Albanese appoints former NSW Liberal energy minister Matt Kean to chair Climate Change Authority

The Albanese government has appointed the former New South Wales Liberal treasurer and energy minister Matt Kean to head the Climate Change Authority.

The appointment of Kean, a leading moderate and dedicated promoter of renewables, is a blow for Opposition Leader Peter Dutton as he prosecutes the Coalition’s proposal for seven nuclear plants to be a crucial part of Australia’s longer-term energy mix.

Kean is a divisive figure in the Liberal Party. He’s been a faction leader of the moderates and is disliked by the conservatives, falling out with former Prime Minister Scott Morrison in 2021 over his initial refusal to commit to a net-zero emissions policy by 2050. He has a strong and outspoken record on climate and energy issues.

In a joint news conference with Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and Energy Minister Chris Bowen today, Kean poured cold water on Dutton’s nuclear power plan, pointing to experts who have said it doesn’t make economic sense and would take too long to implement.

He quoted advice he had received from the New South Wales chief scientist when he was state energy minister, in addition to points that CSIRO and the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) have made in recent weeks.

He said that when he was in office, he examined the feasibility of nuclear power. The chief scientist, Professor Hugh Durrant-Whyte, who was responsible for the British government’s nuclear defence program, told him:

“[…] to bring nuclear into the system, it would take far too long and would be far too expensive for New South Wales.

The Climate Change Authority is an independent body providing expert policy advice to the federal government. It will advise by October on what Australia’s 2035 emissions reduction target under the Paris agreement should be.

Kean only announced last week that he was quitting the NSW parliament. At one point, he had been touted as a possible federal candidate for the Liberals.

At the news conference, Albanese stepped up his attack on Dutton, saying he is

on the fringe of Australian politics, is nowhere near the centre, is out there on the hard right of Australian politics being driven by ideology, not being driven by common sense.

Albanese said Kean was "uniquely qualified to lead the Climate Change Authority”. He said Kean understood “the opportunity that the transition to clean energy represents for our nation”.

He understood it as a member of the New South Wales Government and he understands it as someone who has focused his working life in recent years on making a difference, not just today, but for the generations to come. And he also understands the folly that walking away from the renewables transition represents for our nation.

Kean said his role would be “to bring my expertise and experience to provide independent advice to the Government of the day, whoever that should be, based on facts, based on science, based on economics and engineering. To make sure that we not only meet the challenges that we’re going to face in doing this transition, but we grab all the opportunities that are coming with it”.

Announcing his departure from state parliament last week, Kean said he would stay in the Liberal party, but would not stand for a seat in federal parliament. He said he would pursue a corporate career in the energy sector.

Kean replaces the outgoing chair, businessman Grant King.

Nationals leader David Littleproud hit out at Kean’s appointment. “The government has only diminished the standing of the authority to have appointed someone who is narrowly ideologically driven as a political stunt.”

This article is republished from The Conversation. It was written by: Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

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Michelle Grattan does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.