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Mathias Cormann nominated for OECD top job despite its criticism of Coalition’s climate change policy

Mathias Cormann says the Coalition’s heavily criticised record on climate policy won’t be a barrier to Australia courting international support for him to be the next secretary general of the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

The finance minister, who announced in July that he would quit by the end of the year, leaves the Senate at the end of October, and will be nominated by the Morrison government for the OECD’s secretary general’s post.

The prime minister confirmed the nomination on Thursday. Cormann will be replaced as finance minister and government leader in the Senate by Simon Birmingham, who will also keep his trade portfolio.

Cormann, who was born in Belgium, put himself on the campaign trail on Thursday. Speaking in French, he declared that the Morrison government was committed to the Paris agreement, and to meeting emissions reduction targets.

Some in the Liberal and National parties have openly queried the science of climate change and the Coalition repealed a carbon price legislated by the Gillard government (which it characterised as a tax when it wasn’t). Pitched battles about climate policy have prompted internal eruptions leading to Liberal leadership changes since 2009, but Cormann suggested the conversation inside the Coalition had been about the most effective mechanism to reduce emissions.

“The discussion in Australia has not been, as far as we’re concerned, about whether or not we are committed to effective action on climate change – we are,” Corman said.

“The debate in Australia has always been about what the best method was to most effectively and most appropriately, from an economic point of view, achieve the best possible emissions reductions in an economically sensible fashion.”

Cormann said he looked forward to the opportunity, when promoting his candidacy, to counter commentary about the government’s record on climate action that he contended was “with respect, not always as well informed as it should be”.

The OECD’s membership is dominated by European countries, and Australia’s record on climate change has been queried and at times criticised by countries with more ambitious emissions reduction commitments.

The government has requested Labor’s support to make Cormann’s nomination for the position bipartisan.

While Cormann is respected within the parliament, and has a cordial personal relationship with the shadow foreign minister, Penny Wong, built up during their shared time in the Senate, this will be a sensitive issue for Labor.

The Coalition declined to nominate Kevin Rudd when he made a concerted pitch to become the next secretary general of the United Nations. Rudd was furious about the snub, and said Malcolm Turnbull, prime minister at the time, had reneged on previous suggestions of support.

When Turnbull declined to support Rudd, he said that was because he was not suited for the position.

When Morrison was reminded about that history on Thursday, the prime minister said candidates needed to be considered “on their merits and I know Mathias has gained the respect of members all around this place”.

Cormann will leave the Senate at the end of the month and go to Europe to lobby for the position. He acknowledged the pandemic would make that lobbying effort more complicated.

With the elevation of Birmingham to the Senate leadership, the prime minister has appointed Michaelia Cash as deputy leader in the chamber. Morrison confirmed he would reshuffle his ministry at the end of the year – after parliament has risen for the summer.

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