You forget it, but Bob Brown isn’t that much younger that John Howard. Like the Prime Minister, he’s been a politician for more than 20 years. Both have had an enormous influence on the political process – but compare their resumes of legislative success.

As the old saying goes, you’ve got to be in it to win it. And that’s why Peter Garrett is very much the political man of the moment.

The Greens have lambasted Garrett as a sellout. They’ve abused people in other parties who have defended him, like Democrat Senator Andrew Bartlett.

In doing so, the Greens have exposed their central contradiction. Are the Greens about politics or protest? We’ve seen this split in Green parties. Think realos and fundis in Germany.

The Greens have a major choice. Are they an environmental guerrilla force – like Greenpeace – or part of the political process?

You can make a gesture as a protest group, you can draw attention to key issues – but to actually deal with them you have to be part of the decision making process.

Peter Garrett can do that as a member of a major political party. It’s easy to imagine him as a minister. The best the Greens can hope for is to hold the balance of power in the Senate and demand concessions to allow legislation through.

And they know it. It explains their vituperation at Garrett’s intervention in the Victorian state election campaign.

Make no mistake. Both Labor and the Greens fought dirty. But Labor’s ultimate victories in its old inner city strongholds that may have fallen to the Greens was as much about Garrett’s strengths and integrity as any tricks from the campaign backroom boys.

Garrett reminded voters that power in our system flows from governments. Minor parties and protest groups can influence the agenda – but governments set it. The Greens attempted to campaign on nimby issues. Garrett reminded voters of the big ticket items – and who can tackle them.

Garrett will be able to do this nationally. And he will guarantee Labor holds on to many votes it may have lost to the Greens. If he does it well enough, he may well win the support of disaffected Liberals who believe their own party is doing too little on environmental issues.

Labor should remember the lessons from the 1990 poll – how it won by tackling the Greens while acting on green concerns.

Kevin Rudd has made one major blunder, however, giving Garrett the climate change, environment and heritage and arts portfolio. He has the perfect figurehead. He could have created a much more holistic portfolio around him – one which not only reminded voters of Labor’s determination to tackle environmental and sustainability issues, but also of its ability to deliver.

Now Malcolm Turnbull can enjoy the novelty of that role and the Liberals can steal Labor’s thunder – when the PM’s polling shows how well creating such a job would go down.

Peter Fray

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