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April 27th 2010 print

Des Moore

Wheeler Centre’s big fix

Of the 30 “best people addressing the climate problem now”, the Alfred Deakin lecturers all appear to be warmists, and include John Brumby and Malcolm Turnbull. Scientists with any knowledge of the global warming debate are in short supply and there are no sceptics.

On 24 April a four page advertisement appeared out of the blue in the “culture” section of The Age for what were described as Alfred Deakin Lectures to be held in Melbourne from June 6-12 under the title of Brave New World? The Climate Change Challenge. 

These lectures, which are free (but for which “bookings are strongly recommended”), are sponsored by the Victorian Government and it is using the newly established Wheeler Centre – supposedly the centrepiece of “the State Government’s City of Literature initiative” – to run the lectures. The Chairman of that group is well-known left-wing journalist Eric Beecher, a former editor of the Sydney Morning Herald and currently publisher of Crikey.

The lectures certainly envisage a “brave new, low emissions world” as they have as lead “curator” Professor Tim Flannery, who like ABC Science Show presenter Robyn Williams is renowned for his many over-the-top warnings about global warming dangers. Apart from advocating the need to cease our largest export (coal), Flannery’s scatter-mongering approach has included predictions that sea levels threaten to rise by 80 metres and that Adelaide, Sydney and Brisbane would run out of water last year.

Of the 30 “best people addressing the climate problem now”, the Alfred Deakin lecturers all appear to be warmists and include Premier John Brumby, UK High Commissioner Baroness Valerie Amos, Malcolm Turnbull and Nick McKim. But scientists with any knowledge of the global warming debate are in short supply and there are no sceptics. Of course, former deputy secretary of what has emerged as a “green” federal Treasury, and now secretary of the Department of Climate Change, Martin Parkinson, is also listed as a speaker. He has become an increasingly active supporter of government policies – a kind of deputy minister – and recently received a tick from Minister Wong’s spokeswoman when she declared nonchalantly he “accepts invitations without any reference to a minister or government” – as he did, she said, under the previous government (which of course also had an emissions trading policy).

The press release, which describes the lectures as “the most concentrated dissection of the climate challenge presented in our country in recent times”, will cover ten key areas viz: 

Sunday 6 June, Opening Keynote Address by Tim Flannery
Monday 7 June, Future Energy Solutions
Tuesday 8 June, afternoon, Emissions Trading
Tuesday 8 June, evening, Greening Capitalism
Wednesday 9 June, afternoon, Carbon Down on the Farm
Wednesday 9 June, evening, Prosperity Without Growth
Thursday 10 June, evening, The Developing World
Friday 11 June, evening, The Ethics of Climate Change
Saturday 12 June, afternoon, Innovating the Cities
Saturday 12 June, evening, Politics of Climate Change 

Each lecture will be followed by a panel discussion of experts in the field, opening up the conversation to peers and the public. All sessions will be moderated by the Deakin Series Strategic Director, Nick Rowley, former adviser to Tony Blair, Bob Carr and the strategic director of the Copenhagen Climate Council. 

But why are these lectures described as the Alfred Deakin Lectures when they are not being run by the long established Alfred Deakin Trust, which normally presents an annual lecture by distinguished Australians, such as John Howard, Geoffrey Blainey, Hugh Morgan and Lauchlan Chipman? 

The Victorian Government decided to run an Alfred Deakin Lecture series in 2001 to celebrate the centenary of the Federation and that covered a wide variety of topics and had some well credentialed speakers. The series was next run by the Government in 2005 – but at that point the Government converted them into the Alfred Deakin Innovation Lectures and last year reframed them as the Alfred Deakin Eco-Innovation Lectures. They may also have been held in between (at least in 2007).

The ABC was also brought into the picture. Radio National claims “the Alfred Deakin Lectures were part of the Melbourne International Arts Festival and first broadcast on Radio National in 2001 to commemorate the first sitting of federal parliament”. However, none of the past programs of that festival even list the lectures as an event and it can only be assumed that the broadcasting of the lecture series was tacked on to provide a suitable link for the ABC with the arts festivals.

Eric Beecher’s four page ad makes no mention of Radio National in his 2010 series, presumably because he wants to fill seats. However, Beecher claims the series continues the legacy of a man “synonymous with visionary ideas and bold innovations” and presumably seeks to link Deakin’s name with the need to have (climate change) policies that “protect” society in much the same way as Deakin advocated and initiated through protection and labour market regulation – but without understanding that such action is disadvantageous to society as a whole.

The action by the Victorian Government in sponsoring the forthcoming lectures reflects the continuing fight back by the many politicians and governments, bureaucrats and academics who have locked themselves into the belief that the earth faces a dangerous period of warming unless governments act to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases. It also provides extensive opportunities for Beecher, as Chairman of the Wheeler Centre, to use the $13.6 m refurbishment by the Victorian Government of what was part of the Melbourne Public Library to promote the causes he follows.