A Saturday Paper report this past weekend revealed a series of extraordinary calls made directly by then Environment Minister, Josh Frydenberg, to the directors of AGL in 2017. Frydenberg was lobbying to have AGL’s CEO, Andy Vesey, sacked by the board.
When Vesey was appointed CEO in 2015, AGL was Australia’s biggest carbon-dioxide emitter, responsible for 8% of the nation’s emissions. Soon after his appointment, Vesey made a public pitch in favour of the “decarbonisation” of Australia’s electricity generation network by 2050.
The new policy was aimed at getting AGL to do its bit to limit global warming to two degrees (the plan itself has since been removed from AGL’s website). In 2016, Vesey announced the closing of the Liddell coal-fired power plant, one of Australia’s oldest, to be replaced with battery storage and renewables.
Mike Seccombe argues the announcement was an embarrassment for the federal government, which was running an election-year scare campaign about renewables. At the time, Frydenberg and Turnbull both lobbied AGL to sell Liddell to Alinta, which would keep the plant operating.
Frydenberg’s calls evidently did not cease after the 2016 election. Vesey ultimately left AGL in August 2018.
Since that election five years ago, AGL shares rose just 5% to the start of the pandemic. From then to now, they have fallen 62%. With 85% of their electricity now coming from coal, AGL is horribly exposed to the world’s twin hopes of cheap renewable energy and global divestment from carbon.
This is the policy direction Frydenberg advocated for AGL. If he were held accountable according to the standards of the corporate world, he’d now have to be sacked himself.