“DFAT wish the hub to continue to deliver, but want to ‘refocus their resources’ at ‘a time of tight budgets’,” the email said.
A DFAT spokesman said the hub’s objectives included strengthening Australia’s bilateral relationship with Germany and “to better co-ordinate investments in research into energy transition”.
“Remaining funding will be reallocated to support our strategic priorities with Germany and other European partners more effectively, including potential collaboration with Germany on hydrogen,” the spokesman said.
The sudden funding halt comes as Angus Taylor, the federal energy minister, is preparing to release a so-called technology roadmap of how Australia can reduce its emissions without resorting to the net zero 2050 goal proposed by Labor. The Sun-Herald and Sunday Age approached Mr Taylor’s office for comment.
Dylan McConnell, an energy researcher at the hub, said it was “hypocritical and counterproductive” for the government to be talking up technology investment targets “while cutting funding”.
Mark Butler, Labor’s climate spokesman, said the Coalition was “all talk when it comes to clean technology and climate action”, noting it had cut funding to the Australian Renewable Energy Agency and CSIRO and had tried to abolish the Clean Energy Finance Corporation.
“If the Liberals were serious about reducing emissions they wouldn’t cut funding to climate research,” he said.
The hub expanded beyond its core partners – the University of Melbourne and the Australian National University – to include the University of Technology Sydney, Monash and others. Its German partners include the Potsdam Institute.
Negotiations are under way to decide if the universities will step in to take over the funding.
“We’ve achieved much,” the email to staff said. “We have created an expanding network of industry, government and academic partners and delivered lots of excellent research.
“All we can say at the moment is that the re-negotiations of the Funding Deed between the University of Melbourne and DFAT are underway,” it said.
Justin Zobel, a Pro Vice-Chancellor at the University of Melbourne, said there would be no impact on PhD candidates from his institution who were working with the hub.
“These students are counted as part of the university’s contribution to the hub via the Australian-German Climate and Energy College,” Professor Zobel said. “It’s an internally funded PhD program that preceded the hub. It is not funded by it.”
Concern, though, remains among the 50-odd researchers linked to the hub. One noted that the Climate and Energy College will soon lose its director, with Anita Talberg set to join the Clean Energy Council.
“In part, the DFAT funding was cross-subsiding the college because the uni wouldn’t support it themselves,” the researcher said.
“Basically, we are not being funded by the university at all – we sit outside of traditional faculty structures – and the faculties have not been willing to give resources to us,” the researcher said. “As of late last year, we lost a key admin/professional staff person [as] the university – either faculties or chancellery – was [not] willing to resource that.”
Peter Hannam writes on environment issues for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.