News & Views item - April 2011


NTEU President Opens National Climate Change Conference. (April 28, 2011)

Over the next two days the National Tertiary Education Union is convening "Pushing the Boundaries" where speakers are offering their idea as to how academics can provides ways that will assist Australians to think, talk and act on climate change and environmental sustainability.


Below are excerpts from the NTEU president, Jeannie Rae's opening address:

In Australia we are still clinging to old frames of debate. Two of these old frames that are most pertinent to us at this tertiary education union conference, are the one about dismissing scientific evidence, and the other one about jobs versus the environment. Or as it currently framed Ė a carbon tax will cost jobs.

The current Federal Government proposal to put a price on pollution is long overdue, and is a watering down of the also inadequate emissions trading scheme proposal of last year.

Decades of weak environment protection laws and practices have significantly contributed to excessive carbon production, as has the lack of public and private investment in clean energy and technology. But rather than recognise this, the debate focuses around the imposition of "another tax", and the consequences, as the costs are passed on to consumers and workers.

On the one hand, we have politicians, media and business leaders purposely confusing the issues, hoping people will think that this is another personal tax, not a tax on polluters. Then the polluting industries are falling over themselves arguing that they should be exempted.

Then we have the claim that a "carbon tax" will cause massive job losses. There will be jobs that will gradually disappear as we move to a lower pollution threshold, and while the carbon intensive energy industries will be the first impacted, the ripple will spread across the economy.

This will happen whether the Australian government introduces a carbon tax or not...

The struggle of many industries in Australia to remain viable has little to do with environmental protection legislation.

[R]ather than primarily focus upon the future of some current jobs through pricing carbon pollution, I would argue that Australia has the opportunity to become a world leader in creating a clean energy based economy and society, which includes hundreds of thousands of new jobs over the next few decades.

Across Europe taxing polluters and legislatively forcing better pollution management is not losing jobs, it is creating jobs.

Donít we want to build a new and better manufacturing industry?

We are seeing blatant attacks on academic freedom as calls are made to dismiss academics and cut funding. Ignorant dismissals of the methodologies of research, such as peer review, undermine the role and responsibilities of universities and those who work in them.

A lot of the ignorance about science in Australian popular discourse is because we donít teach enough of it in schools to successfully provide everyone with a reasonable level of scientific knowledge regardless of their chosen career path.

[P]ressure is now coming from the professions and accrediting agencies calling for university curricula that can meet the challenges of the reality of a greening of the economy and society. The generic skills expected of new graduates now include sophisticated understandings of environmental sustainable philosophies, skills and knowledge.

[I]mportantly gender and discrimination against women must be considered in looking at consequences and actions for change on global warming. The reality is that the adverse impacts disproportionately fall on the poor, and on developing counties. The majority of worldís poor are women raising children, who have to find clean water, food, housing, medicine and other basic necessities for life..

So when we think of impact, letís focus as much as upon the poor women and children as the men in the energy intensive industries. I am sure our discussion over the next two days will give coverage to all these perspectives. Letís push out the boundaries.