Labor to remake carbon credit committee after three controversial Coalition appointments resign

A sudden and major shake-up of the committee overseeing Australia’s emissions reductions has seen the departure of three members, including the committee’s chair, paving the way for Labor to remake the important committee.

A government spokesperson has confirmed three members of the Clean Energy Regulator’s (CER) Emissions Reduction Assurance Committee (ERAC) — all controversially appointed by the Coalition — have resigned.

The revelation follows a series of ABC reports exposing allegations that valuable carbon credits were handed out to businesses for emissions reductions that never occurred, as well as former committee chair Andrew Macintosh blowing the whistle on what he called a “rort”.

Economist Brian Fisher, former mining lobbyist David Byers, and cement industry lobbyist Margie Thomson have all stepped down from their positions at ERAC.

Mr Byers was the chair of the committee, with his departure leaving the position vacant.

The ABC can confirm both Mr Byers and Mr Fisher were asked to resign from the committee this week.

“The minister can confirm he has received and accepted resignations from three members of the ERAC,” a spokeswoman for Climate Change and Energy Minister Chris Bowen said on Thursday.

“The minister looks forward to appointing new committee members in due course.”

What is the ERAC and who were the Coalition appointments?

The ERAC determines the activities regarded as valid ways to produce carbon credits.

Those credits are then bought by the government through a reverse auction or sold on a private market.

After Labor won the election, Mr Bowen commissioned a review into how carbon credits were issued, and it is expected to report on the matter around the end of the year.

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Questions raised about the integrity of carbon offset schemes.(ABC: 7:30/Stephen Long )

Mr Fisher was closely associated with the Coalition after he produced modelling relied on by the then-government to argue Labor’s 2019 climate policies would put a “wrecking ball” through the economy.

He also worked for several fossil fuel companies as well as mining lobby group the Minerals Council of Australia. 

Mr Byers was appointed to chair the ERAC by former emissions reduction minister Angus Taylor in 2021.

He is a former senior executive at the Minerals Council of Australia, BHP and the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association. 

Ms Thomson was another Coalition appointment, and works for the cement industry peak body, the Cement Industry Federation.

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Former mining lobbyist David Byers was appointed ERAC chair last year.(ABC News: Chris Le Page)

Ms Thomson and Mr Byers had been accused of conflicts of interest, which the Australia Institute argued made their positions untenable — accusations they denied.

The potential for conflicts of interest meant that in some instances, Mr Byers and Ms Thomson stood aside from certain discussions. 

At the time, Mr Byers said he was “satisfied that any potential conflicts were then managed appropriately by the ERAC”.

Ms Thomson told the ABC the only reason she resigned was to spend more time caring for her elderly parents.

“I looked at everything that was going on politically and I have really important things in my personal life and I had to get rid of things that take up a lot of time,” she said.

‘Step towards trust’

Some of the money spent by the Emissions Reduction Fund goes towards “avoided deforestation”, which is meant to pay landholders to avoid going ahead with planned land clearing.

But analysis by The Australia Institute last year found the fund had paid for so much “avoided” land clearing, that most of it could not have occurred.

“It’s hard to think that there are even enough bulldozers in New South Wales to follow through on the inflated land-clearing rates that sit behind this methodology,” The Australia Institute’s Richie Merzian said at the time.

Professor Macintosh earlier this year told the ABC that “somewhere in the order of 70 to 80 per cent of the credits that have been issued are markedly low in integrity”. 

“Payments are being made to people to not chop down forests that were never going to be chopped down, to grow forests that are already there, to grow forests in places that will never sustain permanent forests,” he said.

Professor Macintosh’s allegations were dismissed by the CER, which produced modelling it said supported its methods.

Polly Hemming from The Australia Institute said: “It is unclear how appointments of individuals with such clear industry interests could ever have been made without regard to the legislation.”

“We hope this is a step towards restoring trust and credibility to the governance of Australia’s carbon credit system.”