Finance Minister Mathias Cormann (Image: AAP/Lukas Coch)

Mathias Cormann’s campaign to become the next secretary-general of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) is running into trouble. Serious trouble.

Far from Australia pushing ahead on a unity ticket behind the former finance minister, former Labor foreign affairs minister Bob Carr has written to scores of international government contacts urging them to consider Australia’s inaction on climate change before appointing Cormann.

He’s not alone in his reservations, with politicians, former bureaucrats and journalists rallying against Cormann, calling him a hypocrite and a chameleon.

The atmospherics are not looking good. The OECD has previously criticised Australia for its performance on climate change, and Prime Minister Scott Morrison was not granted a speaking slot at the UN summit at the weekend.

‘The world needs to know’

Carr told Crikey “the world needs to know” about our politicians’ poor approach to clean energy and climate policies, and “just how resistant Canberra is to necessary action on climate”.

He said while most countries knew that Australia is the only developed country not to commit to net zero emissions by 2050, they should also know about the government’s proposed inquiry to grill financial regulators and banks over plans to pull back on lending or insuring mining projects because of climate change.

“Canberra can’t imagine that it can allow its backbench to pursue [anti-climate] antics … [and] not have this publicised overseas,” he said. “One restraint on the government pursuing an anti-climate agenda will be world opinion.”

Carr’s letter, seen by Crikey, was sent to about 70 contacts, including US president-elect Joe Biden’s transition team. In the letter Carr writes:

It now seems Australia will also become the only developed country in which corporations cleaving to the international consensus on climate will be ‘roughed up’ in the Australian Parliament. This may be relevant in making assessments about relative national commitments on the climate challenge.

Carr has yet to receive a response.

‘Denial, inaction and deeply retrograde steps’  

UK Labour Party spokeswoman for trade Emily Thornberry has written to UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson demanding he boycott Cormann’s campaign:

[Cormann’s] record on climate change is one of denial, inaction and deeply retrograde steps on issues like emissions trading, carbon pricing, and fossil fuel investment … It would make a mockery of your own claims to leadership on climate change, and would send entirely the wrong signal to the world about how seriously the UK takes the issue.

‘Abolished’ and ‘blocked’ green initiatives

In late November, Greens leader Adam Bandt wrote a two-page letter to the ambassador of every nation that has a vote in the OECD nomination process warning Cormann’s appointment would hinder climate change policies. Bandt wrote:

Unfortunately, Mr Cormann’s record on climate change has been to block action at every turn during his years as a senior minister in the Australian government.

He pointed to the Morrison government’s push for a “gas-led recovery” and Cormann’s attempt to abolish the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and the Australian Renewable Energy Agency.

‘Accommodates conservatives’

Writing in The Canberra Times Tony Harris, an adviser to several finance ministers and a former NSW auditor-general, noted that Cormann had talked about addressing climate change during his maiden speech in 2007 but quickly changed his tune. 

Cormann seemingly changed his views or was unable to propagate them. He now accommodates the passions of his conservative colleagues who praise fossil fuels.

Support trickling in

Meanwhile, Labor has supported Cormann’s bid. Its climate spokesman Mark Butler said Cormann has “seen the light” on climate policy.

But the party has questioned Cormann’s use of private jets. Using taxpayer money, the Morrison government has paid for a private Royal Australian Airforce jet — costing more than $4000 an hour — to fly Cormann around Europe to campaign for the position. Butler questioned why these jets were being used while 36,000 Australians remain stranded overseas

Along with support from Labor, Cormann has found allies at the Coalition for Conservation, with Cristina Talacko and Dr Matt Edwards writing an opinion piece in The Canberra Times supporting his bid.

The pair argued Cormann had been a “voice of reason in a centre-right Coalition government” and that the appointment represented an opportunity for Australia to drive more ambitious climate action at home.

An anonymous editorial in The Age also offered support, arguing Cormann’s dealings with China would be valued in the OECD.