19/07/2016 2:33 PM AEST | Updated 19/07/2016 4:12 PM AEST

Green Groups Say Environment And Energy Minister A Good Thing

'They are intertwined, and the solution is clean energy'.

Hopes are high that the new environment Minister will work to address problems on the Great Barrier Reef
Fairfax Media
Hopes are high that the new environment Minister will work to address problems on the Great Barrier Reef

Environmental groups have reacted with cautious optimism to Malcolm Turnbull's unexpected announcement that the federal ministries of Environment and Energy would be combined, saying they held hopes it would lead to greater investment and focus on renewable energy.

Prime Minister Turnbull unveiled his new ministry on Monday, bringing in a few new faces and reshuffling the roles of some existing members. One of the more interesting changes was to move former Environment Minister Greg Hunt to the newly-branded Industry, Innovation and Energy portfolio. Josh Frydenberg, formerly Minister for Resources and Energy, to the newly combined Environment and Energy portfolio.

Frydenberg has been criticised for his past statements supporting coal.

"I certainly believe in the moral case that Tony Abbott and others have put that our coal, our gas, our energy supplies do lift people out of energy poverty, and that's going to be an important theme of my term in this role", he said in an interview with Andrew Bolt last year.

And as resources minister, he oversaw the approval of coal mines. He has previously been picketed by environmental protesters.

Fairfax Media
Out with the old, in with the new; outgoing Environment Minister Greg Hunt with his successor, Josh Frydenberg

The combining of the energy and environment roles was criticised by some on Monday, but green groups told The Huffington Post Australia that they had hopes it would lead to better outcomes for the natural world.

"Energy and environment policies should work alongside one another, but historically Australia's energy policies have had an terrible effect on the environment," said Greenpeace Australia's head of program, Dominique Rowe.

"In the right hands, the new ministry could make a lot of progress in moving Australia away from polluting energy sources and embracing renewable energy and protecting the environment. But a ministry is only as good as its minister and by appointing somebody with such close ties to the coal industry to this new position, Australia's already slow progress risks getting even slower."

In a further statement, Greenpeace senior climate and energy campaigner Nikola Casule said Frydenberg's appointment as environment minister was "a huge blow for the health of the Great Barrier Reef."

"Frydenberg's views on climate change are an embarrassing relic from a different era. Australians have been clear in asking their government to choose the Great Barrier Reef over the coal industry," Casule said.

"For Malcolm Turnbull to appoint a minister who still believes that there is still a strong moral case for coal even during the worst coral bleaching in the Great Barrier Reef's history is clear show of contempt for the Australian public."

Protesters outside Frydenberg's office last month

CEO of the Australian Conservation Foundation, Kelly O'Shanassy, welcomed the newly integrated ministry position. She hoped the change would lead to a greater focus on renewable, clean energy.

"The biggest environmental problem is climate change and the biggest contributor is how we produce energy. They are intertwined, and the solution is clean energy, and making someone responsible for the energy supply and the environment," she told HuffPost Australia.

"You can't disassociate energy and environment."

O'Shanassy, too, said she had some reservations about Frydenberg personally.

"He's definitely going to have to change his views on energy to be a good environment minister, and embrace clean energy. He will have to change," she said.

"There's no option but that clean energy grows in Australia. That's where the world is going, and our trading partners. Do we want to lead that change, or let the market dominate and let is be a debacle?"

The Climate Institute has also welcomed the newly combined portfolios.

"We are at a critical time for our country and economy – while the shift to clean energy is already happening globally, the hodge podge of climate and energy policies in Australia is deterring investments," said The Climate institute CEO, John Connor.

"Our politicians must work together to achieve solid, constructive progress that integrates energy and climate policy and smooths this inevitable transition to clean energy."