Conflict of interest concerns have been raised around the Climate Change Authority.

The Climate Change Authority (CCA) is under scrutiny as the department overseeing the organisation seeks legal advice regarding potential conflicts of interest within its board. 

The Australia Institute recently sent a letter (PDF) to Minister for Climate Change and Energy Chris Bowen, urging a review of possible conflicts of interest among CCA board members.

As an independent body responsible for providing expert advice and recommendations on climate policy to the federal government, the CCA plays a crucial role in shaping Australia's approach to addressing climate change. 

However, concerns have been raised about Chair Grant King's multiple positions, which seemingly overlap with the authority's work. 

King serves as the Chair of GreenCollar, Australia's largest offset developer, as well as Chair of HSBC Bank Australia, a financial services company that participates in transactions involving the acquisition of carbon offsets, Chair of CWP Renewables, a company that develops, operates and owns renewable energy resources, and Principal/Owner of GK Advisory Pty Ltd, where he provides advice to clients on the energy market, climate change and environmental issues. 

During a recent Senate estimates hearing, Brad Archer, the chief executive of the Climate Change Authority, confirmed that while they consulted with the department for probity advice on managing conflicts of interest, they had not sought legal advice regarding potential conflicts among current board members. 

Archer said that when a conflict of interest arises, the members themselves assess the situation and determine how to manage it.

The Australia Institute's letter also expressed worries about other board members with close ties to carbon offsetting, fossil fuel industries, or climate change investment. 

The letter did not make any allegations of impropriety but highlighted the recent scandal involving consulting firm PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PWC) as evidence of concerns surrounding potential conflicts of interest.

Polly Hemming, Director of the Climate & Energy Program at the Australia Institute, has called for an inquiry into the management and integrity of public governance, extending beyond consultancies. 

Hemming stressed the need for the CCA's appointments to comply with legislation and raised concerns about the board's influence on setting the authority’s research agenda.

Jo Evans, deputy secretary in the Department of Climate Change, Energy, Environment, and Water (DCCEEW), acknowledged receiving the Australia Institute's letter and mentioned the need for legal advice to address the questions raised about the interpretation of the relevant legislation. 

Secretary of the Department David Fredericks confirmed that obtaining legal advice would ensure accurate guidance and resolution of the legal arguments involved.

In response to the growing interest in the CCA's activities, Mr Archer announced that the authority will soon publish its charter, outlining how members conduct their business. 

The CCA aims to address concerns and demonstrate a commitment to continuous improvement and transparent governance. 

However, the questions regarding potential conflicts of interest within the board raise concerns about the authority's ability to provide robust and independent advice on climate policy.