The federal government has been accused of prioritising vested interests after a former energy boss and prominent champion of gas was put in charge of Australia’s Climate Change Authority (CCA).
The Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility (ACCR) fears the agency is being stacked with fossil fuel lobbyists and has described Grant King’s appointment to the statutory agency as “a sorry state of affairs”.
Mr King, who has held leadership roles at Origin Energy, the Business Council of Australia and the Oil Company of Australia, was announced the new chair of the CCA on Friday.
He is currently the chair of HSBC Australia and is on the board of CWP renewables, a wind and solar farm company.
Susie Smith, who manages an industry-led climate change association, has also become a member.
“These new members will play a key role in ensuring the authority provides robust advice to government on emissions reduction policy,” Energy and Emissions Reduction Minister Angus Taylor said in a statement.
He said the new chair brought 40 years of experience in energy, finance, infrastructure and sustainability.
“Mr King is a thought leader who has already made a significant contribution to the development of Australia’s emissions reduction policy framework,” Mr Taylor said.
But the announcement received a mixed reception, with independent MP Zali Steggall saying the new appointments were both “disappointing and a backwards step”.
She said the government continued to “only listen to vested interests in fossil fuels”.
“At a time where our trading partners are being future focussed, the Morrison government is stuck in the past, focussed on old technology and refusing to listen to the science,” she said.
“These new appointments are completely at odds with the authority’s purpose to give independent advice on climate, science and policy to the government.”
Greenpeace Australia Pacific chief executive David Ritter, meanwhile, said on Twitter that it was “another clear indication of vested interests blocking Australia’s response to climate change”.
Dan Gocher from the ACCR said the appointments were deeply cynical.
“The Australian public should be outraged that the Morrison government’s response to the Black Summer and recent flooding across the east coast is to further entrench the fossil fuel lobby in bodies responsible for dealing with the climate crisis,” he said.
Greens leader Adam Bandt accused the government of attacking the independence of the authority, which was established to provide policy advice, by appointing a “gas tsar” to lead it.
But some welcomed Friday’s appointments, with the National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) applauding Mr King for his work on a review looking at low-cost carbon abatement.
“The NFF has a core focus on ensuring the design and implementation of emission reduction and climate change responses do not disadvantage farmers,” chief executive Tony Mahar said.
“The independent advice of the Climate Change Authority will be an important contributor to this increasingly important debate.”
The appointments come as the Morrison government champions a gas-led economic recovery from COVID-19, despite criticism its energy plan is a missed opportunity to focus on a clean energy future.
Environmentalists and progressive organisations have instead called for a ‘green recovery’ that would invest in renewable technologies.
The CCA relies on tasks from the federal government and has not been asked to look at achieving net zero emissions by 2050.
Mr Morrison has said Australia should achieve net zero emissions “as soon as possible”, and preferably by 2050, but has not moved to formally legislate the target.
Outgoing CCA chair Wendy Craik has previously told Senate estimates hearings the advisory body’s advice was not sought by the government before it announced its climate change policies.
With reporting by AAP.