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Climate change debate silenced.

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The Hon Julie Bishop MP Deputy Leader of the Opposition Shadow Minister for Employment, Business and Workplace Relations

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The famous tribute to 18th century philosopher Voltaire - ''I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it'' - is as apt today as ever before.

Freedom of expression is one of the principles that underpin the health of liberal democracies the world over.

It is also normal and indeed essential for scientific research to be subjected to scrutiny and to be challenged.

That is why there is cause for concern about aspects of the current debate about climate change.

There are many contentious issues for Governments to consider, often where valid but opposing views are held by large sections of society.

It is not unusual for people to passionately hold strong opinions on such issues.

Many people, including eminent scientists, believe that human activity is making a major contribution to climate change, while others, also including eminent scientists, believe the world's climate is constantly changing due to natural cycles and they have doubts about the accuracy of the predicted impact of human activity on that change.

While I do not intend to canvass here the science, economics or the politics of climate change, I am concerned at the response to anyone who dares to challenge the prevailing orthodoxy that we must reduce our carbon emissions regardless of the economic or social costs.

In recent weeks, I have received numerous messages from experienced scientists, including earth and climate specialists, who have argued against the conclusions of the Garnaut report.

I have urged some to make their concerns public, but they are apprehensive lest they be labelled a 'sceptic' or even worse 'a denier', and subject to personal abuse for having the temerity to question conventional wisdom on climate change.

Intolerance of dissent is not confined to Australia.

Despite several successful books to his credit, former UK Treasurer and Minister for Energy Nigel Lawson could not find a British publisher willing to print his most recent book 'An Appeal to Reason, a Cool Look at Global Warming' which questioned the current orthodoxy about climate change.

Lawson was forced to seek out a US publisher after rejections from several UK publishers, some of whom expressed concern about the controversial nature of his arguments.

It is dangerous for any issue, particularly one as serious as climate change, to not be subject to challenge and to not be debated.

Kevin Rudd has sought to silence dissent from his approach to dealing with climate change by seeking unconditional guarantees from the Opposition now that Government legislation will be passed in the Senate.

Given that Treasury modelling of the economic costs has not been released, the process of community discussion has only just commenced and no legislation has yet been drafted, this is an extraordinary attempt to silence reasoned debate.

Rather than denigrate those with opposing views, it is vital that we encourage debate and respect dissenting opinions.

While there is unlikely to be consensus on many major issues, we must defend the right of people to hold their opinions and allow free and open debate on the merits of those opinions.