Australia

'Miscommunication': Environment minister distances himself from climate 'gag' order

Matt Kean speaks during Question Time in the Legislative Assembly. Source: AAP

An email sent to NSW bureaucrats has caused outrage from environment groups and the opposition.

NSW Environment Minister Matt Kean has blamed an email that told bureaucrats not to discuss the link between climate change and bushfires on a "miscommunication".

On Tuesday, participants at a NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment climate change adaptability conference were sent the directive.

"For those attending AdaptNSW today, public affairs has issued advice not to discuss the link between climate change and bushfires ... Refer questions in session and plenaries to bushfire reps," the email said.

The conference was held as bushfires caused havoc across the state, so far killing three and destroying hundreds of homes.

A Gloucester firefighter battles flames at Koorainghat, near Taree on NSW's mid-north coast.
A Gloucester firefighter battles flames at Koorainghat, near Taree on NSW's mid-north coast.
AAP

But after being contacted by SBS News on Wednesday, Mr Kean offered the following explanation:

"Miscommunication by the department resulted in an incorrect notification being issued to attendees at the forum. Climate change is a real issue that requires a decisive response," Mr Kean said.

He did not offer information on how the "miscommunication" occurred or who was responsible. 

"All the scientific advice I have been given says that our changing climate is seeing more extreme weather events. I want to see our best minds debating and discussing what we can do to minimise the impact of climate change and to address the impacts we are experiencing," he said.

Mr Kean's comments came amid stinging criticism from environment groups and the opposition about the "gag" order.

Climate Council CEO Amanda McKenzie told SBS News she was "dismayed" at reports of the email.

"It is vital that people can speak openly and clearly on climate change at this time, especially on a day when NSW is facing unprecedented, catastrophic fire conditions," she said.

"For more than 20 years scientists have warned that climate change would increase the risk of extreme bushfires in Australia. These warnings have now become reality and we are seeing communities paying the price."

NSW Opposition Leader Jodi McKay speaks to the media at Parliament House in Sydney.
NSW Opposition Leader Jodi McKay speaks to the media at Parliament House in Sydney.
AAP

NSW Labor leader Jodi McKay told SBS News, "that is not governing, that's dictating".

"The Liberals and Nationals can try to silence people within the realms of government but that won't stop the wider community from talking about it – especially in country NSW where they're witnessing climate change daily," she said.

"The premier and the climate change deniers in her government can try to gag as many people as possible but ultimately they will be exposed for what they are – an administration that won't face up to the realities of longer hotter and drier summers and doesn't have a plan for our future."

Material for the AdaptNSW Forum said it was "a one-day event which brings together climate change researchers and practitioners from government, industry and universities to showcase NSW's leading research, tools and resources to help minimise the impacts of climate change in local communities".

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