Just a week after appointing Malcolm Turnbull to head its climate change board the NSW government has sacked the former prime minister, saying his high profile is “a distraction”.
Mr Turnbull was made chair of the NSW Net-Zero Emissions and Clean Economy Board after being endorsed by cabinet.
The body’s purpose is to generate jobs in low-emission industries but the five-year appointment rankled many in the Coalition because of Mr Turnbull’s call for a moratorium on new coal mines in NSW.
NSW Deputy Premier and Nationals leader John Barilaro revealed the government’s backflip on Sydney radio 2GB on Tuesday.
“You need someone who brings people together and not divides and unfortunately Malcolm has done the opposite.
“He pulled my pants down within 48 hours of his appointment on an area that I take seriously,” he said of Mr Turnbull’s comments on coal mines.
“I chose to be the mining minister because I thought for the last 10 years we have not done enough to support the industry which has been the backbone of our economy and the nation.”
Premier Gladys Berejiklian stressed that while she admired and respected Mr Turnbull, his appointment “unfortunately for everyone concerned … was proving to be a distraction”.
She dodged a question about whether the decision was a bid to win the looming Upper Hunter byelection, in a seat where the mining industry was a major employer.
“The decision was made and we all move forward,” she said.
Mrs Berejiklian’s government needs to win the marginal Upper Hunter seat, now held by the Nationals, otherwise it will finish its electoral term in a minority.
Mr Turnbull blamed his axing on the right-wing media.
“There has been a pretty ferocious campaign, a vendetta really, in the characteristic way that News Corp operates and its goal was to bully the state government into not appointing me,” he told the ABC.
“It’s just thuggery,” he told the Sydney Morning Herald.
State Environment Minister Matt Kean said Mr Turnbull had “contributed much to our country … However, no person’s role on the board should distract from achieving results for the NSW people or from the government’s work in delivering jobs and opportunities for the people of NSW”.
“For this reason, I have decided not to proceed with his appointment as chair.”
The NSW chief scientist and engineer will act in the role until a new chair is named.
Tuesday’s announcement came hours after The Daily Telegraph published a letter Mr Turnbull wrote to the NSW government objecting to the expansion of a coal mine in the Upper Hunter near his property.
Mr Turnbull on Monday said he and wife Lucy had made the submission “as long term landowners in the district and in no other capacity”.
He rejected there being any conflict with his new role saying “The net zero board has no role in mining approvals whatsoever”.
Last week, Defence Minister Peter Dutton weighed in on the appointment of Mr Turnbull.
“All I can say is that Malcolm was very consistent as prime minister, and that is that he supported coal mining, and he said that on the public record on a number of occasions.”
Opposition leader Jodi McKay described the development as “a monumental failure of judgment by John Barilaro”.
“How on earth did it even come to this? John Barilaro backed Turnbull’s appointment in cabinet,” she tweeted.
“This should never have been a political appointment and was always going to be divisive.”