Midnight Oil

[Powderworks] More on Garrett

Ross Locket rosslocket at optusnet.com.au
Tue Jun 8 01:20:21 MDT 2004

Another article on Pete's possible move to the Labour party that the
overseas workers might find interesting.

Susan Brown: Keeping the faith

June 08, 2004
'IT'S better to die on your feet than to live on your knees" was one of the
best lines belted out by Midnight Oil's Peter Garrett. But it is a line that
could easily return to haunt him as the next drafted celebrity for the ALP.

Leaving aside the detonation among the "bruvvas" in the branches and
whatever other deals are done to accommodate the fast tracking of Garrett,
the ALP has a coup on its hands nearly as big as pulling former leader of
the Democrats Cheryl Kernot.

Unfortunately, it didn't play the endgame well with Kernot. It is to be
hoped Labor has learned from the experience and will treat Garrett a little
better. It is already obvious Garrett has learned - only safe seats are
being discussed this time.

The ALP's intention with the Kernot snatch was to neutralise the Democrat
vote. With Garrett, the intention would be to neutralise the Greens and pull
some marginal-seat voters who might have been impressed with the time,
effort and money spent by the Liberals in lifting the profile of the
environment portfolio.

You could reasonably speculate that the price for sexing up the green
credentials of the ALP might be a ministry in a new Labor government. But
after queue jumping him past those doing the hard yards the ALP has to work
out where to park him. It is hard to see him as Minister for Sport or
Citizenship or Small Business. Does it dare give him Environment? Does it
dare not?

While no one could doubt Garrett's commitment and ability, it is also true
compromise isn't his strong suit. How would he cope when the big end of town
and the unions ganged up to paralyse environmental reform?

Take one of his favourite causes, old-growth forests. The environment
movement that he has defended for years will demand he deliver. The forests
union and Tasmanian ALP Government will want to garrotte him if he does.

Or another, nukes. To accommodate Australia's foremost anti-nuclear
campaigner would the ALP close the uranium mines it opened?

How about fossil fuels? Whoever forms the next government, it is time for
deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions. It is going to be very hard for Labor
in what it perceives is a coal economy to deliver for Garrett and he would
not want to be seen to be supporting the status quo or increased emissions.

It might be safer to give him Indigenous Affairs, an area where he has an
impeccable record of compassion and active support. But magic wands don't
come with ministerial kitbags and he would be dealing with what will seem an
almost impenetrable political issue.

Garrett might think he can change Labor but history shows this is difficult.
On the up side, he is charismatic. I have seen hardened sorts go all soft
and gooey when they meet him. Perhaps he could prevail. More importantly,
how would the ALP change Garrett?

While it is less known he is a committed Christian, he was famous as the
crusader and spokes-singer for many in Generation X. He was our
uncompromising defender of principle, our angry young man protesting about
injustice and the environment.

His primal scream straight from the heart and gut stirred us to demand Exxon
be punished, Jabiluka be saved, the giant forests remain, victims of the
Blue Sky Mine be compensated and indigenous Australians be given respect. We
screamed out the songs with him in clubs, pubs, concerts and at parties.

With this background it would be devastating for Garrett to become just
another politician. To keep the faith that made him attractive he would need
to become a different sort of politician, an outcome more likely to please
the electorate and media than the ALP. But with leader Mark Latham
confirming the offer yesterday in an attempt to exert authority, it looks
like the fix is nearly in.

It is certainly a savage blow to the Greens, whose supporters saw Garrett as
a natural fit for its style of politics. No doubt it was a hard choice for
Garrett, weighing up whether to opt to set the high bar on all policy issues
with the Greens or go with the chance that if the ALP wins government he
might have the power to do something.

It didn't work for Kernot. Can Garrett have the power and the passion?

Susan Brown is a former environment policy adviser to the Australian
Democrats and president of the Queensland Conservation Council.