June 3, 2014

How the audience laughed

Did you watch Q&A last night?

Did you notice the overly right-wing representation on the panel? The ABC must be trying to convince its many critics in government that it doesn't have a left-leaning bias. The Tweedledum and Tweedledee of Liberal policy Senator Cory Bernardi and advertiser and Australian Financial Review columnist Rowan Dean batted the overused party lines across the table and shared the shouting down of anyone who appeared to disagree. There was businesswoman and ex-Lord Mayor of Sydney (and wife of Liberal MP Malcolm Turnbull)) Lucy Turnbull, the voice of reason; and American theoretical physicist Lawrence Krauss, who loudly held his own in the face of what he clearly thought an extraordinary undermining of science in Australia, in both the recent budget and the climate science debate. The only 'leftie' on the panel was Shadow Health Minister Catherine King, who managed to maintain her smile throughout the programme, probably because the Bernardi-Dean team's performance was so derisible.

There was a question specifically for Cory Bernardi from a science researcher, regarding the Senator's welcoming of the abolition in the budget of the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, and the Government's continued commitment to getting rid of both the Climate Change Authority and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation. She assumed that if Senator Bernardi learned from his car mechanic, dentist or plumber that there was something wrong with his car, teeth or pipes, that he would listen and take action. She asked why, therefore, would he ignore climate change experts from all over the world who are urging that the climate is changing and that we must act now to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

The audience clapped the questioner enthusiastically. Cory Bernardi began by explaining, with his smirky face on, that he had paused for 'the expected applause', showing thinly disguised contempt for his listeners. So, when he then declared that, of course the climate is changing, it's been changing for millennia, there was loud and hearty laughter, followed by endorsement of Laurence Krauss's well-deserved put-down:
You know... what would be really refreshing is if... people like you actually tried to base your policies on empirical evidence instead of beliefs. It would be so refreshing.
As Bernardi couldn't help revealing his true denialist colours, disputing the figures that prove a warming world, Krauss taught him a basic lesson:
It's fundamental physics. You put carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, you add heat to the Earth. It's just physics. It's not politics.
Few in the audience may have known of Bernardi's strong Roman Catholic beliefs, or of his visit to the US in 2009 to seek tuition from America's leading climate change deniers and the right-wing Tea Party. He probably thinks his god will guide us when frequent extreme weather events threaten food production, coastal cities, the health of millions, and societal structure. There is no doubt, however, that the audience was closer than the senator from South Australia to identifying the most pressing issue facing Australia now and in the foreseeable future. They can see clearly, free of the patronage of rich business. Bernardi does them a disservice by not encouraging the party leader he helped bring to power to change course on emissions and renewables.

I was greatly encouraged by the audience's laughter. More and more Australians are recognising that the government they elected only a few months ago is swimming against an ever-stronger global tide – not to mention looking increasingly stupid.

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