalism comes news of another group of professionals being targeted for also just doing their job.

In this case the victims are scientists from the CSIRO and Geoscience Australia, who of course also pursue investigative work.

My information for this comes courtesy of the ABC, which has cited emails, obtained under Freedom of Information by the Lock The Gate environment group, showing the Adani coalmining giant demanded the federal government reveal the names of the scientists investigating the groundwater implications of its proposed Carmichael coal mine in Queensland’s Galilee Basin.

Adani said it had written to the department in January to request “assurance that individuals involved in any review processes were independent”. This is of course a slur on the scientists’ integrity.

This followed “concerning reports at the time that the state environmental regulator had commissioned a review which constituted individuals who had expressed anti-coal, anti-mining sentiments”, Adani said.

Adani’s justification for its request is breathtaking in its audacity, for it read “Adani simply wants to know who is involved in the review to provide it with peace of mind that it is being treated fairly and that the review will not be hijacked by activists with a political, as opposed to scientific, agenda,” Adani told the federal environment department on 25 January.

That was well before scientists from CSIRO and Geoscience Australia reported back to both the Queensland and federal government on their review of Adani’s plans to manage groundwater

Readers will remember that Adani was unable to proceed with building the mine until that plan was approved by both the state and federal governments.

Everyone also no doubt remembers that the plan won federal government ministerial approval on 8th April by Melissa Price, the usually invisible Environment Minister, two days before the 18 May election was called. The Queensland government gave its approval in mid-June.

Adani’s action of requesting the names of the scientists involved has concerned anyone worried that commercial corporations would seek to find the identity of researchers who might find evidence that would put their plans in jeopardy. Clearly the scientists could be at risk of being bullied or otherwise coerced if they did not reach conclusions favourable to the company.

But not so our local MP and Deputy Prime Minister, Michael McCormack, for he has  defended Adani after the revelations it tried to get the names of the scientists, fearing they might be anti-coal activists.

The assumption that the scientists might compromise their research integrity is of course a terrible accusation that needs calling out

However, regardless of this ethical slur, last Tuesday Mr McCormack said he could understand the “frustration” of the proponents of the Carmichael mine.

“They were made to jump through more environmental hoops than perhaps any previous project in the nation,” he told ABC’s AM. “And no doubt they wanted to determine … that those arguing against their proposals were not just some quasi anti-development groups or individuals.” Mr McCormack’s gall in making this statement beggars belief.

To give him credit, Mr McCormack said he “appreciated” Adani’s move could be seen as intimidating but defended the company by claiming there were “many, many people under lots and lots of banners saying things and suggesting things about Adani that … weren’t true”.

That’s an assertion that is of questionable veracity, but whether or not it is true, it is quite irrelevant to the issue of research scientists being put at risk of intimidation.

However, when pressed, McCormack did say that the CSIRO was “independent”, adding that he respected its work “and always will”. This sits at odds with his earlier remarks, of course.

CSIRO staff association secretary Sam Popovski told the ABC “We’re very concerned on behalf of our scientists at the CSIRO that a big company would go into looking at the personal lives of our members, including trawling their social media, in order to potentially discredit their work.

“It was clear that Adani seemed to be suggesting bias, or potential bias, way before any of the scientific evidence was actually presented to the department,” he said.

Thankfully the scientists’ names were not handed over, the federal environment department has said.