So why the secrecy?

Dec 11, 2023
Effects of climate change and global warming
Labor should heed the message that the climate emergency must be taken seriously. Image: Flicker / Marco Verch professional

Last month, Chris Bowen, the Climate Change Minister, delivered the second Annual Climate Change Statement to the federal parliament. The Minister’s address was in part detailed – especially when it came to the government’s many policy achievements – but less so when it came to the question of climate heating and national security.

Bowen lauded the government’s drive to transform Australia into a clean energy “powerhouse” with the added benefits of stimulating economic growth (arguably one of the main drivers of planetary destruction), bringing down energy prices, and placing Australia at the forefront of global climate reduction efforts.

In truth, Australia’s emissions targets are mid-range. When viewed in the context of national commitments and international commitments through the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, Australia lags behind countries like UK, Switzerland, Germany and Norway. And what’s not factored into Australia’s emissions inventory is the fact that its fossil fuel exports are omitted from the national calculations. If the stuff is burned overseas then apparently, that doesn’t count. According to some estimates, omissions resulting from these exports could be more than double that of domestic output.

But there’s more. The Climate Council considers Labor’s goal of reducing emissions by 43 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030 as utterly inadequate, arguing instead for a 75 per cent cut by 2030 and net zero by 2035 – a call rejected outright by the government. More concerning however is the fact that even in terms of its own stated goals, the government is failing to bring down emissions at the required rate, with the head of the Climate Change Authority (CCA) Brad Archer noting that Australia, “is not yet on track to meet its 2030 targets”. As stated in a recent CCA report, Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions increased by four million tonnes between 2022-23, with total output reaching 467 million tonnes – well in excess of what’s required to meet the government’s own targets.

None of this was likely to dissuade the Minister from lauding his government’s achievements. “The opportunities and reasons for action are significant and compelling – including for economic, productivity and national security reasons”, he said, even though when it came to the latter his rhetoric was vague. Which is hardly surprising given the government’s recent decision to hide the contents of the Office of National Intelligence (ONI) inquiry into global heating and national security behind a wall of secrecy. The ONI report has not seen the light of day. We know next to nothing about when it was completed or what its contents are. Understandably, this has irked journalists, former defence chiefs, intelligence and security specialists, climate activists, academics and many others.

So here we are: stuck in information limbo waiting on a report that may never appear. This is not any old report. It deals with one of the most pressing issues that one can imagine – that is, how global heating is likely to impact Australia. In a democracy worthy of the name, you’d think that the contents of this report would be made available to a population already reeling from cascading extreme weather events, with more to come. Surely such information would help civil society to develop the protective measures it needs to withstand what’s coming, or at least to assist citizens to recalibrate their needs and priorities.

Without a clear indication of what the ONI foresees as the national security challenges, Australians remain in the dark, second guessing and stressing. The government has presented no clear reasons for keeping the report under wraps, giving rise to speculation in various quarters that the information is too hot to handle for a worried populus (excuse the pun), and/or that its contents reflect badly on Labor’s emissions reduction ambitions. Either way, a matter of the gravest public interest is being denied to Australian citizens.

Despite the claim that the Statement offers “frank and thorough assessment” of the national security threat presented by climate change, there’s precious little detail in the actual Statement. The enormity of what’s ahead, can be gleaned perhaps from Bowen’s view that, “Dealing with climate extremes is likely to place additional stress on national coordination arrangements and domestic crisis management agencies, stretching Australia’s emergency capabilities that deploy domestically and internationally”. Current threats, the Minister says, “will become more severe and more frequent the further warming targets are exceeded”. More alarmingly, “The relationship between the level of warming and the threats faced is not linear; the threats will compound and expand exponentially the hotter the planet becomes”.

The predicament, the Minister adds, is local and global. “Climate change is an existential national security risk to our Pacific partners and presents unprecedented challenges for our region. It is likely to accentuate economic factors already fuelling political instability, including risks to water insecurity across the globe.”

This is as far as the parliamentary address takes us. Nowhere does the Minister indicate what is meant by “the national interest”. It’s a slippery term at the best of times that often leads to the labyrinthian world of doublespeak and gobbledegook. It appears that what defines the national interest is what the government says it is. Section 8 of the National Security Information (Criminal and Civil Proceedings) Act 2004 asserts that “national security means Australia’s defence, security, international relations or law enforcement interests”. This is a catchall for what security covers rather than any cogent operational definition.

Which means that if something – anything – pertinent to these areas is considered untoward for whatever reason, then it may be considered a security threat. Seemingly, it’s enough to say the words national interest to ensure that information is subject to the constraints of state secrecy. And yet, inevitably, the more that secrecy is evoked to deny public disclosure, the more questions are raised about the motivations for so doing. Whose interests exactly are being served by this? Certainly not that of the voting public.

As noted in my previous article in P&I, if communities across the nation are to be fully prepared for what the climate predicament is set to deliver, then surely the findings from the ONI report should be readily available to all citizens.

So why the secrecy?

Share and Enjoy !

Subscribe to John Menadue's Newsletter
Subscribe to John Menadue's Newsletter


Thank you for subscribing!