A collection of Australia’s leading environmental organisations have lodged a complaint with prime minister Scott Morrison’s department over what they say are false claims that they had been consulted by the head of the commission tasked with overseeing Australia’s economic response to Covid-19.
The joint open letter published today by the group that includes Greenpeace, the Wilderness Society, and the Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility says that the National Covid-19 Coordination Commission (NCCC) had falsely claimed to have consulted with the groups, when it had not.
“We write to inform you that our organisations have not been consulted by the National Covid-19 Coordination Commission, and to express our disappointment at the Commission’s lack of meaningful engagement with the environment and climate change sectors,” the joint letter to prime minister Scott Morrison says.
“We would urge the Government to ensure that any economic recovery agency be transparent, independent, accountable, representative, guided by expert advice, invest in good quality jobs and acknowledge the need to meet our fair share of global commitments to keep warming well below two degrees and as close to 1.5 degrees as possible in line with our greater capabilities and responsibilities,” the letter adds.
The NCCC currently lists the environmental groups on its website amongst a list of more than 1,000 organisations that it claims to have consulted with.
Additionally, NCCC head Nev Power told a senate committee hearing earlier in June: “We have been talking with more than 1,000 individuals and organisations in a range of forums and we’ll continue our outreach to inform our advice to government as the economy recovers.
“Across the commission, we’ve engaged in different ways with the education sector, chambers of commerce, and businesses of all sizes. From a wide range of industries including tourism, hospitality and retail, transport, infrastructure, education, the services industries and the financial sector.”
A spokesperson for the NCCC denied that the statement provided to the senate committee had been misleading and that the NCCC had engaged with a large number of groups through a range of forums.
“The Commission, both in its statements to the Senate Select Committee and on its website, has very clearly stated that the engagement may have occurred in larger online forums and groups,” the NCCC spokesperson said.
“On its website, the list is introduced as ‘an overview of organisations the Commission has been in contact with, both directly and through peak bodies, industry associations and business forums. At each online event, Mr Power invited follow-ups from participants. The Commission’s engagement is ongoing and we invite stakeholders to contact us at any time.”
The NCCC has already attracted accusations of improperly managed conflicts of interest, with the membership commission handpicked by the Morrison government heavily skewed towards those with interests in the fossil fuel industry.
NCCC chair Nev Power was forced to step back from his position as deputy chairman of gas company Strike Energy due to the conflict of interest concerns.
Representatives of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet told the senate committee that members of the NCCC had been required to submit conflict of interest declarations, but that they would not be released publicly.
In addition, the senate committee was told that those working on the NCCC’s working groups, including a manufacturing working group that features several energy industry lobbyists, were not required to make a conflict of interest declaration.
A leaked draft report of the NCCC’s manufacturing working group was overwhelmingly focused on promoting an expansion of Australia’s gas industry, arguing that Australia could have a ‘gas led economic recovery’, while also reviving a long dismissed proposal for a pipeline linking Western Australia with the east coast.
“Not only has the Commission not consulted widely, but its leaked interim Manufacturing Taskforce report has recommended special access for gas and petrochemical companies to lay claim to public money to prop up unviable and short-term projects, while ignoring the need to act on climate change,” Greenpeace Australia’s Jonathan Moylan added.
In response, the NCCC spokesperson added that the report of the manufacturing taskforce was just one consideration that the NCCC would take into account.
“The Manufacturing Taskforce is providing advice to the Commission on strategies to grow Australian manufacturing. The focus on gas in this report is in the context of the potential to use natural gas as a raw material for both existing and new manufacturing industry, such as manufacturing chemicals,” the NCCC spokesperson added.
“The report is ahead of other inputs we are getting on a range of broad themes for reform, which include energy, infrastructure, advanced manufacturing, the not-for-profit sector and business enabling – especially digital capability for SMEs.”
The groups pointed to the fact that the NCCC lacks representation from community groups and economic sectors that are being disproportionately impacted by Covid-19, as well as climate change, while providing a platform for industries that are contributing to global warming.
“For all these reasons any many more Greenpeace is calling on Prime Minister Scott Morrison to abolish this conflicted and compromised commission,” Moylan added.