New prime minister Tony Abbott wasted little time after the swearing-in of his conservative Liberal National Party coalition, delivering immediately on his promise to repeal or dismantle all institutions and policy measures involving climate change and clean energy.
There has also been a purge of department heads, and a cleaning-out of staff from the now defunct climate change department is also expected.
Abbott’s government has already instructed public servants to begin drawing up new legislation to repeal the carbon price, new treasurer Joe Hockey sent a letter to the Clean Energy Finance Corporation instructing it to cease making loans, and preparations are also being made for the dismantling of the Climate Commission and the Climate Change Authority.
These acts were taken as new energy minister Ian Macfarlane told The Australian newspaper that the new government wanted to make sure that “every molecule of gas that can come out of the ground does so.” He has told mining groups that permits will be rescinded if developments are delayed.
Macfarlane also told The Australian Financial Review that he has assured anti-wind Coalition MPs that he will go ahead with a review of health impacts of wind farms, and put in place a proposal for “live” monitoring of wind farm noise.
Among the first moves by the government has been a shuffling of department heads. Blair Comley, formerly the head of climate change and more recently the head of energy, resources and tourism, has lost his job. Glenys Beauchamp is the new secretary for Industry development, which includes energy, and Dr Gordon de Brouwer is the new secretary of the environment, replacing Paul Grimes, who moves to agriculture. Martin Parkinson, a former head of the climate change department, remains as head of Treasury, although will step down in 2014.
Among the administrative orders released today, Greg Hunt’s environment ministry will be responsible for the renewable energy target, some energy efficiency programs, the Climate Change Authority, and emission reduction programs, as well as climate adaptation, the carbon farming initiative and the Clean Energy Regulator.
Macfarlane’s Industry department will be responsible for the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, and some energy efficiency measures, as well as the National Electricity Market. He also gets responsibility for science, atomic energy programs and export of uranium and thorium.
Australia’s chief scientist, Professor Ian Chubb, told ABC’s Lateline program the likely axing of the climate bodies will be a loss.
“These sorts of issues are not going away just because we ignore them,” he said. “They are things we are going to have to deal with and grapple with and understand better and then make informed choices rather than go out there and guess at what we might do.”
He also took issue with comments by Maurice Newman, the man chosen by Abbott to chair his business advisory council, who said that man-made climate change was a “myth.” Chubb described it as a “silly comment”.
Meanwhile, environmentalist David Suzuki has written a column for the Sydney Morning Herald, describing Abbott’s commitment to repeal the carbon price as “suicide.”
“His promise to scrap the carbon tax, a tax which had been a timid step in the right direction, to close down your green energy bank and to reduce the rebates for buying solar panels, all send a terrible signal to your entrepreneurs and to the community,” Suzuki wrote.
“And all of it is being done in the name of saving the economy. But for more than 20 years the insurance industry has been telling us we have all been paying more for changes in the climate. Why aren’t we listening to the insurers, the hardest business heads of all?
“I would have thought Australia would be leading the world in developing a new economy because climate change is going to devastate Australia.
“Instead, mining magnates are manipulating the debate in Australia just like they are doing elsewhere. Like the tobacco industry before them, they have known for years that climate change is happening and that burning fossil fuels is at the heart of it. But to maximise their profits they have continued to sow misunderstanding and confusion, funding the sceptics to perpetrate the myth that global warming is junk science.
“They should be ignored because there is no confusion in the scientific community about what’s happening to our planet and what the future holds unless we change the way we live.
“A carbon tax is just one small step to encourage companies and individuals to reduce dumping rubbish into the atmosphere.”
Giles Parkinson is founder and editor of RenewEconomy.com.au, and is also the founder of OneStepOffTheGrid.com.au and founder/editor of www.TheDriven.io. Giles has been a journalist for 35 years and is a former business and deputy editor of the Australian Financial Review.