Greg Barns has been giving Bob Brown’s adviser Ben Oquist a decent spray of late but big Ben has hit back in a comprehensive fashion suggesting Democrat Senators are not nearly as hard working as the Greens.

In the green corner, it’s “Battling Ben” Oquist, better known as Bob Brown’s shadow. In the corner decorated with green and gold, the Democrat, colours, it’s Greg “The Grappler” Barns, the man who was thrown of the good ship Liberal and took passage instead on the Titanic – but isn’t going down without a fight.

The two of them have been battling it out as they argue that their political party has the best environmental policies – and last week they staged the Tussle in Tasmania.

Things got underway when Barns turned up on local ABC Radio in Hobart with Tim Cox.

TIM COX: The Greg Barns column in the paper, in the Mercury would appear to be…There has been in the crikey.com pages in the last 4 or 5 days a pretty decent stoush running between Barnsey and Ben Oquist who is Bob Brown’s right hand man he um… he’s very very omnipresent bloke Ben Oquist (laughter) in a creepy way he is all ways there looking over shoulders and what have you. I suppose that is what a minder does in Canberra. Anyway this carries on a lot of the similar sort of ground that blue has been fought over but it starts and ends with Greg Barns saying I like ‘Bob Brown’ he is a decent fellow…don’t you just know that, without even reading the paragraphs in the middle, that somewhere in there it is going to be the print equivalent of someone saying “I’m not a racist but”….

[Another caller on an unrelated matter]

TIM COX: I’ve got Greg Barns on the phone. G’day Greg

GREG BARNS: I’m, I’m just outraged.

TIM COX: Are you outraged mate. At what?

GREG BARNS: Well, you know I’ll tell you what is interesting. It is interesting that when you hold people up to be accountable that ..er..you know people are surprised. I am surprised that Canberra gallery never holds Senator Brown up to you know accountability and um imagine my shock when I looked and saw he hadn’t bothered to speak on six out of seven environmental bills or regulations that have gone through the parliament this year and in fact the Democrats have been the leader on those issues.

TIM COX: Fancy

GREG BARNS: mmm

TIM COX: Fancy. Now Barnes tell me about the column.

GREG BARNS: Yep

TIM COX: Is this going to be a weekly thing?

GREG BARNS: It’s going to be a weekly column…

TIM COX: Yeah

GREG BARNS: …and err it will range err far and wide. But err it will be in the true spirit of my mentor Christopher Hitchins.

TIM COX: Oh yes

GREG BARNS: It will be you know contrarian…

TIM COX: Yeah

GREG BARNS: ..and err no doubt there will be public lynchings of me by fanatics .

TIM COX: Yep

GREG BARNS: …in our community on both the left and the right.

TIM COX: I’ll tell you who will start.

GREG BARNS: Eh?

TIM COX: Ben Oquist will start

GREG BARNS: Well Mr Oquist of course mislead the readers of Crikey last week and I felt compelled to publish the full transcript of the email correspondence between us and I haven’t had a reply from Mr Oquist since.

TIM COX: Mm

GREG BARNS: But I would recommend to readers Dr John Hewson’s excellent piece on the Greens on Friday in the Financial Review.

TIM COX: Yes

GREG BARNS: It was a very good piece. Did you know the Greens on their website have a policy that says ‘we want to end wasteful trade and investment’.

TIM COX: What does that mean?

GREG BARNS: Exactly. Exactly

TIM COX: That’s all right

GREG BARNS: Dr Hewson like me..

TIM COX: It sounds high-falutin and very high minded.

GREG BARNS: It’s so sort of wacky its so sort of wacky than um ..I mean all I am doing is holding these people accountable and um unlike the rest of the media which doesn’t seem, oh you do, you do, but unlike the rest of the media particularly in Canberra that doesn’t want to, Dr Hewson and I, as part time columnists, have taken on the role.

TIM COX: I am happy to hear that but I just wonder if it will be a regular Greens bash this column, Greg?

GREG BARNS: It’s not a Greens bash

TIM COX: Oh come on.

GREG BARNS: It’s about accountability.

TIM COX: It’s about accountability. How are the Democrats performing?

GREG BARNS: The Democrats are going very well. Senator Andrew Bartlett was the only leader of a political party to attend the Rural Australians for Refugees conference in Mudgee on the weekend. I was there with him he spoke very very well and err with Labor’s antics last week on asylum seekers there has never been a better time for decent centre left party that has progressive social and economic policies.

TIM COX: Which one would that be.

GREG BARNS: Well there is.

TIM COX: Is there one? Is there actually one in Australia? Greg?

GREG BARNS: There is one in Australia it is called the Australian Democrats.

TIM COX: Oh I see.

GREG BARNS: And if you look, if you look at err the record in the Senate, unlike the Greens you’ll find that the Democrats actually bother to turn up and do what they are elected to do and that is legislate.

TIM COX: They have got greater numbers though maybe there able to have the numbers there at the time.

GREG BARNS:I mean I wouldn’t mind if Senator Brown if Senator Brown didn’t speak on one of these environmental issues but six of them. Six, including the Great Barrier Reef.

TIM COX: I look forward to a call from Ben Oquist. Have you heard Ben Oquist?

GREG BARNS: Well Ben said to me last week he said why are you picking a fight with us because I think he was surprised that somebody was actually making a call that was slightly critical of the Greens.

TIM COX: Heaven forbid.

GREG BARNS: I know.

TIM COX: Thanks Barnsy.

GREG BARNS: Thanks Tim.

TIM COX: Greg Barns ringing in there.

Ben Oquist fires back

Bob Brown’s adviser sent the following response to Crikey:

“Greg Barns is continuing to spread misinformation about the Greens and in particular about me. What have I done to deserve his wrath? He alleges that I have misled Crikey readers. Be assured I have done no such thing. The misleading is, in fact, on his part.

“His latest attack came via ABC radio in Hobart last week when he repeated his claim that the Greens do not address environmental issues in the Senate. His latest spray is also interesting because Mr Barns also aligns himself with John Hewson and seems to suggest he is Australia’s Christopher Hitchens!

“Now that parliament has finished I’ve had some time to look into Mr Barns allegations about the Greens performance in the Senate in more detail. Mr Barnes has picked a selective – and now out of date – list of environmental regulations and legislation debated in the Senate and claimed the Greens have not addressed them. He has failed to mention debate on legislation with significant environmental impacts like the Diesel Fuel Rebate Scheme Amendment Bill 2002 (where the Greens were key participants moving amendments) and instead has focused on bills like the Egg Industry Service Provision Bill 2002.

“In one email to me he mentioned that the Greens didn’t speak on the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park (Boundary Extension) Amendment Bill 2002. Yet this is a private members bill which hasn’t even been listed for debate in the Senate. But more importantly, he has failed to look at other parliamentary processes; including questions on notice, questions without notice, motions and Senate return to order motions – all of which play important roles in holding the Government accountable to the Australian public.

“In terms of Senate debate, Senator Brown has contributed more than two times as much as any Democrat Senator in the last three months alone. Since September, Senator Brown has asked 33 questions on notice and Senator Nettle has asked 26. This is almost 5 times the number asked by all Democrat Senators put together. One criticism that I just won’t cop, is that the Greens are not hard workers – we pull more than our weight in the Senate day after day.

“But of course it’s not just HOW MUCH you do, its WHAT you do that is important. New research highlights one of the great environmental legislative failures that resulted from a Democrats/Government deal in the wake of the GST. Despite a spirited defence by an ex-Hill staffer on Crikey recently, the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity (EPBC) Act (passed in the Senate via the Democrats) has been a complete failure.

“If you go to EPBC Act website and download Environment Australia’s monthly statistics concerning the Act you will see that as of September 2002 (most recent figures) there had been 709 actions referred to the federal environment minister for his approval or disapproval. Yet not a single one of these actions has had approval not granted – not one! In other words, in the three years of operation, there has not yet been a single farming or commercial action that has been unable to proceed as a result of the EPBC Act.”

This one will run and run. We look forward to Barns’ counterpunch – mindful that the Ali-Frasier rivalry is now being fought out by their children.

Hillary Bray can be contacted at [email protected]

Peter Fray

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