"ANU death threat claims debunked" – The Australian

FOI request

UPDATE 6: Jo Nova writes here.

UPDATE 5: Scan of The Australian article is now here.

UPDATE 4: Catallaxy Files writes here.

UPDATE 3: James Delingpole writes here.

UPDATE 2: Anthony Watts posts on this here.

UPDATE 1: Andrew Bolt comments here.

Christian Kerr at The Australian reports on my ongoing efforts to obtain, from the Australian National University, copies of emails to climate scientists containing death threats, and a recent Privacy Commissioner ruling that shows that none of the documents produced contain such threats:

Climate scientists’ claims of email death threats go up in smoke

CLAIMS that some of Australia’s leading climate change scientists were subjected to death threats as part of a vicious and unrelenting email campaign have been debunked by the Privacy Commissioner.

Timothy Pilgrim was called in to adjudicate on a Freedom of Information application in relation to Fairfax and ABC reports last June alleging that Australian National University climate change researchers were facing the ongoing campaign and had been moved to “more secure buildings” following explicit threats.

In a six-page ruling made last week, Mr Pilgrim found that 10 of 11 documents, all emails, “do not contain threats to kill” and the other “could be regarded as intimidating and at its highest perhaps alluding to a threat”.

Chief Scientist Ian Chubb, who was the ANU’s vice-chancellor at the time, last night admitted he did not have any recollection of reading the emails before relocating the university’s researchers. “I don’t believe I did,” Professor Chubb told The Australian.

Instead, he said he had responded “as a responsible employer”.

“I had a bunch of concerned staff and they thought they should be moved to a more secure place so I moved them,” he said.

“With hindsight, we can say nobody chased them down. What do you do?”

The FOI application was lodged by Sydney climate blogger Simon Turnill. It requested the release of “emails, transcript of telephone calls or messages that contained abuse, threats to kill and/or threats of harm to the recipient” sent to six staff members of the ANU’s Climate Change Institute. His request resulted in the discovery of the 11 documents.

The university refused to release the documents, citing a clause in the Freedom of Information Act that exempts documents that “would, or could reasonably be expected to … endanger the life or physical safety of any person” from disclosure.

Mr Turnill appealed against the decision.

In response to the appeal, Mr Pilgrim found 10 documents did not contain threats to kill or threats of harm.

Mr Pilgrim said of the 11th, a further email offering an account of an exchange that occurred at an off-campus event sponsored by members of the Climate Change Institute and other bodies: “I consider the danger to life or physical safety in this case to be only a possibility, not a real chance.” 

By way of background, in June 2011, there was a flurry of media reports regarding the receipt of alleged “death threats” at the ANU and other universities. The story was the splash in the Canberra Times on 4 June. Furthermore, for example, here in Australia the ABC reported:

Death threats sent to top climate scientists

Several of Australia’s top climate change scientists at the Australian National University have been subjected to a campaign of death threats, forcing the university to tighten security.

Several of the scientists in Canberra have been moved to a more secure location after receiving the threats over their research.

Vice-chancellor Professor Ian Young says the scientists have received large numbers of emails, including death threats and abusive phone calls, threatening to attack the academics in the street if they continue their research.

He says it has been happening for the past six months and the situation has worsened significantly in recent weeks. (source)

The story made it around the world, with the UK Guardian reporting:

Australian climate scientists receive death threats

A number of Australia’s leading climate scientists have been moved into safer accommodation after receiving death threats, in a further escalation of the country’s increasingly febrile carbon price debate.

The revelation of the death threats follows a week of bitter exchanges between the government and the opposition in the wake of a pro-carbon price TV advert featuring actor Cate Blanchett.

The Australia National University (ANU) in Canberra said that it has moved a number of its climate scientists to a secure facility after they received a large number of threatening emails and phone calls.

Ian Young, ANU’s vice-chancellor, told ABC national radio that the threats had worsened in recent weeks.

“Obviously climate research is an emotive issue at the present time,” he said.

“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.

“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.”

Young said that scientists had been threatened with assault if they were identified in the street. Among those targeted is Prof Will Steffen, ANU’s climate institute director. (source)

The Nature blog ran the story as well:

Australian climate scientists face death threats

Leading climate scientists in Australia are being subjected to an escalating campaign of death threats and abusive phone calls, as the country’s government edges closer to introducing a price on carbon.

A number of Australia’s highest profile climate scientists have been moved into secure buildings following the recent spate of threats, including at the Australian National University (ANU) in Canberra, as well as other universities in New South Wales and Queensland. Some economists and policy experts have also been relocated after being targeted.

ANU vice-chancellor Professor Ian Young told ABC News that the situation has worsened significantly in recent weeks. “Obviously climate research is an emotive issue at the present time,” he said. “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.”

Scientists targeted include Will Steffen, director of ANU’s climate change institute. (source)

As a result of these news items, on 5 June 2011 I submitted an application for the documents in question under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The request stated that I required copies of  the following:

Emails or telephone calls or messages to members of the Climate Change Institute containing abuse, threats to kill and/or threats of harm to the recipient

and sent to any of six senior members of the ANU’s Climate Change Institute within the previous six months.

On 4 August 2011, the ANU sent a decision letter in which they stated that 11 documents meeting the above criteria had been found, but all of them were exempt from disclosure under two grounds, firstly, that of privacy, and secondly, that disclosure may “endanger the life or physical safety of any person”.

This immediately struck me as odd. Naturally, personal information could easily be redacted from emails, and secondly, how could such disclosure of the content of previously sent emails possibly cause further danger to life or physical safety? I did not see any point in referring the matter for internal review at ANU, and therefore lodged an appeal directly with the Information Commissioner. The grounds for appeal were stated thus:

The request for information regarded alleged “death threats” sent to members of the Australian National University climate change department. This story was reported widely in the media (e.g. including at the ABC – http://www.abc.net.au/ news/2011-06-04/death-threats-sent-to-top-climate-scientists/2745536, Herald Sun – http://www.heraldsun.com.au/news/ scientists-suffer-death-threats/story-e6frf7jo-1226069173816, Sydney Morning Herald – http://www.smh.com.au/environment/ climate-change/death-threats-to-scientists-20110604-1fm4i.html).

I contacted the ACT police media office about this matter and they confirmed no complaint had been received and therefore no action in respect of the alleged threats had been taken.

The reasons for this review are as follows:

1. The ANU claims that disclosing the material would result in “unreasonable disclosure of personal information”, despite the fact that such information could easily be redacted from the e-mails. Such a ground should not prevent the disclosure of the substance of the e-mails.

2. The ANU further claims that disclosing the material would “endanger the life or physical safety of any person.” This is clearly nonsensical. The disclosure of the e-mails has no bearing on the threats contained therein, and cannot possibly further endanger life or physical safety of those concerned.

3. The ANU apply both exclusions to every document. It appears that this decision is therefore arbitrary and there has been no attempt to apply the exclusions on a case by case basis.

Given that no complaint was made to the police, the suspicion must arise that the e-mails contained abuse, but, importantly, no “threat to kill” within the meaning of the criminal law. That suspicion would also extend to the fact the ANU would now be reluctant to disclose the materials, since it would reveal that the stories reported in the media were exaggerated and overblown.

Given that the ANU themselves were content for the story to be provided to the media, it is wholly unconscionable for them now to refuse access to the materials on which those media reports were based, whether they are supportive of such media reports or otherwise. 

Finally, after a long wait, on 26 April 2012, the Privacy Commissioner ruled in my favour. The decision is available here. In respect of danger to life, the Commissioner wrote:

15. The question is how release of the documents could reasonably be expected to endanger the life or physical safety of any person. In other words, the question is whether release of the documents could be expected to create the risk, not whether the documents reflect an existing credible threat. Even if the threats were highly credible, the question would be how release of the documents would add to the expected threat.

16. In my view, there is a risk that release of the documents could lead to further insulting or offensive communication being directed at ANU personnel or expressed through social media. However, there is no evidence to suggest disclosure would, or could reasonably be expected to, endanger the life or physical safety of any person.

17. Therefore I consider that the 11 documents are not exempt under s 37(1)(c).

In respect of privacy issues, he wrote:

21. I agree that the documents in their entirety contain information and/or opinions about individuals—both those sending and receiving the documents. However, the scope of material that the applicant is seeking in this review excludes information that would make the identity of the individuals sending or receiving the emails reasonably identifiable. Without identifying information, such as names, phone numbers and email addresses, I do not consider the material within the scope of the review is personal information. In my opinion the identity of the senders and recipients of the emails would not be apparent or reasonably ascertainable from the remaining information in the documents. Therefore the 11 documents without information identifying individuals are not exempt under s 47F.

The ANU have still refused to release the documents, pending a possible appeal to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. I fully intend to contest this appeal if necessary.

Furthermore, enquiries to the ACT Police last week confirm that since the threats were allegedly received, no complaint had been received from the University, and therefore no investigation has ever taken place.



  1. I personally always thought it was BS.

  2. Dave N says:

    Kudos to The Australian for printing the story; I’d have expected the MSM to be silent.

    • agwnonsense says:

      All the same information was available at the time ,why so long to tell the truth?

  3. congrats Simon. Sensible rulings like that restore some faith in the system.

  4. Great work mate, you weren’t at the James Delingpole talk on Monday night were you?

  5. A lot of hard work, thank you Simon.

  6. “Naturally, personal information could easily be redacted from emails,”

    Exactly. They can also remove enough to ensure that the identity of the recipient not be discernible. All I want to see is what was actually written and interpreted as a ‘death threat’. It is my suspicion that the reason these mails are not being released is simply because they realize that they do not even come close to supporting the wild claims that have been made and they fear the resultant embarrassment that they thoroughly deserve.

  7. Paul Wright says:

    ” 12. The ANU engaged a consultant to undertake an assessment ‘to determine the risk posed to the university and to Climate Change Institute (CCI) staff by the release of threatening and abusive information into the public domain as a result of the [FOI] request’. ”

    Let’s see the consultant’s report, along with the bill!

  8. Good work Simon. I’m just wondering whether the perceived death threats were part of the general alarmist mentality of these climate scientists or whether this was “engineered”.

  9. Bruce of Newcastle says:

    Well done Simon. It’d be great to see a media scrum trying to interview Prof Steffen about this, I won’t hold my breath. But hey a win is a win!

  10. Baldrick says:

    Good one Simon … hand wringing scientists fake death threat emails … ‘Wimpgate’ sounds appropriate.

    • That’s an outstanding moniker for this! Baldrick, I think I’ll use that one!

      And Simon, well done!

  11. Well done Simon. I reckon most of us knew but your hard work has sealed the deal and — fingered crossed — will force the liars to please explain.

  12. Correllio says:

    Well done Simon. Delingpole has a blog on it too

    You have shown how one person with clear sight and tenacity can get to the truth and free many from the tyranny of lies. A lesson for all of us.

  13. Sean McHugh says:

    Bloody marvelous, Simon. Thank you.

  14. Rick Bradford says:

    Of course they hyped up the death threats.

    Victimhood is an integral part of the mental make-up of the Green/Left, and once you have made yourself into a ‘victim’, you can easily identify and demonise the ‘oppressors’.

    Congratulations on doggedly pursuing this to a successful conclusion.

  15. Bob in Castlemaine says:

    Well done Simon, thanks for outing these fraudsters.
    But who’s surprised when we find ourselves being deceived daily by a federal government which is arguably the most incompetent in Australia’s history. A mob of shysters desperately clinging to power through the agency of people like Peter Slipper, Craig Thompson, opportunistic independents and the watermelons.
    And why don’t we “respect the science?” Because daily we see scientific opinion (alarmist propaganda) served up to order by science agencies beholden to government largess.

  16. val majkus says:

    brilliant work Simon, be back later to donate and I’ve added you to my own personal blog roll

  17. RexAlan says:

    I’d just like to add my thank you to everyone else.

    I was at a party on Saturday night and “global warming/climate change” came up in the conversation. I was verbally attacked and abused with such ferocity I wouldn’t have believed it possible.

    We have to keep fighting this madness.

  18. Thanks for your hard work Simon.
    I have a few FOI requests in “motion” – so I have an idea of the work & time involved.
    Motion might be an exaggeration.
    You had a great win at ANU exposing the truth.
    I see nothing about it in todays Canberra Times.

  19. Richard N says:

    We always knew warmist scientists had a penchant for gross exaggeration so this comes as no surprise. Good on you Simon for exposing their shenanigans.

  20. Peter Wedd says:

    ANU and the University of Virginia + Michael Mann resisting FOI – who would have ever thought!

    University of Virginia latest action at http://www.atinstitute.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/2012-04-16-Hearing-Transcript-full.pdf so similar to ANU.

  21. Toscamaster says:

    Congratulations Simon
    Your doggedness and diligence is an inspiration to us all.

  22. alcock says:


  23. Anthony Watts says:

    I’m hitting the tip jar for Simon, please follow my lead using the orange “donate” button in the upper left.

    [REPLY – Thank you, Anthony. From you that means a great deal!]

    In other news, this clown can’t bring himself to accept the facts. At what point does this become harassment when he keeps writing smears like this?


  24. Should the ABC be reported to ACMA for incorrect reporting of the original story? Did the ABC check their facts? Did the ABC reporter view the emails?

    • Gary, there is no need for correct reporting or fact checking by the ABC, they are not covered by the Media inquiry.

  25. Good work Simon,
    You probably know that there are Codes of Conduct for public servants and officers in government funded organisations (eg Universities) under the Public Service Administration Act for Federal, NSW & Vic state governments. Unfortunately, these are not as strong as the Queensland Public Service Ethics Act (which applies to Universities & local government as well as state organisations) in which a breach is a criminal offense. I would think that Profs Chubb and Steffen could well be in breach of the code of conduct which requires compliance to all laws (ie federal &state eg Professional Engineers Act Qld), unbiased advice, honesty and treating the public with respect.

    [REPLY – I will have to investigate further – thanks for the tip]

  26. val majkus says:

    Simon I’ve hit the tip jar for you as promised

    [REPLY – That’s extremely kind, thank you]

  27. JustMEinT says:

    When is a death threat not a death threat? when it never happened, and all you really want to do is created major hype to suit your own agenda. As you said ‘when it freezes over’…… an open appology will be forthcoming.

  28. Gabriella Feltrin says:

    Thomas Jefferson said: It takes all the force and power of government to defend a lie. Truth stands alone. Ringing down the centuries ain’t that a fact though?

  29. Michael Cejnar says:

    Absolute legend, Simon, investigative reporter stuff, sadly unpaid.

    This is Deaththreatgate of international significance. Yet again, leading climate scientists exaggerate or lie for the cause, and are then shielded by their university when called to produce evidence. The public may not understand thermodynamic modelling, but they understand when people make up self-serving lies, and far worse, when their lies are then protected by their university. The cover up is always worse. They understand that to be corruption and that the scientists and the universities are untrustworthy.

    So next time RexAlan above is accosted at a party – he can say “When climate scientists and their universities stop lying about things like receiving death threat, I’ll start believing their scary stories about climate”.

    Heavy lifting worthy of a heavy tip jar hit.

  30. Simon, nicely done.

    The question now is surely to find out how much the tightened security and relocation cost…


  31. caroledge1@hotmail.com says:

    Congratulations on you persistence and the good outcome.

    It must feel good to get a win, especially in the face of all the lies out there.

  32. The Loaded Dog says:

    WELL DONE MATE. Keep up the good work. You’re a legend. 🙂

  33. Robertvdl says:

    Death threats . Who is making Death threats ?

    The Rise of Eco Fascism

  34. Andy R says:

    Great work Simon and please accept my gratitude for exposing the shamless lies of these shameless scam artists, charlatans and liars. Perhaps the Police should be brought in to the ANU to investigate whether fraud of taxpayer money has been committed by these psuedo-scientist crooks.

  35. Great work Simon. Well done.

  36. NotSoGullible says:

    Congratulations on your win. Just spent the past hour reading 115 comments on this story at WattsUpWithThat. Piece by piece the truth will come out thanks to the efforts of people such as yourself.

  37. Don’t ever call a big fat liar fat else they claim you threatened to kill them.

  38. Well done Simon. No surprise to see that the usual suspects printed/broadcast whatever was required of them.

  39. Stranger than fiction.

  40. Simon, must be a good traffic day today 🙂

    Let;s not let them forget after the buzz dies down. Steffen can’t pretend he didn’t read the emails at the time, surely? Pitman, Karoly, either knew the claims were not real, or they know it now. Where are they speaking out against inaccurate claims, baseless exaggerations, and where are the apologies?

    What kind of evidence does a climate scientist need to issue a press release?

    Answer: none at all.

    How important is accuracy to our climate scientists?

    Answer: rudeness equals a death threat, just like “fail” equals “very accurate” for climate models.


  41. I echo all the above: Bloody well done, you proved what a stench pool of liars these warmist are!

  42. Well done Simon, small contribution to the tip jar.
    Whenever I think back on my 7+ years in academia, I always think of “The Name of the Rose” (film version of Umberto Eco’s book – monks getting bumped off over forbidden knowledge etc).
    Not sure whether “Wimpgate” is the right term though. These ANU guys have manifested a pervasive characteristic of their territory; capacity not only to stab each other in the back with enthusiastic abandon, but to manage somehow to stab themselves in the back with the same enthusiasm ….

  43. John Coochey says:

    I feel I can now throw some light on the matter. The document viewed as most “threatening” referred to an alleged Deliberation at the ANU about climate change in the Canberra region at which one person “made a death threat” (sic) by showing his gun licence and boasting about his skill as a sniper.. Only two people dropped out of the conference only one of those who did so attended the even meal. Me. I am certainly the one who is alleged to show someone their gun licence. That is not true while at the evening meal (of poor quality) comments moved to eating game meat and I was approached by the Commissioner for the Environment ACT, Dr Maxine Cooper who recognized me as someone involved in the kangaroo culling program in the ACT. She politely asked if she could sit at the vacant seat next to me and asked if I had past the recent licence test – not easy. I replied yes and showed her my current licence. I also impressed on any one interested the high standard of marksmanship necessary to allay any cruelty concerns. I might add that earlier in the day I had challenged two speakers to comment on a letter in the Canberra Times that claimed that temperatures had not increased in the Canberra area for decades. They were unable to do so, having not apparently checked the record despite the the “Deliberation” (conference) supposed to be about rising temperatures in the Canberra region. As all daytime conversations were recorded (we all signed waivers to allow this) this can easily be checked.

    [REPLY – Brilliant stuff. Thank you so much for clarifying the circumstances.]


  1. […] not so much, via Australian Climate Madness through Anthony Watts (The Australian) CLAIMS that some of Australia’s leading climate change […]

  2. […] rest of the story is behind a subscription wall.  But, Anthony and the blog ACM have more […]

  3. […] blog, the emails requested have still not been released . His full report on this issue can be seen here, Anthony  Watts’ report can be seen here and Andrew Bolt’s report can be seen […]

  4. […] Source: ACM / The Australian | 3/May/2012 […]

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