“I wish the government the very best in their efforts to transition the economy to net zero emissions [by 2050],” he said. “I will do everything I can to support that.”
Mr Turnbull’s original appointment – his first high-profile role since leaving federal politics in mid-2018 – was agreed upon between Mr Kean and Nationals leader John Barilaro in February before being taken to cabinet last Monday.
Debate within cabinet was limited with only ministers Anthony Roberts and David Elliott speaking out before Premier Gladys Berejiklian stepped in to cut off discussions, according to a government source speaking on the condition of anonymity.
Mr Turnbull’s nomination for the role, which had not formally come into effect before Tuesday’s dumping, triggered days of objection within sections of the media including Nine’s 2GB radio (Nine is the owner of The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age) and News Corp’s Daily Telegraph.
“The right-wing media – they cracked the whip as bullies do, and got their way,” Mr Turnbull said. “In actions like these, you have to ask, ‘Who’s in charge?’”
He added that criticism over supposed conflicts of interest – Mr Turnbull has other roles, including working for billionaire Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest’s clean-energy projects – had been dealt with.
Similarly, Mr Turnbull has said he was well within his rights to speak out about the expansion of the Mt Pleasant coal mine, which is located near his family’s property in the Upper Hunter.
In announcing Mr Turnbull’s appointment, Mr Kean said his expertise as a former prime minister, federal environment minister and head of investment bank Goldman Sachs Australia made him “ideally placed to help NSW reduce its emissions in ways that grow the economy”.
Adam Searle, Labor’s climate change and energy spokesman, said Mr Turnbull’s dumping vindicated Labor’s opposition to his appointment.
“It was a divisive appointment not only [on] a partisan basis but within his own side of politics,” Mr Searle said. “It’s just humiliating for [Mr Kean], the Premier and the government to dump him.”
He said the decision was made “in the shadow of the Upper Hunter byelection”. “They played politics with his appointment and they are playing politics with his dumping.”
Mr Searle called on the government “to learn from its mistake” and pick “a respected independent person for this very important role”.
Mr Barilaro, who is also Deputy Premier, described Mr Turnbull as “thick-headed”, telling 2GB, “He pulled my pants down within 48 hours of his appointment on an area that I take seriously.”
Justin Field, an independent upper house MP, said Mr Turnbull’s appointment “was always a red rag to a bull for the climate deniers” triggering the same old internal Coalition fights that have played out and delayed climate action in Australia for a decade.
“It was a distraction from the key point that there should be no new coal mines approved in NSW,” Mr Field said. “There is more than enough coal mining approved in the pipeline to support an orderly transition for workers and coal communities.”
Energy and Environment Minister Matt Kean’s statement in full
STATEMENT ON NET ZERO EMISSIONS AND CLEAN ECONOMY BOARD
The purpose of the Net Zero Emissions and Clean Economy Board is to create jobs in low carbon industries and see the State reduce its emissions in ways that grow the economy.
It is important that the focus is on achieving these outcomes, based on facts, technology, science, and economics.
The focus should not be on personality.
Malcolm Turnbull AC has contributed much to our country and I know will contribute more into the future.
However, no person’s role on the Board should distract from achieving results for the NSW people or from the Government’s work in delivering jobs and opportunities for the people of NSW.
For this reason, I have decided not to proceed with his appointment as chair.
A new chair of the Board will be announced in due course. Until then, the NSW Chief Scientist and Engineer will act in the role.
I want to thank Mr Turnbull for his willingness to serve and look forward to his continued contribution to public life.
Peter Hannam writes on environment issues for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.