Peter Garrett was always going to find it difficult dealing with the compromises of being in the Labor Party. Well, that had been the traditional analysis of his move from environment activist to mainstream politician.

Reality has played out somewhat differently. It actually looks like Garrett is very comfortable in the grubbiest aspects of party politics. His intervention in Melbourne this week shows he can get down in the muck with the best of them.

Thousands of personal letters from Peter Garrett have been sent to inner city Melbourne residents alleging that there is “Liberal-Greens alliance” in Victoria. And this morning on Radio National he was more direct with his deceptions, claiming that the Greens were preferencing the Liberals.

The truth is that the Greens have preferenced the ALP in 60 seats in Victoria leaving it to the voters to decide in 28. In no seats were the Liberals preferenced.

In fact, in preference negotiations the ALP indicated they were satisfied with this deal. In return the ALP has given their preferences in the Upper House to the rabidly anti-choice DLP and the shooters’ party (Country Alliance) before the Greens.

We will not know the electoral impact of Garrett’s work until Saturday night but already we know what it has done to Garrett’s reputation amongst the true environmental believers.

Inner city Melbourne is a political savvy electorate, filled with environment movement leaders and opinion makers. And word of Garrett’s intervention and how he is being used has spread quickly through national environment and activist circles.

People are dismayed, not just that he would allow himself to be used to peddle distortions but that he would want himself known as someone who stopped the Greens gaining balance of power in the Upper House. The result being that either the Nationals or Labor would be in control – not a good result for the environment under anyone’s analysis.

Peter Garrett could have gone out campaigning in the outer suburban Melbourne marginals where his “bogan appeal” could have helped defeat anti-environment Liberals. Instead he chose to try and deliberately mislead voters about the preference arrangements of a pro-environment party looking to gain a toehold in the Victorian parliament.

Watch now for Garrett to be rolled out in the NSW election to help the Labor party try to win the seat of Balmain which the Greens councillor Rochelle Porteous has a good chance of winning.

Whatever happens on Saturday Peter Garrett will have lost. If his impact fails to stop the Greens winning seats he will be seen as a flop by his new ALP colleagues.

But even if his grubby entry into the Victorian election succeeds electorally for the ALP he will have trashed something far more important – his reputation as a moral voice in Australian politics.

Peter Fray

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