Australia’s former finance minister Mathias Cormann has been elected as the new head of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).
The 50-year-old will become the first person from Asia-Pacific to lead the Paris-based, 37-nation organisation, and takes the role in the middle of one of the worst global recessions on record.
The climate record of Australia’s longest-serving finance minister grabbed headlines ahead of his appointment.
More than two dozen environmental groups said Mr Cormann shouldn’t have been considered for the top OECD job, citing former statements they said opposed climate change.
But Mr Cormann defended his climate record, saying “action on climate change to be effective, requires an ambitious, globally coordinated approach”.
A member of several Coalition governments, Mr Cormann quit parliament late last year to seek the top job.
He emerged as a surprise frontrunner, and beat out fellow top contender, Sweden’s Cecilia Malmstrom, a former EU trade commissioner.
Another eight candidates were whittled out of contention.
Cormann campaigned in government jet while Australians stuck overseas
Mr Cormann said climate change was among the group’s key challenges when he announced his candidacy last year, along with education, skills and “narrowing differences on taxation policy”.
He helped campaign against a carbon pricing system designed to curb emissions in Australia’s carbon-intensive economy, and was a senior member of the government that repealed the scheme in 2014.
Mr Cormann has focused his pitch for the role on the perspective he would bring to the OECD after having “shared my life in equal measure between Europe and the Asia-Pacific”.
Mr Cormann’s campaign attracted controversy in Australia when it emerged he was using an air force jet to criss-cross Europe and make his case to other leaders.
Critics slammed the costly exercise as unwarranted when tens of thousands of Australians were stranded overseas because of a government coronavirus policy capping international arrivals.
Australia’s government said the move was necessary because commercial air travel would have put Mr Cormann at risk of contracting COVID-19.
Party operator who helped Morrison become PM
Born in the Belgian town of Eupen, Cormann speaks German, French and Flemish along with English.
He studied law in Belgium before migrating to Australia in the 1990s and working his way up the ranks of the Liberal party.
He spent more than a decade in parliament as a Senator for Western Australia.
But he was an influential party operator, and was instrumental in the elevation of current Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
Mr Morrison told the National Press Club in early February he nominated Cormann in part because “cooperation between like-minded liberal democracies … has never been more important than it is today”.
“As the world grapples with the recovery from COVID-19, this grouping … has a fundamental role to play in keeping markets open,” he added.
The OECD works to boost economic growth and world trade, and its 37 member nations account for 60 per cent of global economic output.