Crikey subscribers have enjoyed a lively debate about the contribution
that Green Senators have made to the Senate Estimates process. See how
it unfolded in sealed sections over the past week.

Where were the Greens?

June 1, second sealed section

Greg Barns writes:

“Crikey,
yet again the Greens have been absent from Senate Estimates for AFFA
(Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry) – extraordinary!
During three days of talks on issues such as water quality,
bio-diversity and salinity, the Greens have been AWOL. If the Greens
genuinely believe the practices of the Howard Government are so bad,
wouldn’t they take the opportunity to grill the Canberra bureaucrats
for information?”

Where are the Saddam-like Greens?

June 2, first sealed section

Greg Barns wanted to know yesterday where are the Greens at the Senate Estimates Committees hearings.

The
Greens don’t have to turn up because they are not interested in getting
the facts. They have already made up their minds. Can anyone remember
the last time they backflipped on anything? Think about it. What first
seems virtuous is actually quite manic.

With the Democrats
in trouble, Australian politics looks likely to take an interesting
(read negative) turn. For the last 25 years, Government have ventured
into the Senate only to the find the fairies at the bottom of the
garden. Soon they’ll have to face the ferals.

Some comedy relief

Q. What’s the difference between an Australian Green and Saddam Hussein?

A. Saddam was willing to negotiate.

Where were the Greens?

June 3 sealed section

Bob
Brown turned up on ABC Radio in the Apple Isle yesterday talking to Tim
Cox in an attempt to answer the question Greg Barns posed on these
pages – and more than a few others have been asking – Where have the
Greens been in Estimates?

Forestry Minister Ian Macdonald had a go at him yesterday on air – provoking this call:

COX: Senator Bob Brown is also on the phone from Canberra. Good morning to you.

BROWN: Good morning.

COX: Where were you?

BROWN: Well you can hear what a waste of time it is talking to a Minister like that. Doctrinarian and very political.

COX: Yeah, but where were you?

BROWN:
Oh, I was at the Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence, taking a key
role in the head line stories that there are today about the Prime
Minister being uninformed about the knowledge that was held on the Abu
Graib prison in Iraq and the role, central role that Australians were
taking in the response to Red Cross claims way back into last year of
abuse at that prison.

COX: Why was no one from the Greens though
there when Senator Macdonald was up, because as he says, that is the
Greens heartland isn’t it? Environmental issues?

BROWN: Of
course it is, but you go to committees which can be productive. There
are only two Greens and my fellow Kerry Nettle was at a funeral
yesterday. She’s here this morning and going off to Committees on
Education and Health. You know it’s really important that we get our
priorities right here and you do go to Committees where you can get a
response. But we’ve got a Government which is totally unresponsive on
the environment. I might add that Senator Macdonald ought to be a the
World Conference of Governments which is occurring in Germany at the
moment on renewable energy where we’re simply not represented at that
level. I’ve got a staff member there because this is really important
for our economic and environmental future. But his priorities are
obviously different. I have been in the past to a series of Senate
Inquiries on the Environment. You just simply get nothing out of this
Government because it’s the worst performing Government on the
environment since the 1960s and you have to put, in the limited time
we’ve got, or the limited options we’ve got Tim- and I work morning,
noon and night in this place and I’m very proud of it – you go to
what’s most productive and Senator Macdonald certainly isn’t in the
productive stakes in the Senate or in the Parliament.

COX: We’ll leave it there. Bob Brown.

CRIKEY:
Readers will note, of course, that issues to do with foreign affairs –
and particularly with the abuse of Iraqi prisoners – are sexier that
shrubhugging at the moment.

But which issue do you associate
with Greens – international affairs or the environment? Do the Greens
have priorities over and above what their name suggests? Naaah!

PS
Did you also notice that bit about Brown having a staff member at some
do in Germany? It isn’t Christine Milne, the former Tasmanian Greens
leader and Senate candidate, by any chance, is it? Surely not? That
would just be too crass, wouldn’t it.

Bob Brown’s Estimates grandstanding

June 4 sealed section

A big party political staffer writes:

Lionel
Murphy must be turning in his grave tonight after the valueless
performance by Bob Brown at the Estimates hearings conducted by the
Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legislation Committee this
week. Bob’s place in Australian political and folk history is assured
from his Franklin days and he remains a forceful and effective advocate
on environment policies. But his effort at the Estimates hearings this
week was nothing more than an exercise in electorally self-interested
political grandstanding.

Estimates hearings were intended
to provide an opportunity to investigate the administration of
government policy, not to debate it. Abused equally by all parties
since their implementation in 1970, the Estimates have instead become a
means by which government policies are criticised by highlighting bad
outcomes, ineptitude, incompetence and waste. And, under the goose and
gander principle, you’d have to say that’s fair enough. However we have
seldom witnessed a performance like Senator Brown’s this week. He
turned what should have been a good opportunity to probe the
government’s management of policy into a vehicle for reventilating his
own already well-known views on the Iraq war. His attempts to debate
with the public servants (who, under the Senate’s rules, are expressly
forbidden from giving opinions on policy) resulted in many valuable
hours wasted in repetitive and directionless argument with Senators
Hill and Minchin.

Brown could have asked about the cost of
the Iraq war to Defence and DFAT, such as the cost of the ARO in
Baghdad and its protection; the impact on departmental workloads; how
departments have managed to reallocate or divert scarce human and
financial resources to devote to Iraq and what other priorities have
been set aside; how many additional legal resources have been required;
how much AG’s and private legal firms have charged for Iraq-related
advice; the cost of official travel related to the war; the costs of
additional security measures at the Casey Building and at embassies;
the effect on levels and handling of ministerial corresondence; the
cost of overtime paid to officers working on Iraq issues; the impact of
the additional workload on human resource management; what post-theatre
counselling has been required by and provided for the troops; and so
on. There is plenty of scope for anyone who understands how Canberra
works.

Instead, all we got was Bob Brown dancing in the
spotlight. Politicians – they’re all the same. Scratch them and all you
find is a politician underneath.

Crikey helps the Greens

From the mailbag:

“Crikey’s
coverage of the Greens always contains a large measure of bile. On the
one hand they are damned for being a single issue party, on the other
they are criticised for attending enquiries on non-conservation issues.
It would be just as silly to snipe at the Coalition parties for being
single issue parties, which they are. In their case everything is
subservient to the economy.

“Your consistent carping at the
Greens, and my complete disenchantment with the Libs, Nats and Labor,
has prompted me to make my first donation to a political party. So Bob
Brown has something for which to thank Crikey.”

Hillary
wants to ask for commission, but the Mayne Man is staying on his
ethical high horse. Meanwhile, another subscriber writes:

“Here’s
why I think Brown has forsaken the environment stuff. Brown is your
classic opportunist activist. He smells publicity with the Iraqi
prisoner stuff. No publicity in boring policy detail. Brown advocates
for other people to do things. He doesn’t do things himself, which is
precisely my critique of green groups. None of the well-known ones
actually are hands-on. They sit in inner city suburbs and talk
incessantly about protecting the wilderness even though most of them
only go there for photo ops and demos. The real environmentalists are
LandCare and Greening Australia who care enough about the environment
to do things themselves. Which is precisely why the green groups
dislike them so much.”

Where were the Greens at Estimates?

June 6 sealed section

Bob
Brown was all over Sunday Sunrise yesterday but Hillary Bray has been
receiving correspondence suggesting the Green icon might be a fibber:

Still
more e-mails in response to Greg Barns’ question from last week – where
have the Greens been during Senate Estimates. We ran the answer Bob
Brown delivered via Tim Cox’s program ABC Radio Tasmania on Thursday,
but subscribers still have queries about the Greens Leader’s priorities:

One poses a philosophical question. “If a tree falls in the forest and Bob Brown doesn’t see it, has it really fallen?”

Then
there’s this take on the whole affair: “His lack of attendance is a
powerful vote of confidence in the Howard’s Government environment
policies.”

Cheap shots? Well, this subscriber seems to have a Howitzer hidden in their back shed:

“I
know the Democrats are calling themselves the Lie Detectors these days,
but either they’re asleep on the job or they’re scared to attack Bob
Brown. If Crikey’s transcript of Brown’s statements to Tim Cox on the
ABC is correct then Bob is telling some little fibs in trying to cover
up the lack of work he is doing in the Senate.

“In response
to Tim Cox’s question about why the Greens weren’t at the Environment
Estimates Committee, Bob said he was at the Foreign Affairs Committee
and his Green colleague Kerry Nettle was at a funeral. Unfortunately
for Bob and Kerry, the Environment Committee had its hearings the week
before! Neither Green Senator turned up to a minute of that committee’s
hearings, or the Rural Committee that handles forestry. Perhaps it’s no
surprise that Bob didn’t know when the Environment Committee Estimates
were on, as he hasn’t been to one for more than 6 years!

“So
for Bob to say he wasn’t at the Environment hearings because he was at
Foreign Affairs was presumably a blatant lie – the two Committees were
on at a different time. His line about Kerry Nettle falls through for
the same reason. He even had the gall to add that Kerry Nettle was that
morning ‘going off to Committees on Education and Health’ –
unfortunately the Hansard shows that Nettle was not in attendance at
either committee.

“That’s three fibs in just one short
statement from ‘St Bob’! And that’s ignoring his blatant piece of
self-puffery when he told Tim Cox he was ‘taking a key role in the
headline stories that there are today about the Prime Minister being
uninformed about the knowledge that was held on the Abu Ghraib prison
in Iraq’.

As was reflected in the media reports, the
Government’s embarrassment about Abu Ghraib was revealed through
forensic questioning by the Labor Party, mainly Senator John Faulkner.
As one of your correspondents has already noted, Bob’s only role was to
make repeated speeches of outrage – I doubt there was a single fact
unveiled by Bob’s ‘questioning’ – and certainly not a “key role”.

“Bob’s
great at self-promoting and headline chasing, but his record of doing
the hard work in the Parliament is on a par with Pauline Hanson’s, who
also had a habit of not bothering to turn up.”

HILLARY:
Ouch! True or false? We await for the Greens to return fire – or
indulge in some peaceful non-co-operation in response.

Bob Brown’s Senate Estimates attendance record

June 8 sealed section

Liberal-turned-Democrat Greg Barns has been doing some more
research into Green diligence in the Federal Parliament and claims it’s
not pretty. It seems that Bob Brown has attended estimates committees
dealing with environment and forestry issues only 4 times since he was
elected. Each time it was just for part of one day.

Bob’s terms began on July 1, 1996. In September 1996 he attended
parts of 3 days of estimates. In June 1997 he attended parts of 2 days
on forestry and environment related matters. In November 1997 he
attended part of 1 day on environment matters. In February 1999 he
attended part of 1 day on forestry matters.

There was also the following:

June 2003 – attended 1 day Defence estimates on Iraq.
November 2003 – attended 1 day Defence estimates on Iraq.
May/June 2004 – attended 4 days of Defence and Foreign Affairs estimates on Iraq.

Apart from these appearances, he has not worked in any other
estimates committee since he was elected. Similarly, Barns points out
that earlier this year Bob Brown fawned over Mark Latham calling him
the PM in waiting. Now he says the ALP is the chainsaw Party and how
can Garrett join it – so which is it Bob?

Mark Latham seems guilty of similar hypocrisy. He once famously said
of the Howard government and George Bush – they are a conga line of
s*ckholes. The same can now be said for he and his Party in backing
Howard on gay marriages and the ABC’s Playschool!

Peter Fray

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