Reporter: Janine Cohen
DR BARRIE PITTOCK, CLIMATE CHANGE EXPERT: I think the government just hasn't yet understood that it's urgent and that there are uncertainties which might be at the high end and which might be disastrous.
JANINE COHEN: But has the Federal Government misunderstood, or is there something else driving the agenda? This man thinks so. A Liberal Party insider, he claims a powerful group of industry lobbyists have hijacked greenhouse policy. Their influence, he says, leads all the way into Cabinet.
DR GUY PEARSE, SPEECHWRITER, ENVIRONMENT MINISTER, 1997-2000: Having found out what I've now found out, I find it impossible to continue with a clear conscience without speaking out.
JANINE COHEN: And speaking out on what needs to be done to combat climate change isn't always a good career move. Eminent scientists claim they've been gagged from the public debate when it reflects badly on government policy.
DR GUY PEARSE, SPEECHWRITER, ENVIRONMENT MINISTER, 1997-2000: I was told that I couldn't say anything that indicated that I disagreed with current government policy, and I presume that meant Federal Government policy.
JANINE COHEN: Tonight on Four Corners - the politics of climate change, how it's impacting on science, and what it could cost Australia.
JANINE COHEN: Guy Pearse is graduating with his doctorate of philosophy. His focus - how special interest groups try to influence government policy. And Guy Pearse knows more than most about the inner workings of government, he's worked for several Liberal politicians.
DR GUY PEARSE, SPEECHWRITER, ENVIRONMENT MINISTER, 1997-2000: I joined the Liberal Party because, at a pretty young age, I decided I wanted to play a role in government in Australia. And in Australia, that means that you really have to be a member of one of the two major parties.
JANINE COHEN: After completing his Masters in Public Policy from Harvard University in 1996, Guy Pearse has mostly worked for government and industry. One of the highlights of his career was working as a speechwriter for a former Environment Minister, Senator Robert Hill.
DR GUY PEARSE, SPEECHWRITER, ENVIRONMENT MINISTER, 1997-2000: It was a great time to be involved in one of the top-priority issues and also, for me, Senator Hill had been a mentor for many years and it was a wonderful opportunity to work for him.
JANINE COHEN: But it was during his time working for government that Guy Pearse first noticed a powerful group from the top end of town. They were lobbyists from the high-energy-using industries who seemed determined to undermine the Environment Department and block any greenhouse reforms. They were well connected to other government departments - but just how well, Guy Pearse didn't realise at the time.
DR GUY PEARSE, SPEECHWRITER, ENVIRONMENT MINISTER, 1997-2000: It wasn't clear to me just how and why they were having such influence, and that only became apparent more recently.
JANINE COHEN: In 2001, Guy Pearse left his job at the Federal Environment Department to research his doctorate. To support himself, he also worked as a consultant for the Business Council of Australia and for industries including sugar cane and timber. But in his doctorate, he focused on business groups with a vested interest in government policy on climate change.
DR GUY PEARSE, SPEECHWRITER, ENVIRONMENT MINISTER, 1997-2000: I've been around the traps in Canberra a reasonable amount of time. I know how government operates from a range of different perspectives, through my interviewees for my PhD research, I think a lot of my naivete was washed away.
JANINE COHEN: What the former government insider discovered surprised even him. After much consideration, Guy Pearse decided to talk to Four Corners.
DR GUY PEARSE, SPEECHWRITER, ENVIRONMENT MINISTER, 1997-2000: I had to weigh up a lot of issues. I've thought long and hard about going into politics myself one day and certainly the opportunities are there, and that might now change.
JANINE COHEN: What, because you're speaking out?
DR GUY PEARSE, SPEECHWRITER, ENVIRONMENT MINISTER, 1997-2000: Sure. Sure. It might be that I don't get the same level of encouragement that I have had in the past. I also work as a lobbyist here in Canberra and mostly for industry clients and for government. I've got contracts with government and business at the moment, and it may be that I will lose some work over speaking out.
JANINE COHEN: He believes Australia isn't doing enough to reduce emissions because greenhouse policy has been hijacked.
DR GUY PEARSE, SPEECHWRITER, ENVIRONMENT MINISTER, 1997-2000: In my experience, there's no question that this access that the fossil fuel industry has enjoyed and their influence over greenhouse policy in Australia is extraordinary.
JANINE COHEN: There is a view that Australia is not doing enough to reduce emissions on greenhouse. Is this because industry has hijacked government policy?
SEN. IAN CAMPBELL, FED. ENVIRONMENTMINISTER: I think it's a silly question. I mean, Australia... I don't know who says we're not doing enough. It's obviously someone with a, you know, political or an ideological objective. Australia is doing more than most countries in the greenhouse policy area. We're respected internationally for our policy efforts, for our investments and for our practical outcomes.
DR GUY PEARSE, SPEECHWRITER, ENVIRONMENT MINISTER, 1997-2000: But Dr Pearse says Australia's dependence on fuels like coal and petrol has given these industries huge leverage. Coal is Australia's largest commodity export - last year earning about $18 billion.
DR GUY PEARSE, SPEECHWRITER, ENVIRONMENT MINISTER, 1997-2000: Australia exports more than twice as much coal as any other country, so they're burning our coal in these developing countries so that means that we have arguably an even greater responsibility to respond to this problem.
DR CLIVE HAMILTON, CLIMATE INSTITUTE: The big winner of any attempt to reduce Australia's greenhouse gas emissions would unquestionably be the gas industry. Gas has about half of the greenhouse gas emissions per unit of electricity generated compared to coal.
JANINE COHEN: Most of Australia's electricity is also supplied by coal-fired power stations. And the scientific consensus is that emissions from burning coal and other fossil fuels are the main reason the planet is warming.
DR CLIVE HAMILTON, CLIMATE INSTITUTE: In Australia, without a doubt, the biggest producers of greenhouse gas emissions are our coal-fired power plants, particularly in the La Trobe Valley and the Hunter Valley. They contribute perhaps 40 per cent of Australia's greenhouse gas emissions.
DR GUY PEARSE, SPEECHWRITER, ENVIRONMENT MINISTER, 1997-2000: I don't for one minute suggest that we should get out of coal. In fact, I own coal shares, have done for many years. I've worked for coal companies. I think coal, the coal industry and the other industries make a significant contribution to Australia. But their political influence is as if it's still 1900. I can't understand why an industry that generates 2 per cent of our employment has got the keys to the greenhouse policy car.
JANINE COHEN: Guy Pearse decided to investigate why the fossil fuel industries had so much political clout. He taped interviews for his doctorate with industry lobbyists who were very frank about their power and influence. Dr Pearse said they were candid because he promised not to identify them. They told him they referred to themselves as the 'mafia'. Four Corners has used actors to repeat what industry insiders told Guy Pearse.
DR GUY PEARSE, SPEECHWRITER, ENVIRONMENT MINISTER, 1997-2000: Does anyone else use the term 'mafia'?
ACTOR, RECONSTRUCTION: Yes, we all talk about ourselves that way.
DR GUY PEARSE, SPEECHWRITER, ENVIRONMENT MINISTER, 1997-2000: Yes, but does anyone else use it outside?
ACTOR, RECONSTRUCTION: Does anyone else use it outside? No. (Laughs) It's an in-house term.
JANINE COHEN: So what is the Greenhouse Mafia? Dr Pearse says it's a group of people over the years from the Australian Industry Greenhouse Network. This network of industry associations lobbies government for a better deal for its members on greenhouse policy. It is based in an office in this building in Canberra. The association has among its membership those industries heavily fossil fuel dependent - coal, electricity, aluminium, petroleum, minerals and cement.
DR GUY PEARSE, SPEECHWRITER, ENVIRONMENT MINISTER, 1997-2000: I'd prefer not to go into any individual cases here or name names. But, really, you are talking now about the inner core of the Australian Industry Greenhouse Network over many years. Some of them have retired, but the organisations they represent are still there.
JANINE COHEN: Some of your prominent members over the years have allegedly referred to themselves as the mafia in a very matter-of-fact way. Why would they call themselves that?
ROBYN BAIN, AUST. INDUSTRY GREENHOUSE NETWORK: I have no idea.
JANINE COHEN: Have you ever heard the term before?
ROBYN BAIN, AUST. INDUSTRY GREENHOUSE NETWORK: No. Never.
JANINE COHEN: Dr Pearse says these industry lobbyists included some who were previously employed as bureaucrats within government departments such as Industry, Treasury and the Department of Trade. He says they kept very close ties with their former workmates helping to ensure unprecedented access to their old departments and to otherwise confidential documents.
DR GUY PEARSE, SPEECHWRITER, ENVIRONMENT MINISTER, 1997-2000: The industry association bosses that I'm talking about came from branches within government departments here in Canberra and often in lobbying the government on greenhouse policy from their industry associations, they were dealing with former colleagues. Often these colleagues had worked under them when they had worked in the department.
JANINE COHEN: Why would industry want to recruit those people in the first place?
PROF JOHN WANNA, AUST & NZ SCHOOL OF GOVT: Because they're buying influence, they're buying connections. They're buying an ability to get to speak to the key decision makers and, in some cases, they're buying a mentality, a way of going about things, that knows what's possible inside government.
JANINE COHEN: Industry insiders openly bragged about how they knew more about policy-related issues than the senior public servants responsible for them. Pearse taped the interviews in 2001 and 2002. One lobbyist told him...
ACTOR, RECONSTRUCTION: We know more about energy policy than the government does. We know more about industry policy than the government does. We know where every skeleton in the closet is - most of them, we buried.
JANINE COHEN: What did that mean?
DR GUY PEARSE, SPEECHWRITER, ENVIRONMENT MINISTER, 1997-2000: Well, you'd have to ask them, but I suspect it meant that if they didn't get their way, they knew what buttons to push to embarrass the government.
JANINE COHEN: Blackmail?
DR GUY PEARSE, SPEECHWRITER, ENVIRONMENT MINISTER, 1997-2000: I wouldn't call it that. You might.
JANINE COHEN: What could that possibly mean? "We know where every skeleton is"?
ROBYN BAIN, AUST. INDUSTRY GREENHOUSE NETWORK: I have no idea. You'd have to ask them.
JANINE COHEN: But the most extraordinary admissions were related to the access they claimed they enjoyed from within government departments - to confidential documents, particularly Cabinet submissions. Cabinet submissions are supposed to be confidential, and are designed to help Cabinet Ministers decide on policy. They are supposed to be drafted by public servants within government departments, mostly at the request of the Minister.
PROF JOHN WANNA, AUST & NZ SCHOOL OF GOVT: It would be very unusual to see a 'Cabinet-in-confidence' document before it goes to Cabinet, and in fact after it has been to Cabinet. There's a huge amount of secrecy around the Cabinet-in-confidence provisions, particularly at the very top end with national security. But...it may be possible to see parts of the drafts, and that could be in terms of proposed recommendations, or proposed policy directions.
JANINE COHEN: Does your organisation or the inner core of your organisation ever get informally invited into government departments to help draft Cabinet documents and write ministerial briefs?
ROBYN BAIN, AUST. INDUSTRY GREENHOUSE NETWORK: I wish. I'd have to say, "I wish". No, our organisation certainly does work with government, and we go to government departments, we go to Parliament House, and that's the role of industry organisations. Cabinet documents, no.
JANINE COHEN: But industry players were adamant. They told Guy Pearse how they'd helped write Cabinet submissions and ministerial briefings, and costings relating to greenhouse policy while informally being invited into the Department of Treasury and the Department of Industry. One lobbyist who was interviewed in 2002, claimed he had drafted Cabinet documents and ministerial briefs four or five times over the preceding 10 years. This meant his privileged access went back as far as the previous Labor Government.
DR GUY PEARSE, SPEECHWRITER, ENVIRONMENT MINISTER, 1997-2000: So you ended up with this unique situation, a circular situation, where the advice that the government was receiving from its bureaucrats was almost identical to the advice they were receiving from industry associations, because effectively the same people were writing it.
JANINE COHEN: Writing Cabinet documents?
DR GUY PEARSE, SPEECHWRITER, ENVIRONMENT MINISTER, 1997-2000: That's clear in some of the comments that were made to me. A number of interviewees confirmed that this went on, and a few of them even went on record claiming particular instances of where they helped to write briefs, costings, Cabinet submissions.
GWEN ANDREWS, CEO AUST. GREENHOUSE OFFICE 1998-2002: I was not aware, in the time that I was Chief Executive, that industry people would have been directly involved in drafting Cabinet submissions - certainly not in the Department of the Environment. If it happened in the Department of Industry, and the Treasury, I would be shocked, yes, because I don't think that would have been appropriate.
JANINE COHEN: Are you aware of any Cabinet submissions or ministerial briefs that have been drafted by industry members?
SEN. IAN CAMPBELL, FED. ENVIRONMENT MINISTER: No.
JANINE COHEN: Never heard of it?
SEN. IAN CAMPBELL, FED. ENVIRONMENT MINISTER: No.
JANINE COHEN: Would, would it...
SEN. IAN CAMPBELL, FED. ENVIRONMENT MINISTER: Cabinet submissions are drafted by the departments.
JANINE COHEN: They're supposed to be, aren't they?
SEN. IAN CAMPBELL, FED. ENVIRONMENT MINISTER: Yeah.
JANINE COHEN: Industry insiders have recorded interviews claiming they've helped write Cabinet submissions and ministerial briefs, and write costings relating to greenhouse policy, while being informally invited into government departments. If that is happening, would that concern you?
SEN. IAN CAMPBELL, FED. ENVIRONMENT MINISTER: Well, I'd want to make sure that every department in government are working closely with industry where industry's affected. For example, I've gone to the...
JANINE COHEN: I'm sorry, Minister, that's not what I'm asking you. These people, these industry insiders, are claiming that they've been drafting Cabinet submissions and writing ministerial briefs on greenhouse policy-related issues in the past. Would that concern you if that is happening?
SEN. IAN CAMPBELL, FED. ENVIRONMENT MINISTER: Well, I've specifically, for example, asked the renewable energy sector in Australia to come up with new policies in that area, which, which I, which I would quite frankly, I would...
JANINE COHEN: Minister, that wasn't my question.
SEN. IAN CAMPBELL, FED. ENVIRONMENT MINISTER: I would want to ensure that we get expert advice from industry. Now, the renewables in...industry...
JANINE COHEN: Minister, could I just ask you the question again? Would it concern you if industry representatives were writing or helping to draft Cabinet submissions and ministerial briefs on greenhouse-related issues?
SEN. IAN CAMPBELL, FED. ENVIRONMENT MINISTER: Industry would provide input into departments...
JANINE COHEN: That's not what I'm asking you, Minister.
SEN. IAN CAMPBELL, FED. ENVIRONMENT MINISTER: Departments write the Cabinet submissions, industry don't write them.
JANINE COHEN: But Guy Pearse says industry insiders were specific in their interviews.
DR GUY PEARSE, SPEECHWRITER, ENVIRONMENT MINISTER, 1997-2000: There would only be about four or five occasions, I suppose, over 10 years. But seriously, I have sat inside Treasury and helped draft Cabinet submissions in that period. I have sat inside the Industry Department writing briefs. But, you see, that's a mutual trust-type thing. It's a high value, and not to be abused.
JANINE COHEN: Is that just good lobbying?
ROBYN BAIN, AUST. INDUSTRY GREENHOUSE NETWORK: No, I'd say it's good bragging. Um, I'd challenge him. I'd like to see the Cabinet documents that he had actually written. There is no doubt that industry and industry organisations work with government to provide information, and that's the role that we play, and an important one.
DR GUY PEARSE, SPEECHWRITER, ENVIRONMENT MINISTER, 1997-2000: I suppose what's unique is that other industry associations and non-government organisations and you and I don't get that sort of access to government processes. It is truly unique.
JANINE COHEN: Unusual?
DR GUY PEARSE, SPEECHWRITER, ENVIRONMENT MINISTER, 1997-2000: Extremely unusual, in my experience.
JANINE COHEN: Do you think Cabinet members had any idea?
DR GUY PEARSE, SPEECHWRITER, ENVIRONMENT MINISTER, 1997-2000: I don't think Cabinet members appreciate that the same people writing their Cabinet briefings are the ones that they're also being lobbied by through industry associations.
PROF JOHN WANNA, AUST & NZ SCHOOL OF GOVT: I think the public don't know about it, and I think a lot of senior officials would be quite surprised about this level of access. I mean, no-one's surprised about officials from industry or from the unions or from the community talking to ministers, talking to their officials in departments, and talking about live issues. But that's where the process usually stops. Things that then shape up from that, whether it's a submission or a briefing note, really ought to be left in the hands of officials, and that's what most people assume.
JANINE COHEN: Guy Pearse doesn't know if the industry insiders were invited into the departments by ministers, or at the request of senior public servants. But Professor John Wanna says if there was privileged access given to confidential documents, and if it wasn't authorised by the relevant ministers, this could have serious ramifications. He believes the consequences for public servants doing it without permission would be dire.
PROF JOHN WANNA, AUST & NZ SCHOOL OF GOVT: Well, if they're giving access, they're risking dismissal. They're risking the AFP - the Federal Police - investigating. They're risking the Crimes Act, they're risking the breach of code of conduct under the Public Service Act. It's very serious business for an official, off their own bat, to consult with industry groups at this level.
ROBYN BAIN, AUST. INDUSTRY GREENHOUSE NETWORK: It just does not add up. It is illogical and nonsensical. There is a point of which you go to...
JANINE COHEN: Why is it illogical for a vested interest, if they can, to get this incredible access, not to do it?
ROBYN BAIN, AUST. INDUSTRY GREENHOUSE NETWORK: Well, I don't believe they can. I don't believe they can. I've been in Canberra for 15 years, and I've worked with government, inside government and outside government, and there is a line that is always drawn.
SEN. IAN CAMPBELL, FED. ENVIRONMENT MINISTER: We have very good policies, but having people from industry going around saying they've had a win or they've undermined someone or they've written a brief, it's all a... it's all a fun game, uh...for them.
JANINE COHEN: Minister, they've done taped interviews. In another interview, someone says...
SEN. IAN CAMPBELL, FED. ENVIRONMENT MINISTER: I don't care. I don't really mind whether they're taped, or whether they're filmed on top of the Eiffel Tower. The reality is that industry people going around bragging doesn't particularly help the environment.
JANINE COHEN: Dr Pearse says a clear example of the industry's privileged access was seen in the lead-up to Australia's first market in renewable energy in 2001. He says some businesses saw the scheme proposed by the Australian Government's Greenhouse Office as potentially threatening their source of cheap electricity supplied by coal-fired power stations. The scheme promoted electricity supplied by other power sources such as wind, hydro and solar. One industry insider told Guy Pearse he prepared detailed costings for the Mandatory Renewable Energy Target for a ministerial brief. This he claims to have done while working from within a government department. Is that a concern?
SEN. IAN CAMPBELL, FED. ENVIRONMENT MINISTER: Well, I think when you're designing greenhouse policies, when you're designing any policies, you want to make sure that industry are fully consulted.
JANINE COHEN: Chief of the Government's Australian Greenhouse Office, Gwen Andrews, says she was surprised by Dr Pearse's claim that an industry player was preparing costings while working from within another government department whose focus was not the environment.
GWEN ANDREWS, CEO AUST. GREENHOUSE OFFICE 1998-2002: It would have been a conflict of interest for any outside organisation, any outside industry with an interest in the government's policy on greenhouse. It might affect them in a particular way.
JANINE COHEN: Is that a potential conflict of interest?
ROBYN BAIN, AUST. INDUSTRY GREENHOUSE NETWORK: No, I don't believe it is. If it was costings on his particular company or sector, then that's important information that the government needs.
ACTOR, RECONSTRUCTION: They're actually uranium leases...
JANINE COHEN: Not only did industry players claim to be working on ministerial briefs and helping to draught Cabinet documents, but one said he had access to the Cabinet papers.
ACTOR, RECONSTRUCTION: I used to read the Cabinet papers, you know? I know what was going on. And it was a question of using those ins carefully and protecting sources and you'd NEVER go public on it. It's about fixing the outcomes.
DR GUY PEARSE, SPEECHWRITER, ENVIRONMENT MINISTER, 1997-2000: There's no question that the privileged access enjoyed by the fossil fuel industry in Australia undermined both the former head of the Australian Greenhouse Office, but also the Minister at the time.
JANINE COHEN: Minister, these very same players bragged about undermining Robert Hill, the then Minister for the Environment. Is it possible that you are being undermined now and you just don't know it?,
SEN. IAN CAMPBELL, FED. ENVIRONMENT MINISTER: Well, I'm writing policy with the aim of trying to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and have a world-leading policy that will help to save the planet from dangerous climate change. I make no apology for any consultations I have with industry, be it from the coal industry or be it from the renewables industry.
JANINE COHEN: While industry players claim to have the inside running on greenhouse policy, the scientific experts say they're being silenced. Calls for reducing greenhouse emissions are landing some of the world's leading scientists in trouble. Last month in the US, NASA's chief climate change scientist claimed the Bush administration was trying to stop him from speaking out after he called for cuts. And as Four Corners will reveal tonight, leading Australian scientists claim they're being gagged too.
JANINE COHEN: Minister, would it concern you if some scientists in this country claimed they were being gagged from the public debate on climate change?
SEN. IAN CAMPBELL, FED. ENVIRONMENT MINISTER: I would say anyone who claims that... ..I would say that's untrue. I mean, there's not a day goes by where scientists in Australia are not making very good contributions to a very vigorous debate.
JANINE COHEN: What about if it reflects badly on government policy? Does that matter? Are they free to say whatever they like?
SEN. IAN CAMPBELL, FED. ENVIRONMENT MINISTER: Absolutely. I mean, give me an example of where a scientist is not allowed to say what they want?
JANINE COHEN: How many times were you censored?
DR GRAEME PEARMAN, FORMER CSIRO CLIMATE DIRECTOR: Oh, that's difficult to answer. I mean, I think that at least a half a dozen times over the last year that is was with CSIRO.
JANINE COHEN: Dr Graeme Pearman has taken the lead in speaking out on climate change in Australia for many years. But it was this, he says, that got him into trouble late in his career at the nation's major scientific institute - the CSIRO. Dr Pearman talked publicly about the need to have targets to drastically cut emissions in order to slow down global warming.
DR GRAEME PEARMAN, FORMER CSIRO CLIMATE DIRECTOR: As far as I can see, it was CSIRO being enormously frightened of the idea that anyone in government might interpret a piece of information that I was communicating from the basis of scientific knowledge as being critical of government policy.
DR GRAEME PEARMAN, FORMER CSIRO CLIMATE DIRECTOR: [GIVING SPEECH] It shows that actually the frequency of tropical storms, including hurricanes, has not changed. But the frequency of Category 4 and 5, the most extreme, has gone up by about 100 per cent. And so we can see...
JANINE COHEN: Dr Pearman says he came under pressure after joining the Australian Climate Change Group, which was convened by the World Wide Fund for Nature and the insurance company IAG. It invited several scientists and academics to help it release a report on what could be done to combat climate change. It recommended a 60 per cent reduction in emissions by 2050 and trading in greenhouse gas emissions.
JANINE COHEN: Were you restricted from talking publicly about emission reductions in general?
DR GRAEME PEARMAN, FORMER CSIRO CLIMATE DIRECTOR: Yes, I was. And again, I think it's an organisation...it's a CSIRO that is very afraid that there may be consequences to their bottom line if they, in fact, are seen to be interfering with government policy.
JANINE COHEN: But talking about the need for a reduction in emissions and how much would be a safe level, is that really about government policy? Isn't that about good science?
DR GRAEME PEARMAN, FORMER CSIRO CLIMATE DIRECTOR: Well, I believe it is. And, as I say, I think that for 30 years all I've tried to do is to convey to the community and to sectors of the community what good science suggests is the way forward.
DR STEVE MORTON, CSIRO EXECUTIVE: He's very free to talk about options for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, that's exactly what we're encouraging our staff to do. When it comes to being specific about which proportion of reduction by which date, that is clearly a policy prescription and that clearly intrudes upon the role of government.
JANINE COHEN: Dr Pearman received several warnings, including one in an email from a senior manager at the CSIRO. He doesn't know if the orders came direct from management sensitive about offending the government or from Government to the CSIRO.
DR GRAEME PEARMAN, FORMER CSIRO CLIMATE DIRECTOR: I was told that I couldn't say anything that indicated that I disagreed with current government policy, and I presume that meant Federal Government policy. And as I say, I tried to reiterate that in fact the document that we had prepared, any public statement that I made, was a partisan statement and that it did not refer to any particular government.
JANINE COHEN: What types of things were you told not to say publicly?
DR GRAEME PEARMAN, FORMER CSIRO CLIMATE DIRECTOR: I was told not to, for example, be involved in a statement that says that Australia should have, in the view of this group, a carbon trading scheme. I was told that I could not be involved in setting a target because both target-setting and... ..this is for future levels of carbon dioxide emissions. Both target-setting and the concept of there being carbon trading were not current government policy.
JANINE COHEN: Dr Graeme Pearman says he was censored at least half a dozen times in the last year at the CSIRO and he was told he couldn't say anything that indicated he disagreed with the government. Is that true?
DR STEVE MORTON, CSIRO EXECUTIVE: I can't confirm whether Graeme was asked half a dozen times. I would use a different word from 'censored'.
JANINE COHEN: He actually says that you personally censored him.
DR STEVE MORTON, CSIRO EXECUTIVE: On one occasion, yes. I asked Graeme not to participate in a discussion which clearly had policy prescriptions in it.
JANINE COHEN: He actually says you censored him at least two or three times.
DR STEVE MORTON, CSIRO EXECUTIVE: I can recall one occasion when we had that discussion and it was exactly the same basis that I mentioned to you before...
JANINE COHEN: He said that you told him that he was not to talk about the need to reduce greenhouse gas omissions.
DR STEVE MORTON, CSIRO EXECUTIVE: That's not true. What is true, is that I asked him not to talk about the targets and the timeframe in which greenhouse gas reductions should be made.
JANINE COHEN: Dr Pearman, who joined the CSIRO in 1971, was the Chief of Atmospheric Research for 10 years. He contributed to more than 150 scientific papers, mostly on the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Dr Graeme Pearman won the UN's Environment Program Global Award in 1989, was awarded an Order of Australia in 1999 and a Federation Medal in 2003. In 2004, the CSIRO made him redundant.
PROF. SNOW BARLOW, SCIENTIFIC &TECH SOCIETIES 2002-2005: Graeme Pearman is one of the most respected climate scientists, internationally and nationally. I think we need Graeme Pearman's views on the public record and it's gotta be public... And indeed the people sitting around the Cabinet table need to know what one of our most eminent scientists thinks on particular issues. They may not agree, but they need to know.
JANINE COHEN: Do you think the censorship that you were placed under was the result of management doing what they perceived the government wanted done?
DR GRAEME PEARMAN, FORMER CSIRO CLIMATE DIRECTOR: I'd have to say to that - absolutely.
JANINE COHEN: Are there other scientists that have been censored in the same way that you have been?
DR GRAEME PEARMAN, FORMER CSIRO CLIMATE DIRECTOR: A lot.
BARNEY FORAN, CSIRO SCIENTIST 1976-2005: The proud people are still there. CSIRO is populated by some of the best in the world. But what has changed, if you like, it's now more perceived to be a government research organisation. And to some degree, without fiddling the books and changing the data, we do what the government tells us to do.
DR STEVE MORTON, CSIRO EXECUTIVE: We're not censoring scientists.
JANINE COHEN: And are there any directions coming from the Federal Government about what scientists are allowed to say?
DR STEVE MORTON, CSIRO EXECUTIVE: No.
JANINE COHEN: Barney Foran says he was another one of those scientists who were censored. He worked at the CSIRO for almost 30 years but recently retired. One of his areas of interest is on alternative fuels for motor vehicles. Have you ever been censored from this scientific public debate?
BARNEY FORAN, CSIRO SCIENTIST 1976-2005: Oh, it happens all the time. Just recently in August, I was back at work late in the afternoon, took a call from our corporate centre saying, "Barney, how are you?" "OK, mate." He said, "Barney, we've just had a call "from the Prime Minister's Department. "They'd really appreciate it if you didn't say anything about ethanol."
JANINE COHEN: And what? Had you been talking about ethanol?
BARNEY FORAN, CSIRO SCIENTIST 1976-2005: I'd been doing a few radio interviews that day on the broad-scale work on bio-fuels that I'm working on.
DR STEVE MORTON, CSIRO EXECUTIVE: Well, this is news to me.
JANINE COHEN: Why do you think he would have got a direction like that?
DR STEVE MORTON, CSIRO EXECUTIVE: Er, because I don't know the story. How can I comment?
JANINE COHEN: Well, if he's saying... If what he's saying is true, do you agree with getting that direction?
DR STEVE MORTON, CSIRO EXECUTIVE: Er, that's not... No, it wouldn't be valid. I mean, we have a reputation for integrity and independence and that's not the right approach.
JANINE COHEN: Barney Foran says his muzzling followed the release last August of a Prime Ministerial task force report on a range of bio-fuel options for motor cars which strongly recommended ethanol. He believes there was a fear he was going to be critical on radio of ethanol as an alternative fuel that might help reduce greenhouse emissions.
JANINE COHEN: So, the phone call comes from a manager, who has spoken to someone in the Prime Minister's Department. Do you find that extraordinary?
BARNEY FORAN, CSIRO SCIENTIST 1976-2005: No. That's how the system works these days. As a scientist, as a operating scientist, in whether it be CSIRO or any organisation, I guess you've always got these powerful force-fields sitting around your work. And if you want your work to continue, sometimes you have to give a bit you have to live a bit longer in the attempt to get a bigger picture out or maintain your funding, funding...
JANINE COHEN: You're talking about compromises?
BARNEY FORAN, CSIRO SCIENTIST 1976-2005: You're talking about taking a hit in the short term to make sure you can keep your work going long enough to get a bigger, more powerful conclusion out.
JANINE COHEN: Barney Foran says if scientists fight too hard against the situation, there will be no funding. Is that true?
DR STEVE MORTON, CSIRO EXECUTIVE: Of course not.
JANINE COHEN: Barney Foran also says he doesn't find the situation extraordinary at all. He says, "That's how the system works these days."
DR STEVE MORTON, CSIRO EXECUTIVE: Well, he's free to hold his view. I have a different view.
PROF. SNOW BARLOW, SCIENTIFIC & TECH SOCIETIES 2002-2005: I think there are two points here. One is, there is government policy but then there's the science that underpins that policy. And if a scientist is actually talking about the science, not the policy, I think they should be free to talk about that.
JANINE COHEN: Four Corners spoke to several scientists off camera, who claimed they'd been censored but weren't willing to go public for fear of losing their jobs or funding. Scientists say much of the censorship at the CSIRO is a result of management's determination not to offend its political masters. But scientist Barney Foran believes the muzzling sometimes comes from government too.
BARNEY FORAN, CSIRO SCIENTIST 1976-2005: It would never start with a minister but it might start with a ministerial advisor. And they're powerful and quite feared people and all they have to do is... They know everyone in the chain and it just chains down. If you fight too hard and too strong against that situation, well, no funding, perhaps no job.
JANINE COHEN: Dr Barrie Pittock was awarded an Australian Public Service Medal for his leadership and visionary approach to identifying, researching and communicating a range of global climate issues. Dr Pittock says he was asked to remove politically sensitive material from a government publication - 'Climate Change: An Australian Guide to Science and Potential Impacts'.
DR BARRIE PITTOCK, CLIMATE CHANGE EXPERT: I was asked to talk about the science of climate change, the impacts and the possible adaptations. But I was expressly told not to talk about mitigation, not to talk about how you might reduce greenhouse gases.
JANINE COHEN: One of the subjects was the impact of rising sea levels. Dr Pittock says he wanted to write about how this could lead to the displacement of millions of people in the Pacific Islands and parts of Asia who might be forced to seek refuge in Australia.
DR BARRIE PITTOCK, CLIMATE CHANGE EXPERT: They don't want that highlighted because it brings in another contentious issue into what is already a contentious issue. But it is an issue. It's one of the possible consequences of global warming. And I think it should be part of the background to deciding what to do about it.
JANINE COHEN: Dr Pittock says he was given the instruction by a bureaucrat at the Australian Greenhouse Office within the Department for the Environment.
DR BARRIE PITTOCK, CLIMATE CHANGE EXPERT: I knew it would be something which would worry some people in Canberra. And I tried to put it in a very muted form. And I was advised that if I wanted the book to pass acceptance as a government publication, it would be better to take it out. I was told that Foreign Affairs and Trade or some of the other departments, would probably not like it.
SEN. IAN CAMPBELL, FED. ENVIRONMENT MINISTER: If a bureaucrat is giving directions to a scientist not to say something, then it's not something that is sanctioned by me.
JANINE COHEN: Scientists still working at the CSIRO are very cautious about what they say, particularly when it could affect government policy.
KEVIN HENNESSY, CSIRO IMPACT GROUP: I've never been told by any of my superiors that I can't talk about scientific issues. We have to be careful not to stray into being policy prescriptive, but we can certainly be policy relevant with our science. We still need a risk-management approach that includes adaptation...
JANINE COHEN: Kevin Hennessy is the coordinator of the CSIRO's Climate Impact Group. One of his jobs is to talk about the potential impacts of climate change. But there are some likely impacts of climate change that are clearly a no-go zone. Some scientists believe that there'll be more environmental refugees. Is that a possibility?
KEVIN HENNESSY, CSIRO IMPACT GROUP: I can't really comment on that.
JANINE COHEN: Why can't you comment on that?
KEVIN HENNESSY, CSIRO IMPACT GROUP: That's, that's, er... No, I can't comment on that.
JANINE COHEN: Is that part of editorial policy? You can't comment on things that affect immigration?
KEVIN HENNESSY, CSIRO IMPACT GROUP: No, I can't comment on that.
JANINE COHEN: Can I just ask you why you can't comment?
KEVIN HENNESSY, CSIRO IMPACT GROUP: Not on camera.
JANINE COHEN: Oh, OK. But is it a policy thing?
KEVIN HENNESSY, CSIRO IMPACT GROUP: I can't comment on that.
JANINE COHEN: I guess what I'm asking you is, are there blurry lines between what is science and what is policy? For example, I had just asked you previously about environmental refugees and you couldn't answer that question. Another CSIRO scientist has told me that he is not allowed to talk publicly about that. Is that because something like environmental refugees impacts on government policy?
KEVIN HENNESSY, CSIRO IMPACT GROUP: Certainly, environmental refugees does impact on government policy. The sort of thing that I could say as a scientist, is that with sea level rise there may be people inundated in places like Tuvalu in the Pacific. And that would be an issue that needs to be considered by government policy. But I certainly can't go beyond that as a scientist.
JANINE COHEN: Are scientists at the CSIRO free to talk about the possibility of there being more environmental refugees as a result of climate change?
DR STEVE MORTON, CSIRO EXECUTIVE: Er, as a, er... As a potential result, I don't see why that shouldn't be discussed.
JANINE COHEN: Last year was the hottest on record. Proof, some say, of the need to tackle climate change now. Meanwhile, global carbon emissions are rising at a rapid rate. By 2050, they are expected to more than double, causing a dramatic increase in warming, as much as four degrees.
DR GRAEME PEARMAN, FORMER CSIRO CLIMATE DIRECTOR: When the Earth warmed out of the last ice age, when half of the Earth was covered by ice, sea levels were 80m lower than they are now. The biosphere, the ecosystems, the animals and plants over the Earth's surface were totally different from what they are now, that was only five degrees warming.
DR BARRIE PITTOCK, CLIMATE CHANGE EXPERT: With an enhanced greenhouse effect, particularly if you get up four of five degrees, then we're probably talking about much more intense tropical cyclones, much higher storm surges and so there could be a major disaster in a place like Cairns.
KEVIN HENNESSY, CSIRO IMPACT GROUP: One of the major issues is going to be increases in extreme weather events, such as fires, floods, heatwaves. And I think there's going to be a major challenge there for emergency managers.
NEWS FOOTAGE MONTAGE:
REPORTER: Flood waters are rising by half a metre an hour.
REPORTER: Advice from the weather bureau is that flood waters will rise 20 metres overnight.
REPORTER: And at peak, a wall of water at least four metres in height...
REPORTER: .Predicting higher temperatures...
REPORTER: A state of emergency has been declared in parts of the New South Wales Upper...
JANINE COHEN: If the impacts are as dramatic as scientists warn, then future generations will judge our leaders by what they do now. The question is - how will they be remembered?
[End of transcript]
Please note: This transcript is produced by an independent transcription service. The ABC does not warrant the accuracy of the transcript.