On this day 19 years ago the Australian Bureau of Agriculture and Resource Economics (ABARE) got a slap on the wrist. Years earlier they’d started asking for $50k per annum to be on a steering group that oversaw the development of the “MEGABARE” economic model. This model was used to justify Australia’s diplomatic efforts to cut itself a very cushy deal in the international climate negotiations. MEGABARE ‘showed scientifically’ that Australia’s economy was unique and that any abatement efforts would cause the sky to fall. Who had been ponying up the $50k per annum? Disinterested and public-spirited groups like the Australian Coal Association, Rio Tinto, the Business Council of Australia. When the Australian Conservation Foundation asked to join the board in May 1997, with the $50k waived, the ABARE boss said ‘terribly sorry, no can do’. So ACF complained to the Ombudsman in June and the Ombudsman investigated and – waiting until after the Kyoto meeting of the UNFCCC – released a report saying that ABARE had opened themselves up to the perception of bias.
To quote the press release, “The Ombudsman’s investigation also concluded that:
- The composition of the MEGABARE and GIGABARE committees did not adequately conform to the characteristics of a government steering committee dealing with an important – and controversial – public policy matter. In particular that the development of the steering committee did not ensure a balance of views and technical skills.
- The membership fees were exclusionary in their effect.
- It was not appropriate for ABARE to use the term ‘steering committee’ to describe the MEGABARE and GIGABARE committees.
- ABARE’s intentions for the MEGABARE and GIGABARE committees would have been more appropriately characterised at the outset as ‘sponsors committees for funding representatives’. However, the use of the term ‘Steering Committee’, and the associated explanation as to its role allowed an ambiguity and the possible creation of an expectation of membership influence on issues affecting public policy.
- The greenhouse gas emission reduction strategies are an important matter of public policy and any steering committee or consultative process should include a balance of community interests.
Ms Smith said: ‘ABARE now concedes that it should not have used this fund raising mechanism if it had known the ‘misunderstandings’ and ‘political use’ that would be made of the funding arrangements.”
For more on this, see Clive Hamilton’s 2001 ‘Running from the Storm’ and a 1997 Honours Thesis by one R. Duncan.
Also on this day –
Oh look ABARE’s 1993 outlook conference was happening five years earlier.
At the conference, the boss of Woodside Petroleum said it was time for a ‘reappraisal’ of Australia’s greenhouse policies.
…. and perhaps even argue for a national increase in greenhouse gas emissions instead of a cut….
Mr Allen said “emotional media and political treatment” of the greenhouse issue had obscured the real problem. While it was clear greenhouse was happening, he said, there were many scientific uncertainties about its magnitude and speed.
Mussared, D. 1993. Increase Australia’s greenhouse emissions: Woodside. Canberra Times, 5 February, p.13.
and at the same conference
“A senior ABARE minerals economist, Mr Barry Jones, told the Outlook ’93 conference yesterday that the measures announced in the Government’s Greenhouse Response Strategy would not be enough to stabilise greenhouse gas emissions by 2000 compared with 1988 levels, or to cut them a further 20 per cent by 2005.” and that if it wanted to reach those goals, the Federal Government would have to consider unpopular measures such as a carbon tax…
Garran, R. 1993. Rethink needed on greenhouse. The Australian Financial Review, 5 February, p.7.