Australia has a new Labor government and a significant climate-focused cross-bench, and it could well mark the beginning of the end of a nearly decade-long grip the fossil fuel industry has exerted on climate change. national and energy policy.
Two of the country’s most powerful fossil fuel industry lobbyists held key positions in Scott Morrison’s office, with John Kunkel, the former deputy chief executive of the Minerals Council of Australia, serving as chief of staff.
Kunkel was assisted by a former chief executive of the Minerals Council, Brendan Pearson, who acted as Morrison’s senior adviser before being appointed Australia’s ambassador to the OECD.
The Minerals Council, of course, was the coal industry lobby group that delivered the lump of lacquered coal that Morrison waved around the floor of parliament.
With new ministers come new advisers, and Labor’s more ambitious policies leave little room for holdouts from the coal and gas industry.
A new government almost always starts with a cleanup of key civil service and board positions. First to go on Monday morning was Australia’s top civil servant, Prime Minister and Cabinet Secretary Phil Gaetjens, who resigned almost immediately after Anthony Albanese was sworn in as Prime Minister.
While the controversial Gaetjens – who had also served as Morrison’s chief of staff and was his contact for handling ‘independent’ investigations into the conduct of government employees – had no established links to the fuels industry fossil fuels, its elimination will be followed by a broader overhaul of the federal bureaucracy under the new Labor government.
The boards of key energy agencies like the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA), the clean energy regulator and the Climate Change Authority – among others – will also be targeted for reshuffle.
Outgoing federal energy minister Angus Taylor had sought to pile those agencies in with the appointment of people sympathetic to the Morrison government’s pro-fossil fuel stance.
ARENA’s Board of Directors is chaired by friend of Angus Taylor Justin Punch and features former Taylor political adviser John Hirjee, former Rio Tinto executive Stephen McIntosh and co-founder of BAEconomics Anna Matysek, a company that is the author of savagely hackneyed modeling used to attack Labor energy policies and has led attacks on the renewables target.
The Emissions Reduction Assurance Committee is chaired by another former Minerals Council executive, David Byers, along with petroleum hydrogeologist Allison Hortle and fellow BAEconomics co-founder Brian Fisher.
The appointments contributed to calls for an overhaul of Australia’s Emissions Reduction Fund and main carbon offset scheme, after credible claims emerged that it was not delivering real emissions reductions.
The Climate Change Authority’s board is currently chaired by former CEO of Origin Energy and former director of APPEA Grant King, and its members include fossil fuel industry lobbyist Susie Smith, who is also CEO of the Australian Industry Greenhouse Network.
New Labor Minister for Energy and Climate Change, Chris Bowen, is due to be sworn in as Minister for Climate Change and Energy next Monday at the meeting of Albania’s future ministry in Canberra.
Bowen will be tasked with reshaping the boards of these agencies, rebuilding trust in the governance of climate policy and creating his own ministerial office with advisers to implement both Labour’s own policies and meet the requirements of a very enlarged parliamentary parliament.
Bowen’s staff mainly consists of a group of advisers who have followed Bowen from his previous role as shadow health minister to his current role as climate and energy spokesperson, when he swapped portfolios with Mark Butler in early 2021.
The appointments will be made after newly sworn in Prime Minister Anthony Albanese travels to Japan to attend a meeting of Quad leaders.
Climate Council researcher Dr Wesley Morgan said the change in government offers an opportunity to mend its international relations by reconnecting with global efforts to tackle climate change – starting with the Quad meeting.
The Quad meeting is the first opportunity for Prime Minister Albanese to show what strong leadership looks like from a country that has been a global climate embarrassment for far too long,” said Dr Morgan.
“This is a pivotal moment. Climate action is a key area of cooperation between the Quad states which constitute some of our most important trading partners and allies. The United States in particular, our main security ally , pressed australia do more on climate as part of the Quad collaboration.
“We are well positioned to be a renewable energy superpower in the region. As one of the sunniest and windiest places on earth, we stand to benefit from supplying growing economies with our clean energy, minerals and products,” he added.
Michael Mazengarb is a Sydney-based journalist with RenewEconomy, writing on climate change, clean energy, electric vehicles and politics. Prior to joining RenewEconomy, Michael worked in climate and energy policy for over a decade.