Senate debates

Tuesday, 10 August 2021


Economics References Committee; Reference

5:23 pm

Photo of Larissa WatersLarissa Waters (Queensland, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

On behalf of Senators Rice and Carr, I move:

(1) That the Senate notes that the Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee inquiry into nationhood, national identity and democracy recommended that the Australian Government establish a Parliamentary Office of Science, modelled on the United Kingdom Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology, to provide independent, impartial scientific advice, evidence and data to the Parliament, and all members and senators.

(2) That the following matter be referred to the Economics References Committee for inquiry and report by 2 December 2021:

The current state of scientific advice to the Parliament, with particular reference to:

(a) the role of timely, independent scientific advice to the Parliament throughout the COVID-19 pandemic;

(b) the nature of information needed and adequacy of current sources to assist the Parliament in its consideration of matters related to science and technology;

(c) the relevance of approaches adopted in other countries, including the United Kingdom's Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology;

(d) opportunities to expand the availability of independent scientific advice to members of Parliament through the establishment of a Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST) with appropriate structure and resourcing, including:

(i) accountability and oversight,

(ii) protocols for requesting work from POST, and POST's relationship with other entities, and

(iii) resourcing and staffing levels; and

(e) any other related matters.

Notice of motion altered on 4 August 2021 pursuant to standing order 77.

Photo of Janet RiceJanet Rice (Victoria, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

[by video link] Today is the most relevant day in the seven years that I've been in the Senate, with the introduction of a motion for an inquiry into the need for independent science advice to the parliament. Of course, it's the day after the IPCC sixth assessment report landed, a report which the UN Secretary-General described as a 'code red for humanity'. He said:

The alarm bells are deafening and the evidence is irrefutable: Greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel burning and deforestation are choking our planet and putting billions of people at immediate risk.

It's a week of unprecedented fires in Greece, a Northern Hemisphere summer of 47 degrees being recorded in Canada, unprecedented wildfires across the US and Russia, and unprecedented floods in Germany and China—and, of course, after our Black Summer bushfires of the summer of 2019-20, which killed over three billion animals. Yet our government is in denial, and the Labor Party are in denial when it comes to the need for urgent action by 2030 to slash our carbon pollution by at least half for Australia to be playing its part in tackling the climate crisis.

How would a parliamentary office of science have changed this? In the words of the UK Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology, which could be one possible model for an Australian parliamentary office of science, the debate here today and going forward would have been informed by trusted and impartial analysis. We need more than just the scientific advice that is currently given to government. We need quality, reliable, impartial scientific advice to every parliamentarian to inform our decision-making and for that advice to be largely public advice. Parliamentarians could then ignore it. They could challenge it. They could debate it, if they wished. But it would be at their peril. The work of scientists needs to be front and centre in the decisions that we make in our parliament, and the work of Australian scientists, in particular, needs to be celebrated and made accessible to all Australian MPs, including to those from whom we heard this afternoon: Senator McMahon, who was saying that our climate depends on sun spots; Senators Rennick and Roberts, who deny the climate science altogether; and, in fact, the Labor senators, who are silent on the scientifically assessed need to be slashing our carbon pollution by at least half by 2030.

I want to, in the context of this debate of privileging and highlighting science, particularly salute the over 40 Australian scientists who are lead authors of the IPCC report that was released yesterday. Thank you for your perseverance, for sitting in the fire, for spending each day confronting the reality of the existential threats to our planet. I am listening; the Greens are listening. We will keep working to convert your science into legislation, for Australia to act in the urgent way that is needed to confront our climate crisis, to act as if our house is on fire, because it is. Of course, this proposed referral for an inquiry into a parliamentary office of science isn't only about climate scientists, as relevant as they are today. It's about those scientists working on COVID, on vaccines, on environmental protection—across the gamut of science. A parliamentary office of science would mean their advice would be regularly, reliably and impartially conveyed to all parliamentarians in this place.

Now, I want to go specifically to the issue of this referral today, which, of course, is to set up an inquiry about scientific advice to this parliament and, in particular, the appropriateness of a parliamentary office of science. Our referral today is based on the basic principles that guide the Australian Greens when it comes to policy in general and science policy particularly. We believe that research is essential for social progress and it's a public good. And we believe that scientific principles and the practice of independent, peer reviewed research is essential to the development and availability of high-quality knowledge and must not be compromised. And, most importantly, we believe it's essential that policymaking is informed by high-quality evidence and scientific research.

It's because we value the contribution of scientific research and expertise that I particularly want to acknowledge the contribution of the Rapid Research Information Forum, or RRIF. Since early last year, of course, we've been responding to a worldwide pandemic in ways that have been often very complex and very challenging. There have been major policy responses, but often they've depended on understanding and answering new and complex questions about a virus that, as we know, is still mutating and evolving. So we have seen an incredibly valuable contribution from the RRIF with multiple papers published on a whole range of questions, and we welcome the contribution of the Australian Academy of Science in leading that important work as well as a whole range of individuals and organisations across the sector in contributing collaboratively.

Given the important contribution of the RRIF, it's sad to see so many areas of policy where ministers have actually ignored the scientific advice in making their decisions. It's hard to know where to start, and it highlights the need for the advice from the RRIF to be elevated and underpinned by something like a parliamentary office of science. The areas where Liberal ministers have been ignoring the scientific advice include: ignoring the scientific advice on forest ecology, which means that native forest logging is continuing across the country; ignoring the advice on faunal extinction and conservation, weakening rather than strengthening our environmental laws; and, critically, as I've already discussed, ignoring the evidence on climate.

As well as government policy, there have been MPs freelancing on their own, often undermining, at critical points, some of the evidence that we've received here in the building. One member of the government's party in the other place was permanently banned from Facebook for spreading misinformation about COVID-19. Imagine how bad your content needs to be to be banned from Facebook, a platform that's regularly used by conspiracy theorists and far-Right extremists to spread their ideas! It's very clear that we need a much greater use and prominence of science in our decision-making here, and we need parliamentarians to be held to account when they are spruiking far-out ideas that are completely debunked by good science.

If you think about the problems that we've got with science not informing our decisions here in Australia, it's important to think about how this could be different. One positive example is the UK's Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology, or POST. The UK POST produces impartial, non-partisan and peer-reviewed briefings designed to make scientific research available to the UK parliament. In an Australian context, that could be incredibly valuable. Think of the contribution a POST could make to debating COVID relief bills, changes to environment laws, changes to health frameworks and farming frameworks or, of course, climate and energy policy. For example, on climate targets, their recent advice to the UK parliament included the following:

Achieving net zero by 2050 will be highly challenging and, although existing policy does not put the UK on track to meet interim milestones, there is emerging consensus across the private sector and civil society on the importance of climate mitigation. There is also a growing number of industry organisations outside of the immediate energy and climate space that are now aligning their operations with net zero by 2050. However, several groups argue that the 2050 date would need to be brought forward to make the UK's targets compatible with limiting global warming to 1.5°C under a stricter interpretation of 'equity' assumptions. Globally, current Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) emissions reduction pledges emitted by all nations under the Paris Agreement fail to reach even the lower end of the Agreement's ambition. Recent CCC modelling has demonstrated a route to UK net zero by the early 2040s for the first time, under a scenario in which both innovation and public appetite for behaviour change all develop faster than expected.

Basically, the POST is able to summarise contentious science and present it to parliamentarians in a way which is trusted and impartial and which parliamentarians cannot avoid, ignore or turn a blind eye to. It would be there to be considered as part of our decision-making processes. That would mean we would not be in a situation where the Labor Party are silent on 2030 targets. We would not be in a situation where we have government backbenchers spruiking completely fanciful models. They could still do that that, but it would be very clear that it was completely inconsistent with the appropriate science that was being presented to the parliament in an impartial and reliable way.

Of course, the motion before us today is not to establish a parliamentary office of science. It's simply putting the question to the Senate to consider: what is the current state of scientific advice to the Australian parliament, and can it be improved?

This is a really important question and one we think is worth examining. We would welcome the opportunity to hear from policymakers, scientific researchers, academic experts and the general community. I've talked to a lot of key science stakeholders over the last few months as we've been developing this proposal for a parliamentary office of science and developing this idea of having an inquiry. They have been very positive about it, because they know; they want to see science given a much higher status and much greater salience in the decision-making of the Australian parliament.

The purpose, of course, of a Senate inquiry is to hear from the whole community and to gather the information. So I really commend this motion to the Senate. I think it's an incredibly important motion, particularly on a day like today, when we see the extent to which science is influencing our future—given the climate crisis we're facing that's front of mind for us all today—and we know that we need to be elevating the importance of science in our decision-making. I really hope this motion to establish an inquiry to look at scientific advice to the parliament will be supported across party lines in the Senate this afternoon. Thank you.

5:36 pm

Photo of Kim CarrKim Carr (Victoria, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

At one level this is a very simple proposition that seeks to refer to the economics committee a proposal on how we can improve the scientific advice to this parliament. So I was somewhat surprised when I was advised that the government is going to vote against this proposition. I was surprised because I have represented the Labor Party on scientific matters for many, many years, and it's a matter of deep concern to me that we have not had an adequate level of investment and understanding of the importance of scientific advice to this parliament. As a consequence I've long held the view that the British model—followed by the American model, in terms of their advice to their Congress—is a model that we could adopt in this country. As a consequence we did look at this issue in the Senate inquiry into nationhood, national identity and democracy. That committee 'recommended that the Australian Government establish a Parliamentary Office of Science, modelled on the United Kingdom Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology, to provide independent, impartial scientific advice, evidence and data to the Parliament, and all members and senators'. It was recommendation 14, and I chaired that inquiry. It was a recommendation that was bipartisan. So I'm particularly concerned that the government now finds this proposition dangerous, that it says that there's adequate advice and we don't need to have this reference. Somehow or other, this has suddenly become a contentious issue.

If members and senators are going to debate and pass laws that govern Australians, they do need access to reliable and impartial information. They don't need to have ideologically loaded information. I acknowledge there will be differences of opinion about the nature of that information, but they do need access to the very best information. You simply can't rely upon the department to provide that on their own. It's possible that even fine organisations like our scientific agencies are able to present information which is contestable. We hear, on a regular basis, 'It is contestable.' I take the view that it is important that the institutions and processes of parliamentary democracy would not be possible without that debate or access. The proposed science office would in fact enhance democracy in this country. It would enhance our understanding of how this country is actually faring and of the fact, for instance, that the IPCC report has highlighted the challenges this country faces. The arguments about how we deal with those challenges are inherent in the political process. We don't have to agree about the mechanism by which we address those challenges, but we do have to address those challenges, and the pursuit of that advice through proper scientific analysis is critical to that solution.

What we've got is an example of the government opposing this motion because inherent within this government is a fundamental hostility to scientific inquiry. A war on science has been the hallmark of this government throughout its life.

We are now debating whether or not an office would be useful and whether or not creating such an office would enhance our work as members of parliament. That's an extraordinary proposition. The debate is about whether or not it would enable us to better serve the people of this country, who actually pay our wages, who, of course, we are supposed to serve and who look to us to provide advice. What's the argument about the establishment of a parliamentary office of science? They say there's sufficient advice already available through the Office of the Chief Scientist and other advisory bodies to the government. No-one's disputing the fact that we do have quality advice available, but is anyone realistically going to say that that's adequate? Is anyone realistically going to be able to argue a case that it's sufficient? Is anyone really going to be able to maintain a proposition that it's appropriate and that we have enough advice in terms of the way in which the challenges facing this country are being addressed?

There's already an available model for the provision of independent advice: the Parliamentary Budget Office. Is anyone going to say suddenly that the Treasury is being usurped because there's an independent Parliamentary Budget Office? Does anyone suggest that the authority of the Treasury is now so fundamentally challenged that we can't function? It's a complete nonsense. Public servants in the Treasury department and the Department of Finance do provide advice to the government of the day, but there needs to be an independent source of advice to the parliament. That's why a proposition such as this provides us with a vehicle to ensure that that can happen. It's important that the parliament has its own source of advice on fiscal questions. We've accepted that, but we don't accept it in regard to scientific questions.

The parliamentary office of science would be able to provide that same level of advice that the Parliamentary Budget Office does. It would provide the information we need to be able to do our jobs properly as members of parliament. It's about our job to hold governments to account and, above all, to serve the people who send us here. That's what I find quite extraordinary.

It's not the first time that we've heard this argument from the government: 'Just trust us.' By taking that attitude, the government is really saying: 'We want to maintain control. We want to maintain access. We want to be able to provide that vital resource, the information that allows us to tell you what's good for you.' Well, that's not satisfactory. That's no way to exercise parliamentary accountability. What we have to have is access to independent, reliable information on matters that require scientific expertise.

The message running throughout the recommendations in the nationhood inquiry was that we build trust within the public, within the nation, if we can provide the proper levels of communication about these questions and if we can debate these questions on the basis of sound knowledge, not just prejudice. If this parliament is to do its job properly, we have to restore public confidence in the work we undertake. It's a fundamental principle of the way in which democracy ought to function.

The lesson of the pandemic is that the public is wide open to the proposition that you can trust scientific advice, but it needs to be presented properly. It needs to be presented on the basis that it is contestable. There's no magic formula; there are no Ten Commandments. There has to be a debate about these things based on sound advice. That's the way citizens respond positively to medical emergencies and fundamental questions of public health. Unfortunately, ill-informed comments have all too often been heard throughout our political system.

Former Chief Scientist Professor Ian Chubb proposed that the Australian government set up a formal relationship between parliament and the scientific community. The formal relationship would define what it means to provide scientific advice to the parliament and the government. That relationship does exist within the United Kingdom, where the parliament has signed an agreement setting out the roles and responsibilities of the two parties. I have advanced before the proposition of a charter between the parliament and the scientific community. Professor Chubb argued the case that we need to have an agreement that includes such things as scientists having an obligation to provide free, frank advice that is as good as they could possibly offer, given the advice that was available to them in their own expertise and their own work, and, on the other side, the parliament having a commitment to make that advice public.

This process of course led to the creation of POST, the UK Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology, which the nationhood inquiry, as I've indicated, recommended as a model for this country. POST works well because both houses of the UK parliament are involved and describe the job as 'helping to bridge the gap between research and policy by providing parliamentarians with up-to-date research evidence and expertise to inform legislation and scrutiny'. This gets captured by scientists. POST—and I've read its material for many years—is balanced, is actually in plain English and acknowledges the importance of social considerations as well as the purely scientific. It has proved its worth.

It has existed since 1989. It was established under the Thatcher government—that great radical Margaret Thatcher. For this reactionary mob here it's far too dangerous to be able to undertake something like that. No-one in the United Kingdom argued that somehow or other it usurped the role of the government's own advisers. POST is jointly funded by the houses of parliament in the United Kingdom. It's overseen by a board made up of 10 members of the House of Commons and four members of the House of Lords. They are chosen on the basis that they reflect the balance of the parties in the parliament. Researchers are chosen by learned academies, representing the breadth of scientific disciplines, and representatives of the research and information committees of the parliament.

There's no reason why a similar model couldn't apply here. This reference would provide us with a vehicle to check all of those things out. We should be conscious of how damage has been done in terms of democracies with uninformed opinion and the breakdown of trust in public institutions. The establishment of a formal relationship between a nation's scientists and the parliament is important to restore trust and is important to re-establish confidence in the parliamentary system itself. It would also work to overcome the toxic effect of the scurrilous attacks on science and scientists—attacks promoted by members of this parliament, who should know better. Of course they've done it for very partisan reasons. They think there's a vote in it. They think that building on prejudice and building upon popular reactionary nationalist emotions is going to somehow or other produce a political dividend for them.

We've heard various elements suggest that this is somehow or other about defending Western civilisation. Strangely, these are the same people who don't usually have any science in mind when they talk about Western civilisation being under threat. Modern science is one of the finest achievements of Western civilisation. It is the flowering of the enlightenment values of organised rational inquiry—inquiry into the nature of the world around us and inquiry into humanity's place in the world. Science has transformed life for the better for people all over the world, yet in our time we have come to witness attacks on science by people who want to spread mistrust. This is a time of anxiety. People are inciting fear about the consequences of new developments in science and technology because of the impact of these developments on the future of work, because of concern about changes in the climate, because of the threat of the spread of disease and because of fears for our international strategic situation.

Since the government's election in 2013, it's allowed the fearmongers in its ranks to influence public policy to an extent way beyond their intellectual capacities. We've seen cuts to the public science agencies, we've seen the failure to fund our university research agencies and we've seen a war on science which has undermined our capacity to deal with the really big problems facing our society. We simply can't turn our backs on the enlightenment. This is a big problem for this government. They have yet to come to terms with the enlightenment. We should be standing with science and we should take advice from the scientific community. We should defend those who elect us, rebuild public confidence and rebuild confidence in parliamentary democracies by ensuring that people understand that we are acting for the future of humanity and we should be trying to build hope rather than extinguishing it. By investing in science, by demonstrating our trust in science, we are in fact strengthening democracy. Democracy only thrives when we have a respect for the truth. (Time expired)

5:51 pm

Photo of Malcolm RobertsMalcolm Roberts (Queensland, Pauline Hanson's One Nation Party) Share this | | Hansard source

As a servant to the people of Queensland and Australia, I will discuss the cost of shoddy science that is crippling people, families, communities and our nation. One Nation has repeatedly called for and continues to call for an independent office of scientific integrity and quality assurance to assess the science claimed to be underpinning government policy and decisions. We want objective, independent scientific scrutiny that is protected from politicisation. Science is a not a label; it is hard, verifiable, reliable data within a framework that proves cause and effect logically. It is every senator's responsibility to ensure that she or he makes decisions using such data.

I'll give you some examples of the cost of shoddy science that has not been scrutinised. Climate policies and renewable subsidies cost Australian households via electricity costs $13 billion per year, every year. That's $1,300 per household per year needlessly wasted. The median income in this country is $49,000. After tax, that's around $34,000 or maybe a little bit higher. How can someone on $34,000 after tax afford $1,300 flushed down the toilet, for nothing? The additional costs of climate policies on our power bills is a staggering 39 per cent, not the 6½ per cent that the government claims. Renewables distort the low cost of coal based power and more than double the wholesale electricity price from coal's $45.50 per kilowatt hour to $92.50. China and India use our coal to sell electricity at 8c a kilowatt hour, while we burn the same coal without transporting it thousands of kilometres and the price of electricity from the coal is three times as much at 25c an hour.

All Australians have the right to benefit from our rich natural resources. The true cost of electricity in this country would be $13 billion per year less if cheap, affordable, reliable coal production was not lumbered with policies that distort the market. We commissioned independent expert and respected economist Dr Alan Moran to calculate those figures, and he used the government's own data. So it can't be sensibly refuted. The government stopped presenting it in consolidated form to hide what government policy is doing to everyday Australians in our nation.

Every subsidised green energy job or so-called renewable job, from renewable or unreliable power, such as wind and solar, costs 2.2 jobs lost in the real economy. Parasitic unreliables are killing their host, the people of Australia and the people of Queensland.

We can go further, beyond raw data on energy costs, to look at property rights. Property rights have been stolen in this country in the name of the Kyoto Protocol. John Howard's Howard-Anderson government started it with Rob Borbidge's National Party government in Queensland, followed quickly by Peter Beattie's government and every government since, with the exception of Campbell Newman, who failed to repeal it. Property rights have been stolen with no compensation. That is fundamentally wrong. We see it in water policy, with corruption in the Murray-Darling Basin when it comes to water trading. We see the stealing of water rights, all based on shoddy science. The whole Murray-Darling Basin Plan is based on shoddy science—political science. Instead of having science based policy, we now have policy based science, and both sides of this parliament are responsible.

Senator Carr, who I have a lot of regard for in many ways, raised COVID. We have not been given the scientific data on COVID. We've been given models. The scientific data which I got from the Chief Medical Officer points to a completely different picture and to completely different management. COVID is being mismanaged in the name of science. It is wrong. By the way, the costs of all of those examples I've given are not in the billions but in the tens or hundreds of billions, and the impact on our country's economy is in the trillions, with the lost opportunity and the lack of competitiveness.

COVID exposed to us that our country has lost its economic independence. We now depend on other countries for our survival—for basics. We've lost our manufacturing sector because of shoddy governance from the Labor, Liberal and National parties over almost eight decades, since 1944. In the last 18 months, we've seen the Liberals, Labor and the Nationals squabbling at state and federal level, because there is no science being used to drive the plan. There's no plan for COVID management. Each state is lurching from manufactured crisis to manufactured crisis, and the federal government is bypassing the Constitution and conditioning them to suck on the federal tit. That's what's going on.

Let's have a look at the science. I have held CSIRO accountable at three presentations from them, plus Senate estimates. Firstly, the CSIRO has admitted under my cross-examination that the CSIRO has never said that carbon dioxide from human activity is a danger—never. We asked them: 'Who has said it? Politicians told us you said it.' They said, 'You'd have to ask the politicians.' Secondly, CSIRO has admitted that today's temperatures are not unprecedented. I'll say that again—not unprecedented. They've happened before in recent times without our burning of hydrocarbon fuels.

Thirdly, the CSIRO then fell back on one thing—one paper, after almost 50 years of research, that said that the rate of warming is now increasing. That too was falsified by the author of that paper. It was falsified and contradicted by other references which the CSIRO had to then give us. There is no evidence for the CSIRO's sole claim that the rate of temperature rise is unprecedented. Its own papers that it cites do not show that. The CSIRO then relied upon unvalidated computer models that were already proven to be giving erroneous projections. That's what the UN IPCC relies on. They've already been proven wrong many times.

The clincher is that, to have policy based upon science, you would need to quantify the amount of impact on climate variables such as weather: rainfall; storm activity, severity and frequency; and drought. You'd need to be able to quantify the impact on that of carbon dioxide from human activity. The CSIRO has never quantified any specific impact on climate, or any climate variable, from human carbon dioxide.

With us, the CSIRO has repeatedly relied on discredited and poor-quality papers on temperature and carbon dioxide. It gave us one of each, and then, when we tore them to shreds, they gave us more. We tore them to shreds. It has never given us any good-quality scientific papers. That's their science. The CSIRO revealed little understanding of the papers they cited as evidence. That's our scientific body in this country—they could not show understanding of the papers that they cited.

The CSIRO admits it has never done due diligence on reports and data that it cites as evidence. It just accepts peer review. What a lot of rubbish that is! That has been shown in peer-reviewed articles to be rubbish. The CSIRO allows politicians to misrepresent it without correction. It doesn't stand up—it doesn't have any backbone. The CSIRO has misled parliament. Independent international scientists have verified our conclusions on the CSIRO science, and they're stunned—people like John Christy, Nir Shaviv, Nils Morner, David Legates, Ian Plimer and Will Happer. There is no climate emergency—none at all. Everything is normal. It's completely cyclical weather.

Now I'll move to the UK's Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology, which has turned into a propaganda outfit and a mouthpiece and cheer squad for global policies. Politics has captured it and turned it into a massive bureaucracy that writes legislation rather than checks it. POST, as it's called, comprises people, as Senator Carr said, 'consistent with parliamentary composition'. That tells us straight away that it's not independent. Instead of a body to drive legislation we want a body to vet it. Senator Carr mentioned the Office of the Chief Scientist. I asked the Chief Scientist for a presentation on his evidence of climate change caused by human carbon dioxide. After 20 minutes of rubbish we asked him questions and he looked at us and said that he's not a climate scientist and he doesn't understand it. Yet we have policies around this country based upon Dr Finkel's advice. Some of those policies that I mentioned are based on his advice.

We've had activists, such as Tim Flannery, David Karoly, Will Steffen, Ross Garnaut, Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, Matthew England, Kurt Lambeck, Andy Pitman and Lesley Hughes, being paraded and paid by the government—both Liberal and Labor—and yet they're nothing more than academic activists. None have provided any empirical scientific evidence in a logical framework proving cause and effect. That's what has been paraded around this parliament as science for decades now. It's rubbish. That's why One Nation opposes this motion. It is wasting committee resources to send them off on a goose chase to adopt something like the UK's Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology.

We invite Senator Carr to join us in legislating for an independent body of scientists to scrutinise government policy and decisions. Let the government put up the science upon which its policies are based and let the independent body scrutinise it. That requires a few things. First of all, it needs a team funded and set up to oppose the government's position, and we'll let them both go at it. Science, fundamentally, is about data and debate. We need the government to put up its science and let a team tear it apart—and be funded to tear it apart. Once that happens, and the science is dismissed, that will save the country billions of dollars. If it withstands the scrutiny, that's good—we'll know we've got a really solid scientific case. Another way is to have a transparency portal. Put the science out there and let anybody in the public domain tear it apart. If someone finds a chink, fix it. True scientists are not about protecting their egos; they're about being open to the advancement of humanity. They welcome their own science being torn apart.

We need an independent view. The type of information, as the motion discusses, is simple. All we need is empirical scientific evidence in a framework proving cause and effect. We then need independent scrutiny, and I've given you two examples. That will replace policies—as Senator Carr has discussed, and I agree with him—based on ideology, headline-seeking, prejudice, opinions, looking after vested interests and looking after donors. This is what's driving this country, and the people are paying for it. They're paying for it through the neck, and we're destroying our country. We need the 'claimed' science to be scrutinised and verified or rejected.

What a shameful, disgraceful incident we saw in this parliament just after midday today. We saw Senator Wong, Senator Watt and Senator Waters engaging in a screaming match. Not once did anyone raise empirical scientific evidence. This is day 701 since I asked the chief proponent of this climate change nonsense in the parliament to be accountable for her data. I asked Senator Waters. I challenged her 701 days ago—almost two years ago. I challenged her 11 years ago. She has never agreed to debate me. She refuses to debate me. She refuses to put up the scientific evidence. She refuses to discuss the corruption of climate science. Yet she espouses policies that will gut this country. Also, we've seen Senator Wong quoting a report from the IPCC. That's not a report from scientists; that's a report from political activists. She talks about what we are told—insert the catastrophe—will happen in the future. That's not science. What we need is an honest debate. We need an honest debate to reveal the pure science and to hold people accountable in the parliament. We will not be supporting this motion because it will encourage politicisation.

6:06 pm

Photo of Sarah Hanson-YoungSarah Hanson-Young (SA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

Has there ever been a more antiscience government than the government we have today? Let's be clear: we have Scott Morrison, as Prime Minister, giving free range to the whack jobs on his side to spout all manner of antiscience agendas, whether it be—

Photo of Sue LinesSue Lines (WA, Deputy-President) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Davey, on a point of order?

Photo of Perin DaveyPerin Davey (NSW, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm just not sure referring to members of this place as 'whack jobs' is appropriate parliamentary language.

Photo of Sue LinesSue Lines (WA, Deputy-President) Share this | | Hansard source

There was no reference to people's names. I appreciate it's coming close. I ask senators to participate in the debate respectfully. There was no personal attack.

Photo of Sarah Hanson-YoungSarah Hanson-Young (SA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you, Madam Deputy President. There's the antiscience rubbish that is spouted from that side of the chamber from the Morrison government. I might say it's not just confined to the backbench. We have Senator Rennick, Mr George Christensen, Senator Canavan and a bunch of others, but we also have the Deputy Prime Minister, who is one of the cheerleaders of antiscience in this parliament—so much so that he dismisses climate change science almost in totality and dismisses the science in relation to water security in this country. Even this afternoon, the Leader of the National Party, the Deputy Prime Minister of this country, Mr Joyce, had his party declare that they are going to amend the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act in this place when it comes before the parliament tomorrow, to remove the prohibition on nuclear power in this country. They don't quote science in relation to this. It is all part of their crazy whack job agenda. It is part of the tin foil hat brigade which keeps the seats warm on that side of the chamber in the Morrison government. It suits the Prime Minister, of course, to have these crazy fringe groups within his own party banging on about this stuff, because it makes him look almost reasonable. Everything is relative.

You see the scientific facts, the warning signs from around the world, and the world's leading climate scientists tell us, point blank, that we are running out of time to take action on climate change and reverse the catastrophe facing our environment. If you're the Prime Minister of the country and you stand at a press conference today addressing the nation and telling them you're doing enough, it's because you don't believe in science; it's because you don't have regard for science and scientific fact; it's because you don't listen to the experts.

Of course, this is the same Prime Minister who, when the COVID pandemic first hit and was spreading rapidly across the world and was starting to spread across Australia, dismissed the concerns of the experts. He said it was fine to shake hands. He said it was fine to go to the football. He said: 'We don't need any type of border controls. We don't need lockdowns. We probably don't even need a vaccine.' The Prime Minister was dragged kicking and screaming to take action in the midst of this pandemic, and it was because the rest of the country listened to the science. It was because other leaders around this country, our state premiers—of both persuasions, I might add—listened to the science and the health experts. It wasn't because it was coming from the Prime Minister. It certainly wasn't coming from the top.

I want to come back to this point about why this government is dismissing this important reference today to establish a parliamentary office of science. It's because they don't want to be challenged. They don't want to be held to account. We've got people like Mr Barnaby Joyce, the Deputy Prime Minister, free-ranging on government policy, proposing to move drastic amendments to government legislation, such as building nuclear power in this country, without any facts, without any science, without regard to the huge amount of nuclear waste that something like this creates, and without regard to the cost, the time frame or the huge amount of water that Australia actually can't afford in the midst of a drying climate. We don't even have time to daydream about these types of projects anymore. The science is clear. We have to take action now, and we know what we have to do. We have to get onto renewables. And it's here: it's wind; it's solar; it's storage. We don't have the luxury of spending billions and billions and billions of dollars on feasibility studies for some pixie dust idea of a nuclear power plant in 20 years time. The climate is already in crisis. Of course, this is what has happened to this government. Mr Morrison has lost control. The science-deniers on his side—the science deniers that sit on both the frontbench and the backbench of this government—are running rings around the Prime Minister, creating chaos wherever they can find it. Today is just another example. No wonder this reference is being voted down today.

I have one question for the Deputy Prime Minister, Mr Joyce. He has today announced that the National Party want a nuclear power station to be built in this country. They want to amend laws tomorrow in this place. Where's it going to go? In whose town and whose suburb is Mr Joyce's first nuclear power plant going to be built? I put it to you that, if a member of the National Party can walk in here tonight or tomorrow and tell us in which town they want this nuclear power station built, I'll debate them in the town. Let's hire the hall and let's get it started. They won't, because they are cowards. They are running an antiscience agenda. They're running an anticlimate agenda. They are anti-planet, they're anti-people and they're anti-Australian. They want to hold our country back. They are all in it for themselves. They think this is a quick, cheap political pointscoring exercise. It will get them some headlines.

Mr Morrison, as Prime Minister, doesn't have the guts to slap them down. We've seen that already. He refuses to call out Mr Christensen in terms of his COVID denialism and spreading of lies. They refuse to call out Senator Rennick for his reckless comments and behaviour. They refuse to call out Senator Canavan. The nut jobs in the National Party have the Prime Minister running scared.

Photo of Sue LinesSue Lines (WA, Deputy-President) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Davey?

Photo of Perin DaveyPerin Davey (NSW, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Again, yes, she generalised to a party, but the use of the term 'nut jobs' specifically, after directly naming some of those members in that said party, is unparliamentary.

Photo of Sue LinesSue Lines (WA, Deputy-President) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Hanson-Young, once again, didn't directly refer to any particular members. Once again, I'll remind the senator—

Senator Davey interjecting

I've ruled, Senator Davey. It's not a debating point. Resume your seat. I would ask senators to conduct the debate in a respectful manner. Thank you, Senator Hanson-Young.

Photo of Sarah Hanson-YoungSarah Hanson-Young (SA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I've made my point.

Photo of Sue LinesSue Lines (WA, Deputy-President) Share this | | Hansard source

Okay. Thank you. If there are no further speakers—Senator Hume.

6:15 pm

Photo of Jane HumeJane Hume (Victoria, Liberal Party, Minister for Superannuation, Financial Services and the Digital Economy) Share this | | Hansard source

The government will be voting no to this motion. The coalition government has invested record amounts of funding in scientific research and development. Our open and transparent approach to scientific advice has helped drive our world-leading response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Just this week, for example, the government provided not only the parliament but the entire nation with the Doherty Institute modelling that underpins our approach to vaccination. The proposal to create a new body would see more taxpayer money spent on more bureaucracy, duplicate existing functions and mechanisms and see no appreciable gain in the effectiveness or the efficacy of scientific advice.

Photo of Sue LinesSue Lines (WA, Deputy-President) Share this | | Hansard source

The question is that the motion moved by Senator Waters at the request of Senators Rice and Carr to refer a matter to the Economics References Committee be agreed to.