Tony Shepherd, a former business advisor to Tony Abbott, and a critic of wind and solar who once recommended that the Snowy Hydro scheme be privatised, has been appointed by the Morrison government to serve on the federal government owned Snowy Hydro board.
Shepherd, who has also previously served as president of the Business Council of Australia, and has held a number of senior business leadership positions, was announced as the replacement for outgoing board member and former Howard-era communications minister, Helen Coonan, on Tuesday for a three-year term.
The appointment was announced by federal energy and emissions reduction minister Angus Taylor, who praised Shepherd’s previous experience with large-scale infrastructure projects, including in his previous role with Transfield Services, a tunnelling company, but did not reflect on the businessman’s prior views on Snowy Hydro.
“Mr Shepherd’s skills and experience will be an invaluable contribution to SHL Board, particularly as work progresses on the vital Snowy 2.0 project,” Taylor said.
In 2013, Shepherd was appointed to lead the Abbott government’s National Commission of Audit, which recommended a wide ranging shake up of the federal bureaucracy, including a significant dismantling of climate and energy policies introduced by the previous Rudd-Gillard governments.
Under Shepherd’s leadership the National Commission of Audit recommended that the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) be wound up, and endorsed the Abbott government’s moves to abolish the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC) and the Climate Change Authority.
The recommendations of the National Commission of Audit largely contributed to the widely panned 2014 federal budget, known for its harsh cuts to government services, including a proposed introduction of a compulsory co-payment under Medicare, an increase in the retirement age to 70.
Notably, the National Commission of Audit recommended that the Snowy Hydro scheme be privatised.
All three bodies remain in existence to this day, with ARENA and the CEFC proving instrumental in growing Australia’s clean energy sector, and Snowy Hydro is now 100 per cent owned by the federal government.
Shepherd has also appeared to question the need for governments to focus on the development of climate change policies on numerous occasions. Along with similarly experienced businessmen Dick Warburton and Maurice Newman, Shepherd was part of a crew of advisors brought in to refocus government priorities towards business rather than the environment.
In 2017, shortly after the state-wide South Australian blackout, when launching his ‘Shepherd Review’ into the national electricity market, commissioned by the Liberal Party aligned think tank The Menzies Research Centre, Shepherd described the state and territory based renewable energy targets in South Australia, Victoria and the ACT as “a dangerous fantasy”.
Shepherd claimed that it was no coincidence that the first state-wide electricity blackout for 50 years happened in SA, which had the largest concentration of renewable energy, and that State governments should abandon plans to implement their own energy targets.
“Engineers know that when you connect too much non-synchronous power – like wind and solar – it weakens the grid. Yet these guys seem to think they defy the laws of physics,” Shepherd said.
At least on the idea that there is too much wind and solar in the grid, he will be in whole-hearted agreement with Taylor, if not with the actual power system engineers, who have now drawn up a blueprint to get to 94 per cent renewables over the next 20 years.
Shepherd will join former chair of the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association, David Knox, who serves as chair of the Snowy Hydro board, former Macquarie Bank CEO Richard Sheppard and former federal director of the National Party of Australia, Scott Mitchell, who all also sit on the board.