Image for Australia was ready to act on climate 25 years ago, so what happened next?

New book investigates how corporate interests and ideologues worked to make Australia doubt what it knew about climate change and its risks

There’s something about climate change that almost everyone in Australia has either forgotten or never knew in the first place.

In 1990 Bob Hawke announced his government wanted the country to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 20% by the year 2005.

For a fleeting moment, it seemed the Australian public, politicians and the media were in agreement with the science.

But a new book investigates how the industries that stood to lose the most worked to undermine the science and entirely reshape the story being told to the public.

“We have been propagandised,” says the author, Maria Taylor.

Hawke was ready

In 1989 Hawke described a “growing consensus amongst scientists” showing there was a strong chance that major climate change was on its way, that this change was linked to human activity, and this could have “major ramifications for human survival” if nothing was done.

The book


Around 2007, Taylor was asking herself that question. How did the corporate interest replace the public interest? How did climate science become “controversial” in the eyes of the public?

Taylor, who is a journalist and newspaper publisher, wanted to know how Australians were “persuaded to doubt what they knew”.

She reviewed hundreds of newspaper articles and government reports for a PhD thesis and now a book, called Global Warming and Climate Change: What Australia Knew and Buried … Then Framed a New Reality for the Public (you can download a copy free from publisher ANU Press HERE ).

Taylor also interviewed about a dozen key insiders, including scientists, advisers, politicians and journalists. She says the fact that Australia was ready and willing to act 25 years ago has itself been a forgotten story.

Vested interests

Among the documents reviewed by Taylor were some of the public relations messaging being developed and communicated in the late 80s by the fossil fuel industry and free-market groups.

Taylor highlights two reports released in 1989 and 1992 by mining company CRA (a division of what became Rio Tinto) that “established the contrarian themes that came to dominate the decade”.

It went like this. Cutting greenhouse gas emissions would be expensive. Australia’s efforts to cut emissions would be tiny in a global context. The country’s economy would be damaged by action on emissions. Action would only hurt Australia’s export industries. Working to lower demand for energy would negatively impact people’s lifestyles.

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