The Bureau of Meteorology’s under-fire chief executive, Dr Andrew Johnson, has issued an apology over the agency’s handling of its rebranding, saying there were “significant learnings” from the debacle.
The bureau last week asked media not to refer to it as “BoM” but rather the “Bureau” – prompting a rebuke from the federal environment minister, Tanya Plibersek, and then a backtrack. At the time large parts of eastern Australia were flooded.
The criticism was followed by accusations the rebranding exercise had worsened a toxic work culture within parts of the bureau.
Current and former staff and scientists told the Guardian that under Johnson’s leadership the agency had been “cowering in the corner” on climate change.
Johnson told a Senate committee hearing on Friday there had “certainly been some ill-informed and inaccurate commentary” on the bureau’s position on climate change.
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He said the request to the media was part of an “image rebrand” that came after research suggested some parts of the community – such as the elderly, new immigrants and people whose main language wasn’t English – were confused by the term “BoM”.
“With the benefit of hindsight clearly the way we went about giving effect to our intent … there will be some significant learnings for us and I’ve apologised in my opening statement to this committee and the community if that’s caused any uncertainty and angst, and that’s a sincere apology,” Johnson said.
He said that “improving our services to the community” had been “challenging for some of our staff”. “We continue to work hard to listen to their views on the direction of the organisation and invest in their ongoing welfare and development,” the chief executive said.
Senator David Pocock asked Johnson if he had ever asked staff to cut the coverage of future climate change in the biennial State of the Climate reports – a major document charting the course of climate change in Australia.
“I don’t believe so,” Johnson said. “I have tried with colleagues at CSIRO to find a place for the core intent of the report that we pay attention to, and pay respect to the future climate issues.”
He said it was the bureau’s role to focus on meteorological conditions over the short term – days, weeks and months – and other organisations, including CSIRO, were able to take a longer view of the years and decades ahead.
Johnson said it was his job to “discharge my responsibilities under the Meteorology Act 1955 and climate dimensions form part of that”. He said he had done that diligently.
Earlier this week, a former BoM chief executive, Rob Vertessy, said the 1955 act needed updating to give the bureau a clearer mandate to work and communicate on climate change.
In an opening statement to the Senate’s Environment and Communications Legislation Committee on Friday, Johnson said: “For many years we have provided evidence that climate change is real and it’s very likely human activities have caused most of the global warming seen since 1950.”