New OECD head Mathias Cormann thanks DFAT team for support

By Shannon Jenkins

Monday March 15, 2021

Mathias Cormann
Cormann replaces outgoing OECD secretary-general Ángel Gurría, who has served in the role for 15 years. (AAP Image/Mick Tsikas)

Mathias Cormann has been named secretary-general of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

The former finance minister said he learned of the appointment on Saturday, and felt privileged and honoured to take on the top job.

“It brings together like-minded countries from around the world committed to developing and delivering better policies for better lives,” he said in a statement.

“It provides a great platform for international cooperation and best practice policy development, from the foundation of a shared commitment to democracy, human rights, the rule of law, market-based economic principles and a rules-based international order. The issues and the specific policy challenges the world faces evolve over time, but the OECD’s capacity to find solutions and better ways forward has stood the test of time.”

He has thanked Prime Minister Scott Morrison and a number of his former colleagues for their support, as well as “the hardworking team at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, in Canberra and around the world, who have done an outstanding job in supporting my campaign”.

READ MORE: DFAT task force appointed to help Cormann with OECD campaign

It was important for the organisation to “keep the momentum going” to achieve a number of goals, Cormann said, including driving “global leadership on ambitious and effective action on climate change to achieve global net-zero emissions by 2050”.

Earlier this month the heads of dozens of Australian and international organisations, including Greenpeace and Oxfam Australia, signed a letter calling on OECD member countries to reject Cormann as one of the final two candidates.

“On the basis of Mr Cormann’s public record of participation in thwarting effective climate action, we do not believe he is a suitable candidate for secretary-general of the OECD and urge you to not select him for this critically important position,” the letter said.

The letter noted that during Cormann’s time as finance minister, from 2013 to 2020, the federal government has “persistently failed to take effective action to reduce emissions at home and has consistently acted as a blocker within international forums”.

The organisation pointed to government decisions such as abolishing the carbon pricing scheme in 2014, and failing to commit to a zero net emissions target.

Other key challenges that Cormann listed related to the post-pandemic economic recovery, digital taxation, the digital economy, and OECD outreach in the Asia-Pacific.

“As the world continues to grapple with the impact of the most serious pandemic in more than a century, our essential mission of the past — to promote stronger, cleaner, fairer economic growth and to raise employment and living standards — remains the critically important mission for the future,” he said.

Morrison said he was “delighted” by the appointment, which was “the most senior appointment of an Australian candidate to an international body for decades”.

“The appointment is recognition of Australia’s global agency and standing amongst fellow liberal democracies and our practical commitment and contribution to multilateral co-operation,” he said in a statement on Saturday.

“For 60 years, the OECD has been one of the world’s most important international economic institutions. As the global economy recovers from COVID19, the OECD’s role in shaping international economic, tax and climate change policy will be more critical than ever.”

Cormann replaces outgoing secretary-general Ángel Gurría, who has served in the role for 15 years. He retired from the ministry and senate in October to pursue the top OECD role, beating Sweden’s Cecilia Malmström.

READ MORE: Opinion: Cormann leaves with pride — but also a question of what might have been


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