Former CEO of Origin Energy, and long time advocate for Australia’s gas industry, Grant King, has been appointed chair of the Climate Change Authority, in another move by the Morrison government to install allies into key climate and energy related government bodies.
King replaces the outgoing acting chair of the authority, former commissioner of the Productivity Commission and chief executive of the Murray-Darling Basin Commission, Dr Wendy Craik.
He will be joined on the board by Susie Smith, a former long time Santos executive who is head of the Australian Industry Greenhouse Network, a body heavily aligned with the fossil fuel industry. King and Smith worked together last year on a report that recommended government funds invest in technologies such as carbon capture and storage.
The appointments to the CCA, which has been largely defenestrated since the Coalition came to power in 2013, were swiftly condemned, with independent MP Zali Steggall labelling the appointments as a ‘disappointing backward step’ for climate action.
“These new appointments are completely at odds with the Authority’s purpose to give independent advice on climate, science and policy to the Government,” Steggall said.
“The Morrison Government continues to only listen to vested interests in fossil fuels. We need a truly independent expert Climate Change Commission, as the UK has had since 2008, to advise the Government if we want a chance at achieving net zero by 2050. The Climate Change Authority, as it is currently is now constituted, is not it.”
King served in recent years as president of the Business Council of Australia, and on the board of the main oil and gas lobby, APPEA, which campaigned strongly against many climate policies. He was more recently appointed to the board of CWP Renewables and carbon abatement provider GreenCollar.
“This sorry state of affairs is compounded by the appointment of Susie Smith to the CCA, representing the Australian Industry Greenhouse Network (AIGN). The AIGN is the original “greenhouse mafia”, that has stood in the way of ambitious climate policy for 30 years,” The Australasia Centre for Corporate Responsibility’s Dan Gocher said.
The Australia Institute described the appointments as “grossly inappropriate”, given King’s history with the gas industry.
“King was responsible for initiating Asia Pacific LNG, the largest Queensland coal seam gas LNG project which has resulted in well over 200 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions already, which will rise to well over one billion tonnes over the life of the project,” TAI’s climate and energy program director Richie Merzian said.
King led the review of the government’s emissions reduction policies, which recommended programs like the Emissions Reduction Fund support the development of carbon capture and storage technologies and to direct public funds to major emitters to pay for emissions reductions.
King has a long history as a prominent critic of stronger renewable energy policies while at Origin and the BCA. This included leading calls for reductions to the federal Renewable Energy Target and attributing rising electricity prices to the growth of renewable energy uptake.
King once dismissed large-scale solar as merely’ panels in paddocks‘ and criticised the Gillard government’s carbon price by using some questionable mathematics to suggest it reduced emissions at a cost of more than $700 per tonne.
The Climate Change Authority was established under the Gillard government to provide independent and expert advice on climate change science, emissions reduction targets and can be tasked to undertake various reviews and research at the request of the government of the day.
The original composition of the Climate Change Authority had included a number of eminent Australian climate scientists and policy experts and was chaired by former Reserve Bank governor Bernie Fraser.
However, since the election of the Coalition government in 2013, which initially set out to abolish the body altogether, the Climate Change Authority has largely been stripped of staff and resources and has undertaken very little work apart from various statutory reviews it is required to undertake into selected government programs.
CEO of the Climate Change Authority, Brad Archer, told a senate estimates hearing in February that the Morrison government has not asked the body to undertake any new work and has not been asked to complete any modelling or research into what may be required to transition Australia to a zero net emissions economy.
Smith previously spent more than a decade with oil and gas giant Santos. The AIGN self-styles itself as the “greenhouse mafia”, lobbying on behalf of some of Australia’s largest emitters.
Former managing director of the Bank of New York Australia John McGee has also been appointed to the board. McGee is a long-time friend of former prime minister Tony Abbott and was part of Abbott’s group of close allies and university friends that were appointed to various government positions during Abbott’s time as leader. John McGee had previously served on the board of Airservices Australia.
Announcing the appointments, Taylor indicated that he might draw upon the reshaped Climate Change Authority to guide the government’s policy development.
“These new members will play a key role in ensuring the Authority provides robust advice to Government on emissions reduction policy,” Taylor said in a statement announcing the appointments.
The appointments replace outgoing board members, former ACT chief minister Kate Carnell, energy sector executive Stuart Allison and former Howard government minister and Nationals MP John Sharp.
The incumbent chief scientist, currently Dr Cathy Foley, will continue to sit on the board as an ex-officio member.
Continuing members of the authority’s board include former WA Liberal state parliamentarian Mark Lewis, and former chairman of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, and current board member of the Great Barrier Reef Foundation, Dr Russell Reichelt.
The appointment follows Taylor installing friends and a former political adviser to the board of the Australian Renewable Energy Agency and the Morrison government’s favourite climate policy modeller, Brian Fisher, to the Emissions Reduction Assurance Committee, along with another lobbyist David Byers, the former interim CEO of the Minerals Council of Australia.
Another two former CEOs and deputy CEOs of the Minerals Council – John Kunkel and Brendan Pearson – have key advisory positions in prime minister Scott Morrison’s office.
CEO of the Carbon Markets Institute, John Connor, was less critical of the new appointments, saying that while the Climate Change Authority needed to ramp up work needed to see Australia reach zero net emissions, the group welcomed the potential revival of the authority.
“These appointments mark the further resuscitation of an important independent institution, with the considerable carbon market and industry experience of Grant King and Susie Smith in particular,” Connor said.
“However, now the CCA is out of the emergency ward it needs to do the work needed of it in 2021, and join international best practice which includes analysing and recommending policies for five yearly carbon budgets in a transition plan towards net-zero emissions before 2050.
“Its new leadership’s first priority should be updating its mandate, and laying down policy that sees the net-zero transition efforts of the private and public sectors align.”