Dirty power: big coal's network of influence over the Coalition government

Energy resources Federal government Government accountability Energy Coal Lobbying Ministerial staff Australia

The coal industry is powerful and has infiltrated Australian government at the highest levels, all the way to the office of Prime Minister, Scott Morrison. Its power and influence were key factors in the downfall of two prime ministers, Kevin Rudd and Malcolm Turnbull, and in the abolition of a range of policies driving action on climate change.

Former coal industry staff now enjoy direct access to senior government ministers. A wide, well-funded network of lobbyists, supported by coal’s political and media allies, has been key to protecting the interests of coal companies operating in Australia. Individuals at the executive and staff level of these organisations regularly trade places, reinforcing the connections within a system that keeps coal at the centre of Australian politics, stifling energy sector reform and action on climate change.

This report exposes that hidden network of influence.

This report is based on interviews with dozens of political staffers, executives of external lobby firms, and resources sector analysts; previously hidden details about the identity and background of federal ministers’ parliamentary staff; and publicly available information about listed companies and their operatives.

While this report does not suggest any illegal or improper conduct on the part of any of the individuals or organisations named, the picture that emerges is of a government in thrall to coal: a situation that is dangerous for Australian democracy and terminal for our climate.

Key findings:

Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s senior staff is dominated by former executives and employees of the coal industry, its lobbyists, and pro-coal mastheads at News Corp. They include:

  • Scott Morrison’s Principal Private Secretary, Yaron Finkelstein, was the former CEO of Crosby Textor (now C|T)
  • Morrison’s chief of staff, John Kunkel, was previously Deputy CEO of the Minerals Council of Australia (MCA) and a lobbyist for Rio Tinto.
  • News Corp staffers dominate Morrison’s communications team, including his speech-writer, Matthew Fynes-Clinton (formerly with The Courier Mail); his press secretary, Andrew Carswell (formerly chief of staff at The Daily Telegraph); and advisor Thomas Adolph (formerly with The Australian).
  • Stephanie Wawn, a senior Morrison advisor, previously worked for Capital Hill Advisory, whose clients have included coal miner Glencore, as well as the pro-coal think tank the Menzies Research Centre.

Former staff of the coal industry and its peak representative body, the Minerals Council of Australia, are employed across the federal Coalition government. Prominent examples include:

  • John Kunkel, Scott Morrison’s chief of staff, was Deputy CEO of the MCA and a lobbyist for Rio Tinto.
  • Sid Marris, former PM Malcolm Turnbull’s Senior Adviser for Energy, Climate Change, Resources and Northern Australia, previously worked for the MCA as head of environment and climate policy.
  • Patrick Gibbons worked as an advisor to Greg Hunt during his tenure as environment minister. When Sid Marris left the MCA to work for Malcolm Turnbull, Gibbons took up Marris’ former role at the MCA.


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