Prime minister Scott Morrison has announced dramatic changes to the federal bureaucracy, with the Department of the Environment and Energy to be abolished, and energy and climate change branches set to be absorbed by the resources department.
Morrison announced the formation of a recombined energy and resources department, creating a new Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources, although there was no change in ministerial positions, with the PM voicing his “full confidence” in the embattled Angus Taylor, the minister for energy and emissions reductions.
The environment portfolio will be merged into the agriculture department, with the creation of a new Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment.
The changes see the environment and energy portfolios once again split up into separate departments.
Parts of the environment department that are responsible for ’emissions reduction’ will remain coupled with the energy portfolio, effectively splitting climate change policy and reporting roles from the environment department, and putting government branches responsible for fossil fuels under the same banner as the branches responsible for climate change and renewable energy policy.
There will no changes to the ministerial arrangements, with Morrison defending the performance of Taylor.
“What Angus has done in the past six months to get the big stick legislation through, to ensure the dodgy late payment fees that are charged by energy companies, they’re all gone,” Morrison said.
“The policy performance of Angus Taylor is not under question.”
However, the changes send a clear signal about how the Morrison government views the respective departments, with the energy portfolio being grouped alongside the resources and industry portfolio.
This brings the portfolios of energy and emissions reduction minister Angus Taylor and resources minister Matt Canavan under a single roof and will see the same department and departmental officials providing advice to the ministers on both coal and gas policies, as well as climate change and renewable energy policies.
Likewise, the environment portfolio has now been paired with the agriculture and water portfolios, which could telegraph an increased focus on the land sector, and will force a greater alignment of environmental and water policy with agriculture policy.
It is currently unknown exactly how the environment and energy portfolios will be split up, and what this may mean for agencies like the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, which is supported by the environment department.
ARENA had previously been served by the industry and resources portfolio under the Abbott government, having reported to former minister Ian Macfarlane, who now heads the Queensland Resources Council.
The move is part of a wider shake-up of federal departments, which will see the number of departments reduced from 18, down to 14.
“The new structure will drive greater collaboration on important policy challenges. For example, better integrating the government’s education and skills agenda and ensuring Australian’s living in regional areas can access the infrastructure and services they need,” Morrison said.
“Australians should be able to access simple and reliable services, designed around their needs. Having fewer departments will allow us to bust bureaucratic congestion, improve decision-making and ultimately deliver better services for the Australian people.”
Five departmental secretaries will lose their roles in the reshuffle. However, the secretary of the Department of the Environment and Energy, David Fredericks, who was only just appointed to the position in November, will take on the secretary role at the new Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources.
Andrew Metcalfe, who previously served as secretary of the Department of Immigration and Citizenship, will take on responsibility for the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment.
The environment and energy portfolios had been combined into a single department by former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull, following the 2016 election.
Morrison said that the departmental shake-up would occur over the summer break, with the ‘machinery of government’ changes to be implemented before parliament resumes in early 2020.