A Coalition-controlled Senate committee has hired a leading opponent of Australian action to address climate change to review Treasury’s modelling of the Government’s emissions trading scheme.

In an unusual move, Brian Fisher, described in the announcement as “former Executive Director of ABARE and currently of Concept Economics” has been directly engaged by the Senate Select Committee on Fuel and Energy to conduct an “independent review” of Treasury’s modelling.

The Select Committee was established in the dying days of the Coalition’s Senate majority in June and is chaired by Western Australian Liberal Senator Mathias Cormann, who is an advocate of greater “clean” energy exports, such as gas and uranium, to address climate change. Deputy Chair, NSW Labor Senator Steve Hutchins, has been critical of the impact of an ETS on jobs, as has fellow committee member, Liberal Tasmanian David Bushby.

Brian Fisher’s long history of working closely with the Howard Government to delay and disrupt action on climate change has been discussed in Crikey previously — including his trenchant opposition to any attempts to regulate land-clearing. Fisher currently heads Concept Economics with right-wing economist and Liberal Party tax adviser Henry Ergas and former senior Howard staffers. He has already produced a sloppy attack on the Treasury modelling for the Minerals Council and a rather half-baked complaint about it for The Australian. Fisher also attacked the ETS and suggested farmers might be forced to kill their livestock in a rural publication.

Fisher, therefore, should have automatically been excluded from any “independent” review of the modelling. However, he was appointed by the committee without a competitive tender process or other selection exercise. According to the Senate Clerk’s office, committees are exempt from Commonwealth procurement guidelines (which require tender processes for work worth more than $80,000), but must obtain approval from the President of the Senate to appoint someone. The appointment of Fisher was signed off by the President, Labor Senator John Hogg.

Senator Cormann declined to reveal how much Dr Fisher would receive for the work. The task is scheduled for completion by 30 January 2009, meaning Fisher has only eight weeks to fulfil a vast set of terms of reference. They cover the impact of the global financial crisis (a particular Liberal bugbear about the Treasury modelling, despite it being irrelevant to long-term modelling) and alternative scenarios involving the lack of international agreement on an emissions target.

It is also unclear how Fisher, who as a private sector economist has no access to the most recent versions of the MMRF model used by Treasury to model Australia-specific impacts of the ETS, will be able to adequately comment on issues such as the unemployment, inflation and productivity impacts. The committee has asked for “full access” to the Treasury modelling but it’s unclear whether the Government will comply with the request.

Access Economics, which has also happily provided its services to rentseekers, at least has its own AE-RGEM model and doesn’t have a long history of being the chief accountant to the Howard Government’s greenhouse mafia.

Cormann told Crikey that no one with expertise in the area came without baggage, but that the intention of the exercise was to “take the religion out of the climate change issue.” Fisher’s work would “provide another input into the debate”, Cormann said, particularly because the Government had not asked Treasury to model what would happen if there was no international agreement.

Dr Fisher did not return Crikey’s calls.