Public servants advised at conference ‘not to discuss the link between climate change and bushfires’

By Stephen Easton

Thursday November 14, 2019

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New South Wales Minister for the Environment Matt Kean says a message advising public servants “not to discuss the link between climate change and bushfires” at a conference specifically about adapting to a hotter climate was a mistake.

The conference, called the AdaptNSW Forum, was organised by the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment; the same brand name is also used for a website and a newsletter produced by the department, which are all about projections of how climate change will affect the state and what can be done to prepare.

Public servants are generally very careful about what they say when speaking publicly in an official capacity, often more so than they need to be, so they appear apolitical and avoid stealing the government’s thunder. But with Deputy Premier John Barilaro ranting on Monday that anyone talking about climate change while the state faced severe bushfires was a “bloody disgrace” in his opinion, it seems a public relations team in NSW was feeling extra circumspect this week.

The Guardian‘s investigations editor Anne Davies reports the following message was sent to staff from the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment on Tuesday:

“For those attending AdaptNSW today, public affairs has issued advice not to discuss the link between climate change and bushfires. Refer questions in session and plenaries to bushfire reps.”

Only a few hours after the story was published, the minister was furiously backpedalling. Kean told the Sydney Morning Herald it was all a mistake. It was actually “miscommunication” that led to an “incorrect notification” being sent to staff attending the department’s own conference, Pallavi Singhal reports.

The forum, according to an advertisement posted on a Landcare Australia website, was meant to be a chance for “climate change researchers and practitioners from government, industry and universities to showcase NSW’s leading research, tools and resources to help minimise the impacts of climate change in local communities”.

Kean felt the need to confirm to the SMH that he knew climate change was “a real issue” and that all the scientific advice he had received in government said it would lead to more extreme weather. “I want to see our best minds debating and discussing what we can do to minimise the impact of climate change and to address the impacts we are experiencing,” the minister said.

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