OECD members are being lobbied to block Mathias Cormann’s leadership bid because of the Coalition’s climate record, as the Australian government defended its financial backing for the former minister’s jet-setting campaign around Europe.
After Guardian Australia reported Cormann’s use of a Royal Australian Air Force aircraft was likely to cost about $4,300 a flying hour, the foreign affairs and trade department said: “If we want international institutions such as the OECD to thrive, we must step forward and offer to lead them.”
But in an attempt to undercut Cormann’s outreach to European countries, the Australian Greens leader, Adam Bandt, has written to the ambassador of every nation that has a vote in the OECD nomination process to warn that appointing him as secretary general would be “a blow to tackling climate change”.
Cormann has recently embraced the language of a “green recovery” from the pandemic and has defended the Coalition’s climate record. But Bandt’s two-page letter – seen by Guardian Australia – urges the OECD’s 36 members excluding Australia to support a candidate with a better track record.
Bandt points to Cormann’s vote to “repeal Australia’s successful carbon price” in 2014 and his attempts as a senior Abbott government minister to abolish the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and the Australian Renewable Energy Agency.
“As finance minister, he tried to abolish the very same green finance bodies he will no doubt be promoting as evidence of his green credentials for the job,” Bandt wrote.
More recently, Bandt said Cormann has been a senior member of the Morrison government that has pushed for a “gas-led recovery”.
“Unfortunately, Mr Cormann’s record on climate change has been to block action at every turn during his years as a senior minister in the Australian government,” Bandt wrote.
“I ask that your country supports an OECD secretary general candidate who has a strong record on acting on climate change, and someone who can provide genuine leadership as the OECD focuses on a green recovery from the Covid-19 crisis.”
Labor has appeared reluctant to criticise the Cormann campaign because it has pledged support for his OECD candidacy but said on Tuesday the Morrison government should put as much effort into getting stranded Australians home by Christmas.
The opposition’s health spokesman, Chris Bowen, said Labor had shown “a greater maturity and willingness to put the national interests first” than the Coalition did when it blocked Kevin Rudd’s bid to run the United Nations.
Bowen said it was a matter for the government to justify and explain the use of the RAAF jet.
Fellow Labor frontbencher Bill Shorten said thousands of Australians wanted to return home and he wished Scott Morrison would “spend as much time worrying about them as perhaps Mathias Cormann getting some votes in Europe”.
“For every flight that Mathias Cormann gets flying around Europe, how about you bring home another thousand Aussies before Christmas?”
It is understood Cormann flew to Europe on 8 November and is spending several weeks travelling around the continent to promote his candidacy, but the government is not expected to report the full costs of the campaign until the end of the process.
The government has set up a website to promote his candidacy.
— EC AV Service (@EC_AVService) November 23, 2020
The ABC reported his initial journey to Europe involved a Canberra to Perth to Muscat flight on the RAAF jet, with a refuelling stop in the Maldives. He arrived in Turkey to begin the campaigning. Cormann has also been to Denmark and Spain.
It is unclear how much has been spent on hotels, flights and other costs.
When asked to disclose the total campaign budget Dfat pointed to Morrison’s announcement last month that Cormann would be Australia’s candidate.
Dfat indicated it was supporting the campaign because Cormann was Australia’s candidate and because the government wanted to play a greater role in the OECD.
“The OECD is a pillar of global economic governance and a core multilateral organisation,” Dfat said.
“Australia has benefited significantly from participation in the OECD over nearly 50 years of membership. While we have played an active role in areas of interest, we have not yet had a leadership role.”
The OECD has criticised Australia for its performance on climate change. Its membership is dominated by European countries and Australia’s climate change contribution has been queried by those with more ambitious commitments.
Cormann talked up the importance of pursuing “a green recovery with an increased reliance on renewables” last month when he addressed a business conference organised by Germany.
When asked by Guardian Australia about those remarks, Cormann said: “Of course we are in favour of an environmentally friendly green recovery.”
He argued Australia had “a very strong track record when it comes to economically responsible effective action on climate change” and insisted the domestic debate had been about “the how” not whether.
The defence media unit has not yet responded to a request for comment on the costs of Cormann’s use of the RAAF jet. Records from the final six months of 2019 indicate flying the Dassault Falcon 7X comes at a cost of $4,305 a flying hour.