LLB (Hons) 2003, BA (Hons) 2001
Peter Nicholas is Senior Adviser to the Minister for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency, The Hon Greg Combet MP – also an alumnus of Sydney Law School. He graduated with a BA (Hons 1) ’00 and LLB (Hons 1) ’02. Peter’s role involves advising Minister Greg Combet on the vexed issue of carbon pricing, as well as land sector and renewable energy issues.
The energy law and policy specialist has a passion for environmental and resource issues that began back at the University of Sydney; his honours thesis in arts focused on the UN’s response to the environmental security debate. Later, at Law School, Professor Ben Boer’s environmental law classes helped him to crystallise his views (he also found Ross Anderson’s private international law classes ‘captivating’ - ‘like almost every other Sydney Uni law student’).
In 2003, Peter landed a graduate role with the Australian Government Solicitor (AGS) in Canberra and later joined AGS’s Office of General Counsel. His first year included work on ACCC price-fixing litigation, general advising and commercial matters.
A key turning point came in June 2004 when Robert Orr, then Deputy Chief General Counsel, walked into his office to ask if he was interested in taking a secondment to the industry department to work on energy market reforms.
‘At that stage I had not had any involvement with energy issues: I had been doing general legal work,’ he remembers. ‘Robert is the kind of person it is hard to say no to.’
His immersion in energy law took a brief hiatus as he completed a Master of Laws at Jesus College in Cambridge, where he also served as President of Cambridge’s Graduate Law Society. On his return, he continued his posting in the industry department where he helped to implement the Federal Government’s energy market reform agenda.
He played an important role in negotiating the 2006 amendments to the Australian Energy Market Agreement as well as the Energy Access Review, National Gas Law and electricity pricing rules.
Eventually, and after a change of government, he returned to the Office of General Counsel where he began work on the ill-fated Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme. Following another secondment to the Department of Climate Change, he was offered his current position advising Greg Combet in 2010. It is a high-pressure role which requires an exhaustive knowledge of the intricacies of the carbon pricing legal and policy framework. Staying in command of the details, he says, is the biggest challenge of his job.
What sustains him - apart from his family, including his two-year-old daughter, Elsie - is a sense of purpose about the work he is doing. ‘It’s great being able to contribute to national economic reform in relation to one of the most difficult and challenging problems facing Australia and the global community,’ says Peter, 33.