The Albanese government has appointed three women with environmental backgrounds to the board of the Climate Change Authority in a bid to counter concerns the advisory body was taken over by business leaders under the Coalition.
The authority was given expanded responsibilities under climate change legislation that passed parliament last week, including advising the government on future emissions reduction targets and an annual statement to parliament by the climate change minister. The advice must be made public, and the minister must explain why if he rejects it.
Climate activists have questioned whether the authority’s existing board is qualified to offer scientific advice after the Coalition appointed several business leaders to fill board vacancies.
The chair is Grant King, a former head of Origin Energy and president of the Business Council of Australia. The former Greens leader Christine Milne has called for King to be replaced by a climate scientist.
Under changes to be announced by the climate change minister, Chris Bowen, on Thursday, there is no change to the existing six board members, but he has made three appointments to fill vacancies.
The new members are the biologist Prof Lesley Hughes, a distinguished academic who has held government advisory roles and is a member of the Climate Council, Dr Virginia Marshall, a legal researcher who has worked on Indigenous water rights, and Sam Mostyn, a businesswoman and sustainability adviser who was chair of the climate advocacy group 1 Million Women.
Bowen said they would bolster the authority’s role in “providing independent advice to government on the reduction of the nation’s emissions and climate change policy”.
“With this expanded membership, the authority is better placed to oversee emissions reduction efforts and provide government with expert advice,” he said.
The Greens leader, Adam Bandt, said the appointments were “a welcome change from the coal and gas advocates appointed in the past”.
“I hope this is the beginning of the Climate Change Authority returning to a focus on the science of how we power past coal and gas and fight the climate crisis,” he said.
The authority was created in 2012 as part of a suite of climate policies agreed by the Gillard government, the Greens and independent MPs. The Coalition under Tony Abbott tried to abolish it, but failed. Instead, it cut its funding, slashed its staffing and sidelined its advice.
Milne, who was the Greens’ climate spokesperson when the authority was introduced, said the new appointments were important, and praised Hughes’ inclusion in particular.
But she said she believed the makeup of the board meant the new appointees would have an “uphill battle” in getting their colleagues to take climate science seriously and not prioritise the future of the gas industry.
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