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Greg Hunt is the master of polluting the debate

  • 03 June 2016


When Shadow Environment Minister Mark Butler scoffed at Environment Minister Greg Hunt during a National Press Club debate this month, he was scoffing for us all. It was a scoff that expressed an unspeakable frustration: how can the Environment Minister say what he does with a straight face?

Hunt said that the Australian renewable energy target was 'misrepresented'. Butler scoffed, then retorted, 'Yes, by you.' It was a public airing of the exasperation many people have felt watching Hunt twist the facts about climate policy over the last few years.

Of course, all politicians and political parties select the statistics and 'frame' that best suits their position. That's part of the sophistry of political debate. But even among the slippery-tongued ranks of federal parliamentarians, Hunt is in a league of his own.

For three years, the Environment Minister has defended the merits of a 'direct action' climate policy that is allowing Australia's climate pollution to increase for the first time in a decade. A champion debater, Hunt provided the verbal smokescreen for the Abbott government's ideological denial of global warming, a role continued under Malcolm Turnbull.

Hunt's usual tactic is to find the rare statistic that presents his policy in a favourable light, and spread it far and wide. When people use his stat, they accept his framing of the issue.

It wouldn't work if climate change were still seen as a moral issue. But our language on global warming is now largely technocratic. Most people don't understand what all this talk of emissions reduction percentage targets actually means, so they can't spot the spin when it's presented to them.

Let's take a look at some examples. Last year, spruiking the target Australia took to the Paris climate conference, Hunt told Lateline 'that is a 52 per cent reduction on per capita emissions, one of the highest in the world'. This is now part of official Liberal Party script — Coalition MP Steve Ciobo spread it again on ABC's Q&A this week.

What this fails to acknowledge is that Australia is already one of the highest per capita emitters in the world. We can claim a big percentage drop because we're starting from such an extraordinarily high baseline. The 2016 Climate Change Performance Index rated Australia 59th out of the world's 61 biggest carbon polluting countries. Only Kazakhstan and Saudi Arabia are ranked below us.


"With no new money in the most recent federal budget for the Emissions Reduction Fund,