A former senior government scientist has revealed he was gagged from publicly discussing the role Coalition policy played in contributing to global greenhouse emissions.
Serving as a member of the Climate Change Authority and, until February this year as CSIRO's chief scientist at the Climate Science Centre, Professor David Karoly said he held grave concerns over the independence of scientific advice provided to the federal government, and whether it was listened to.
Despite being Australia's leading science and research agency, the outspoken climate expert warned CSIRO's leadership had become "very nervous" about funding allocations and were reluctant to publicly criticise the federal government for fear it would be targeted.
Professor Karoly has spoken out as a new report from the Climate Council accuses the Coalition of a "complete and catastrophic failure" to act on global warming since coming to power in 2013.
The report claims the government has covered up its poor performance with misleading claims, dubious accounting and censorship.
The Morrison government continues to fend off critics of its climate record, pointing to the 20 per cent fall in emissions on 2005 levels and its $22 billion investment in low-emissions technology as evidence that Australia is playing its part.
CSIRO says its media policy is necessary to maintain the research agency's impartiality as the government continues to defend its track record.
The Melbourne-based professor told The Canberra Times his last decade of climate research and advising the government on climate change science had been made worse by rules barring him from speaking out.
"These agencies, which have been set up to do the research, are now being hamstrung or constrained from talking about where the rubber hits the road," Professor Karoly said.
Professor Karoly wrote the foreword to the Climate Council's report The Lost Years, which assessed the government's performance on climate action since the start of the Abbott government.
The council handed the Coalition a "fail grade", marking it down for its emission reduction targets and its "regressive" approach to international climate talks.
"The record is clear, in eight years, the federal government's decisions have exacerbated the climate crisis and they have tried to cover up their policy failings," the council's chief executive, Amanda McKenzie, said.
The report includes a chapter on budget and job cuts at CSIRO since 2014, which it said had "significantly reduced" the nation's ability to understand risks linked to climate change.
Professor Karoly joined CSIRO in 2017 to lead its newly-funded earth systems and climate science hub, despite his concern over a number of climate science roles being recently axed.
Coming from the university sector, where he was allowed to be critical, the leading scientist said he tried to abide by the agency's public comment rules, which prevented him from making comments critical of government policy.
His role was to lead a team tasked with better understanding how rising emissions were affecting the planet.
However, he was barred from publicly revealing the government's policies had little impact on reducing emissions.
"I had to be extremely careful about what I said and what I did," Professor Karoly said.
CSIRO leadership wanted him to lead the hub but stay quiet about how government policy stacked up against the science, he said.
A spokesperson for the research agency said the rules were there to ensure CSIRO remained impartial.
"In order for us to remain an independent and bipartisan trusted advisor, we need to remain impartial and therefore ask that our people do not advocate, defend or publicly canvass the merits of government or opposition policies," the spokesperson said.
The honorary University of Melbourne professor said he was also invited to go on ABC program Q&A while he was working at the agency.
But the prospect of an appearance on the nationally televised program, which is known for its heated debates, made his bosses nervous.
"I was told that I couldn't go on," Professor Karoly said.
He dismissed the ban and said he would do it outside of business hours and on leave, participating in his capacity as a university professor.
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He was eventually allowed on the program but alleged he had to undergo a two-hour media "retraining" to ensure he got the science agency's messaging correct.
CSIRO's spokesperson did not reject the claims but confirmed media training was offered to scientists to provide them with "the skills needed to translate their scientific research so it is accessible to the community".
A serious overhaul of the rules was needed so the public could be better informed by scientists directly without political spin, Professor Karoly said.
"If we want a resilient Australia, if we want to protect natural environments, and infrastructure, and businesses ... what we have to do is address climate change," he said.
"What I'm trying to do is communicate the urgency of action of climate change ... to all the sectors of Australian communities, governments and businesses."
The professor said he was still optimistic about the steps being taken to mitigate climate change disaster in 2012 - though still needing improvements.
But it "changed dramatically" when former prime minister Tony Abbott was elected the following year, he said.
In his first few weeks as prime minister, Mr Abbott dismantled the Climate Commission, which had been established to communicate "reliable and authoritative information" on climate change to Australians.
But it wasn't until 2015 that Professor Karoly became acutely aware just how far the political ideology would extend, he recalled.
Mr Hunt also allegedly told Mr Fraser the government would ignore any critical reports the authority released.
Mr Fraser resigned as the authority's chair in 2015 as a result of "difficulties" he faced in the role.
A spokesperson for Mr Hunt told The Canberra Times the claims were false and all of the authority's reports had been released during his time in the portfolio.
The chair's resignation was followed by other board members but Professor Karoly stayed on.
"The perception was that [the board's climate experts] were wasting their time providing advice ... the federal government ... was not interested in receiving," he said.
The Climate Change Authority went on to deliver a report in 2016 that Professor Karoly and another board member criticised as offering "untrue and dangerous" advice to the government that wasn't "soundly based on climate science".
The Climate Council's report comes on the back of Tuesday's federal budget, which forecast spending on climate measures would fall from $2 billion this financial year to $1.3 billion in the middle of the decade.
Professor Karoly said political parties needed to look beyond the "short-term-ism" of the three-year election cycle and implement policies that could mitigate what hadn't been done in the last decade.
It started with independent expertise being heard, he said.
"That responsibility ... partly lies with the Australian voters, it partly lies with the Australian media, for which there is ongoing misinformation about climate change and its impacts, and partly with the advisors to the politicians about what they should or shouldn't do," he said.
"It's a real concern."
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