The man whose lobby group supplied Scott Morrison with the lump of coal he famously brandished in the federal parliament is off to Paris as Australia’s newest ambassador to the OECD.
Mining lobbyist Brendan Pearson will be reunited with former finance minister Mathias Cormann in the new role having served as his senior adviser before moving into the prime minister’s office as an industry and trade adviser in 2019.
Pearson was chief executive of the Minerals Council of Australia when it supplied then-treasurer Morrison with the lump of coal he held aloft in the parliament in 2017 while saying “this is coal, don’t be afraid”.
Before serving in Cormann and then Morrison’s offices, Pearson also worked at the American coal giant Peabody Energy.
The press release issued by the treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, announcing Pearson’s elevation to the OECD ambassadorship didn’t mention the question time coal but pressed Pearson’s international experience.
“Mr Pearson was most recently senior adviser (industry, trade and investment) [in the] office of the prime minister,” the statement read.
“He has previously worked overseas as counsellor (trade policy) at the Australian embassy in Washington, North Asia bureau chief for the Australian Financial Review in Tokyo and as a visiting scholar, department of politics and international studies at the University of Cambridge.”
Cormann, the former Morrison government finance minister, was narrowly elected the head of the OECD earlier this year. He was forced to defend his previous stance on climate action, having called net zero targets “extremist’, “irresponsible” and “reckless” while a member of the Coalition government, while also having acted as a strong advocate of the coal industry.
Cormann has since said he would pursue a “global approach” to climate action and net zero carbon targets by 2050, as part of his stewardship of the OECD.
Pearson is expected to help the Morrison government push its “technology not taxes” climate solution in response to the European Union’s carbon tariff proposal – which would see levies placed on products from countries showing less ambition in their climate action.
The Morrison government is facing increasing global pressure to commit to its own net zero target ahead of the Glasgow climate conference in November.
Critics of the Coalition’s climate policies have questioned the appointment of a former mining and coal lobbyist to the OCED role.
The Australia Institute’s Richie Merzian said Australia “already has a reputation as a lobbyist for the fossil fuel industry”.
“This appointment will only serve to drive Australia’s climate credentials further backwards,” he said in a statement.
Pearson replaces Alexander Robson in the ambassador role. Robson, a former economics adviser to former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull, had served as ambassador since 2019.