Australia’s assistant minister for energy and emissions reduction, Tim Wilson, has labelled a proposed independent expert body on climate change “subversion and treason” – in an extraordinary attack ahead of the final parliamentary sitting for the year.
Wilson, a former climate advisor for the right wing think tank Institute of Public Affairs, who was appointed in a ministerial reshuffle in October, made the comments in response to a Chaser skit outside Parliament House in Canberra and then repeated them on Twitter.
“Puppet media stopped me at [Australian Parliament House] asking why I wouldn’t back a bill that allows a bureaucrat to overturn the policy of the Parliament and silence Australians having a say on climate action. Easy to answer: it’s subversion and treason,” Wilson tweeted on Monday.
Puppet media stopped me at APH asking why I wouldn’t back a Bill that allows a bureaucrat to overturn the policy of the Parliament and silence Australians having a say on climate action. Easy to answer: it’s subversion and treason.
— Tim Wilson MP (@TimWilsonMP) November 28, 2021
As the assistant minister, Wilson has responsibility for working with minister Angus Taylor to design and implement Australia’s climate change and energy policies.
Wilson’s attack was in reference to a proposed Climate Change Bill being pursued by independent MP Zali Steggall.
Steggall’s climate change legislation would enshrine Australia’s commitment to reaching zero net emissions by 2050 into law. It would also establish an independent climate change commission to provide advice to the government on the appropriate policy mechanisms and interim targets needed to achieve this target.
Similar bodies have already been established overseas, with independent commissions operating in New Zealand and the United Kingdom, under similar legislation on which Steggall’s bill has been modelled.
Australia also already has a similar body, the Climate Change Authority, originally established by the Gillard government, but has gone under-utilised by successive Coalition governments after unsuccessful attempts to abolish the authority altogether.
Steggall rejected Wilson’s claims, describing them as “borderline defamatory”, saying the proposed legislation would still empower parliament to vote on climate policies.
“This is a complete mischaracterisation of what the Bill does – there are no sections of the legislation which remove the power of the Commonwealth or the Parliament to decide on climate change policy,” Steggall told RenewEconomy.
“It is a pretty hefty accusation from an MP to say that a Bill presented in good faith is treasonous. That is borderline defamatory.”
“This Bill has extremely broad support in the community and amongst stakeholders. Only the Coalition are blocking progress on this important Bill and this important issue,” Steggall added.
Before entering Parliament, Wilson was previously policy director at the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA), leading much of the conservative think tank’s attacks on the climate policies of the previous Labor government. During Wilson’s tenure at the IPA, the group called for the abolition of the Climate Change Authority.
Wilson is also backing former NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian to challenge Steggall for the seat of Warringah. Berejiklian was forced to resign as NSW premier following an investigation into her potential involvement in corrupt dealings by former partner Daryl Maguire.
Wilson’s comments come as it is revealed that the federal government has relied on new powers to effectively veto the participation of state and territory governments in international agreements to act on climate change.
As has been reported by the Guardian Australia, the participation of Australian state and territories in the international agreements is under threat of being cancelled out by recently introduced federal laws that allow the federal government to veto any such arrangements.
This includes the “Under 2 Coalition” – joined by the Victorian, Queensland, South Australian, ACT and Northern Territory governments, committing each of them to implement policies designed to keep global warming to below 2 degrees.
The Foreign Relations (States and Territories) Act 2020 was introduced by the Morrison government largely in response to the potential for state governments to sign international agreements directly with other countries, such as the Victorian government’s controversial participation in China’s ‘belt-and-road’ initiative.
However, it appears this legislation may be relied upon to cancel out state government participation in climate change agreements and could impact on their involvement in commitments to cut emissions, increase electric vehicle adoption and phase out coal use – including many that were signed during the recent COP26 talks in Glasgow.
State and territory governments have been the primary drivers of Australian action on climate change under the federal coalition government, and concern has now been raised that the Morrison government will seek to interfere with these efforts.
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