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May 4, 2004

Peter Garrett and the best of both worlds

Peter Garrett is a stunning frontman for a band– but do you want him in your political party? Hillary Bray explains.


Peter Garrett is a stunning frontman for a band– but do you want him in your political party?
Hillary Bray explains.

OK, so Parliament hasn’t been sitting and the Gallery has been
preoccupied by some really serious matters – like the fact that some
very senior journos couldn’t work out that while John Laws gets relayed
by an ACT station you could listen to the Parrot on 2GB from Canberra
every morning simply by logging on to the internet – but it is amazing
that this story hasn’t grown more legs than a centipede since it
appeared in the Weekend Australian.

“Labor has tried to
recruit high-profile figures Peter Garrett and Kerryn Phelps to contest
key NSW seats at the federal election,” Megan Saunders wrote on

“The Weekend Australian has learned that senior
ALP figures earlier this year discussed a plan to run Mr Garrett,
president of the Australian Conservation Foundation and former Midnight
Oil frontman, in the Illawarra seat of Cunningham.

the same time, Dr Phelps, a former Australian Medical Association
president, spoke to ALP figures about the option of running in the
exclusive Sydney seat of Wentworth…”


a self-indulgent aside (this is Crikey after all). Kerryn Phelps a
Labor candidate? The same Kerryn Phelps who was often tipped as a
Bronweenie candidate – a candidate for the ugly right, in other words –
for all sorts of Liberal preselections around New South Wales and who
came to fame as one of the best loved turns in the Bruce Sheppard
Marionette Theatre?

Wow – but what about the Peter Garrett line? What an idea!

about it. The President of the Australian Conservation Foundation, a
leading campaigner for all things environmental, a heart that’s bled
more than all the baddies who get dispatched in Kill Bill – Parts I and
II – trying to knock off the only Green in the House of Representatives
on behalf of the Sussex Street machine.

The mind boggles. But should it?


The Crikey Sealed Section contained this observation back on the eighth of April:

years after he was almost elected as a Senator from New South Wales for
the Nuclear Disarmament Party, bald bawler Peter Garrett is in the news

“Over the last few days he’s been commenting on
appointing of career leftie Tricia Caswell to a well-paid sinecure as
Chief Executive of the Victorian Association of Forest Industries and,
more significantly, had plenty of press suggesting that he’ll run as a
Greens candidate at the federal election.

“The details of
new bid for Canberra, alas, are a little vague. What’s definite,
however, is that Midnight Oil have a new product out – a DVD for fans
of their unique brand of politically correct plod-rock.

“Could this have anything to do with Garrett’s re-awakened political ambitions?”

A week later we reported:

we being too cynical last week when we said that all the renewed talk
of a political career for Peter Garrett was just part of the promotion
for the Midnight Oil DVD?

“Backstage talk says the bald
bawler and his Green chums are seriously looking at the numbers for a
Senate run – not in his home of New South Wales, but in the ACT.”

hadn’t heard about the ALP talk – but back to the Oz. Its report went
on to say “the discussions – not long after Mark Latham replaced Simon
Crean as federal leader – happened too late. Rank-and-file
preselections for two local candidates had already been held and
neither were prepared to stand aside.”

It quoted “a
Canberra source” as saying “The idea was that Garrett would be good for
Latham. Garrett is keen to run but there is no seat for him. He wants
to run in a safe seat.”

Garret’s official CV at the ACF
site talks about his status in “the National Trust’s list of Living
Treasures”, receiving “the Australian Humanitarian Foundation’s award
in the Environmental category” and how he has been “awarded the Order
of Australia (Member General Division), for his contribution to
environment and the music industry”.

Would someone like that really go seat – let alone party shopping? Well, the answer may well be yes.

starters, Garrett’s always kept up close links with the ALP. The
organisation he heads – and other green groups – may have been walking
in and out of offices of the federal environment minister that have
said “Robert Hill” or “David Kemp” on the nameplate for eight years,
but they still haven’t come to terms with the fact that it’s the
Coalition which is in government.

Then there’s some interesting conclusions that can be drawn from talk of his past behaviour.


truly might think the greatest moment in Oz Rock is either the Five
Great Gift Ideas From The Reels EP or Kylie’s Gucci stilettos in the
video for “Did It Again” – but still spent enough time at Selinas or
having breakfast at Sweethearts in the eighties to pick up some very
interesting industry gos on the Oils.

Remember that line
from the Clash about “turning rebellion into money”? Well, the buzz has
always been that Midnight Oil were one of the first bands to retain
ownership of their material and do distribution deals with the record
company – and that they invested their advances on the short term money

As for the Oils much vaunted refusal to ever appear
on Countdown, people other than drug-fucked roadies will swear it only
came about after they decided to spin missing a flight to the program’s
taping in Molly’s Melbourne studio that was going to result in a
lengthy ban from the show into a political statement.

Toss in the matter of the DVD and those comments and…

So Garrett’s got a brain, lots of people get ripped off in the music
industry and it’s nice to see that he’s been able to put that law
degree to use.

But doesn’t this all suggest that as well as
the power and the passion that makes up the Garrett public persona that
there’s a lot of another “P” word – pragmatism – in there too?

That there are more “P” words? Portraying Peter’s pose as pragmatism puts the position politely?

Weekend Australian report told how “Cunningham is an important seat for
Labor to regain after suffering an embarrassing by-election loss in
2002 that saw Greens candidate Michael Organ win the party’s only lower
house seat.

“Mr Garrett has strong environmental
credentials and popular appeal, and strategists believed he would help
win back some of the Left vote that deserted the party in the Tampa

It added that “Mr Garrett declined yesterday to reveal any discussions that “may or may not have happened’.”

So, no denial.

a look at what Garrett was saying last month. Here’s the Sunday
Telegraph piece from April 4 that got us interested in the first place:

“Former Midnight Oil singer Peter Garrett is considering standing for the Greens party at this year’s federal election.

“ ‘I’m keeping a watching brief on it, and I’ve got an open mind about my involvement,’ Garrett told The Sunday Telegraph.

“ ‘I don’t have anything else I can add to that, other than to say it’s an ongoing process and it will unfold in its own time.’”

Too bloody right if he was also talking to the ALP. But look at what the article went onto say:

tall, bald singer, who is president of the Australian Conservation
Foundation, has warned that major political parties face electoral
oblivion if they don’t act on the environment.

“ ‘It ought to be near the top of parties’ lists,’ he said.

“ ‘Most Australians definitely rate the environment third or fourth, up with health and education.

‘Any party that ignores the environment will do so at its own peril.
Support for the Greens is increasing, and we saw that clearly at the
recent council elections.

“ ‘Australians are much more aware of how high the stakes are.’

said the nation’s key environmental issues included the quality of
drinking water, saving the Murray River and logging in Tasmanian

“ ‘The future of this country is tied to its capacity to preserve and enhance its environment.

‘It’s up to the parties to lead on it. The environmental vote is still
sitting there, waiting to see what the politicians will do’.”

Greens got a namecheck, but other doors looked open. And Saunder’s
Weekend Australian report makes you view the response to the Telegraph
item from the Green that AAP carried in a whole new light:

singer Peter Garrett would be more than welcome to stand for parliament
as an Australian Greens candidate, the party’s NSW convenor Geoff Ash
said,” it reads.

“The former Midnight Oil singer, whose band split in 2002, is reportedly considering making a second tilt at politics…

Ash said if Garrett decided to stand as a Greens candidate he would
have to compete for pre-selection in a NSW lower house seat as the
party had already chosen its Senate candidates for that state.

‘We haven’t had any talks with Peter Garrett but there are plenty of
lower house seats that we haven’t preselected for yet,’ Mr Ash said.

“ ‘If he wants to nominate he is very welcome.

“ ‘He’s a great environmentalist and great Australian and if he wants to put himself forward that would be wonderful’.”

Then there’s the interview between Garret and Bernard Zuel the Sydney Morning Herald carried over the long weekend:

opening was uncompromising: “Peter Garrett talks like someone with a
political career, rather than someone with the music career he’s left

“The former singer for Midnight Oil and current
president of the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) has been
asked, again, if he will be standing for Federal Parliament.

“ ‘I’m going to play a straight bat to that and just say, “Watch this space”,’ Garrett says…”

a music journalist, not a political correspondent – but after a few
pars on Garrett’s decision to wind up his band, guess what topic

“So what of his political aspirations? ‘I’m
really pursuing my work with the ACF with as much vigour as I’m able
and that’s plenty. Obviously it’s on the public record that there’ve
been discussions people have had with me [about standing for
Parliament], but for the moment, it’s offline not online. That
discussion will probably be ongoing and I can’t say much more than

“I’m impressed. That was almost your classic
politician’s response: ‘offline not online’, discussions being
‘ongoing’. I was waiting for him to say ‘in the fullness of time’ or
‘having said that, let me say this’.

“He laughs: ‘Let me make myself perfectly unclear. Or to put it another way.’

“He may be a little embarrassed but he’s not prepared to be more forthcoming.”

Zuel mightn’t be a political columnist but he’s a good writer – one who
preserved the scene perfectly for Crikey’s forensic work.

talking of forensics, after rabbiting on for 1,500 words its time to do
the Poirot act and gather everyone together in the drawing room to
announce our conclusions.

Add up the interviews and reports
and there’s plenty of circumstantial evidence that Garrett has been
seat shopping – and party shopping, too.

It remains
remarkable, though, that he hasn’t been put under greater pressure over
Michael Organ. Once again, think of it. Peter Garrett – the Peter
Garrett – going after the only Green MHR on behalf of the Sussex Street
boys. Jesus!


The Weekend Australian’s comments about Garrett’s appeal as a Labor candidate in Cunningham are spot on.

all focus on tax cuts and surpluses and quality of life payments and
all things economic with the Budget only days away, we need to remember
the significance of the environment as an issue.

Both the big parties know all about it. What did the Greens get in the Newspoll? Exactly.

already had Iron Bark playing tiptoe through the tulips in the
Tasmanian forests with Bob Brown on a quest for their preferences.

publicised have been Bill Heffernan’s mysterious trips to the
wilderness – the Wilderness Society, that is – and the way Tasmanian
Liberal Leader Rene Hidding seems to have been taking on as many
position on logging as a contortionist.

We speculated last
week that Hidding might be trying to position himself on forestry in
advance of an announcement from John Howard, only for Hidding to
back-peddle quicker that an Olympic cyclist – but have a look at what
appeared in the Launceston Examiner over the weekend.

talked about “the Howard Government from coming down hard on the
Tasmanian industry in a bid to win the interstate urban green vote at
the federal election” and “drastic changes to industry practices”.

senior Liberal source confirmed, ” the Examiner wrote, “that the
Federal Government was spooked by the recent visit to Tasmania by
Federal Opposition Leader Mark Latham and that it is now hoping to
pre-empt any announcement the ALP might make.’

And it
commented “Canberra has little to lose and much to gain by cutting the
Tasmanian Liberals adrift while trying to shore up votes in Sydney and

Too damned right – but are Garrett and Co onto this?

smart politicians around the country – and Howard is a smart politician
– have figured out that public opinion has shifted firmly into
tree-hugging territory.

Heffernan is off doing the wedge
work to divide Iron Bark from Tasmania’s Labor Premier Paul Lennon and
marginal Tasmanian MPs like Michelle O’Byrne in Bass, let alone his new
pal Bob Brown. Once he splits the branch in Tasmania, the trunk on the
mainland will go, too.

While all the focus is on the
Budget, the environment could actually be the battleground for the next
election. So lets look at the landscape.

The organisation
Garrett heads, the ACF, are known in some quarters as “the RSL of the
conservation movement”. After calling the shots for so long, are the
graying men with beards and sandals who are Australia’s environmental
powerbrokers prepared to be in the same position at the next federal
election as the poor sods on the deck of the Tampa in 2001?

Unlikely. So why would any party want Peter Garrett at a time like this?

is a great frontman for a band. Yes, he has electoral appeal, media
savvy and a brain – but Peter Garrett is also an angry man. An angry
man who is used to calling the shots and has been walking both sides of
the street.

When you add it all up, Peter Garrett is the biggest prize in Australian politics since Cheryl Kernot.

forget about “the power and the passion”. If you’re when talking about
Peter Garrett go for another Midnight Oil title – the best of both

That’s what he wants – and things get pretty messy
when you aim for it. Why risk taking him on – particularly if you’re
Mark Latham.

Hillary Bray can be contacted at Hillarybray@crikey.com.au


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