Barcaldine’s Tree of Knowledge in western Queensland became famous as an important meeting place during the Great Shearers’ Strike of 1891. Because of its role in the formation of the union movement and the foundation of the Australian Labor Party, it was heritage listed in 2006. Shortly afterwards it was poisoned and died.
In thinking about the Tree of Knowledge a friend who recently visited Barcaldine commented on attitudes towards knowledge and fact in today’s world.
On one level we see so-called “alternative facts” promoted as reality over actual facts. Factual news reports are dismissed as “fake news” not because they are false but because these reports do not suit a particular person or group. So we have a new version of political spin and propaganda.
While the “alternative facts” and “fake news” are largely associated with the US, there is concern that this labelling of inconvenient truth or knowledge in this dismissive fashion could become common here and elsewhere around the world.
Currently much more worrying in Australia is a growing refusal to accept scientific knowledge in the formation of policy at a political level. This is particularly disturbing for those concerned with protecting the natural world for current and future generations of humans and other life forms.
There are numerous recent examples of how scientific knowledge about how best to protect the natural world is being ignored by government departments and politicians. These bureaucrats and politicians are captive to short-term economic plans or vested interests.
Federal decisions which ignored scientific knowledge and advice have included the reduction in marine park protection to allow fishing over a much greater area and the plan to reduce the environmental water recovery target in the Murray-Darling Basin in the interests of irrigators.
In NSW the changes to biodiversity laws and to management of native vegetation despite scientific advice, are already seeing increased land-clearing and habitat loss which is threatening the survival of vulnerable species such as the koala.
Our political leaders often claim they make decisions based on the best science but this seems to happen very rarely. It’s time this changed.
- Leonie Blain