Who is Matt Kean and what is the Climate Change Authority?

<span>Former state Liberal MP Matt Kean is the incoming chair of the Climate Change Authority, which provides independent advice to government on climate change policies.</span><span>Photograph: Lukas Coch/AAP</span>
Former state Liberal MP Matt Kean is the incoming chair of the Climate Change Authority, which provides independent advice to government on climate change policies.Photograph: Lukas Coch/AAP

The federal Labor government has appointed prominent New South Wales Liberal Matt Kean as the new chair of the Climate Change Authority.

Here’s a short explainer on Kean and the agency he will chair.

Who is Matt Kean?

Kean, 42, had been a Liberal MP in the NSW parliament until announcing his resignation last week. He gave his valedictory speech to parliament on Friday.

Kean entered politics in the 2011 landslide as the member for Hornsby, a seat in northern Sydney. His first major appointment was as minister for innovation and better regulation in 2017, a role that suited his education, including gaining a graduate diploma from the Institute of Chartered Accountants and his time at consultants PriceWaterhouseCoopers.

He found his calling and gained a higher profile after the 2019 state election when he became energy and environment minister. As head of the Liberal’s moderate faction, and being close to then-premier Gladys Berejiklian, Kean was able to implement far-reaching changes – particularly in the energy sector – that had eluded similarly inclined moderate Liberal ministers.

Related: Matt Kean, a sometimes lone Coalition voice on climate threat, announces shock retirement

He secured cross-party support for an ambitious road map to drive renewables into the grid in NSW – a state that had been slow to decarbonise – and a large expansion of national parks.

Increasingly alarmed at the scale of the 2019-20 black summer bushfires, Kean spoke out against the lack of climate action including by his federal counterparts in the Morrison government. Morrison bristled in response that “most of the federal cabinet wouldn’t even know who Matt Kean was” – helping to boost Kean’s national profile.

When Berejiklian resigned following revelations the state’s corruption commission was investigating whether she had been involved in “a breach of public trust”, Kean was elevated to treasurer and deputy Liberal leader under Dominic Perrottet. After the March 2023 election ended the Coalition’s 12 years in office, Kean took a much less publicised role as shadow health minister.

Why did Kean leave politics now?

Kean had made no secret of his wider ambitions – including a potential tilt at federal politics.

He could have chosen to challenge sitting Liberal MP Paul Fletcher for pre-selection in the federal seat of Bradfield, for example, arguing his track record on tackling climate action would help counter any threat posed by an independent teal candidate.

However, Kean’s climate stance would have put him at odds with the federal opposition, not least its plans to build nuclear power plants at seven sites across Australia.

Close observers have noted Kean’s resignation as a Liberal MP came just a day before that policy was announced. It also came not long after Peter Dutton announced a federal Coalition government would ditch Australia’s 2030 emissions target under the Paris climate agreement.

“My grandparents’ generation fought for freedom in the second world war,” Kean said in his valedictory speech. “My parents’ generation saw off the threat of communism during the cold war.

“It is incumbent upon our generation to take decisive and responsible action on climate change. It is the biggest challenge that will face our society and economy in our lifetime.”

Speaking on Monday after his new role as the chair of the Climate Change Authority was announced, Kean noted he had previously asked his state’s chief scientist, Prof Hugh Durrant-Whyte, to examine nuclear’s prospects. (Durrant-Whyte reiterated the points here last week.)

Standing alongside the prime minister, Anthony Albanese, and the federal energy minister, Chris Bowen, in Canberra, Kean said nuclear energy didn’t make economic sense. “I did not want to bankrupt the state and I did not want to put those huge costs on to families.”

What is the Climate Change Authority?

The authority was set up by the Gillard Labor government in 2012 to provide independent advice on what Australia’s carbon emissions reduction targets should be.

The Abbott government sought to scrap the authority – and other emissions-reducing bodies such as the Clean Energy Finance Corporation – but was stymied by the Senate.

However, the Coalition made it clear the authority’s advice wasn’t welcomed, with one after another of the authority’s board members resigning, including former Reserve Bank governor Bernie Fraser.

Since April 2021, the authority has been chaired by Grant King, a former managing director of Origin Energy for 16 years. During that time, Origin expanded rapidly, particularly in coal seam gas for export.

King, though, has held other roles, including chairing CWP Renewables, and Kean too may take up roles in clean energy. King’s term was scheduled to run until April next year but Bowen said the current chair had sought to leave the role early.

The authority reviews Australia’s national greenhouse gas reporting and the safeguard mechanism aimed at forcing industry to cut carbon emissions over time. It can also order its own research or act on requests for analysis from the government.