Federal energy and emissions reduction minister Angus Taylor and a key government department have both refused to release the findings of an ‘expert panel’ into emissions reductions policy that will likely shape the Morrison government’s climate and energy policies.
Separate freedom of information requests, submitted to the Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources and to the office of federal energy minister Angus Taylor by RenewEconomy to access the findings were both refused, with each stating that the expert panel’s findings were subject to an exemption, as documents destined for cabinet consideration.
The expert panel headed by former Origin Energy CEO and Business Council of Australia chair Grant King was formed in late 2019 and was tasked by Taylor with identifying new opportunities for the government to reduce Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions.
The department confirmed that a report had been delivered to the minister, totalling 96 pages, but insisted that the release of the expert panel’s findings will be entirely up to the discretion of the energy minister as it was a matter for cabinet consideration.
Such reports are normally released publicly, as they work to inform public debate and the development of energy and climate policy, but Taylor has opted to take a more secretive approach by withholding the release of the documentation, which may be explained by the difficult politics of the issue within the federal Coalition and its rank of climate science deniers.
Under freedom of information laws, the government may opt to refuse the disclosure of documents that are subject to a cabinet process. Both Taylor and the department have decided the report of the expert panel, originally prepared for the minister, is now a cabinet document.
King was joined on the panel by the chair of the Clean Energy Regulator, David Parker, head of the Emissions Reduction Assurance Committee, Andrew Macintosh, and Susie Smith, the chief executive of the Australian Industry Greenhouse Network (AIGN), which has been the long-time advocate for the Australian fossil fuel lobby.
Three pieces of correspondence sent by Grant King to Angus Taylor were released in part. However, all portions of the letters containing any meaningful information about the outcomes of the expert panel’s findings redacted.
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The work of the expert panel has been shrouded in secrecy and was formed without any public announcement. The panel was tasked with finding opportunities in the industrial, manufacturing and transport sectors, with additional scope to consider emissions reductions achieved through energy efficiency and agricultural measures.
“You also asked the Panel to focus on mechanisms and opportunities to use Australian Government investment to leverage co-investment from the private sector and other levels of government, and whether there may be opportunities to achieve further abatement by streamlining the [Emission Reduction Fund’s] existing reporting, audit, compliance and method development processes,” Grant King wrote to Angus Taylor in February, in portions of a letter released under freedom of information laws.
The Morrison government, while having previously claimed to have a plan for meeting Australia’s emissions reduction targets ‘down to the last tonne’, have been developing new policies to
It is understood that the Morrison cabinet is considering possible expansions to the funding and remit of the Australian Renewable Energy Agency and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, as well as adjustments to existing mechanisms overseen by the Clean Energy Regulator.
Part of this work has been hampered by the recent suspension of federal parliament, which has prevented necessary legislative amendments from being considered.
While the Morrison government is reviewing its emissions reduction and energy policies quietly in the background, it is unlikely to make any dramatic shifts that will see it suddenly provide sufficient support to the clean energy sector to accelerate a transition to zero emissions energy sources.
The list of organisations invited by the panel to make a submission was only disclosed following a separate freedom of information request lodged by RenewEconomy, which revealed the handpicked list of organisations consulted was heavily stacked towards the fossil fuel industry.
The formation of the expert panel was not even known publicly until documents revealing its existence were obtained by Footprint. No terms of reference, or expected outcomes of the review, have ever been published by the Morrison government.
It was not until after RenewEconomy inquired about the balance of the stakeholders consulted that representatives of the clean energy sector were belatedly contacted for input.
The refusal to release the report of the expert panel’s findings follows a similar refusal of a request to the Department of Industry to release the interim findings of a feasibility study commissioned by the Morrison government into a proposed coal-fired power station in Northern Queensland.
The Morrison government is considering allocating up to $4 million to cover the cost of a feasibility study into a new coal-fired power station proposed for the North Queensland town of Collinsville, a proposal that has attracted the ‘deep concern’ of Queensland energy minister Anthony Lynham, who wrote to Angus Taylor, questioning the need for the new power station.
It also follows further developments in the saga of doctored documents that also involves Angus Taylor and a letter he wrote to Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore. Following a police investigation into a doctored version of a City of Sydney annual report cited by Taylor in the letter, NSW Police told the NSW parliament, in response to questions taken on notice, that Taylor was not interviewed about the matter and instead questions were forwarded to his solicitor.
Last year, Australian media organisations joined together to launch the ‘Your Right to Know’ campaign, calling for greater government transparency and for improved practices around the release of government information to the public, including through freedom of information laws.
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