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Research into CSG must not become academic ‘snouts in the trough’

Research centres are lining up to get a piece of the pie in the form of research grants into coal seam gas but many of these are wholly or partially funded by the very industry they are supposed to be researching.

This money could become available if the Gillard government agrees to the demand by Independent MP, Tony Windsor, for substantial funding to be put into the impacts of the coal seam gas industry before the industry moves ahead.

Lock the Gate Alliance president Drew Hutton said many research centres had a fundamental conflict of interest on coal seam gas and should be disqualified from any of this funding.

Mr Hutton identified the CSIRO's Gisera project, a collaborative arrangement with the CSG company Origin, the University Of Queensland's Sustainable Minerals Institute, largely funded by the mining industry and the forthcoming UQ Coal Seam Gas Centre of Excellence, also funded by the industry, as examples of research centres whose findings on coal seam gas would undoubtedly be compromised.

"Academics are like everyone else. They pay the piper," Mr Hutton said.

"Applied research, especially when it addresses issues of risk, needs to be dispassionate.

"Industry, government and the community all benefit if this is the case but centres conducting research paid for by the company will merely constitute giving a veneer of academic credibility to public relations exercises.

"As a former academic who engaged in research I am appalled at the way a business model has been applied to university research over the last twenty years. This is inappropriate because research is only credible when it is independent and it is only independent when the researcher feels no pressure to give the funding source the results it wants.

"The same potential conflict of interest applies to environmental consultancies that do a large amount of work for the coal seam gas industry."

Mr Hutton called on the Federal Government to rule out giving research funding to any centres or consultancies that had a serious conflict of interest.

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