by Bob Burton
(IPS) CANBERRA -- While Australia commemorated the 150th anniversary of the Eureka stockade this Dec. 4, where 30 miners protesting against colonial authorities were killed, a conservative think tank was launching its own rebellion against what it refers to as "environmental fundamentalism."
The Institute of Public Affairs (IPA) that is funded by mining, energy, biotechnology and agricultural companies attracted approximately 150 people to its inaugural "Eureka Forum" to help launch a "strong national network to counter the environmental movement."
"Environmental fundamentalism is denying farmers, foresters, fishermen, prospectors, miners, beekeepers, 4WD (four-wheel-drive) enthusiasts and others access rights, property rights, water rights. It is also generating excessive red tape and harming the environment," the IPA's website for the forum proclaimed.
The forum invoked the spirit of the original 1854 Eureka rebellion where approximately 120 miners, angered by the British colonial authorities' proposals to impose a license fee while denying them a vote, fought a bloody battle with several hundred soldiers and police.
But in the eyes of the IPA, environmentalists are now the new "establishment" to be overthrown.
If the original Eureka rebellion was open to anyone, the IPA's forum was much more circumscribed with the registration form boldly stating "the IPA reserves the right to select attendees."
"The forum is not a public meeting. We are targeting resource user groups with common interests," an IPA staff member wrote in an e-mail to an inquiring member of the public.
Associate professor in Geography and Environmental Studies at the University of Adelaide, Tim Doyle, believes the IPA's Eureka Forum mimics the anti-environmental "Wise Use Movement" that emerged in the U.S. in the early 1990's but waned as the political dominance of the Republican Party grew.
"It is the same populist anti-government rhetoric that was employed in the United States by think tanks and groups -- some of which were funded by corporations -- to roll back environmental policies and undermine public support for environmental groups," he told IPS.
Doyle, who authored a book on the environmental movement in Australia -- 'Green Power,' argues that "the IPA seem to want to develop a grass roots base to mask their free market ideology."
"Their view is that all these issues should be left to the market and that there is little role for the government in regulating to protect the public's environment. It's an approach that would suit the IPA's corporate sponsors fine," Doyle pointed out.
The Brisbane-based head of the IPA's Environment Unit, Jennifer Marohasy, gave the opening address titled 'Environmental Fundamentalism,' echoing a speech with the same title she gave to the conservative Sydney-based think tank, the Center for Independent Studies (CIS) earlier this year.
Marohasy is particularly critical of the introduction by most state governments of bans on genetically engineered crops, the ban on land clearing by agricultural companies in Queensland and proposed reallocation of water for environmental restoration in the Murray-Darling Basin, which drains over 14 percent of the entire continent of Australia.
"It is time we started demanding a rational evidence-based approach to public policy on environmental issues," she said in her May speech.
"A problem with fundamentalist creeds is that they are driven by adherence to predetermined agendas and teachings. The fundamentalist's position is rarely tolerant of new information and is generally dismissive of evidence," she said. "Environmental fundamentalism is subversive in that it draws on science to give legitimacy to its beliefs -- the same beliefs that, in many instances, have no basis in observation or tested theory."
Environmentalists, however, dismiss the IPA's accusations.
" 'Environmental fundamentalism' sounds like a description of the Institute of Public Affairs position denying climate change," said Catherine Fitzpatrick, climate change campaigner for Greenpeace Australia.
The IPA, which has received funding from a range of fossil fuel companies -- including Shell, Esso Australia (a subsidiary of Exxon) and fifteen major coal burning electricity generating companies -- has been a vocal critic of the Kyoto Protocol on climate change.
"The IPA's rejection of the scientific findings of the overwhelming majority of the world's scientists on climate change reveals that it is they who reject science," Fitzpatrick said.
"They claim that climate change is not happening or if it is happening it is natural, or if its not natural its not large enough to worry about. Or if it is, it is too expensive to do anything about. They just won't accept scientific evidence," she added.
While the IPA is often dismissed as a fringe group for advocating policies often at odds with mainstream public opinion, the forum enticed journalists from mainstream media organizations to facilitate and speak at the conference.
Acting as master of ceremonies for the Eureka Forum was Tim Lee, a journalist with the 'Australian Broadcasting Corporation's' national rural affairs program 'Landline.'
Lee attended in a private voluntary capacity even though the IPA program identified him without his permission as being from 'ABC.'
"I made clear at the start of the day that I was there as an individual and a farmer. In my work as a journalist I'm tired of going to whinge fests ... but this wasn't that," he said.
"It will be interesting to see what comes out of this but I think the point was to get some of these groups to get their message heard... It was a good chance for these groups to realise they are all trying to kick the ball in the same direction," added Lee.
Senior Lecturer in journalism at the University of Technology in Sydney, David McKnight, believes journalists should tread warily when invited to events like this.
"The reason why journalists should keep some distance from being involved is that they may be reporting on the organization and issues it raises in the future," he told IPS.
December 8, 2004 (http://www.albionmonitor.com) All Rights Reserved. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for permission to use in any format.
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