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Australian scientists threatened in carbon tax row
by Staff Writers
Sydney (AFP) June 4, 2011

Climate researchers at one of Australia's top universities have been rushed to a secure location after receiving death threats, an official said Saturday, as debate rages over plans for a carbon pollution tax.

The Australian National University (ANU) scientists had to be shifted following mounting abuse, with threats they would be attacked in the street if they didn't stop their research, said ANU vice-chancellor Dick Young.

Young said the menacing emails and phone calls had intensified in recent weeks amid heated public debate over Prime Minister Julia Gillard's plans to introduce a tax on carbon emissions aimed at reducing pollution.

"Obviously climate research is an emotive issue at the present time," Young told ABC television.

"These are issues where we should have a logical public debate and it's completely intolerable that people be subjected to this sort of abuse and to threats like this."

Ranging from threats of sexual assault and violence to attacks on family and public smear campaigns, the barrage has left the scientists, economists and policymakers working behind unmarked doors and surrounded by heavy security.

"If you want to find me, it's impossible unless you make an appointment, sign in with some form of photo identification, and are personally escorted to my door," one told the Canberra Times newspaper on condition of anonymity.

"That's directly as a result of threats made against me."

Others said they had upgraded home security systems, unlisted their phone numbers and deleted online profiles, with one describing threats of sexual violence against her children after she promoted a local tree-planting day.

"These hurtful attacks are intended to intimidate scientists, to scare them off and stop them from participating in public discussions on climate change. They are the antithesis of democratic debate," said Ian Chubb, Australia's chief scientist.

Young said the threats had rattled the ANU academics, who were "really not equipped to be treated in this way".

"The whole scientific process is one of open debate and discussion but the concept that you would be threatened for your scientific views and work is something that is completely foreign to them," he said.

"I think it is totally outrageous and the vast majority of Australians would think it is totally unacceptable for anybody in society to be subjected to this sort of behaviour."

Gillard wants to tax carbon polluters from 2012 with a fixed price levy which would give way to an emissions trading scheme within three to five years, hoping to reduce emissions blamed for global warming.

Australia is among the world's worst per capita emitters, relying heavily on coal-fired power and exporting millions of tonnes of the fuel to Asian steelmakers and electricity firms every year.

But the carbon tax proposal has met fierce resistance from the conservative opposition and big business -- particularly the heavyweight mining industry -- who say it will cost jobs and drive investment offshore.

Oscar-winning actress Cate Blanchett came out in support of a carbon tax this week, fronting a television campaign advocating action on climate change.

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