Gillard's climate sceptic reshuffle

Australia's new energy minister, Gary Gray, a former Woodside exec has strong links to climate sceptic groups. Meanwhile, the climate change department will also be closed and responsibilities reshuffled.

POSTSCRIPT 11:05PM March 25: In an interview on ABC's Lateline on Monday night, Gary Gray said he now believes that human activity is leading to global warming and was no longer a supporter of the Lavoisier Group's activities even though he remained friends with some of the people involved in the organisation. See this news item for further detail.

Key elements of Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s latest ministerial reshuffle for climate change and energy are:

1) Consistent with Greg Combet’s responsibility for industry as well as climate change, the Department of Climate Change will be merged into the Department of Industry, Innovation, Science, Research and Tertiary Education. It will become the Department of Industry, Innovation, Climate Change, Science, Research and Tertiary Education.

2) Gary Gray, the member for the WA seat of Brand and former National Secretary of the Labor Party, will be elevated to Martin Ferguson’s prior position as the Minister for Resources, Energy and Tourism.

Merging climate change with the Department of Industry is a missed opportunity. Energy and climate change are two sides of the same coin and ideally should be handled in an integrated manner. With the climate change former secretary, Blair Comley, having already been appointed Secretary of Resources, Energy and Tourism, now would have been a very good time to execute such a change. 

However, the government has announced that the energy efficiency functions previously carried out by the Department of Climate Change will be merged into the Department of Resources and Energy.  The one worry amongst some energy efficiency insiders is that under these new arrangements, the electricity supply industry’s concerns over depressed electricity prices could trump the substantial benefits for consumers from enhanced energy efficiency.

That would have been best done by also altering ministerial responsibilities at the same time and splitting resources and tourism away from energy.

The appointment of Gary Gray as minister for Resources and Energy makes good sense from the interests of the mining and oil & gas sectors. Holding a marginal seat in WA and having worked as the Director of Corporate Affairs for Woodside Energy, he will have a finely tuned ear to the needs of these industries.

However there are some significant worries about his appreciation of the need to integrate climate change issues into energy policy considerations.

Gary Gray was one of the founders of the Lavoisier Institute, a group that has probably done more than any to spread misinformation about the science of global warming in Australia. According to the The Age, in 1993 Gray said the evidence linking human activity to climate change was ‘‘pop science’.

In 2007 he said he regretted the comments but added there needed to be "intellectual challenge and debate" on the science of human induced climate change. He is still yet to publicly acknowledge that the bulk of scientific evidence indicates that burning of fossil fuels will lead to significant warming of the globe.