Malcolm Turnbull Just Made ‘Mr Coal’ His Environment Minister

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Greg Hunt is gone, but the man who replaced him is likely to be even worse on climate action. Max Chalmers reports.

For environmentalists, climate scientists, and any Australian who wants the Great Barrier Reef to outlive them, there’s good news and there’s bad news.

The good news is that Greg Hunt is no longer the Environment Minister, stripped of the title and bumped across to the position of Industry, Innovation, and Science, as part of Malcolm Turnbull’s first post-election Cabinet reshuffle.

The bad news is the name of the man who will replace him.

Josh Frydenberg, formerly the Minister for Resources, Energy and Northern Australia, is set to take over the portfolio, which has ominously been extended to include both environment and energy.

Frydenberg has been a major advocate for coal, and has echoed Tony Abbott’s belief that the mineral is “good for humanity”. In an interview with Andrew Bolt last year, Frydenberg said “I certainly believe in the moral case that Tony Abbott and others have put that our coal, our gas, our energy supplies do lift people out of energy poverty, and that’s going to be an important theme of my term in this role.”

In the interview Bolt described the Minister as the “new Mr Coal”.

During the conversation the soon-to-be Environment Minister parroted Hunt’s defence of the government’s Direct Action climate change policy, and rehashed the claim that Adani’s planned mine in the Galilee basin would create 10,000 jobs – despite the fact Adani’s own expert witness quoted a far lower number to a Queensland court.

Frydenberg has also been an at times bizarrely enthusiastic advocate for mining, describing resource development as an iconic Australian endeavor.

“Resources is to the Australian economy what the baggy green is to Australian sport: totemic; iconic; indispensable to our national story and synonymous with our national identity,” he said in February 2016.

And he’s not the only one with a curious relationship to coal and the climate who has found himself newly in charge of a portfolio relevant to both. Replacing Frydenberg as Minister for Resources is Senator Matt Canavan, who has said the science on climate change is becoming “less certain”.

“The evidence that there is dangerous climate change is not as strong and we should therefore not impose large costs on the global economy, especially for developing countries,” he argued in 2015.

Environmental groups will be glad to see the back of Greg Hunt. As the Minister under first Abbott and then Turnbull, Hunt oversaw a 90 per cent drop in renewable energy investment in Australia, increasing carbon emissions, and approved major fossil fuel projects, including Adani’s mine.

At the all important COP 21 climate talks in Paris, Hunt declared his defence of the mine – which could help open the vast coal fields of the Galilee – to be anti-colonial.

For this, he was awarded the title of ‘World’s Best Environment Minister’ by Dubai summit with links to the fossil fuel industry.

Hunt receiving the award for 'Best Minister'. (IMAGE: World Government Summit).
Hunt receiving the award for ‘Best Minister’. (IMAGE: World Government Summit).

But if climate activists had been hoping his departure from the office would open the way for bold action, they are likely to be disappointed. Many have previously criticised Frydenberg, and the Minister was targeted before the election for being a “climate blocker”.

“Mr Frydenberg has repeatedly showed himself to be unfit for office. From spruiking the benefits of coal and gas to blocking the price on pollution and saying no to investing in clean energy, he has consistently put the big polluters ahead of the people he was elected to represent,” 350.org Australia Campaigns Director Charlie Wood said at the time.

Turnbull’s selection of Frydenberg appears to confirm the Prime Minister’s adapted willingness to back off on strong climate action, an issue which helped end his first stint as Liberal leader.

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Max Chalmers

Max Chalmers is a former New Matilda journalist and editorial staff member. His main areas of interest are asylum seekers, higher education and politics.

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