Friday, November 19, 2010

Richardson's climate spin gets past the Times

In its 17 November edition, the Melbourne Times Weekly (MTW) has reported uncritically an attack by Labor MP, Fiona Richardson, on a Northcote Vote Climate campaign scorecard that rates Labor poorly on its climate commitments. Two independents, including myself, topped the ratings.

The report makes the unsubstantiated claim that the other independent, Adrian Whitehead, an Upper House candidate for the Northern Metropolitan Region, authored the Northcote scorecard being letter-boxed by Darebin Climate Action Now, giving himself a top rating. The headline of the story read "'Report card' author gives himself all As".

Climate groups have rejected the claim point-blank, defending the scoring process as independent of all candidates who were rated in every seat where the scorecards are being distributed. A retraction has been demanded from the newspaper in next week's edition, with climate groups noting the absence of any right of reply in the story itself.

Further criticisms of the campaign in the report include comments discounting the scorecard's value made by a business associate of Fiona Richardson's husband. The paper fails to declare this connection in the report itself, and on Wednesday I rang MTW calling for an acknowledgment of the link and an explanation to readers of how these comments came to be reported.

Richardson's statement that the research is "deliberately misleading" also remains unconvincing. The scorecard accurately presents party and candidate positions regarding the commitments that science says are necessary to achieve a safe climate. It notes, for example, Labor's failure to commit to the use of renewable energy to completely replace Hazelwood, Australia's dirtiest coal-fired power station, by 2014.

If Richardson deems this unclear or misleading, she must explain why the call to close the power station has been endorsed by Professor David Karoly, who led the Premier's own climate change reference group.

In a more balanced report in this week's Northcote Leader, Richardson says the scorecard is misleading because a judgment has been made based on what the candidates have said, rather than on what they can deliver.

The reality is that no single MP - government or independent - can guarantee particular proposals will be implemented. However, the candidates who rated well on the scorecard have made a clear commitment to advocate in Parliament for necessary action.

Labor's position - with which Richardson has not disagreed - would only "deliver" further significant climate change, contributing, among other impacts, to more frequent and severe bushfires in Victoria, such as the catastrophic fires of Black Saturday.

The MTW report further notes that Environment Victoria's own recently launched scorecard "drew different conclusions" - without saying what they were, but suggesting the Vote Climate scorecard was somehow inaccurate. Readers may have benefited from knowing the environment group gave Labor an overall score of just 47% on its broad environmental policies, including climate.

These are the issues the paper must now address in its last edition before the State election.

Further, as MTW has implied preference-dealing among candidates with strong climate policies - and therefore ranked highly on the scorecard - it should examine Labor's preference deal with the anti-environment Country Alliance Party, including a possible link with the party in Northcote itself.

Yesterday I sent detailed information to MTW on these matters - together with a corroborating copy to an independent third party. The test of the paper's objectivity and fairness will be how it reports in the countdown to 27 November.

As for Fiona Richardson, voters can send a message to the Brumby Government by giving their first preference to a candidate with clear policies supporting strong climate outcomes.

Further information:

Darebin Climate Action Now - Election Q and A
My climate policies
Climate - ALP style

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Comments are most welcome on any of the posts at Northcote Independent. I encourage feedback - positive or negative. Feel free to disagree, but remember that posts are moderated to ensure they are on the topic and in the spirit of open debate, as outlined in my editorial policy.