Hands up everyone who knew an energy White Paper was under development.
Resources Minister Martin Ferguson previewed the development of the Paper in June last year but never really announced it, although he put out a press release to coincide with the first meeting of the consultative committee developing the White Paper in November. The Paper is scheduled for release in August.
So the process has thus far flown entirely beneath the media radar, which may be how the Government prefers it.
The “High Level Consultative Committee” Ferguson referred to is described as “one of the key sources of advice for the development of the White Paper” which “represents a cross-section of stakeholders in Australia’s energy sector… from discovery and exploration through to export and end use, and in both existing and emerging technologies.”
However, that’s a bit misleading.
The Committee is composed of representatives from Shell, BHP’s uranium division, Santos, Woodside, Rio Tinto, Origin, AGL, Xstrata, the Energy Supply Association, the Petroleum Production and Exploration Association. The non-fossil fuel representatives are the Australian Energy Market Operator; chair and Department of Resources Deputy Secretary Drew Clark; the Secretary of the Victorian Department of Primary Industry, Richard Bolt, the Prime Minister’s National Security Adviser Duncan Lewis and the CEO of CSIRO, Dr Megan Clark.
Despite the terms of reference identifying the need to reduce carbon emissions as a goal, the need for cleaner energy and conservation technologies and environmental sustainability, and specifically indicating the White Paper will cover both fossil fuel and renewable energy resources, and energy consumption, there are no representatives of the renewable energy sector on the committee, nor is anyone representing energy users.
Roman Domanski from the Energy Users Association said that the Association had recently contacted the Department of Resources about participating in the Committee but had yet to receive a response. The Association had been invited to a workshop last year but had been unable to send a representative.
Crikey also contacted a number of high-profile companies in the renewable energy sector and none had been approached as part of the White Paper process. One sectoral representative told us they contacted the Department to point out that there was a lack of representation from the renewables industry, but was told that the Department believed it “had it covered”.
None of the Australian Conservation Foundation, Greenpeace, the Total Environment Centre or the Climate Institute have been approached.
The previous Government’s 2004 energy White Paper was dogged by claims that fossil fuel companies had dominated its development, to the detriment of the renewable energy industry. In that process, key representatives of the sector were unaware that an important advisory group on lower emissions even existed. A similar focus on Australia’s biggest carbon emitters appears to be occurring under Martin Ferguson — unsurprising given it is the same Department. Until this week, it had been run by Howard favourite Peter Boxall (of Workchoices fame); Boxall has now moved to ASIC and has been replaced with former NSW Treasury Secretary John Pierce.
The process is also reminiscent of Dick Cheney’s approach to energy policy in the Bush Administration, although Cheney preferred to keep his meetings with fossil fuel companies secret. Given the Government’s commitment to a renewable energy target of 20% by 2020, the absence of the sector from the White Paper process is, both politically and in policy terms, bizarre — particularly given the disillusion felt in the solar industry toward the Government. It may reflect the Department’s famously denialist view of climate change. However, the absence of energy users is even less explicable. The White Paper itself — due less than six months from now, which is barely a blink of a bureaucratic eye — may look a lot like the last one.
The Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism did not respond to Crikey before deadline.