How Rupert Murdoch Pushed Australia Into A Climate Change Retreat

Australia last week became “the world's first developed nation to repeal carbon laws that put a price on greenhouse-gas emissions.” The country's carbon tax, which has been a passionate political topic there for more almost a decade, was finally instituted in 2012. But after a new conservative prime minister, Tony Abbott, was elected in September 2013, the carbon tax was aggressively targeted and then successfully repealed by Australia's Senate on July 17. 

The retreat represents a win for climate deniers in Australia who dismiss the looming dangers of climate change and the science behind it. (It's "absolute crap," claimed Abbott, echoing Tea Party-type rhetoric in the United States.) It's a win for energy and mining interests who claimed the Australian tax was too burdensome

The retreat also signals a victory for Rupert Murdoch, the Australian native whose media empire, News Corp., did everything in its power to elect Abbott last fall and to attack the tax. Days before the repeal vote, Murdoch spoke out again against climate change science, telling an Australian interviewer it should be treated with great skepticism. Murdoch's dismissal stands in stark contrast to his 2007 proclamation that “climate change poses clear, catastrophic threats.”

Murdoch's anti-climate change crusade in Australia certainly mirrors his company's commitment to misinformation in America, and highlights the dangers of having news media moguls who are dedicated to propaganda efforts regarding pressing public policy issues. (Murdoch is currently eyeing a bid to buy media giant Time Warner.)  Indeed, Murdoch's media properties in Australia have been shown repeatedly to be wildly unfair and unbalanced when it comes to the topic of climate change.

Australia's carbon emissions repeal represents a dramatic U-turn for a country that just a few years ago was seen as a leader on the global issue under the guidance of previous Labor Party prime minsters, Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd. “The Brookings Institution has previously described Australia as an ”important laboratory and learning opportunity" for U.S. thinking about climate change and energy policy, as it was one of the first major countries outside Europe to adopt a carbon price," The Wall Street Journal recently noted.

Australia is also one of the largest per capita greenhouse gas emitters in the world, largely because of its reliance on coal-burning power stations that generate most of the country's electricity.  The nation currently ranks 19th among the top 20 countries responsible for global temperature change that has already occurred, according to a study in Environmental Research Letters published earlier this year. (The United States ranks first.)

In the United States, political reporters often portray a carbon tax as lacking the political support to become a reality. But a new poll released this week indicates that a majority of Americans (60 percent) support an emissions tax if the revenue generated is used to fund renewable energy. Nonetheless, the shift in Australia is likely to make climate change action more difficult. “The same ideological and climate-denying foes in Congress who are blocking a path forward for Obama have secured a foothold in Australia,” Salon recently noted. “Abbott's actions no doubt give credibility to the climate skepticism and stalling tactics of denialist Republicans.”

Indeed, Republicans have already cited the repeal as evidence that the U.S. should abandon the Environmental Protection Agency's proposed carbon pollution standards.

Murdoch set his plan in motion to target the carbon tax four years ago. “After the 2010 election - which resulted in a minority Labor government - Murdoch summoned his Australian editors and senior journalists to his home in Carmel, California,” Australia's The Conversation reported. “He made clear that he despised the Gillard government and wanted regime change.”

In an article headlined, “Rupert Murdoch's Newspapers Declare War on Australia's Prime Minister,” the Hollywood Reporter last year detailed how there was nothing subtle about Murdoch's propaganda efforts to oust Rudd, who had succeeded Gillard:

Murdoch-owned papers, which control about 70 percent of the local market, have run covers featuring Rudd as a Nazi, as Col. Klink from Hogan's Heroes and as Mr. Rude from the Mr. Men kids books. News Corp's Daily Telegraph in Sydney has dropped all pretense of impartiality, publishing a picture of Rudd under the headline, “Let's Kick This Mob Out!”

That wasn't the only way Murdoch weaponized his hometown media for an information war. His national daily, The Australian has “promoted 'misleading' stories giving credence to climate denialist views, outnumbering those accepting climate science by 10-to-1, according to a report in the Quarterly Essay,” Salon noted.

That study's author Robert Manne wrote, “In the real world, scientists accepting the climate consensus view outnumber denialists by more than 99 to one. In the Alice in Wonderland world of [editor-in-chief Chris] Mitchell's Australian, their contributions were outnumbered 10 to one.” The Australian Press Council agreed, slamming the paper for erroneous claims.

Additionally, media analysis conducted by the University of Technology in Sydney found that “negative articles about the proposed carbon emissions tax in Murdoch's newspapers outweighed positive ones 82 percent to 18 percent,” NPR reported. Andrew Bolt, Australia's top-read columnist, employed by Murdoch's Herald Sun, has branded as “propagandists” newspapers that treat climate change as settled science.

And according to the Associated Press, this campaign may have been partially responsible for opinion polls that “indicated Australians were overestimating the impact of the carbon tax” on energy prices.

All of which led to Murdoch's dismissive comments last week:

“Climate change has been going on as long as the planet is here. And there will always be a little bit of it. At the moment the north pole is melting but the south pole is getting bigger. Things are happening. How much of it are we doing, with emissions and so on? As far as Australia goes? Nothing in the overall picture.”

The same day that Murdoch's comments aired, Bloomberg News highlighted the fact  “scientists affiliated with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration published a study that attributes southwestern Australia's 40-year rainfall decline to human influence. Specifically, greenhouse gas pollution and ozone loss high in the atmosphere.”

It seems clear Australia follows Murdoch's climate change retreat at its own peril.