New-look Climate Change Department: What’s ahead?
By environment reporter Sarah Clarke
Updated 42 minutes ago
Icebergs in Antarctic waters Photo: Some commentators say the Government just needs to take climate change seriously. (Karen Barlow: ABC News)
After last week’s spill that never happened and in a week described by the Prime Minister as “appalling”, it was on the cards that those who stuck by Julia Gillard would be rewarded.
But with the new ministries unveiled and extra portfolios being taken on by some, you have to ask, are they being rewarded or overloaded?
Climate Change Minister Greg Combet has been a staunch supporter of the Prime Minister and that has now translated to a number of extra titles and a huge portfolio.
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As Fairfax’s Tony Wright put it, imagine the letterhead on that one; the “Department of Industry, Innovation, Climate Change, Science, Research and Tertiary Education”.
It is a mouthful by any standards.
And what does this mean for what was the Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency? It is now being squeezed under the umbrella of the Industry Department, while the Energy Efficiency component is being shifted to the Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism.
The Climate Change Department’s staff once numbered above 1,000. It is now down to “approximately 620 with 50 contract staff” and, according to Senate Estimates from October last year, “employee staff numbers are steadily declining”.
Around 300 staff moved to the Clean Energy Regulator in 2012. Departmental secretary Blair Comley moved to the Resources Department last month.
A spokesman from Mr Combet’s office says there will now be “one secretary in the merged department, Don Russell”.
So with no more Climate Change Department, there will no longer be a Climate Change secretary.
As for the future of the department’s deputy secretary and the executive, the spokesman noted “these sort of decisions will be determined by the secretary of the merged department in the coming period as the merger is implemented”.
Has the Climate Change portfolio been neglected in the reshuffle? Is the Government doing enough? Have your say.
Which agencies are safe?
A spokesman from Mr Combet’s office says the “Clean Energy Regulator, Clean Energy Finance Corporation and the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA)” are all clear.
The Clean Energy Regulator will remain independent with the newly-merged Climate Change Industry, Innovation, Science, Research and Tertiary Education portfolio.
The Clean Energy Finance Corporation is an independent agency within Treasury. That too won’t change.
ARENA is independent within the Resources, Energy and Tourism portfolio. That too continues as is.
But can Climate Change and Industry work together? The Climate Institute thinks so.
“It’s not illogical to have Climate Change, Industry and Innovation under one umbrella,” chief executive John Connor said.
Mr Connor says what matters is that climate change is taken seriously across all of government and across all portfolios.
Will it work?
Not everyone is convinced it is a partnership that will work.
When it comes to the movement of Energy Efficiency to Resources, some industry insiders had thought that energy and emission reduction policies best fit with the Climate Change Department.
To quote one: “how can the minister overseeing the big mining companies turn around and manage renewable energy?”
Leigh Ewbank, from the group Yes 2 Renewables, stated that Climate and Energy Efficiency is a more natural fit, given the urgent need to decarbonise the economy.
And what happened to Climate Change Adaptation? Has that once commonly used title now gone altogether?
The ABC did a story last month about the future of the body charged with preparing the nation to meet the challenge of global warming, the National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility.
It saw the writing on the wall. The Federal Government did not recommit any future funds and the facility is worried about its future.
So the Government has five-and-a-half months to make this new Industry and Climate Change partnership work.
For now, the 600-plus staff at the formerly known Department of Climate Change can continue enjoying their six green star accommodation at the Nishi building at a cost of $10 million a year.
But that residence may be short-lived.
Come September, the Coalition says if elected it will reassess the building contract and its expense.
It has got another marriage in mind.
It has vowed to reunite Climate Change and the Environment in a relationship it believes makes more sense.