Australia Institute chief economist Richard Denniss will return his University of Newcastle alumni award for national leadership in protest at the appointment of former Deputy Prime Minister Mark Vaile as the institution's new chancellor.
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Dr Denniss, who completed his undergraduate degree at Newcastle before teaching at the institution between 1995 and 2000, is among those who have expressed concern in recent days about Mr Vaile's corporate links to the fossil fuel industry. This includes his role as chairman of Whitehaven Coal.
He said Mr Vaile's appointment represented poor leadership from the university's governing council.
"Leadership means not following people down the wrong path.Richard Denniss
"Leadership means not following people down the wrong path. That's why I'm handing my award back because this appointment is the opposite of leadership, it's completely going down the wrong path; it's denial," he said.
Mr Vaile's appointment prompted Professor Jennifer Martin to resign from the university council in protest.
"I was shocked when I read that Mark Vaile had been appointed. I'm a close watcher of politics and I have never heard him express any interest in the university sector," he said.
"To be honest I didn't think there would be much uproar about it but I was impressed and proud that someone (Professor Martin) would actually resign a position like that. It certainly was in accord with how I felt and then I thought what can I do?"
Mr Denniss warned Mr Vaile's fossil fuel industry links would put at risk the university's relationship with environmentally-focused philanthropic organisations.
Ross Knowles is the chair of Ethinvest, a charitable foundation that spends about $300,000 a year supporting environmental improvement projects.
Mr Knowles, who is also a Newcastle alumnus, agreed Mr Vaile's appointment could be problematic.
"I don't know Mark Vaile but his past appointments don't fill you with confidence if you are looking to address climate change," he said.
"If you are a doctor who donates to charity it wouldn't make sense to donate to companies who were involved with cigarette production. It's that simple.
"Our goal is to address climate change, it wouldn't make any sense at all to give to an organisation that was changing direction."
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