Prime Minister Scott Morrison should explain to Australians why he ignored the advice of Treasury and included Mr St Baker’s coal plant upgrade on a shortlist of projects for taxpayer support.
Documents released under Freedom of Information show Prime Minister Scott Morrison defied Treasury advice not to offer taxpayer support for Liberal Party donor Trevor St Baker’s coal interests and included an upgrade of the Vales Point coal plant on his government’s ‘underwriting’ program shortlist.
The documents, released under a Freedom of Information request to the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF), show:
- In 2017 Trevor St Baker and his lobbyists met with then-Prime Minster Malcolm Turnbull, Treasurer Scott Morrison and Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg.
- Mr St Baker and his company Delta Electricity was seeking government funding for its coal interests and was attempting to influence national energy policy, including pushing for a “moratorium on new investment in renewable generation.”
- In a brief Treasury advised against providing or hinting at assistance to Mr St Baker’s coal interests because doing so “would further encourage electricity generation companies to try and offset their private investment with public assistance.”
- In March 2019 Prime Minister Morrison and Energy Minister Angus Taylor announced an upgrade of Mr St Baker’s Vales Point coal power station as one of 12 power projects shortlisted for ‘underwriting’.
ACF’s Chief Executive Officer, Kelly O’Shanassy, said: “Prime Minister Scott Morrison should explain to Australians why he ignored the advice of Treasury and included Mr St Baker’s coal plant upgrade on a shortlist of projects for taxpayer support.
“Mr St Baker bought the Vales Point coal plant for a song and has been trying to get taxpayers to cover his costs ever since, despite making huge profits pumping out climate pollution at the expense of clean energy.
“It’s disturbing that one rich coal baron is able to get this kind of access to the highest political offices and push his own self-interest at the expense of Australians and our safe climate.
“It is even worse the government didn’t send him packing. Instead they shortlisted an upgrade of his ailing Vales Point coal plant for taxpayer support and commissioned a review of the emissions reduction fund on Mr St Baker’s behalf to determine how coal plants can benefit from that scheme.
“Even more concerning is this support comes in the context of Trevor St Baker being a major political donor. In 2017 – the same year as the Treasury advice – Mr St Baker’s Family Trust made a $50,000 donation to the Liberal Party of Australia.
“Australians are suffering from climate damage right now. This summer alone we faced record heat, unprecedented fires in rainforests, worsening drought and devastating floods.
“Just this week the board of the government agency looking after the Wet Tropics of Queensland World Heritage Site warned the region has recently experienced the equivalent of the mass coral bleaching that has hammered the Great Barrier Reef and that climate change is rapidly driving native species to extinction.
“In light of this climate damage a responsible government would not funnel money to its coal baron mates. It would be taking strong action to cut climate pollution, stop burning coal and accelerate the deployment of clean energy.”
ACF’s independent scorecard gives the Coalition just 4 out of 100 on its climate policies, compared to 56 for the ALP and 99 for the Greens.