Environment will be merged with agriculture and water to form a new department while the energy and emissions reductions portfolios will join a new super industry department.
“I want a very practical environmental agenda. And there is no section of our country that relies more on our environment than our agricultural sector,” Mr Morrison said.
Farmers for Climate Action spokesperson Verity Morgan-Schmidt said strong environmental policy was essential to make the agriculture sector sustainable.
“We’re failing to address climate change, which is the biggest threat to agriculture, and the concern in this merger is that ecological outcomes will be overlooked,” Ms Morgan-Schmidt said.
National Farmers Federation president Fiona Simson said the environment and agriculture merger was a “pragmatic decision”.
“It is the NFF’s hope that the merger will ensure, at a government level, agriculture is entrenched as an active participant in future environmental policy,” Ms Simson said.
Australian Conservation Foundation campaigns director Paul Sinclair said he was concerned that elements of the environment department dealing with climate change would be moved into a department managing mining.
“There are risks associated with the energy and climate change branches of the Department of Environment and Energy being absorbed into a big new industry and resources portfolio if the resources sector is the dominant voice in policy development,” Dr Sinclair said.
Wilderness Society policy director Tim Beshara has written to Environment Minister Sussan Ley asking for an explanation of how the secretary of the agriculture and environment department will be able to serve as a minister’s delegated decision-maker on laws that “have clearly conflicting mandates”.
“In a time where community concern among Australians over the state of our natural world has never been higher, the Prime Minister has chosen to symbolically deprioritise environmental protection,” Mr Beshara said.
In a joint statement Ms Ley, Agriculture Minister Bridget McKenzie and Water Minister David Littleproud said the merger would “provide greater synergies to the policies and programs that underpin regional Australia and our agriculture, fisheries and forestry industries”.
Infrastructure, transport, regional development, communications and the arts will also come together in another massive new department.
Education, skills and employment will be merged in a move welcomed by vocational education advocates.
There will be no changes to ministerial portfolios under the department mergers.
Department of Communications secretary Mike Mrdak, who lost his job in the overhaul, slammed the shake-up in a message sent to staff.
“We were not permitted any opportunity to provide advice on the Machinery of Government changes, nor were our views ever sought on any proposals to abolish the department or to changes to our structure and operations,” Mr Mrdak said.
Mike is the climate and energy correspondent for The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.