Australia’s new energy minister Gary Gray – a brief climate history

Resources and Energy Minister Gary Gray on ABC’s Lateline

AUSTRALIA has a new energy and resources minister in the form of Gary Gray, who was elected to the Federal Parliament in 2007 after six years as an adviser and corporate affairs director for gas company Woodside.

This is a piece of Gary Gray’s history which is uncontested, given that it appears on his biography on his ALP home page.

But one aspect of Gray’s history which has been contested, are his views on climate change and an apparent association with a climate science denial organisation.

Just minutes after Prime Minister Julie Gillard announced Gray’s appointment, a handful of people I follow on Twitter were pointing to claims that Gray had been a founder member of the Lavoisier Group.

On Climate Spectator, Tristan Edis also reported that Gray was a founder member of the “Lavoisier Institute [sic]”.

But after looking into the Lavoisier archives and reviewing some documents sent to me by journalist Bob Burton, it’s pretty clear that Gray wasn’t even a member, never mind a founder member

The Lavoisier Group was launched in May 2000 to directly challenge any moves to regulate greenhouse gas emissions and to argue, wrongly even back then, that the science of human-caused climate change was controversial and not worth acting on.

The group was founded by then executive director of Western Mining Corporation Ray Evans and his boss at WMC, Hugh Morgan, a former board member of the Reserve Bank of Australia and, later, the president of the Business Council of Australia.

Morgan was an unlikely choice to chair a Commonwealth Business Forum round table on climate change in 2011 with Australia’s climate change minister Greg Combet in attendance. As I wrote for DeSmogBlog, having Morgan chair the meeting was a little like asking a creationist for advice on teaching science in schools.

Gary Gray did speak at the launch of the Lavoisier Group in Melbourne in May 2000. At the time Gray was billed as the former national secretary of the ALP – he had recently resigned from that position which he had held for seven years.

Perhaps a reason Gray agreed to speak was that his father-in-law Peter Walsh, a former ALP finance minister, was a Lavoisier founder member and was president of the organisation for many years. Bob Hogg, another former ALP secretary, was also down to speak at the Lavoisier launch, but there appears to be no record of him ever actually appearing.

One report of the launch in The Australian, written by Frank Devine, paraphrased Gray, saying he had told the audience that “any campaign against ratification of the Kyoto protocols based on denying greenhouse was doomed to failure”.

Before 2000, Gray had reportedly described climate change as “pop science”. Whatever Gary Gray thought about climate change back in 2000 is of little relevance to what he thinks now.

Australian Financial Review political correspondent James Massola Tweeted quotes from Gray this afternoon apparently addressing his belief, or otherwise, in human-caused climate change. Gray is reported to have said:  “When I was national secretary of the ALP I made the observation about climate change being ‘pop science’. I have said on many occasions since then,since being elected, I have said it in the parlt. and on the public record, I was wrong”.

But even if Gray has accepted the science on human-caused climate change, then any questions of his role over the coming months seem a little pointless. As Giles Parkinson in RenewEconomy described it, Gray’s is a “lame duck” appointment. In my view there are few indications yet that climate and renewables policy under a Liberal government will be anything more than tokenistic.

UPDATE: Minister Gray has been giving interviews on the ABC and Emma Alberici on Lateline and Fran Kelly on Radio National Breakfast both asked him if he believed in human-caused climate change.

“Yes I do. I accept the contribution that human beings have made to the changing climate of our planet,” he told Kelly, who asked why he had changed his mind. Gray answered that it was his time working “working with an oil company” (I presume he means Woodside) and seeing the firm adjust parts of its business “to understanding the impact of climate change.” He added: “It really struck me and it opened my eyes.”

In the interview on Lateline, Gray said he had been embarassed by some of the things he had said in the 90s, which included calling climate science “pop science” and that “climate science was middle class conspiracy to frighten schoolchildren”.

EMMA ALBERICI: So can I just clarify then: do you reject now the Lavoisier Group, the climate deniers, and do you accept that the globe is warming and that human activity is responsible?

GARY GRAY: I don’t think there’s any doubt about that conclusion, but equally, Emma, there is no doubt that I attended the inaugural meeting of the Lavoisier Group and I counted and still count as friends members of that organisation. I just don’t agree with them anymore.

EMMA ALBERICI: So you do agree then that it’s human activity that’s causing the globe to warm?

GARY GRAY: I think there’s an undeniable connection between human industrial activity and carbon pollution that we need to address, that we should address and also that we can address.


Author: Graham

Graham Readfearn is a Brisbane-based journalist. Go to the About page in the top navigation for more information.

4 thoughts on “Australia’s new energy minister Gary Gray – a brief climate history”

  1. So Gillard is running scared before the election again – looks like another half-hearted promise to do nothing, followed by half-hearted action to do as little as Labor can get away with, that will not even go half way to what we need. Vacillating, weak, and totally useless.

  2. I don’t think it really matters who the new energy minister is… it’s only a 6 month job.

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