From civil service to civil disobedience: Greg Hunt’s former adviser joins Extinction Rebellion protest

by Adam Morton
Gregory Andrews is one of several former public servants at rally outside Parliament House calling for end to fossil fuel expansion

In 2013, Gregory Andrews was an adviser to the then environment minister Greg Hunt, working in an office that scrapped the Tim Flannery-led Climate Commission and abolished a national carbon price scheme.

Late last year he was Australia’s high commissioner in western Africa, where his job focused on helping push oil and gas developments by Australian companies.

Shortly after dawn on Wednesday, he was part of an Extinction Rebellion protest outside Parliament House, calling for an immediate end to fossil fuel expansion.

“Two years ago I would have thought [Extinction Rebellion protesters] were annoying and we should be trying to bring about change another way,” he said of his abrupt transformation from civil service to civil disobedience.

“But I have had a growing awareness that this is a worsening climate emergency. The evidence is clear that the world’s already a dangerous place, and it’s on track to become unliveable for billions of people in my children’s lifetimes. That wasn’t the case when I was at university.”

Andrews said he had a wakeup call in Africa after being appointed high commissioner and ambassador to nine countries in 2020 and finding a central responsibility was representing the commercial interests of Australian businesses.

“In that part of the world Australian interests are mining and resources,” he said. “A really important part of my job was promoting fossil fuel developments including the massive Sangomar oil and gas development in Senegal. I couldn’t have lived with myself if I’d stayed in Africa and kept promoting a massive fossil fuel project like that.”

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Before his final overseas posting, Andrews’ career as a public servant included a stint as an international climate negotiator for the Rudd and Gillard government and being appointed the first national threatened species commissioner. He is also known for a controversial anonymous TV appearance in 2006 that was blamed for instigating the Howard government’s Northern Territory intervention.

Now a self-described “full-time Dad” and adjunct associate professor in ecology with the University of Canberra, he was one of several former civil servants to join the Extinction Rebellion crowd on Wednesday. It followed young climate protesters from the group the Tomorrow Movement holding a demonstration in the parliament house foyer on Tuesday that was broken up by police.

Andrews is not a spokesperson for Extinction Rebellion – which says the climate science indicates the world should be aiming to reach net zero emissions by 2025 – but said he was driven to join the frontline activists in part by concern over the rise of “incredibly draconian” anti-protest laws in New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania.

He said he believed that, despite the Albanese government’s strong rhetoric on reducing emissions as the new parliament sat for the first time this week, the climate crisis continued to be treated as a fringe issue.

“It is great to have a more progressive and kinder government, one that I think reflects the values of many Australians, but we need to do much more than they have promised,” Andrews said.

“As the secretary general of the United Nations [António Guterres] has said, half of humanity is in the danger zone from climate change. The bushfires and floods we’re seeing now are just a taste test. We need to cease all new coal and gas projects straight away.”

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Asked how he reconciled his past roles with his newfound activism, Andrews said he was proud of his career but looking to the future, and Extinction Rebellion had made clear it “wants defectors”.

“I’m not interested in blame, I’m interested in climate action, and having a safe climate for humans and our extraordinary wildlife and biodiversity,” he said. “That’s what matters now.”