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Environment officials on tenterhooks with Hunt

Date

Peter Martin, Daniel Hurst

Rain won't halt their parade: Activists in Sydney braved thunderstorms on Sunday to demand action over climate change.

Rain won't halt their parade: Activists in Sydney braved thunderstorms on Sunday to demand action over climate change. Photo: Dean Sewell

Environment bureaucrats are deeply worried about their ability to develop a "working relationship" with their minister, so concerned they have refused a freedom of information request on the ground it could "complicate" the relationship.

The revelation came as organisers claimed 60,000 people came from around the country to rally for action on climate change, including some 10,000 in Sydney who braved torrential rain and chilly temperatures.

Asked by Fairfax Media for a copy of the incoming brief prepared for Environment Minister Greg Hunt, an official from the Department of Environment has replied that releasing it would have "a substantial adverse effect on the department's working relationship with the incoming minister".

"The public release of confidential advice prepared for the incoming government on a highly sensitive and public policy area such as climate change could complicate the relationship between the department and the incoming Coalition minister," assistant secretary David Williams wrote.

The briefing to which it has refused access contains "opinions, advice and recommendations on a full range of issues related to the Coalition's climate change policy".

The department says releasing it would "compromise the new minister's ability to quickly develop an understanding of the department's operations and sensitivities in climate change".

After receiving the briefing, the Coalition abolished the climate change department and merged it with the Department of Environment. Mr Hunt instructed the new department to prepare legislation to repeal the Clean Energy Act of 2011.

The act not only sets up the carbon tax and emissions trading scheme but also specifies a long-term emissions reduction target of 80 per cent below 2000 levels by 2050. If the bill becomes law, Australia will be committed to only one target - a reduction to 5 per cent below 2000 levels by 2020.

The Climate Change Authority (also slated for abolition in a separate bill) is preparing to recommend that the government boost its 2020 target to a cut of 15 or 25 per cent. It is also preparing to recommend an interim target of 50 per cent below 2000 levels by 2030.

The refusal to release the brief came as 130 protests around the country were held. They were organised by a coalition of activists, including GetUp! Members of the crowd carried placards with slogans such as, ''There's no Planet B'', ''My world in your hands'', ''One Climate, Our Future'' and ''Aim Higher on Climate''.

Huddling under a tree during a downpour, Keelah Lam, from Manly, said: ''It should be called climate chaos rather than global warming, because there is freaky weather all over the globe, and not just here.''

The Australian Greens gathered in Brisbane to start planning ways to improve their performance at the 2016 election. Leader Christine Milne said the Greens would ''not blink'' in the fight for strong action on climate change.

The Coalition's carbon tax repeal bills are unlikely to get through the Senate until the Greens and present independents lose the balance of power after June next year.

with Gemma Khaicy and Julie Power

Fairfax subscriptions

62 comments

  • Understandable because he is Minister Against the Environment not Minister for the Environment........the dept and Hunt don't go together.

    Commenter
    JT
    Date and time
    November 18, 2013, 7:00AM
    • When logic tells you that the current policy settings are correct and the proposed policy settings are insane, you can hardly write a report as an 'independent' Government department that is based on 3 word slogans and fairy tales. Would be a fascinating read; no wonder the Government doesn't want any of its department advices released for general consumption, given their entire policy platform is based on doing the opposite of what Labor did and/or Abbott brain-snaps.

      Commenter
      jofek
      Date and time
      November 18, 2013, 8:39AM
    • Well the previous climate minister was under the impression that a tax would cure the world's climate issues - clearly taxing people and businesses can't help, now shutting down all of our dirty coal mines might help - but then again there are plenty of countries with coal mines ready to fill that void.

      Unless the mass polluters ( with our dirty coal mind you ) stop or start limiting their emissions dramatically then all we are doing is pi..ing into the wind - our contribution of global emissions is around 1.5%, however throw in that we send dirty coal offshore and our net contribution goes up 100 fold .

      Commenter
      party politics is ruining the debate
      Date and time
      November 18, 2013, 12:36PM
    • What sort of tyrants are Bolts Dolts, if they have scared a Westminster institution such as the public service into quivering secrecy? How are we, the public, to be assured that the public servants are still able to provide fair, balanced and impartial advice on our behalf?

      The wording of the letter, written by assistant secretary David Williams, sounds suspiciously like the rejection letter from the Department of Treasury of a similar, post election, FOI request. Have all Departments been issued with a pro forma instruction from George Brandis?

      Undoubtedly we can conclude that the Departmental advice is highly critical of the government's policies. The question is, exactly how much pressure are public servants under (faced, as they are, with the threat of job cuts) to neglect their duty to the public in order to curry favour with their new ministers?

      Commenter
      CeeBee
      Date and time
      November 18, 2013, 5:11PM
  • Freaky weather?
    No its just weather and no different to weather we have had in the past!

    Commenter
    bring back october climate change
    Date and time
    November 18, 2013, 7:43AM
    • bbocc, and you'll be able to say that about each and every weather event as well as the weather patterns until it's well past time we are able to do anything.

      Commenter
      jofek
      Date and time
      November 18, 2013, 8:35AM
    • You were around a few hundred years ago? How old are you?! Where'd you find the Fountain of Youth?!

      Commenter
      deimos
      Date and time
      November 18, 2013, 9:31AM
    • Unfortunately the facts don't support your TA view of the world, then climate doesn't bother people as much when their heads are buried in the sand.

      Commenter
      EyesWideOpen
      Date and time
      November 18, 2013, 9:42AM
    • jofek, of course I will, which is why it is nothing but alarmist scare-mongering to keep pointing to weather events as examples of climate change.

      Commenter
      bring back october climate change
      Date and time
      November 18, 2013, 10:30AM
    • Tell that to 97% of the scientific fraternity.
      And you have a doctorate in?
      The science is in, we need to accept it and act accordingly. But it's blatantly obvious that this Govt and it's big end polluting Masters will not act upon the proof.
      It's up to every individual to change the way they live and lower their carbon footprint. It's not that difficult if you have the conviction, and by no means is quality of life diminished, if anything it's enhanced.
      That deniers still exist has me dumbfounded.
      I didn't "walk" yesterday but was there 100% in spirit.

      Commenter
      A country gal
      Date and time
      November 18, 2013, 10:54AM

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