ARENA’s new chair is Justin Punch, an energy and climate investor and long-standing friend of Mr Taylor’s. He replaces Martijn Wilder, a leading renewable energy lawyer who had served two two-year stints and was eligible for a third.
Mr Taylor also appointed for a two-year board stint John Hirjee, who previously served him as a senior political adviser. Mr Hirjee is an executive director at ANZ covering resources, energy and infrastructure.
Also up for two years is economist Anna Matysek, co-founder and associate of BAEconomics, a consultancy that opposed the 2020 renewable energy target and last year published a report critical of Labor’s climate policies.
“The new appointees to the board have strong skills in energy market analytics, strategic planning and investment which will assist in ensuring the most innovative and effective projects are backed by ARENA,” Mr Taylor said.
The Herald sought comment from Mr Taylor about ARENA’s funding beyond the present mandate that runs to 2022, and whether the appointments would shift the agency’s emphasis.
Richie Merzian, a researcher at The Australian Institute and former government climate negotiator, said the appointments smacked of “cronyism”, noting Mr Hirjee’s role as a Liberal Party staffer and BAEconomics had provided consulting on various government projects, including Mr Taylor’s Liquid Fuel Security Review.
“There’s a good chance [the government] will change ARENA’s mandate,” Mr Merzian said, adding he expects to see ARENA move into carbon capture and storage and also so-called blue hydrogen developed from fossil fuels.
Greens leader Adam Bandt said his party and Labor had set up ARENA during the Gillard years and Mr Taylor’s strategy appears “to let the organisation run out of money … while silencing the board in the meantime”.
“I hope these appointees are zealous advocates to the renewables cause in their new roles,” Mr Bandt said.
Mark Butler, Labor’s climate and energy spokesman, said Labor had fought for ARENA’s “independence, integrity and funding against numerous attacks from the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison government, and we’ll continue to do so”.
“Angus Taylor, Prime Minister Morrison, and his entire government prefer to engage in new coal and nuclear power boondoggles rather than accepting Anthony Albanese’s call for a bipartisan energy policy to finally give industry some policy certainty and deliver the jobs and investment Australia desperately needs,” Mr Butler said.
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Peter Hannam writes on environment issues for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.