Conflict of Interest Concerns Spread to Climate Authority after PwC Scandal

The Minister for Climate Change and Energy has been urged to review potential conflicts of interests at Australia’s key climate change agency in light of the integrity scandal at PwC and the consulting services sector.

In a letter to Minister Bowen (attached), the Australia Institute has raised concerns regarding appointments to the Climate Change Authority (CCA) and highlighted legal questions raised by potential conflicts of interest held by CCA board members, including the chair of the agency, Grant King.

Mr King chairs Australia’s largest offset developer and a renewable energy company, and owns his own energy advisory service while also chairing the government agency legislated to advise the government on climate policies that may have an impact on the supply and demand of carbon offsets and renewable energy.

Several other CCA board members appear have close links to the carbon offset, fossil fuel industries or ‘climate change investment’. The Australia Institute makes no allegations of impropriety by any individual.

Australia Institute research has revealed the extensive overlap between industry and government in Australia, and the risk this puts to independent policymaking. The senate inquiry raises the question of whether scrutiny must go beyond consulting firms being employed by government agencies, to conflicts of interest within government agencies themselves.

  • Australia Institute shows that several other members of the CCA board appear to have interests in the carbon offset industry, the fossil fuel industry or ‘climate change investment’.
  • Since 2021, the work of the CCA has focused extensively on carbon offsetting and carbon sequestration (the capture, removal, and storage of carbon).
  • The Australia Institute has requested the Minister for Climate Change and Energy to review whether potential conflicts of interest by the chair of the Climate Change Authority have been adequately addressed under the relevant legislation – the Climate Change Authority Act (CCA Act) and the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act 2013 (PGPA Act)
    • The CCA Act prohibits an Authority Member from engaging in paid employment that conflicts or may conflict with the proper performance of his or her duties.
    • The PGPA Act requires government officials to report material personal interests in relation to the affairs of the entity they work for.
    • The Australia Institute considers that the way in which the CCA has previously sought to address potential conflicts of interest is inconsistent with the provisions of the CCA Act and the PGPA Act and that the Minister has a duty to correct this in line with his responsibilities under the CCA Act.

“We believe there are serious integrity questions regarding conflicts of interest at the highest levels of climate policy making in Australia,” said Polly Hemming, Director of the Climate & Energy Program at the Australia Institute.

“There are 25 million people in Australia. Is the really no one better qualified to Chair our Climate Change Authority than a former gas industry executive?

“The PwC scandal and the Inquiry into consulting services has shown us that potential conflicts of interest are not always disclosed, let alone managed.

“Australia would benefit from an inquiry that goes beyond consultancies to the management and assurance of integrity in public governance.

“The public should have access to a transparent register of declared interests by statutory officials. Then they could decide whether conflicts were being managed appropriately or not.

“Polling by the Australia Institute shows that 74% of Australians agree that climate policy should be informed by science. The work and advice of the Climate Change Authority appears to reflect the interests and expertise of its membership instead.

“Since 2021 the CCA has been heavily focused on offsetting and carbon capture while staying silent on the need to address the primary driver of climate change – fossil fuel expansion. At one point it was even proposing ‘carbon neutral’ LNG.

“It is not beyond the Minister to review and address the way the Climate Change Authority and the previous Minister have managed potential conflicts should they exist.”

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