Monday, December 03, 2007

Greener Than Green

Paul Sheehan strips some bark off The Green's Bob Brown for his tireless, and tiresome, attacks on the new Australian environment minister, Peter Garrett, during the election campaign.

Some of Bob Brown's dozens of prominent media blasts at Garrett, mostly because he refused to say that he opposed the building of a new pulp mill in Tasmania, on his way to seizing control of the government's environment ministry :

"Peter Garrett and Malcolm Turnbull will get together and say more uranium mines," Brown postulated on ABC Radio's PM on October 15. The previous week, he told a rally: "Peter Garrett claims he is 'perfectly comfortable' with the pulp mill … Peter Garrett, we're not perfectly comfortable with you!" (October 7)

"This is the Labor hierarchy gagging Peter. Labor [including Garrett] … needs to get a backbone." (Bob Brown media release, September 7.)

"I can't see Peter Garrett at all. Where is he? Peter used to be such a defender of Tasmania's forests … but he is missing in action," Brown told ABC Lateline on August 29.

"Peter Garrett must not stand on the sidelines while the environment is trashed." (Media release, August 23.)

"He [Garrett] hasn't affected the Labor Party one iota; but the Labor Party machine has taken him over and turned him into an anti-Green campaigner," Brown said on ABC's Background Briefing on March 4.

Sheehan points out that Brown nearly gassed himself on his own hyperbole, and probably did some damage to the Green vote in the election :

This is all pretty rich, given Garrett's long track record of effective environmentalism. Garrett did not respond to Brown's hostility, he just won the war. As of this morning, Garrett sits in cabinet, as Minister for the Environment, with the confidence of the Prime Minister.

Brown, in contrast, has squandered one of the greatest political windfalls given to any political party in Australia since federation. At the 2007 federal election, climate change, global warming and water shortages were part of the mainstream debate for the first time, along with a prime minister who appeared incapable of understanding the critical political importance of these issues to a new generation of voters.

When Garrett emerged as a threat to Brown's power base, he was subject to a steady stream of claims that he had "sold out". Brown dismissed him as Little Red Riding Hood. Now, just three years after entering Parliament, Garrett sits in federal cabinet with his hands on the machinery of policy and power. He has always practised the art of the possible.

If anyone has sold out in this contest it is Brown, for using the environment as a screen for other obsessions, and for failing to grasp the enormous political opportunity presented by the 2007 election.

It hurts, but it's also true enough.

Global warming, protecting the environment, renewable energy - all these things were vote-changing issues at the election. 2007 should have seen The Greens make massive leaps and bounds, and they should be easily in control of the Senate. But they didn't.

Garrett has gone from radical conservation activist and wild rock star in the early 1980s to Minister For The Environment in 2007.

You won't see them say it in print, or in press conferences, but there are legions of old right-wing conservatives, and anti-Garrett old schoolers, whose jaws are still hanging to the floor today at what Garrett has achieved.

What he does with his new power remains to be seen. But it's a shocker that Bob Brown has not been cheering Garrett on, and celebrating his extraordinary win.

The conservationists and pro-environment crowd have won. And one of their own is now in a real position of power in the federal government. The highest position of power, short of prime minister, that any of them who were lashed to logging trucks and protesting uranium mines in the early 1980s could have ever dreamed of achieving.

It would be a terrible thing indeed if mere jealousy was the main reason Bob Brown went on the Garrett attack all the way through the election campaign.