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Australia: Leaked documents reveal fossil fuel influence in White Paper

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MARK COLVIN: Remember the row back in June when the Federal Government released its Energy White Paper and the renewable energy industry saw it as a huge letdown?

The White Paper recommended a big investment in geosequestration – pumping carbon emissions from power stations and other polluters into holes in the ground.

The people who make windmills and solar panels, among others, got very little, and believed they'd been passed over.

Well, now the ABC's Investigative Unit has obtained leaked meeting minutes, emails and memos which suggest that behind the scenes, the fossil fuels industry had a huge say in what went into that White Paper.

With both sides now out wooing the environmental vote, the documents have an added political significance at the moment.

Andrew Fowler of the Investigative Unit reports.

ANDREW FOWLER: The group of 12 companies were hand-picked by the Government to form LETAG – the lower emissions technical advisory group.

Fossil fuel producers – Exxon Mobil, Rio Tinto, BHP Billiton and high level fossil fuel users and generators – Alcoa, Holden, Boral, Amcor, Energex, Edison Mission and Origin Energy were part of the Government's exclusive invitation only group.

Clive Hamilton is the Executive Director of the Australian Institute and a critic of the Coalition's energy policies.

CLIVE HAMILTON: This leaked document provides a remarkable insight into how the policy agenda is really set under the Howard Government. It's quite clear now that when the Prime Minister wanted new policy directions to deal with climate change, he decided to call a secret meeting with Australia's biggest polluters and said, 'Tell me what I need to do'.

ANDREW FOWLER: The energy white paper – "Securing Australia's Energy Future" – was released this year and detractors immediately accused the plan of being fossil fuel focused.

LETAG's composition was dominated by fossil fuel energy users and producers. They worked directly with the Government to develop the energy plan. It was something that the Government was not keen to publicise.

According to notes taken by one of the executives during a LETAG meeting the Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane stressed the need for absolute confidentiality. The Minister saying that if the renewables industry found out there would be a huge outcry.

Until today Libby Anthony, Chief Executive Officer of the Wind Energy Association was not aware that this group existed and that such meetings had taken place.

LIBBY ANTHONY: Absolutely. The wind industry is disappointed that these meetings are going on and we don't have a seat at the table. It's disappointing that they have not involved the renewables industry in this process, maybe they don't understand the benefits and the opportunities of the wind industry in particular and the renewable energy in general.

ANDREW FOLWER: Though the Government did meet with the renewables industry, they were never invited to join this key government advisory group process.

We have also obtained the minutes of a LETAG meeting during which Gary Wall, General Manager of the Energy Futures branch of Department of the Industry stated that government was seeking to adjust policy so it supports and accommodates industry's direction. But Ian Macfarlane defended the composition of the advisory group.

IAN MACFARLANE: They were people who used, produced, or involved in energy and I mean that takes in a broad spectrum. We were running a concurrent process with the renewable energy sector and both David Kemp and I were meeting with the renewable energy sector quite regularly. The Government makes no apologies for consulting with industry right across the board.

ANDREW FOWLER: The wind energy producers say that they had no idea that the LETAG meeting was taking place.

IAN MACFARLANE: Well I'm not aware of whether they knew about it or not. The reality is that probably the LETAG group didn't know I was meeting with the wind or the solar people as well. I mean government has a process of meeting with all groups. Those meetings are commercial in confidence, things are discussed in there on the basis that people are open and frank with me, and I am open and frank with them.

MARK COLVIN: Industry Minister, Ian Macfarlane, ending that report from Andrew Fowler.

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