Saturday, January 26, 2008

And congratulations to Martin Parkinson

Head of Australia's only completely new government department - Climate Change.

The head of Australia’s only completely new government department says it’s a great honour.

But he’s not talking about the Public Service Medal he’ll receive today for his earlier work as Deputy Secretary to the Treasury and head of the secretariat for the Prime Minister’s Task Group on Emissions Trading.

Martin Parkinson is talking about the opportunity to run the new Department of Climate Change set up within the Prime Minister’s portfolio within days of the election.

At the moment he finds it hard to even see the people who are working for him...

“There are about 200 of us spread out across the Prime Minister’s building, the John Gorton building (which houses Environment and Finance), and Foreign Affairs.”

Within weeks he hopes they will all be together in part of what used to be the Tax Office headquarters in Constitution Avenue Civic.

“We are waiting for the office fit out. Accommodation is so tight in Canberra right now that you go into a queue and wait until somebody can actually begin to do the work,” he said yesterday.

The Department of Climate Change has been given until the end of this year to finalise the design of the system of emissions trading that Kevin Rudd has promised to introduce in 2010.

It’s work that Dr Parkinson feels he hasn’t stopped doing since December 2006. That’s when John Howard plucked him from the Deputy Secretary’s position in Treasury and asked him to run the Secretariat for the his Task Group on Emissions Trading, the first sign that the Prime Minister was softening in what been his hard-line opposition to any form of carbon tax.

By the time the Task Group had reported in May his mood and broader public opinion had swung behind a system of emissions trading and he appointed Martin Parkinson to work on implementing the report as head of the Climate Change Group within his Department.

On the election of the Labor government he was made head of the new Department of Climate Change within the Prime Minister’s portfolio and given one of the most impressive of the new ministers, Penny Wong.

Within days he was in Bali with Kevin Rudd, Penny Wong, Peter Garrett and Wayne Swan.

“You couldn’t ask for a better combination of opportunity and support, he said. “Personally it’s a great honour.”

“I think everyone in the Department shares my enthusiasm and excitement for the task ahead. It’s just an incredibly large agenda, absolutely critical. It’s a massive economic and structural reform.”

When asked whether introducing a system of emissions trading would be a bigger reform than the new tax system introduced by the previous government in 2000, Martin Parkinson goes back further.

“I see it as the biggest and most pervasive economic reform since the trade liberalization in the 1980’s.”

“There will inevitably be some adjustment but what we’re really trying to do here is to find a way to transform the economy in a way that is as economically effective - that is to manage the costs and maximize the opportunities for new areas.”

“Think about it. Australia’s got this incredible wealth of natural and human resources that will benefit from a transformation to a low carbon economy while at the same time having this massive wealth of resources and talent that are intertwined with the existing carbon intensity of the economy.”

“The challenge is to manage the transformation to the low carbon economy. Because that’s inevitable. That is going to happen. We have to manage it.”

Dr Parkinson said he expected to put options to the Prime Minister within months.