The move by Josh Frydenberg to exclude Greenpeace, The Australia Institute and the Australian Conservation Foundation from next week’s Budget lock-up continues his long history of favouring business groups over green groups dating back to when he was Environment Minister. Jommy Tee reports stunning new evidence of fossil fuel influence.
The centrepiece dinner of a proposed trip by one of the Trump Administration’s most powerful environmental officials and Australia’s then minister for environment (and energy), Josh Frydenberg, was to be completely stacked with coal and mining executives.
According to Freedom of Information (FoI) documents obtained in the US by the environmental group Sierra Club, not one single environmental group or organisation was to be invited to the dinner to honour the head of the US Environment Protection Agency (EPA), Scott Pruitt, on his planned visit to Australia in September 2017.
Representatives of Glencore, Peabody, BHP and Whitehaven Coal and representatives from the Minerals Council of Australia (MCA) were on the proposed guest list for the dinner. The MCA’s representatives were to include its then chair, Vanessa Guthrie (current director of the ABC and Santos) and its then chief executive Brendan Pearson, now a senior adviser with Prime Minister Scott Morrison. There has been speculation that Pearson was the likely source of the lump of coal that Morrison brandished in parliament in 2017.
The focus of the trip, based on the FoI documents, was ostensibly to discuss “innovation” – in reality it was a figleaf to discuss environmental deregulation.
While Pruitt’s trip to Australia was cancelled due to Hurricane Harvey, the FoI documents detail the planning and the only known draft itinerary for the visit – and the key players behind the planning.
The fossil fuel industry was to have extraordinary access as part of the intended trip, especially in the corridors of federal Parliament. It shows what conflicts Frydenberg entertained in his dual roles – the itinerary was jam-packed with fossil fuel representation at the expense of representatives from any large environmental organisations.
Pruitt’s six-day trip involved two solid days of meetings in Canberra, including separate meetings with Josh Frydenberg, then deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce, and a roundtable on “environmental regulatory reform”.
A key focus of the roundtable was to be on federalism and “streamlining regulatory approaches between the Commonwealth and state/territory governments” that would lead to “improved experiences for industry and reducing regulatory burden”.
The day’s activities would conclude with the showpiece dinner.
The following day Pruitt was slated to speak at “Minerals Week” at parliament house with an audience composed of “MPs and resources/commodities industry leaders”. That was to be followed by a closed door, private meeting at the Hyatt Hotel with the Mineral Council of Australia’s board.
The FoI documents reveal the principal organiser of the trip was Matthew Freedman, a business lobbyist with strong ties to the Trump administration and the oil and gas sector. At the time he was also treasurer of the American Australian Council, a group that helps promote business links in Australia for US-based companies. Two prominent members include Chevron and ConocoPhillips.
Freedman, who wanted his organisation of the trip to remain a secret, enlisted the services of the right-wing, libertarian Institute of Public Affairs and the MCA to shape the agenda and itinerary.
In particular, the FoI documents state that Freedman had been in direct contact with Frydenberg and his staff in planning the trip.
Pruitt’s trip and the players involved was widely covered in the US media, but raised barely a ripple in Australia – the notable exception being the Guardian, which highlighted the IPA’s and Minerals Council’s behind the scenes involvement.
Frydenberg’s “achievements” as environment minister would have to be handing out $444 million to the Great Barrier Reef Foundation without following transparency rules, allowing fellow minister Angus Taylor to involve himself in the inquiry of poisoned protected grasslands, and setting in train a series of reviews that have led to the diminution of environmental protections.
It is an environmental legacy that would have been well matched to the man he was due to dine with in 2017, Scott Pruitt, who came to the US EPA job with the goal of winding back regulations and weakening the agency.
Pruitt lasted just over 12 months in the job, forced to resign following a string of controversies while he occupied the office including allegations of corruption, malfeasance and deceiving the public.
Frydenberg, meanwhile, lasted two years as environment minister. It appears he is still favouring business over the environment by excluding environmental groups from being present at this year’s budget lock-up.