Scott Morrison and Angus Taylor stack clean energy agencies with fossil fuel partners

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Photo: Patrick Hendry @worldbetweenlines, Unsplash

The Morrison government has cut funding for renewables and piled Australia’s renewables agencies with fossil fuel executives, leaving the likes of ARENA, CEFC and Snowy Hydro controlled by potentially regressive political appointees for years . Callum Foote reports.

Avoiding common sense and good process has become strictly for Scott Morrison and his energy minister Angus Taylor. And we don’t hear more than a whimper about it from the Labor Party either. Offers from political friends. Jobs for boys, jobs for girls.

Bureaucracy piling occurs under regimes of both bands but, as usual, Prime Minister Scott Morrison and his energy minister Angus Taylor have taken their anti-democratic agendas to the next level, to a form of grotesque art.

They have been busy piling up public agencies, so-called independent agencies, with their own staff; not on merit but on party lines. We’re talking about high-paying jobs, many of which between $250,000 and $500,000 go to people based on their political affiliations rather than ability or independence.

As if the government’s well-publicized stacking of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) weren’t proof enough of a flagrant abuse of process, the recent wave of mining-related board appointments or fossil fuels to government renewable energy bodies ARENA and CEFC, will favor the agendas, even the profits, of large multinational mining corporations for years to come.

Appointments to the CEFC Board of Directors

The Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC) was created under the Gillard government, dedicated to investing in emerging clean energy technologies. Originally, and for many years, it made profits while judiciously presiding over the financing of renewable energy projects.

First, the Coalition under Tony Abbott tried to have it abolished, although it was a net revenue for the government – so without putting a damper on the public purse. Failing that, the government undermined his mandate and has stacked it with its own ever since.

The latest: the president, Steven Skala AO saw his mandate renewed for five years.

Skala has been vice-chairman of Deutsche Bank Australia and director of the Center for Independent Studies, a libertarian think tank, since 1995.

While vice-chairman of Deutsche Bank Australia, the bank joined JP Morgan and Standard Chartered in lending $1 billion to Adani Enterprises in July last year.

Matt Howel has been appointed to the CEFC board for the first time, stepping down as CEO of Tomago Aluminium.

Howel is also a director of the Australian Aluminum Council, an organization that has been called the most militant “greenhouse mafia” organization – as it was dubbed in a 2006 ABC Four Corners survey.

The Council funded and promoted the work of the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics (ABARE), whose ‘MEGABARE’ economic model was, at the time, used to generate reports that were a benchmark for liberal politicians and the National Wishing Party argue that climate action would lead to economic disaster.

Rod Campbell, research director at the Australia Institute, said Howel’s recent shift to pro-renewables rhetoric shows he is “more than willing to play games in the energy space rather than s ‘really engage in constructive long-term planning’.

Appointments to the ARENA Board of Directors

Elizabeth O’Leary, senior director of Macquarie Asset Management and head of MAM Agriculture & Natural Assets, one of the world’s largest private land managers, has been appointed to the board of the Australian Renewable Energy Agency ( ARENA).

O’Leary joins a long list of Macquarie Bank alumni working for Australian clean energy finance bodies, an investigation by MWM revealed.

A consortium of private equity funds managed by tax avoidance Brookfield Asset Management and Macquarie Capital acquired Apache Corporation’s oil and gas assets in Western Australia for $2.1 billion in 2019. This created the third Australia’s largest oil and gas producer.

Snowy Hydro Board Appointments

Snowy Hydro, which has become the government’s tool for intervening in the energy market – find out about the highly questionable public subsidies at the Kurri Kurri gas plant – has appointed two new administrators. This is Leanne Heywood who spent 10 years as an executive at Rio Tinto.

Timothy Longstaff was the government’s other choice for the role. Longstaff was previously a director of Perenti, a Perth-based global mining services contractor.

Longstaff was also a senior adviser to finance minister Simon Birmingham as recently as 2021. Birmingham is the minister who announced Longstaff’s appointment. Jobs for the boys, anyone?

Reducing renewable energy funding:

The Climate Debt Statement, a measure introduced by Prime Minister Tony Abbott, pools funding from the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC), the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) and the Clean Energy Regulator (CER) to determine how extent their spending contributes to total public debt. It shows a drop in spending from $2 billion in 2022-23 to $1.3 billion in 2025-26.

Angus Taylor attempts to co-opt CEFC

A previous attempt to change CEFC legislation was dropped earlier this year, after a group of national MPs – including current leader Barnaby Joyce – sought to propose additional amendments to expand the agency’s investments in coal and nuclear projects.

The Morrison government had attempted to open up the CEFC to carbon capture and storage projects, announcing a plan to create a new low-emission technology commercialization fund using the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC).

This was designed to circumvent CEFC’s legislative ban on funding CCS projects.

Despite the government’s decade-long jihad on renewables, there’s no stopping financial logic, or common sense for that matter. Renewable energy prices have fallen dramatically over the decade, even more than industry advocates and analysts had expected. In other words, the cost of building new renewable energy compared to the cost of building new coal or gas.

Where government has failed miserably, investors have taken over, leaving our politicians in the dust trying to prop up their fossil fuel donors with public money. This, even to the point of espousing wacky plans that don’t measure up financially: Kurri Kurri, consideration of a new coal-fired power station for Queensland, state subsidies to gas companies to fracture the Beetaloo Basin of the NT.

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