Queensland senators call for oversight of Reef science

A Senate Committee inquiry on the health of the Great Barrier Reef also included an argument over scientific method and demands for a government-funded agency to assess scientific research

The Committee reports that, “in line with the Australian and Queensland governments,” it “is satisfied that the evidence shows strong linkages between agricultural practices and the decline in water quality in the Reef.

But nor does the report disguise the vehemence of contra claims, which questioned not just scientific findings but the culture of peer review as applied to research on the Reef.

The Committee is not having it; stating it; “is extremely concerned by the unsubstantiated claims made by various witnesses and submitters about the adequacy of the peer review process. Those who hold this view questioned the reliability and replicability of the science produced by the well-established, peer review process. … the committee does not share the view that the peer review process is inadequate or lacking, that it produces group think or corrupt behaviour, nor that it has created a replicability crisis within Reef science. Further, the committee does not believe that Australia’s scientific community is intentionally covering up flaws in research and vilifying or excluding those scientists that raise concerns with the quality of the research.”

But a minority report from three Queensland senators, questioned research about the Reef and called for Queensland and the Commonwealth to, “establish an office of scientific review to evaluate the existing science of the Great Barrier Reef and how it informs policymaking.”

“While the exact details regarding the design and remit of this office will have to be thoroughly consulted on, we believe it could help to provide industry with greater confidence in the science and repair what has historically been a very strong partnership between science and agriculture. One way we see this occurring is via greater focus on the observation process and the utilisation of empirical data, which is the recorded evidence that has been measured and is not subject to opinion, to demonstrate cause and effect.” Matt Canavan (Nats), Susan McDonald (Nats), Gerard Rennick (Lib) state.

Last year another Queensland National Party federal MP, George Christensen called for “an independent science quality assurance agency, to check scientific papers underpinning public policy and affecting peoples’ lives and livelihoods,” (CMM September 16 2019).