Turnbull named head of NSW government’s climate advisory board
Former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull has been appointed to head a new board to advise the NSW government’s long-term climate policy in his first major political post since leaving Parliament almost three years ago.
The role, as chairman of the NSW Net-Zero Emissions and Clean Economy Board, was approved by cabinet on Monday, Energy and Environment Minister Matt Kean told The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.
Support for Mr Turnbull’s role, set for up to five years, was secured between senior NSW government figures last month.
The new board, which has been modelled on the United Kingdom’s independent Climate Change Committee, will be established by regulation and give strategic and expert advice on program design and funding proposals under the $1 billion first stage of emissions reduction covering 2020-30.
“The board will help us to drive a clean industrial revolution for NSW – providing advice on opportunities to grow the economy, create jobs of the future, support industry to develop low emissions technologies and modernise industrial processes,” Mr Kean said, adding that the Illawarra and Hunter will be among the priority regions.
“[It] will bring cross-sector experts together to ensure we have the right policies and initiatives to give industry the confidence they need to invest, innovate and build
a low-carbon future – right here in NSW.”
The six-member board will be chaired by Mr Turnbull with NSW Chief Scientist and engineer Professor Hugh Durrant-Whyte serving as deputy. It will also include a member with rural and regional expertise and have at least three women as members.
Mr Kean said Mr Turnbull’s expertise as a former PM, federal environment minister and head of investment bank Goldman Sachs Australia made him “ideally placed to help NSW reduce its emissions in ways that grow the economy”.
Mr Turnbull said the world’s move to carbon neutrality by 2050 would “create huge economic opportunities for Australia and I intend to make sure NSW realises them”.
“In reality, we are going to move away from burning, and the world is going to move away from coal,” he told the Herald and The Age. “I’m very concerned we do that in a way that preserves and increases economic opportunities for everybody”.
NSW Labor, though, objected to the choice of the former PM, saying it had sought to work “constructively” with the government on energy and climate policy in the state.
“We welcomed their embrace of our approach to how to build the next generation of electricity infrastructure and supported legislation last year that sets out the roadmap,” Adam Searle, Labor’s spokesman for climate change and energy, said.
“This appointment, made without consultation with the Opposition, looks like the government is playing politics and risks creating political divisions in this crucial area.”
Mr Turnbull said he “can’t be troubled” by Labor’s view. “I don’t think many people would see that [climate and emissions policy] isn’t an area I’ve got proven capabilities in”.
Mr Turnbull’s return to a high-profile role may also stir opposition from within some conservative circles particularly as his new role would focus on assisting NSW to meet its commitment to be carbon neutral by 2050. Mr Turnbull’s successor Scott Morrison has so far resisted signing up to that goal.
Climate policies advocated by Mr Turnbull twice brought him undone within the federal party room, first when he was opposition leader in December 2010.
In July 2018, his support for a so-called National Energy Guarantee to reduce greenhouse gas emissions triggered a backbench-led revolt that toppled his prime ministership.
Since leaving politics, Mr Turnbull has made renewable energy and climate action among the issues he has been most outspoken about.
Last month, Mr Turnbull was appointed chairman of the Australian arm of Fortescue Future Industries, the new venture set up by Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest to invest in renewable energy and so-called green hydrogen.
The NSW government set a net-zero carbon emissions target for the state in 2016 and said at the time it would allocate $500 million over five years to achieve that goal.
Since then, the government’s main effort has been to pass an energy transition road map that will accelerate investment in three big renewable energy zones in NSW’s south-west, central west and New England regions.