A long flagged shake-up of the board of the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) was announced on Thursday, with a former key advisor to Angus Taylor and an economist who co-founded one of the country’s most virulent critics of renewable energy targets gaining appointments.
As had been foreshadowed by RenewEconomy, Taylor ‘s appointments include his former energy advisor, and former Deutsche Bank analyst, John Hirjee, who received a two-year appointment to the ARENA board, less than a year after leaving Taylor’s office to take up a position at ANZ Bank. Hirjee served as a senior energy advisor to Angus Taylor between September 2018 and August 2019.
Joining Hirjee on the ARENA board is managing director of Northbridge Consulting Services, Anna Matysek.
Matysek was a co-founder and director of consultancy BAEconomics, alongside current BAEconomics head Brian Fisher. The duo previously worked together at its predecessor, Concept Economics, as well as the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics.
In 2007, Matsek and Fisher co-authored a report arguing against the then proposed 20 per cent renewable energy target, saying it would “[force] higher cost renewable energy into the electricity generation mix at the expense of exploiting lower cost emissions abatement opportunities elsewhere in the economy.”
The Renewable Energy Target has since been successfully met and is credited as one of the more successful energy and emissions reduction policies introduced in Australia.
BAEconomics has long been the preferred source of climate change modelling for the Liberal Party, and Fisher produced widely panned modelling of the Australian Labor Party’s energy and climate policies taken to the 2019 federal election. This modelling produced greatly inflated costs that the Morrison government in general, and Taylor in particular, used to feed attacks on Labor’s more ambitious climate platform.
Matysek has since held senior positions at mining giant Rio Tinto and network company TransGrid, and is still listed as an ‘associate’ of BAEconomics. She has also consulted for the timber industry and written in favour of carbon capture and storage.
Other appointments to the ARENA board include the newly appointed Justin Butcher, who is the current CEO of MXA Consulting and who has held a range of public service and consultancy positions.
Only two existing members will remain on the ARENA board, Horizon Energy chief executive Stephanie Unwin, and former COO of Sundrop Farms, Dougal McOmish. The deputy secretary at the department of industry, science, energy and resources, Jo Evans, will also remain on the ARENA board by virtue of an ex-officio position.
They will work under the newly appointed chair Justin Punch, who replaces the well-respected Martijn Wilder as the chair of the ARENA board.
Former Hydro Tasmania director Samantha Hogg, chair of the SA Centre for Geothermal Energy Research Susan Jeanes and former COO of the Clean Energy Finance Corporations Meg McDonald, did not have their terms renewed.
“I thank the departing board members, the Chair Mr Martijn Wilder AM, Ms Samantha Hogg, Ms Susan Jeanes and Ms Meg McDonald. They have all provided exemplary service to the Board, to ARENA and to Australia’s renewable energy sector,” Taylor said in a statement announcing the board appointments.
In response to a query about the perceptions surrounding the appointment of a former staffer to the board of a government agency, a spokesperson for Angus Taylor only pointed to Hirjee’s prior experience.
“Mr Hirjee is an experienced company research analyst and banker with decades of experience in the energy and resource sectors,” the spokesperson told RenewEconomy. “He will enhance ARENA’s ability to leverage private sector capital and deliver on the government investment priorities.”
As reported by RenewEconomy on Thursday, Angus Taylor already had a strong personal relationship with incoming ARENA chair Justin Punch, including as a skiing buddy, before his appointment was made.
The appointment of a former ministerial advisor may be an indication of the level of control the federal energy minister may wish to wield over the research and innovation funding body as the Morrison government considers proposals for its future and the possible expansion of its mandate beyond the renewable energy sector.
ARENA is likely to have less than $100 million in unallocated funding, having served as the primary supporter of new research and innovation projects in the clean energy sector, including underpinning the emergence of a competitive large-scale solar industry, since its establishment under the Gillard government in 2012.