Photography: Lukas Coch/AAP
The Bureau of Meteorology’s under-fire chief executive, Dr Andrew Johnson, has issued an apology for the agency’s handling of its rebranding, saying there were “important lessons” from the debacle.
Last week the bureau asked the media not to call it “BoM” but rather the “Bureau” – prompting a rebuke from Federal Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek and then backtracking. At the time, large parts of eastern Australia were flooded.
The criticism was followed by accusations that the rebranding exercise had worsened a toxic work culture within parts of the office.
Related: BoM backtracks on ‘Office’ renaming after Tanya Plibersek rains on her parade
Current and former staff and scientists told the Guardian that under Johnson’s leadership the agency had “hunkered down in the corner” on climate change.
Johnson told a Senate committee hearing on Friday that there had “certainly been some misinformed and inaccurate comments” about the office’s position on climate change.
He said the request to the media was part of an “image overhaul” that came after research suggested that some parts of the community – such as the elderly, new immigrants and people with main language was not English – were confused by the term “BoM”. ”.
“Looking back, it’s clear that the way we’ve given effect to our intent…there will be important lessons for us and I apologized in my opening statement to this committee and the community if it caused any fuss. uncertainty and anguish, and this is a sincere apology,” Johnson said.
He said “improving our services to the community” had been “difficult for some of our employees”. “We continue to work hard to listen to their views on the direction of the organization and invest in their continued well-being and development,” the chief executive said.
Senator David Pocock asked Johnson if he had ever asked staff to reduce coverage of future climate change in the biennial State of the Climate Reports – a major document charting the course of climate change in Australia.
“I don’t believe it,” Johnson said. “I tried with colleagues at CSIRO to find a place for the main intent of the report that we pay attention to and respect future climate issues.”
Related: Law governing Bureau of Meteorology must change to reflect climate crisis, says former chief
He said the office’s role was to focus on short-term weather patterns – days, weeks and months – and that other organisations, including CSIRO, were able to take a longer view of years and decades to come.
Johnson said it was his duty to “carry out my responsibilities under the Meteorological and Climatic Dimensions Act 1955 being part of it”. He said he did it diligently.
Earlier this week, a former BoM chief executive, Rob Vertessy, said the 1955 law needed to be updated to give the office a clearer mandate to work and communicate on climate change.
In an opening statement to the Senate Environmental and Communications Legislation Committee on Friday, Johnson said: ‘For many years we have provided evidence that climate change is real and it is very likely that human activities will are responsible for most of the global warming observed since 1950.