The Labor party were having a bit of fun in estimates this week:
Taxpayers contributed $640,000 to a book edited, written and published by Bjorn Lomborg and his Copenhagen Consensus Centre which was ridiculed in Senate Estimates on Thursday as “vanity publishing”.
The book, The Nobel Laureates Guide to the Smartest Targets in the World, also came under attack for receiving special purpose funding without having to undergo normal peer review processes of Australian researchers.
Labor’s Deborah O’Neill pushed departmental officials and Education Minister Simon Birmingham on what the $640,000 bought, but there was little clarity after thirty minutes of questioning.
Fair enough too. It was never clear to me why the Australian taxpayer should finance Bjorn Lomborg (that isn’t a criticism of Lomborg himself – I quite like his books, but I’m happy for other people, paying customers for example, to finance his research centre and books).
But there is a bit of hypocrisy here. The former Labor government gave $3 084 112.60 (inclusive of GST) to the Victorian Cancer Council to undertake a tracking survey of its plain packaging policy. Here is David Leyonhjelm asking the question:
Senator LEYONHJELM: I would like to ask some questions in relation to the plain packaging tracking survey. I am referring to the plain packaging tracking survey which the department had the Cancer Council of Victoria undertake. Was there a competitive tender for that survey?
A competitive tender was not undertaken for the National Monthly Tracking Survey of smokers and recent quitters.
Speaking of that particular survey, while looking through my materials I found this snippet (pg. 52) that I had forgotten:
Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: … Could you tell me what process is in place to assess the effect of plain packaging on smoking prevalence when it commences in December? How will this be reported and when will it be reported?
Mr Smyth: We have initiated a monthly tracking survey with the Cancer Council of Victoria. It is undertaking a pretty systematic survey of existing smoking habits and then the habits of people’s purchasing choices et cetera post that as well. That tracking survey commenced in April this year and will run for two years.
Compare that question and answer to what the Victorian Cancer said after Ashton de Silva and I demonstrated that the plain packaging policy had not reduced the prevalence of smoking in Australia:
The NTPPS was quite explicitly not designed to assess quitting success or change in smoking prevalence … .
That is very strange given that Mr Smyth told Senator Fierravanti-Wells that is exactly what the tracking study was intended to do.