Tuesday, August 3, 2021

The new form of science or just bad government

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New South Wales Government Minister Kean, Minister for the Environment, constantly says he “follows the science”.

A noble ideal, but only if what he is sprouting is science.

On the NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment (DPIE) website, there is a reference that leads to two zip files (20-1158, 1/05/2020). They make interesting reading.  They are files concerning  advice to the Minister on the Great Koala National Park.  Following a visit to the North Coast after being appointed Minister in 2019 he requested a briefing paper on the GKNP from the Energy, Environment and Science Group (EES) in the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment (DPIE).

The State Government has only one group conducting koala research and they are not located in the EES or the DPIE. They are in the Department of Primary Industry. Their work has been peer reviewed and is held in high regard by scientists, but was not used by EES. With the request for the ministerial brief it seems EES decided to build their own “science”.

Koala
Hugo Kruip, Unsplash

Firstly, they collected all the records of koalas over a few decades relating to any research in any location. It seems no consideration or account was given to the differing geographical influences or the survey techniques. Few of the papers related to where the GKNP was proposed. This ‘meta’ survey methodology (combining results from several studies) has been recognised as having serious limitations no matter where it is employed. But it can be convenient and quick.

Reading the files is amusing as EES officers start to make up their own terminology to attach to their research. Then an external “friend” is employed to “verify” the approach.

The file starts to reveal email trails where one officer is writing to another saying; “these models are crap but we have to use them as so much money has been spent on them”.  There are other comments just as revealing.

When finessing the report to go to the Minister, the wordsmiths with an ideological bent kick in. The size of the area for the GKNP grows with each draft but with no apparent basis. The words are strengthened from a proposal that needed a lot more work to a report that was absolute and without any doubt. Full, frank and honest advice to the Minister – not in this report!

So it seems the Minister for Environment who is dedicated to the science has been played by the ideologies in his own EES Group. The sad thing is this Minister does not even know he has been played or duped. One thing is for sure on the evidence of his conduct, he has not sought to question the advice provided, as any decision maker doing their job properly would do. What is the old saying: “hook, line and sinker”?

Related: Great Koala National Park – report, criticism and response

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