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Jul 15, 2009

Peter Garrett: fool now or liar then?

As recently as 2006, Federal Environment Minister Peter Garrett was still talking up the anti-nuclear movement and urging Australians to oppose new mines. So is he a hypocrite or an idiot?


“Is truth then so variable? Is it one thing at 20 and another at 40? […] Were we fool then, or are we dishonest now?”

Such was the essayist William Hazlitt’s response to the recantation of a once radical friend. His words might have been written for Federal Environment Minister Peter Garrett — except that Garrett can’t really claim to be reneging only on principles he held as a giddy youth. Why, as recently as 2006, he was still talking up the anti-nuclear movement and urging Australians to oppose new mines.

That year, he gave an interview to 60 Minutes.

GARRETT: Nuclear is a dirty word because the stuff ends up in nuclear weapons, because the waste is highly toxic, highly carcinogenic, lasts for incredibly long periods of time. […] Why would Australians support an industry that produces radioactive waste, toxic waste? Why would you support an industry which leaves you with the long-term problem of having to take care of that waste, of guarding against terrorism, and floods, or possible earthquakes down the track. What I’m saying is it’s not the right path for Australia to take.


GARRETT: Absolutely.

In that exchange, Garrett explicitly and repeatedly replied to all the arguments he now makes for the Four Mile uranium mine. Today, for instance, he tells us that Four Mile “poses no credible risk to the environment” because it was subjected to a “rigorous and comprehensive assessment”.

In 2006, he scoffed at such assurances on the basis that nuclear waste remained deadly for for tens of thousand of years, and guarantees of safety over such periods amounted to “vanity and … hubris” — exactly the point that South Australian Greens MP Mark Parnell makes today.

So fool then or liar now?

It’s not just on the immediately environmental that Garrett dances to a different tune. In 2002, back in his Australian Conservation Foundation days, he wrote an account of the anti-nuclear movement under the suddenly ironic title “A saga of staunch resistance.” In that document, alongside the standard demands for Labor to live up to its promises (oops!), he explained:

We support Aboriginal peoples having a right of veto over nuclear projects on their traditional lands. As the Mirrar people have said in their fight against Jabiluka, “Nothing can replace our country when it’s mined. Nothing can reverse the damage to our water system and our food sources. Our culture cannot be replaced by money.”

Geraldine Anderson from the Adnyamathana people might be interested to learn about how the Minister for Sorry T-shirts supports Aboriginal vetos. About the Four Mile project, Anderson says:

This Labor Government is saying sorry to the Stolen Generation, on the other hand they’re taking the way of destroying our sites and taking our identity away. So when’s this going to stop?

Not with the current minister in the portfolio, one suspects.

Garrett’s hinted that his public positions don’t necessarily reflect his private views. In party forums, you see, he’s ever so fierce, a real tiger. But “I am now a cabinet minister, and the decisions I am taking are consistent with policy that the Government took and continues to take to the people.”

Funny. He used to have a line on that, too. In the 1980s, Garrett walked out of the Nuclear Disarmament Party in protest about the Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party. Drew Hutton, the historian of the environment, writers that Garrett feared the influence of the minuscule SWP because of its “strong caucusing and party discipline.”

Strong caucusing? Party discipline? A few days ago, Rudd forced Garrett to eat crow publicly over the suggestion that tourists not be allowed to trample all over Uluru. When it comes to democratic centralism, Lenin had nothing on modern Labor.

Who knows? Maybe Garrett really thinks he’s still achieving something, a deep cover environmental mole burrowing away inside the ALP, sacrificing battle after battle so that the greater war can be won.

But as Hazlitt also explained, hypocrites invariably try to make dupes of themselves, too.


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45 thoughts on “Peter Garrett: fool now or liar then?

  1. Jeff McLean

    Hi Jeff,

    I usually enjoy your articles, but don’t think this is fair judgment at all.

    Firstly, Peter Garrett has a job to do. As Environment Minister, part of his job is to evaluate some business proposals against best practice guidelines. His job is not to just scuttle any initiative he doesn’t like or want or personally approve of – Hell, that would make Australia look like many of the countries whose systems we despise.

    For the record, I don’t think uranium mining is necessary for a sustainable future and think that we’d be better off in the long term without it, and someone has to wear the pain of a declining industry somewhere – may as well be our generation.

    Furthermore, you seem to assume that he doesn’t fight and argue vigorously in the cabinet to maybe have the guidelines changed or altered. If you can get proof of this, then maybe people might listen to your arguments. I believe he c0ntinuously works to improve the machine of the Labor Party, but if he is called on as part of a team to put a view, then he puts his own views behind that of the team he represents.

    While this does not always bode well for the superficial impressions the public may have of a person, it is arguable that this is a far more appropriate way to act.

    Peter Garrett is an easy target for a quick article. If you choose to aim, make sure your reasoning is good, and the evidence is solid.


  2. Liz45

    Peter Garrett is a hypocrite. I don’t care how he tries to dress it up, being part of a government blah blah. Although I support some policies of the ALP, I’d never consider standing as an ALP politician for several reasons, but the most important would be the uranium mining policy. Every stage of the nuclear fuel cycle (except perhaps the nuclear reactor, but it has its own dangers) produces horrific damage to the environment, involves emitting radioactive waste, is unsafe for workers, and last but by no means least, over-rides and damages aboriginal peoples’ right to pure water, food and culture.

    I still wear my Jabiluku T-short from 10, 20 yrs ago, with an Aboriginal elder ‘s quote (on the back)about the damage to her people and their land. Due to strong opposition, that mine closed, hopefully for good!

    Uranium mining requires lots of water. South Australia has more problems re the supply of water for its citizens than any other state. Why then did the Sth Australian government allow the mining company an obscene amount of water daily for nothing? Now, that mining company is going to build a desalination plant just so they can extend their mining capacities. Unbelievable? Desaliniation plants are also damaging to the environment, not to mention what happens to the ocean when the salt is put back into it???

    As a person who’s mourning the recent death of a wonderful young woman of only 46 through cancer, I believe, that even though population numbers have increased in the last 20 yrs, I’d like to know why 1 in every 2-3 people can now look forward to being diagnosed with this horrific and cruel disease? If cancers had a little ‘tag’ on them that told how they developed, I believe that the nuclear industry would probably have been closed down years ago. People always raise the issue of nuclear medicine – you don’t need a huge reactor to produce these requirements.

    The sites of uranium mines look like some horrific sore on the environment. I don’t know of any company around the world that has been forced to clean up as they go, or return the area back to its pristine condition – just never happens! Whether it’s uranium mining or nuclear tests, there’s always toxic garbage left – that affects the lives and health of usually indigenous people. So much for reconciliation!

    Last but not least is the reactor itself; the transport and storage of nuclear waste, and the loss/abuse of civil liberties in every country where nuclear power is allowed. The huge costs of security, transport and removing old reactors requires huge sums of money from governments – the national government usually. These costs aren’t included in the cost per kilowatt hour of nuclear power, and they’re not usually the responsiblity of the company that boosts its profits by selling this dangerous material overseas. It’s laughable, that the media hype up the threat of ‘terrorist attacks’ but refuse to question governments re uranium mining/the nuclear industry and the possibility of nuclear material being stolen? Once again, all I can do is protest at the stupidity and lack of responsiblity, and shake my head in disbelief! Money is the REAL god! My grandkids future is not important it seems!

  3. Keith is not my real name

    Oh for Christ sake “Why won’t somebody think of the Children!

    He has a job to do and he did it, just as he always said he would. He decided based on the merits etc etc and despite it being against his own personal views, he made the call.

    He should be commended

  4. Andrew

    Comes to show the party system and parliaments can hardly work, unless MPs and Senators are allowed a conscience vote, in particular regarding critical issues:

    The climate: Extreme weather events / future generations
    The forests : Gunn / the last remaining old-growth forests / carbon sequestration
    Uranium: High level soil and groundwater radiation for hundreds of thousands of years

    The Roman Republic elected their consuls for one term only, allowing them to govern free of tempration for a next term in office. Otherwise, political systems becomes prey to vested interests and lower common denominators.

  5. Jim Reiher

    He should NOT be commended. He is a hypocrite. He use to head the conservation foundation. He use to publicly campaign against Uranium. Is there no issue he will feel strongly enough on to leave the Labor Party over? Is he enjoying being a Minister and pulling the big wage, just a bit too much?

    Of course there is the argument that he is a part of a team and must fly the team flag. I do agree with that. But with an important qualification: if something comes along that is just so big that you just cant fly the flag for the team on it, then you should quit that team. In the meantime, yes, you win some and you lose some.

    But what has Garrett actually won? Did he prevent the dredging of Port Phillip Bay? Did he block the plans for desalination plants? Did he protecting the Tasmanian wilderness from Gunns? Has he stopped the logging of water catchment areas?

    If he is saving his gun powder for a big fight, I think he fell asleep on the train as it passed the OK Corale.

    Compared to the passionate environmentalist he use to be…. this is just a tragedy that must turn caring people off the whole idea of being politically active.

  6. martin hoare

    the problem with the “he has a job to do and he did it ” persona is that this is the same guy who for over 25 years made is income primarily on his political veiws through music. i for one remember the first time i heard ” used and abused” from the first oils album and instantly became a fan of this mans beliefs , and i wonder how many of us now question anything this man ever does now or in the future. how many people were fans on jim and tammy baker until they showed their true colors , or nixon , shall i go on………….
    this man sold his soul and now we are going to pay for his decisions . the wandoan coal mine for one, this is going to be the biggest coal mine in the southern hemisphere and is owned by a sweedish company and he signed off on it.
    cattle farmers from western queensland cannot clear land for grazing , but a sweedish company can open cut land the size of a small country and thats FINE!!!!. GRAZIERS LOOK AFTER THEIR LAND AND ANY ONE WITH ANY KNOWLEDGE OF CLEARING AND REGROTH KNOWS THAT FARMERS DONT CUT DOWN THE LIKES OF BOTTLE TREES OR ENDANGERED TREES . there is so much documented proof that land clearing in the aussie bush creates more oxygen into the atmosphere than leaving old scrub alone.farmers dont ruin the land its their future ….mining companies destroy everything and MR GARRET is in their back pocket………….
    sad sad sad

  7. Michael Palmer

    LIZ 45

    ” Desaliniation plants are also damaging to the environment, not to mention what happens to the ocean when the salt is put back into it???”

    Myth Busted…. Have a think about how much water is in the ocean… how many molecules… pumping a tiny percentage of concentraighted salt back in has almost no effect in reality… Just think about it next time you are on the beach looking out at the HUGE mass of water…

    The crap that goes out to sea via our storm water and river systems is far far worse surely…. (pestacides, oil runnoff… rubish) Lets get some perspective!!!

  8. Jeff McLean

    This Garrett bashing is just getting ridiculous.

    Martin, Jim (funny that – you both weren’t in a band of his, were you?? 🙂 ) do you honestly think that he only ever spoke on green issues because they’d get him some money? That’s as silly as it is insulting, and quite an old and addled argument. Look at the sum of the actions of the man over the previous years.

    This looks typical of the sit-in-the-background-and-take-pot-shots mentality.

    Martin, in particular, your capitalization is fantastic. If you want real environmental degradation in Australia to continue, then continue to support cattle grazing (or any hard hoofed animal in Australia for that matter) and the subsequent clearing that it requires. There’s a whole new argument in itself.

    In fact, your whole posting looks like it’s come from someone that didn’t get a signature on an album in 1983 and has been annoyed ever since.

    If you’re going to accuse him of anything then make it can only be that he hasn’t been quite as effective at getting the decisions we may have hoped from his own party. Period.

  9. Jeff McLean

    P.S. for my previous point about cattle grazing, type “meat production contribution to co2” into Google and take your pick…

  10. Michael Palmer

    RE Peter Garrett

    Surely then all polititions are Hypocritical… as they are all compramising a indervidual point of view to be part of a team…

    In fact it would be fair to say at some level all humans are hypocritical at some level…

    I for one are glad that we have people like Peter Garrett in Parliment pushing his point of view……

  11. Steven McKiernan

    Where will we be when they they leave us a quarry?

  12. martin hoare

    dear jeff
    no i wasnt in his band but rob hirst was and i have been to many of his later gigs and heard him talk about issues including what we are blogging about and let me tell you that his veiws and as he quotes “petes and mine “use to be on the same wavelenght”
    but not anymore!!! wonder what that means?
    go and spend a week in roma or an area away from coffee shops and trent nathan stores and have a look . or the next time your eating at matt morans restaurant ask yourself is this meat australian or bolivian?
    go on to david suzukis site and ask him about land clearing for grazining. regroth australian bush puts more oxygen into the atmosphere than leaving the scrub alone !!!!!!!! as long as bottle trees are left and endangered trees are left it is beneficial not as you say detramental…….
    but keep on supporting a wanker that sells our land to overseas mining companies so we can keep single mums and dumb ass bludgers in supply of their victorian bitter and macdonalds food……………..
    how did your stimulis work out?

  13. Calum Hammond

    Let’s not let the smokescreen of “Peter Garrett has OK’d Uranium mining” hide the fact that it is the Labor party today that has made this decision, not just Peter Garrett.

    I certainly hope he is “a deep cover environmental mole burrowing away inside the ALP” he certainly has had experience from the outside (Australian Conservation Foundation) and no doubt realises how hard it is to be effective from that position, good luck at trying that one.

    However, I can’t help feeling towing the party line agreeing with decision after decision after decision on issues that frankly must stretch the soul can only wear you down eventually, it wouldn’t be surprising if sooner rather than later the call of independence and being able to express what you really feel will beckon.

    If Peter Garrett has a greater plan I hope it works for him (and us), because failure will mean more of the same, money winning out and rampant destruction of the environment, with the planet heading endlessly to it’s final destination.

    Cheery stuff.

    Calum Hammond

  14. martin hoare

    well said callum !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  15. Jeff McLean

    You’re good Martin. Stunning arguments.

    Rob’s good. Pete’s evil. Coffee shops are wanker haunts. Garrett sympathizers are Trent Nathan shoppers. Leave bottle trees and endangered trees – the others don’t matter. (Now I’m getting down to your level…) Do I have it right yet?

  16. Jeff McLean

    Wow, we DO agree Martin.

    Callum, you’ve brought polar opposites together!!! Hear, hear!

  17. Jeff McLean

    …apologies, that should have been Calum…

  18. martin hoare

    thats why i love aussies we get on no matter what!!!!!
    just hope everything will be fine for our kids!
    and yes i still love the oils

  19. Jeff McLean

    Bloody oath!

    Let’s have a beer sometime. (Not VB though – couldn’t be seen dead drinking that stuff with my Country Road jacket on…) 😉

  20. Geoffrey Ross Fawthrop

    Of course he is a hypocrite. Just not the type you think he is.

    By forming the Nuclear Disarmament Party, he stopped the Australian Democrat’s vote from nearly doubling at the 1984 election and getting many more of the preferences to go to labour. He clearly always did act against his publicly stated interests, in favour of old guard labour. Was cabinet his thanks for destroying anti nuclear and green politics all those years ago? Is Bob Brown doing the same now?

    Why else would neither man have joined the Australian Democrats at the time, pushing their national senate vote over 20%, giving them 2 long term senators per state? They Garret and Brown, could have been exercising real power over every government since then, protecting you all, keeping those barstards on both sides more honest, never allowing work choices through in the first place.

  21. martin hoare

    gold jeff
    pure gold !!!!!

  22. David1

    Jim Reiher you are obviously a bit slow, a greens member or both. Minister Garrett made it very clear he would be a team player when he entered Parliament and has been true to his word. No amount of your bleating will change that fact. He is if nothing else, true to his word and honesty in a politician is to be treasured. If you dont like the Governments collective decision then say so. The Minister is following the will of the majority of Cabinet, he is a junior Minister by rank, hardly in a position to throw his weight around, YET.
    Then we have the melo dramatics from Liz45, may I suggest you grab a tent, a sleeping bag a billy and head into the bush, find a nice big gum tree and make camp away from all the nasties that make up living in 2009. Wonder if your gran kids will join you? doubt it. Read Geff McLeans posts again, he says it all clearly.
    The Greens are out in force today.

  23. daveliberts

    Peter Garrett motivated many thousands of Australians to activate on issues such as uranium, justice for Aborigines and US military bases. Even right-wingers agreed with the issues in ‘Blue Sky Mine’. That’s a fantastic achievement. It is in no way undermined by Garrett’s current role, and he’s carefully explained his current role to his fans. Some are inevitably disappointed, and everyone understands this, but the fact remains that his current role is one in which his capacity to activate is reduced and his KPI is how Australians as a whole regard the administration of environmental safeguards and policies, not just those engaged in the issues Garrett used to sing about. He’s a very successful, very honest guy by any standards, not just those we use to judge politicians.

  24. David1

    Hear hear daveliberts, well said.

  25. Geoffrey Ross Fawthrop

    You deluded fools are cracked. Anybody who would vote Liberal, Labour, National or Green is mentally ill.

  26. martin hoare

    so after reading everyones comments including those who oppose me, even though i know he had to conform to his partys wants and desrires. i just thank god steve irwin never became a member of the australian labor party because if his form was like peters ..we would be harvesting whales for palmolive soap !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  27. David1

    What are you smoking Martin? Must be good.

  28. martin hoare

    if he really disagreed with the mining .i mean REALLY disagreed .. he would resign in protest and go to the back bench!!!!!!!!! then he would get some well needed RESPECT !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    maybe a move to nth korea for you..i hear there is cheap housing available……………………………………………..

  29. David Sanderson

    Garrett is neither a fool or a hypocrite. He is simply someone who wanted to get things done and not always just barrack from the sidelines. Jeff Sparrow is someone who will never get anything done and will thus always be able to maintain a self-glorifying, but false, personal purity.

    The kind of leftist who sneers at democratic compromise has much in common with the the tyrannical temper of the far right. They are closet fascists but delude themselves into believing they are the truest lovers of humanity.

  30. Keith is not my real name

    I do agree with what he’s doing along with many others, perhaps this will help you understand better.


  31. Tom McLoughlin

    Curioser and curioser – I was going to share a link of an image of Garrett that appeared in the NT Times back in 1998 next to a confused cross dresser in dress at the Jabiluka protests. It was on my blog and if you google this:

    “Here is a picture of Garrett same issue of the NT News which did not lead under the heel of CLP Stone’s regime, tucked away at p6” (global search, US host server)

    .. you will get my blog address. But the story has been redirected or wiped somehow. Stay tuned ….. Back to the home office to the pic file.

    It’s a cheap shot at Garrett who actually was in compassionate mode, which I do respect, but then as he said today ‘I joined the Labor Party … ‘ and took their shill too.

  32. Tom McLoughlin

    Here it is reposted today given those funny gremlins, for readers to cry, laugh, cry, laugh, ….as well as a classic Cornwall from crikey in fact back in the day ….


  33. deccles

    Crikey I wish people would declare their labor party membership before they posted (Keith?) and they kept their posts related to the article. Take you bickering off line or go and post it on the ABC website with the other young liberals and young labor ideologues.

    Garrett had to compromise today. It’s the art of being a politician, something you don’t have to do as a young idealistic musician – lawyer. It’s much easier to criticise the decision when you’re not accountable for it.

  34. martin hoare

    so we’re not allowed to have opinions .

    you idiot.
    compromises are for the week.
    but sounds like you already know and live by that.
    poiticians are elected by us to represent US not their own comprimises.
    and he was elected by US to stop these actions .in which could
    and probably will, end up shooting ourselves in the head with.
    i hope you fools still agree with them when they start selling it ti the highest bidders.
    or will you all have questionable doubts then?
    he is a liar and will never earn any respect off anyone except guys like you . because hes just
    lost all the greens that ever had any hope left in him..
    and as far as ” go on the abc if you want to winge” deccles..
    why dont you get up from that bean bag with your laptop and go outside for a walk
    you could do with the exercise and maybe you might enjoy some of the air that is stll relativley
    clean….until garret and his mates sell the rest oF SA and QLD to an overseas coal company.

  35. David Sanderson

    Hinges a bit loose, Martin?

  36. martin hoare

    but i use to think socialist partys or so called socially aligned partys
    had good moral values and looked after the majority of the people they
    bring back johnny !
    at least we new where we stood with him………
    shit i never thought that would ever come out of my mouth……
    better tighten the screws on the hinges……………….

  37. AR

    “Fool or Liar?” I’ll go with both.
    “Fool” for throwing in his lot with a Party machine which, when he stood for the NDP in the early 80s (hawke’s first re-election – 84?), exchanged preferneces with the Coalition to stymie him. Without that he would have been easily elected to the Senate and even then it was a close run counting exercise that lasted for days – this was before the insidious “above the line” option that 97% of the electorate now uses.
    “Liar” for daring to show his face and mewl rubbish that he knows to be untrue, immoral and utterly destructive of the environment, economy & ethical standards.

  38. Heathdon McGregor

    Modern Labour-Talks liberal/ Acts Liberal

  39. deccles

    Of course we’re allowed to have opinions, I just wish they’d be about the f-cking article rather than tit for tat exchanges that should be taken off line. Garrett doesn’t like the policy but it is Labor Party policy, should he throw his toys out of the pram, give up and walk away? Of course n ot.

    Martin what you want is socialism ala Stalin rather than socialism ala John Curtin. Regarding John Howard, we knew that any promise could be non core depending on whether it won votes. Howard destroyed his own party to stay in power, and a weak opposition results in a weak democracy. Garrett eating crow is as enjoyable as any other politician having to eat crow. I wonder how much Garrett would be able to get done as a high principled inflexible independent member in the House of Reps?

  40. martin hoare

    maybe your right and i would really love to see that happen..
    but i dont think it ever will.

  41. Geoffrey Ross Fawthrop

    Its easy vote for donald duck and direct your preference against the sitting member in all electorates. then we would never have any safe electorates again.

  42. martin hoare

    i thought everyone DID vote for donald duck ?
    he runs the show
    and mickey mouse runs the treasury!!!!!!!!
    and they both went to disneyland high school together {nambour}

  43. John Morgan

    “Fool now or liar then”? As someone who handed out how to votes for the Nuclear Disarmament Party in 1983, and who now strongly supports nuclear power, I’m probably open to a similar charge, and I’d say neither, though perhaps with a shade of fool then. But we can all learn.

    In the early 80s, we were in the grip of the Cold War, and a nuclear conflict was all too possible. Nuclear war was an existential threat. Now, while that threat has not vanished, it has receded, but another existential threat – global warming – has appeared. The challenge to existence that climate change poses is not a risk, but a certainty, if we continue on our present course. In contrast, a nuclear war, while ever a risk, was never a certainty. GW is the proximate threat today, and calls for desperate measures. I’d like renewable power to be the solution to this, but as best as I can determine, it won’t be, and we need a large expansion of nuclear power.

    At the same time I’ve learnt more about the technology of nuclear power, and that technology has also advanced since nearly thirty years ago. Generation IV fuel cycles can be completely proliferation resistant. Their waste can be below background radioactivity in a few hundred years, not tens of thousands. The reactors can consume existing longlived nuclear waste and decommissioned warheads as fuel. Their mining impact is far less than coal. And they can’t melt down or suffer a runaway reaction, even in catastrophic loss of coolant events. Modern nuclear plants are safer than coal reactors (just look at whats happening in Lithgow right now).

    Back then, I was what was known as a “deep green”. I still am. My values haven’t changed. But the situation, and the strategy, has. I don’t know if Garrett’s views have developed in a similar direction. Possibly they have. If so, he’s no hypocrite.

  44. Jeff McLean

    Hi John,

    That’s a ripper! You’re talking about Thorium reactors, aren’t you? Now THAT’s a technology, and we’ve gots looooads of it baby!! 🙂

    For others that are interested…



  45. John Morgan

    Thanks Jeff. Yes, thorium reactors, and uranium fueled fast spectrum reactors like the integral fast reactor, with closed fuel cycles. These are elegant and beautiful designs, and in the long term our only realistic intensive power sources if we are to preserve our environment.

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