Energy Minister Martin Ferguson used a taxpayer-funded letter to slam a push for zero emissions as “faith based”.

In the letter, sent to residents in Ferguson’s Batman electorate in response to a running battle in the pages of local rag The Melbourne Times, the minister claims that “science, not green faith, must be the basis for addressing climate change”, echoing a range of known climate sceptics including Andrew Bolt.

The spray appears to chafe with the carbon-reduction efforts of the Labor-aligned Darebin Council, which recently pledged to cut its emissions to zero by 2020. The council’s boundaries substantially overlap with Batman’s.

The stoush began on August 22 after Ferguson was confronted by protestors, including several ALP members, at the opening of a Preston park upgrade. The protest was attended by Labor mayor Diana Asmar, who was happy to pose with a sign adorned with the slogan “Nice work Darebin Council, shame about the Feds”.

After the speeches concluded, Ferguson remonstrated with a protestor wearing a paper mache head of himself, before being driven away in a Comcar.

Independent activist and former council candidate Darren Lewin-Hill followed up with a letter to The Melbourne Times, questioning Ferguson’s commitment to the council’s target and accusing him of draping himself in “feel-good” projects:

Mr Ferguson, veiling yourself in feel-good local projects does nothing to lessen the damage of spruiking emissions-intensive energy sources while paying lip-service to renewables.

The letter seems to have hit a nerve — not only did Ferguson respond with his own letter to the editor defending the Rudd government’s stimulus package, but he followed up with the bulk mail-out to Darebin residents, presumably paid for by his Department of Finance printing allowance.

Energy Minister Martin Ferguson arguing with a paper mache head of himself at the opening of the HP Zwar park upgrade on August 22.

Greens councillor Trent McCarthy told Crikey that Ferguson’s dummy spit was “disappointing, lacking leadership, and out of touch with the local community”.

“It seems bizarre the local member would be bagging a policy that has the support of local ALP members, especially given it was developed over an extensive six-month consultation process,” McCarthy said.

He said that it appeared Ferguson had conflated protestors’ calls for zero local emissions with the feasibility of an Australia-wide target. Under its Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, the Rudd government has pledged to reduce emissions by 25% if the rest of the world agrees and by a minimum of 5% if other countries do nothing.

In The Melbourne Times, Ferguson described zero emissions as “…admirable but not technically achievable”.

Several Labor or Left-controlled councils in Melbourne’s north, including Banyule, Hume, Manningham, Melbourne, Moreland, Whittlesea, Yarra and Nillumbik have joined a zero emissions “northern alliance” backed by Darebin. Other councils around the country, including Adelaide City Council, have previously pledged to work towards zero emissions.

Batman is one of the safest Labor seats in the country. However, an influx of Green-tinged voters, especially around the seat’s southern boundary, has upped pressure on Ferguson to back the council’s pro-environmental push.

Earlier this month, Ferguson was outed as a leading “climate change sceptic” by resources industry CEO Philip R. Wood in a corporate presentation. In April, Bolt urged the minister to emerge from the “closet” on the issue. Bolt, like Ferguson, is fond of the “faith-based” riposte to green arguments on climate change and has questioned the contribution of humans to global warming.

Ferguson’s office emailed the following statement to Crikey responding to the fracas:

“Martin has, and will continue to communicate with the electorate about the Government’s investment in the community and people who seek to discredit the Government’s work as nothing more than ‘feel-good’ programs.”

Crikey asked Climate Change Minister Penny Wong’s office whether she endorsed her cabinet colleague’s comments, but was told the minister couldn’t be contacted.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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