There’s nothing better for a politician than a third party endorsement to add credence to your claims. That’s especially so when the claim is that the Prime Minister is pursuing policies that will ruin the world for our children and the third party is the new Australian of the Year.

Greens Leader Bob Brown was in this position this morning when he launched into a stinging attack on both the Liberal-National Coalition and the Labor Opposition for not moving to shut down Australia’s coal industry. Senator Brown reinforced his already strong environmental credentials with support for the view of Professor Tim Flannery that it’s no longer socially acceptable for Australia to keep exporting coal knowing the damage it’s doing.

“Tim Flannery is right here and this is where politicians will panic, but we’re exporting to the rest of the world what is effectively a deadly threat to the whole planet and to our children,” Senator Brown told Fran Kelly on Radio National.

The politicians will indeed panic – as they clamour to be the first to dismiss the notion that coal fired electricity generation be quickly phased out.

In the words of Flannery: “I think that we do need to ultimately close down those coal-fired power plants, but first we need to build the bridge to the new energy future.”

Or of Senator Brown: “…We’re a rich and wealthy country, we can look after the coal miners and we can replace their fortunes with a much more job productive industry…”

Within the Labor Party there are already concerns that the party’s modest plans for more controls on carbon dioxide emissions will cost them the votes of miners and power station workers. In this morning’s Australian there was a report of nervous frontbenchers insisting “the future of the coal industry was safe.”

Those backbenchers clearly believe that Howard strikes a chord with his promise to balance climate change policies with the need to protect Australian jobs and economic growth. Advocating a phasing out of the coal industry would be impossible without splitting the Labor party so Kevin Rudd will no doubt join government ministers in dismissing Bob Brown as a crazed environmental zealot.

The Greens leader won’t be concerned about that. His team don’t have to worry about being seen as extremist. They’re not after securing a majority of votes. A militant minority is all that’s needed to elect a Green Senator in every state and Senator Brown did not miss the opportunity this morning to advocate the importance of the balance of power in the Senate being held by minor parties.

“…Labor can’t win in the senate, they can’t go from 27 to 38 or 39 seats and it’s up to the Greens to take back the balance of power….Take it [the Senate] back from being a rubber stamp for the Howard government,” said Brown.

That argument will appeal to a lot of Australians and the cries of anger from industry, affected trade unions, Liberal, National and Labor won’t cause any moderation of the Green view.

Expect to hear more such statements over the coming months as these from Bob Brown this morning:

BROWN: To suddenly ban coal exports would be massively dislocating [KELLY: Absolutely]… but we have to do it.. and we have to do it within a period of a government… [KELLY: within a period of one government?] …that should be the sort of aim we’re looking at…

… the Prime Minister might say a 4 or 6 degree temperature rise, which is the upper end of expectations this century, is going to reduce the comfort level of people but in fact it’s going to see massive death tolls, particularly with elderly people in Australia…massive extinction of Australia’s wildlife, it will see the Murray Darling flow shrink in a way that is almost unthinkable, water shortages for our big cities, massive dislocation of the lives and jobs of Australians and…tens of millions of people displaced around the world…

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey