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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.

INTERVIEWER: Full stop.

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 comments

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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.

    Cheers,
    Jeff

  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……

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