Friday 20/09/2013 Tom Arup and Peter Hannam, The Age
In its first full day in office, the Abbott government moved swiftly to abolish Labor-era climate change institutions, shutting the Climate Commission, and starting the process of axing other bodies.
Environment Minister Greg Hunt phoned chief climate commissioner Tim Flannery on Thursday to say the body he led would be closed immediately.
The commission was established by the Gillard government in 2011 to provide public information on the science of global warming. But by early afternoon it had been asked to shut up shop.
Professor Flannery, a former Australian of the year, said in its two years of operation the commission had become ''a reliable, apolitical source of facts on all aspects on climate change''.
''I believe Australians have a right to know, a right to authoritative, independent and accurate information on climate change,'' Professor Flannery said.
''We have just seen one of the earliest ever starts to the bushfire season in Sydney, following the hottest 12 months on record. Last summer was the hottest on record, breaking over 120 heat records across Australia.
''As global action on climate change deepens, propaganda aimed at misinforming the public about climate change, and so blunting any action, increases.''
Professor Flannery said Mr Hunt had been gracious in their conversation and had thanked him and the other climate commissioners for their work.
Climate scientist Will Steffen, who served as a commissioner with the Climate Commission, condemned the decision, saying it would deprive Australians of authoritative, unbiased information about climate change.
''It's still very important that the Australian public has access to this type of information,'' Professor Steffen told ABC radio on Friday.
''It's not a matter of belief,'' he added. ''What we put forward is information based on the best peer-reviewed science around the world.''
Professor Steffen also took issue with comments made earlier in the week by one of Mr Abbott's proposed business advisers Maurice Newman.
In an opinion piece in The Australian newspaper, Mr Newman wrote that the CSIRO and the weather bureau had become ''global warming advocates'' and persisted in propagating ''the myth of anthropological climate change''.
Mr Newman was ''just plain wrong,'' Professor Steffen said.
''He's entitled to his beliefs . . . but he's not entitled to twist the facts and misrepresent some of Australia's best scientists.''
Mr Hunt said the decision to axe the commission – which had been well flagged by the Coalition before its election win – was about streamlining government processes and would save $1.6 million a year. He said future advice and analysis on climate change would now be provided by the Environment Department.
Mr Hunt also approved a brief ordering legislation be prepared to dismantle the independent Climate Change Authority as part of the government's plans to axe the carbon price.
The authority was created to advise the government on national emissions-reduction targets and carbon price caps. It is due to release a draft of a report on targets and caps next month. According to some reports, the authority is considering suggesting Australia raise its emissions cuts target from 5 per to 15 per cent by 2020.
The moves to shut the institutions came as the Abbott government faced hurdles with closing another body, the Clean Energy Finance Corporation.
Treasurer Joe Hockey wrote to the corporation this week ordering it to cease investing in clean energy projects, such as wind farms and solar plants, while the government prepared legislation to close it.
Since the Coalition was elected the corporation has voluntarily ceased signing new deals.
But legal advice obtained by the Australian Conservation Foundation and the Victorian Environment Defenders Office from Stephen Keim, SC, said the corporation's board was obliged by law to ignore Coalition demands that it cease making loans.
''The [corporation's] activities cannot be terminated by executive action,'' Mr Keim's advice says.
''If given some unlawful direction by the responsible ministers (or anyone else) to cease operations or some aspect of its operations, the board would be obliged to ignore that direction.''
It is understood the corporation has obtained similar legal advice. The bank, which began making loans on July 1, sought the advice after the Coalition said in February it would scrap the organisation if it won government. The bank has so far committed about $500 million into projects, with private investors tipping in an extra $1.6 billion.
Australian Conservation Foundation climate change campaigner Tony Mohr said the corporation could not be shut down ''holus-bolus like this''.
''The directors and the board of the CEFC are legally obliged to keep on … investing in projects because that's their purpose as written in their act,'' he said.