While the world has vowed to reduce emissions, Angus Taylor and friends have quietly progressed numerous fossil fuel projects.
This morning, Energy Minister Angus Taylor made headlines after appointing a founding chair of a major gas and oil producer to our clean energy regulator. Katherine Vidgen previously held court at Quadrant Energy, a company that describes itself as “a large independent oil and gas producer and explorer in West Australia”. Vidgen has also served as the global head of energy principle at Macquarie Capital. As Amy Remikis of The Guardian noted, “in that role, Vidgen oversees the financial giant’s energy investments. Quadrant Energy was described as ‘the most significant oil and gas asset in Macquarie’s portfolio and was sold in November 2018 to Santos Limited for US$2.1bn.'”
The clean energy regulator is directed by the government in power and was formed to “measure, manage, reducing or offsetting Australia’s carbon emissions”. Justifying the appointment, Taylor said that Vidgen was suitable for the role due to her investment banking experience in “both conventional and new energy investments”, with a focus “on helping traditional industries decarbonise their operations”.
The appointment has been met with heavy criticism on social media, with some likening the move as “the fox designing the chicken coop”.
Earlier this month, Angus Taylor was embroiled in further scandal, as it became known that his department handed out three grants to a Liberal Party donor to begin fracking in the Beetaloo Basin. Per The Guardian, “On July 7, resources minister Keith Pitt announced that Imperial Oil and Gas, a subsidiary of Empire Energy, would receive $21m in grants through the $50m Beetaloo Cooperative Drilling Program.”
As Christopher Knaus reported, “Environmental groups 350.org Australia and Lock the Gate immediately condemned the awarding of the grants to Empire, saying the firm is linked to the Liberal party and has made significant donations to both sides of Northern Territory politics before the territory’s last election. Empire is chaired by Paul Espie, who has been described in parliament as a doyen of the Liberal party. Espie is the current chair of the Liberal-aligned Menzies Research Centre. There is no suggestion of wrongdoing by Espie.
“350.org Australia also released freedom of information documents showing correspondence and interaction between Empire and the office of energy minister Angus Taylor about its fracking plans in Beetaloo and the Coalition’s grant program. The documents show Empire invited Taylor to visit its first Beetaloo well in the Northern Territory in October 2020. Taylor’s pecuniary interest register shows Empire paid for a ‘return charter flight and hospitality’ for the minister.”
350.org Australia senior campaigner Shani Tager described the use of the grants as a “brazen misuse of taxpayer funds”.
“Australia is coming dead last in the world on climate action and it’s because coal, oil and gas companies are embedded in our politics and that’s got to end,” Tager said.
“While the Senate is taking the time to do an inquiry and investigate oil and gas in the Beetaloo Basin, Keith Pitt is giving our public money to Liberal party donors for fracking.”
The May G7 meeting came out with a commitment to stop international financing of coal projects by the end of 2021 and to progressively phase out such support for all fossil fuels, all in an effort to meet global climate change targets. Australia is not a member of the G7, but Scott Morrison was there as an observer.
The Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility (better known as the NAIF) was established in 2016 with a $5 billion capital, in order to provide loans to new and innovative ventures in the North of Australia. At the time some suspected it may be a National Party slush fund, but to counter any such mischievous thinking, it was written into the legislation that loans could only proceed with the approval, not only of the NAIF board but also the government of the relevant state or territory – essentially Queensland, the Northern Territory and Western Australia which all have Labor governments.
After five years, the NAIF had to be reviewed, and among the matters that the federal government thought appropriate was to bypass the approval of the state and territory governments, to allow the federal government not only to ‘lend’ money to worthy enterprises but also to take an equity position in such enterprises. Simply put, the changes mean that the money doesn’t actually have to be paid back.
Coal power stns dangerously unreliable and getting worse
Yet the Gov is pushing disastrously flawed Physical RRO proposal by ESB to pay them to keep operating
— Australia Institute (@TheAusInstitute) July 12, 2021
The state veto got up the federal government’s nose when they wanted to lend money to Adani. If you remember, Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk took the position that money should not be loaned to the Adani project writing to then-Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull stating “…my government provides formal notification to the Commonwealth that financial assistance should not be provided to Adani for the North Galilee Basin Rail Project. As such the government is exercising its veto right under section 13(4) of the Investment Facility Mandate in response to the Adani loan application.”
In January, the NAIF Board approved loan funding of $280 million for the Kaban Green Energy Hub a renewable energy project located in the Atherton Tablelands of Far North Queensland. The project consists of a 157 MW wind farm with approval for a 100 MW battery backup and a network upgrade. It came as a surprise when the minister responsible for the NAIF, National party stalwart Keith Pitt, decided to use his discretion under the act and stop the loan. He said at the time that the funding was ‘inconsistent with the objectives and policies of the commonwealth’. So, quite a few eyebrows were raised when the NAIF recently announced a $175 million loan to develop a new coal mine in central Queensland.
So far the minister has not exercised his discretion to veto this loan of public money so we must assume that it is “consistent with the objectives and policies of the commonwealth”.
Terence Mills contributed to this report.