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Mar 26 2013

Polluters win in horrific reshuffle

Yesterday Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced her government’s latest cabinet reshuffle.

The Department of Climate Change will be merged into the Department of Industry, Innovation, Climate Change, Science, Research, and Tertiary Education – except for energy efficiency, which will be moved into the Department of Resources and Energy. Greg Combet, previously Minister for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency, will now be Minister for Climate Change, Industry, and Innovation.

In her speech announcing the reshuffle Gillard referred to the contest between the Labor Government and the Liberal/National Opposition. This framing is ironic because it was originally the Opposition’s policy to merge the Department of Climate Change with another department (in their case Environment).

Gillard denies the merger means Labor is backing away from its commitment to climate action. She claims it is “inevitable, natural, logical” that the government needs fewer staff working on climate now it’s introduced a carbon price, further reinforcing Labor’s irresponsible narrative that the carbon price precludes any need for further action. In reality, climate change remains a global emergency and Australia has yet to act on anywhere near the necessary scale.

It is also concerning that the government has chosen to associate the portfolio of climate change with innovation specifically, because it suggests Labor is moving toward the right-wing argument that we must invent new technologies to solve climate change. In reality, we have no time to wait for innovation, and we already have the technologies needed to power Australia with 100% renewable energy; we just need to deploy them.

It gets worse. It turns out I spoke too soon when I said on Friday that “the resignation of Resources and Energy Minister Martin Ferguson raises hope for some improvement on Australian energy policy”. Ferguson’s successor Gary Gray is on record as having described climate change as “pop science” and “middle-class conspiracy to frighten schoolchildren” when he was Labor’s National Secretary in the 1990s. He spoke at the launch of the climate-change-denialist Lavoisier Group in 2000, founded by Western Mining Corporation executives Hugh Morgan and Ray Evans and Gray’s father-in-law Peter Walsh (though Gray himself has never been a member). He was a Woodside Petroleum executive from 2001-2007, before entering Parliament at the 2007 election.

When interviewed by Emma Alberici on ABC TV’s Lateline last night, Gray said he has since changed his mind:

I was a vocal climate sceptic. And as national secretary of the Labor Party I said things that frankly, Emma, nowadays embarrass me when I hear it played back.

[…]

When I joined Woodside in early 2001, I was exposed to a company whose own insights into the environment in which it operated was far in advance of mine. I was fortunate to work with terrific engineers and outstanding environmental scientists who were capable, Emma, of extracting oil and gas in the most delicate marine environments. I was in awe of that work. And in getting closer and closer to those engineers and serious builders of business, I began to realise not only was I wrong, but if you get the equation right you can actually build better businesses and build a better future. I became a convert to that.

[…]

I think there’s an undeniable connection between human industrial activity and carbon pollution that we need to address, that we should address and also that we can address.

However, like Woodside’s commitment to climate action, Gray’s conversion seems to be largely rhetorical. In the same interview he openly said he would continue “business as usual” and sees little difference between himself and Ferguson. He also said: “I am not a green, Emma, and any green who thinks I am a green is mistaken.” And just as the fossil fuel lobby lamented Ferguson’s resignation, they welcomed Gray’s appointment:

Western Australia’s Chamber of Minerals and Energy (CME) had been gunning for a local, given the state’s dominance in the industry.

CME director Nicole Roocke said Mr Gray, formerly the special minister of state, had a very good understanding of WA and the sector, and his challenge would be to ensure federal politicians and bureaucrats understood the impact of their decisions on the state.

His new position would not be compromised by his former role with energy giant Woodside, she said.

“We don’t see that it will put him in a difficult situation,” Ms Roocke said.

She also urged Mr Gray to engage with the environmental portfolio, “because that is one area we are being hamstrung by government policy”.

The Greens have issued a press release asking whether Gray accepts the implication of climate change science that the vast majority of fossil fuel reserves must remain in the ground to limit global warming to below 2°C. To my knowledge, Gray has not responded.

What planet is Labor on? They don’t seem to care about Earth.

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