Peter Garrett is set to be Labor’s new green star at a time when the environment, and climate change, is higher than ever on the agenda. This morning he was asked some curly questions about compromise and personal ideology:

Mr Garrett said he was determined to stick by his personal beliefs.

“I don’t believe in compromise, I believe in good solutions and that means bringing everybody along with you as you go,” he said on ABC radio today.

Mr Garrett said his strong anti-nuclear beliefs would stay that way.

“But I’ve also said that I’m a member of the Labor party and I’ll abide by the decisions that the party makes,” he said.

“I’ll be a team player, I’ll argue the case for those things that I believe very strongly in within the Labor caucus and within the shadow cabinet.”

Why does Garrett cop this kind of grilling when most other politicians successfully skate through their political careers without their conscience ever coming into it?

His very public — and passionate — position on issues as former President of the Australian Conservation Foundation and lead singer of Midnight Oil meant he was hauled over the coals on this compromise question when he first joined the Labor party and now it’s happening again.

“When you’re in politics you have to compromise and he’s going to have to make some decisions that will hurt personally,” head of the Australia Institute Clive Hamilton told Crikey. “His compromises could be played out very publicly, and his compromises will be exploited ruthlessly by the government.” 

The internal tussle between a politician’s personal beliefs and toeing the party line is central to the game of politics — but Garrett’s balancing act will be more scrutinised than most, not least because he already comes with so many passionate supporters who look to him as a hero.

But does compromise have to even come into it? After all, Garrett has said he will argue his position and be a team player, and is that any different to being the lead singer of a rock band or the head of the ACF?

“Uranium will be the big test but that’s the balancing act,” says Hamilton.   “Garrett ran for the nuclear disarmament party after all… In a way, endorsing more uranium mines and increasing exports is inconsistent with recruiting Garrett.” 

So is it Garrett’s political enemies who are touting the idea that he’ll have to sell out his ideals? Political enemies like the Greens, not green groups?

“I think the Labor party saw Garrett as a star candidate who could draw votes from Greens and Libs,” says Hamilton. “Particularly to energise young people…
Certainly he is a threat to the Greens vote…”

Former adviser to Bob Brown Ben Oquist accused Garrett of trashing his moral authority by campaigning on behalf of Labor in the Victorian election in Crikey a few weeks back.

And that animosity is a political threat for Garrett. “Potentially the Greens and environment groups could cause more damage to his reputation than the Libs if they decide to go after him,” says Hamilton. “Politics is a dirty game…” 

“But there’s a lot of regard and respect for him in the environment movement. There’s still a lot of goodwill around.”

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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