Never let it be said that Greens leader Bob Brown isn’t good at burying a lede. This week, again, he managed to let a reasonable point get clouded by a cheap quote.

You don’t need to be a spin merchant to know that using terms like “culprits” and “coal barons” in the days after the floods is not a great idea. A sound bite such as that will always end with headlines like “Bob Brown: ‘Coal miners caused floods’“, and a predictable round of faux outrage from commentators and political rivals alike.

It all feeds into that tried and tested media formula  — insert crazy Bob Brown quote here.

Brown’s observations about climate change, future extreme weather events and the role of the taxpayer in footing the clean-up bill are points he’s not alone in making. A report on the flood disaster and climate change will be undertaken by Professor Will Steffen, a member of the multi-party climate-change committee set up by Julia Gillard. Similar observations are currently being outlined in re-insurance reports, such as the one released by Munich Re in early January which flagged that the “high number of weather-related natural catastrophes and record temperatures both globally and in different regions of the world provide further indications of advancing climate change”.

But instead of inviting a considered discussion about these issues, Brown was bulldozed. This isn’t to excuse predictable media coverage. But that’s just it: it’s predictable. So pre-empt it.

Keith DeLacy, chairman of Macarthur Coal, joined the chorus of protest in the wake of Brown’s statement, branding him “irrelevant to mainstream Australia”.

In fact, set to assume the balance of power, Brown is about to become even more relevant. It’s time he acted that way, and spoke to people beyond the rusted-on base. One way to do that is to raise the level of debate instead of resorting to cheap labels, an accusation regularly levelled at the Greens’ detractors.

Peter Fray

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