SPEECH: Professor Dean Jaensch

Today Mark addressed the assertions made by Professor Dean Jaensch in his recent opinion pieces published in The Advertiser on the subject of bushfires and the Greens.


Over a long academic career, retired politics professor Dean Jaensch has formed strong views on politics. Sadly, over the years he also seems to have lost the ability to do basic research and to fact-check. Instead, he lets his imagination and prejudices run wild, as evidenced in his recent opinion pieces in The Advertiser in November last year and again last month on the subject of bushfires and the Greens. Take, for example, the following claim:

The Greens are implacably opposed to backburning and landclearing hazard reduction to a level that every leaf is sacred (to sort-of quote Monty Python).

He might get a few laughs as people remember the famous Monty Python parody of the Catholic Church and contraception, but what he cannot do is point to one shred of evidence to justify this assertion. Leaving aside the fact that he does not appear to know the difference between back-burning and hazard reduction burning, his commentary is without foundation. From my perspective, I have represented the Greens in state parliament for nearly 14 years. Before that, I worked in conservation for 16 years. Never have I said anything publicly or privately that indicates an 'implacable' opposition to back-burning or hazard reduction, including in national parks.

We are used to attempts by Pauline Hanson, Barnaby Joyce and their ilk to place the blame for the severity of these bushfires on the Greens. They represent the worst kind of dishonest politics. We do not expect any better of them. These same politicians are also the ones ignoring the main cause of these unprecedented bushfires, which is climate change. Climate change, not the Greens, has left forests and grasslands drier, which has meant that the bushfire season has started earlier and will likely last longer. It has also made the window for hazard reduction shorter.

Dean Jaensch's opinion pieces in The Advertiser are sloppy, unresearched and unsubstantiated. His assertions are untrue and unworthy of an academic. Even a simple Google search of Green policy would have shown him that:

The Australian Greens support hazard reduction burning to reduce the impact of bushfire when guided by the best scientific, ecological and emergency service expertise.

He would also have learned that in the Australian Capital Territory the minister for land management, Shane Rattenbury, was actually the person who ordered hazard reduction, including burning, in that jurisdiction when he had relevant ministerial responsibility as part of the Labor-Green government.

So in the only jurisdiction where the Greens have held relevant executive power we ensured that hazard reduction was carried out to protect the community. But that does not fit Jaensch's entrenched prejudices. He swaps between Greens with a capital 'G' and greens with a lower case 'g' when it suits him. The former is an established political party, the latter can be applied to anyone who professes to care about the environment. He could also have sought some expert third-party opinions such as former New South Wales fire and rescue commissioner Greg Mullins, who said:

Blaming 'greenies' for stopping these important measures is a familiar, populist, but basically untrue claim.

He might also have inquired as to whether any Greens members and supporters were actively involved in firefighting, emergency relief and fire recovery. He would have found us as well represented as any other political party. Indeed, one of our Greens staff colleagues here in Parliament House, Claudia from the Hon. Tammy Franks' office, took time off from her parliamentary house duties to join her CFS colleagues on the front line on Kangaroo Island.

Jaensch's further claim that talking about climate change and bushfires is somehow bringing party politics into it misses the point entirely. It is not about politics; it is about science. To deny the link between human-induced climate change and the increased frequency and severity of extreme weather events, including droughts, floods and fires, is to deny the scientific consensus. Climate change means that bushfire season is starting earlier, the forests and grasslands are drier, igniting more easily and burning more readily, and that there are more and more days of very high, severe, extreme and catastrophic fire risk. The major cause of climate change is the burning of fossil fuels.

Jaensch has also swallowed hook, line and sinker the arch-conservative view that, because climate change is a global problem and Australia is a small nation, nothing we do here can possibly make a difference. That is a view that leads to inaction or minimal action until the rest of the world shows resolve. It is a lazy and irresponsible approach and rightly rejected by the next generation who will inherit the disaster we are creating.

In conclusion, if Mr Jaensch was just an ordinary citizen, his views would be disappointing but they would not matter, but he is in a very privileged position, with a regular column in Adelaide's only daily newspaper. With that comes a responsibility and accountability. He cannot rest on his academic laurels of years gone by and expect to be able to write rubbish and get away with it. Perhaps it is time for him to hang up his quill and retire from public commentary.