Friday, September 19, 2008

Martin Ferguson leaves climate evasions to media minder

In my previous post, I challenged Martin Ferguson to hold a public meeting in his Batman electorate to answer questions about a proposal circulated by his office (or department) pushing a softened approach to an emissions trading scheme to industry. The proposal, along with the Wilkins Review on climate policy, recently failed to appear in the Senate despite the Government's obligation to table them.

This lack of disclosure comes at a critical time, as the documents in question bear on decisions about an effective climate response by Australia, and the signs thus far indicate that response will be manifestly inadequate.

In answer to my open challenge to Ferguson, one of his media minders called me this afternoon not really to offer actual answers, but to proffer evasions on Ferguson's behalf. The proposal to industry did not exist, she claimed, referring to Kim Carr's recent statements to the Senate (see infra for links).

That response is itself rather minimal when the story told by the Senate transcripts indicates that, since Senator Christine Milne's request for the tabling of the proposal on 3 September, it had morphed into the supposedly exempt working notes of an individual within Ferguson's department. The notes were provided to a business organisation before Ferguson's business round-table on 29 August, but Senator Carr's statements distance the notes from Ferguson.

In the context of the green paper and the forthcoming white paper on the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (CPRS), the circulation of the notes - if they perhaps did not constitute a proposal for the lack of spiral binding - warrants further scrutiny. Either they were circulated in the minister's knowledge and reflected his views, or they were circulated without his authority in the context of imminent discussions between Ferguson and his business round-table. In both cases, we need to know what the notes contained, who circulated them, and who they were given to, as there is a strong likelihood that their purpose was to influence the discussions and, ultimately, the Government's consideration of Australia's climate response measures.

For Ferguson's media minder to refer to Senate statements that themselves raise many more questions is simply an evasion.

And so to the Wilkins Review on climate policy. 'That's one of Penny's,' was the minder's response. Again, the Senate transcripts are revealing. Senator Nick Sherry states that 'The review has been prepared as an input in developing the government's climate change policy, including the forthcoming CPRS white paper'. Once again an influence on the decision process is concealed from open scrutiny, at the same time as the Government invites submissions from a selectively informed public. That consultation process is itself imperfect, with its option for confidential submissions that will never be made public, and now the talk that the white paper position is firming even before all public submissions on the green paper have been placed on the Government's climate change website

'One of Penny's' meant that Martin's minder would not be drawn on his position regarding the unjustified suppression of the Wilkins Review. I'd have to ask her office. My suggestion that Ferguson in fact had no explicit position (we can surmise where he stands) was met with a repetition of the line about the Office of Climate Change Minister, Senator Penny Wong. The proposal was the 'working notes of an individual', the Wilkins Review 'one of Penny's' - you get the picture.

If you'd like to read all the transcripts for yourself and want the specific links rather than the vague reference of a media minder, here they are. First read the Senate debates for 3 September, then the return to order for 4 September, and finally the return to order on 15 September. Thanks to for making these transcripts readily accessible.

Finally, the media minder told me Ferguson would respond to my challenge to hold a public meeting on these issues and on his climate stance in general. I said I hoped he would do so within the timeframe for decision. As I've said before, we need to keep the heat on Ferguson, or he'll put the global heat on us. Stay tuned.

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