Apr 13, 2012

Brown: our most successful third-party pollie

Bob Brown ends his long and successful parliamentary career with the Greens at the peak of their power. Christine Milne has been handed awesome responsibility.

Bernard Keane — Politics editor

Bernard Keane

Politics editor

Bob Brown ends his long and successful parliamentary career with the Greens at the peak of their power. The former medical practitioner has travelled the long journey from the United Tasmania Group, which won just under 4% of the vote in the 1972 state election, to leader of the party with the balance of power in the Senate, a deal with a minority government and a House of Representatives seat. After a medical career, Brown served 10 years in the Tasmanian parliament (taking his seat the day after he was released from prison for protesting against the Franklin Dam) and, as he would do in the Senate, oversaw the rise of the Greens to balance-of-power status in Tasmania. Brown entered the Senate in 1996 and was, from 1998 to 2001, the sole Greens representative (and parliament’s first openly gay member). A decade later, he leaves the Senate with nine Greens senators, after the Greens Senate vote reached 13% in 2010. At a time when politics is increasingly professionalised and parties are pushing younger, less experienced people into senior positions, Brown was a traditional conviction politician, forthright in attacking the most sacred of cows in Australian public policy on economics, the media and foreign policy, including challenging George W. Bush when he addressed Parliament. He most recently attracted criticism for his now-famous "fellow earthians" speech arguing for a global parliamentary democracy. What was missed by most commentators was that the speech was to a Greens party conference; when Barnaby Joyce plays to his party’s base it is seen as canny retail politics; when Brown did the same, it was "looney left" stuff. A key challenge from the rise of the Greens to balance of power status (and the spread of Greens senators to all states) has been managing expectations from the party’s base -- which varies significantly in different states, with the Australian Greens still notionally being a composite of separate state parties. But this was deftly managed in relation to the carbon price with Christine Milne convincing Labor to establish an all-party process to develop a package, enabling the Greens to shape the package from the outset, which led to a significant array of "direction action" measures, including a massive Clean Energy Finance Corporation investment vehicle. The result is that, so far, the threat of alienating the party base through the necessary compromises that come from the balance of power has yet to eventuate. "I’ve always waited for a protest outside our window saying we’re too weak," Brown told Crikey recently, "but I find myself in a situation where we’re taking a stronger stand on environmental issues than key mainstream long-established environment group -- I never thought I’d find myself in that position." Despite media portrayals of him as a soft liberal, Brown’s early political experience was torrid. "Twenty years ago I could not go up the street without getting abused," he said. "Quite a lot of it was homophobic abuse, but it was coming out of the fact that I was an environmentalist, wanting to change the economic direction, the skill set and the employment base of this state … it was threatening, it was abusive, it was foul language, car windows down when people drove up the street … having the personal wherewithal to go through that sort of ever-present abuse … is a bit of a crucible for toughening up and a bit of a learning curve. "But," he added, "I’m not in Syria." And, he says, now he has the opposite problem of being stopped by well wishers. With the carbon pricing package about to start and the party at historic levels of strength federally, Brown leaves politics as the most successful non-major party politician of his generation, having twice built up a parliamentary third-party presence to balance-of-power levels. Brown’s Tasmanian colleague Christine Milne will succeed Brown; like him, Milne has considerable state parliamentary experience and led the Tasmanian Greens in coalition with the Liberals in the 1990s (after succeeding Brown). It was Milne who drove the Greens' involvement in the carbon pricing package. But she is less of a party icon than Brown, and the Greens will be closely watched to see whether the leadership transition sees more fractures within a diverse party room and membership. University of Tasmania economist Peter Whish-Wilson, who was second on the Greens Tasmanian Senate ticket at the 2010 election, is the likely replacement if he wants Brown’s spot; Whish-Wilson is highly regarded within the party. Brown today rightly declared himself proud to be leaving the leadership of a growing party. But he is less optimistic about the overall direction of progressive politics currently. Progressive politics, he told Crikey, is in a "stunning and very troubling retreat ... it's being totally eclipsed by the power of the corporations ... I see this disconnect where people are so frustrated with politics generally that they don't see that there's any hope in the political arena whereas there is no hope anywhere else. "The simplistic dictum I have is democracy or guns, take your pick, and if you're gonna be in a community movement, you have to relate to the politicians."

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190 thoughts on “Brown: our most successful third-party pollie

  1. AR

    Despite copious past evidence that ORAC is a thread derailing, time wasting troll I decided to check its reference to “greens ban wood fires” on Google.
    Guess what? Utter B/S.
    Why am I utterly unsurprised?

  2. Suzanne Blake

    There are pages of references to the Greens wanting to ban wood heaters.

    Rhiannon, this one theherald.com.au/news/national/national/environment/wood-heaters-could-go-on-back-burner/2197004.aspx

    The Milne one was on radio in an intervew after Rhiannon’s Januray 2012 comment

  3. Schnappi

    Rhiannon referred to wood heaters in that they should be considered for a health certificate only,cannot find a reference for milne banning woodheaters,even looking at yahoo search engine,actuallywould not be surprised if Milne actually had a wood heater like Brown has they are less polluting overall.

  4. lilac

    Suzanne Blake
    Posted Monday, 16 April 2012 at 9:35 am | Permalink
    @ Apollo
    What manufacturing is done in Switzerland? Clocks and cheese and chocolate?
    What manufacturing is done in Norway these days?

    @SB you really are an idiot and amatuer to boot!What do you purport to have a degree in?
    The Swiss economy:
    Switzerland’s economy is based on a highly qualified labour force performing highly skilled work. The main areas include microtechnology, hitech, biotechnology and pharmaceuticals, as well as banking and insurance know-how. They do however also produce and dine on very fine locally produced cheese and chocolate.
    The Norwegian economy:
    Norway’s economy is based on oil and gas exploration and the fishing industry.
    Both countries have vigorous, viable and wealth creating economies also they both responsibly, a price on carbon.

  5. AR

    Lilac – ORAC took that stupid quote from Graham Greene’s THIRD MAN(probably the movie – it doesn’t read … stuff) when Harry Lime tries to justify his corruption compared to the wunnerful achievements of red-in-tooth-&-claw free enterprise, aka corruption. If i recall the novel, he was selling ground sand as penicillin and his good friend was tracking him through the sewers of Vienna.
    Like Norway & Switzerland, we should be so lucky to have a government committed to the common weal.

  6. supermundane

    Suzanne Blake
    “What manufacturing is done in Norway these days?”

    Rather than continue to embarrass yourself why not first spare a moment to check your facts before posting?

    Not only does Norway pump copious quantities of oil and gas from the ground it’s also a leading developer and manufacturer of cutting-edge technologies involved in petroleum extraction, storage and distribution. Their competence, skill and specialist technologies in these fields are sought worldwide. Additionally, Norway’s energy sector is heavily involved in the development and manufacture of renewable energy technologies in the areas of hydro, solar and in the development and manufacture of cell technologies. A small but significant number of electric cars are manufactured here and a host of supporting industries have developed to buttress this sector.

    Norway is also heavily involved in the manufacture of finished and semi-finished metal products and is still a significant player in shipping (remember the Tampa?) and in shipbuilding. The Aker Group is involved in shipbuilding and other heavy manufacturing industries.

    Norway’s telecommunications sector, not least its major player Telenor, is a significant player in emerging markets, notably in the Indian subcontinent.

    The biotechnology sector is currently experiencing significant growth as is the microtechnology sector. Norway is a leading player in the development of silicon-based sensors fir example.

    Not bad for a country of 5 million. As Apoloo states, the manufacturing and R&D sectors account for close to 40 percent of Norway’s GDP.

  7. drsmithy

    Basically, Norway is a picture of everything Australia could – and should – have done with the mining boom, but failed to do.

    This outcome is all the more disgusting given we had their example to follow, and didn’t. At least if we were the first country to ever have a natural resources boom, screwing it up so badly could have been excused.

  8. supermundane

    Essentially yes. It’s not perfect here by any stretch and Norway finds itself under pressure, like most western nations from low-skill, low-wage competition, from a high-kronor and from a significant downturn in its major trading partners but all in all it’s remarkably well. The government here invests heavily in joint-ventures with local industries or holds virtual monopolies of some sectors such oil extraction – consequently there are no oil billionaires here using their disproportionate wealth to pervert and influence policy. Indeed, donations to parties are strictly curtailed here in any case. Most oil and gas profits are invested into Norway’s sovereign wealth fund.

    And before Suzanne Blake claims (just to pre-emept her) that Norway can afford high-wages and an extensive welfare system because of it’s oil, present and future governments on all sides of politics are bound to spend no derive no more than 4 percent of the public sector budget from oil and gas revenues in any financial year. The bulk is invested – indeed the very platform of the populist/quasi-libertarian, anti-foreigner Fremskrittspartiet (of which Breivik was once a member) is to abolish this cap. As a consequences public sector spending is substantially financed elsewhere.

    It’s galling to witness the likes of SB make false claims and sprout economic nonsense. What I witness in my daily life here – a resoundly social democratic society demonstrably invalidates her arguments and ideological premise.

  9. mikeb

    @sb. As I suspected. Absolutely no evidence of your claims about CM. All just made up in a redneck blog somewhere.

    Re the woodheaters. I have one myself and i know at the time i was shopping for one they introduced more stringent emission standards. This has a double benefit – less wood smoke pollution and use less fuel. I seem to remember that there was talk about monitoring chimney emissions in Launceston because of the inversion problem they have but that was a council initiative – nothing to do with CM.

  10. Venise Alstergren

    SUZANNE BLAKE: To be misinformed is one thing, but blunt refusal to get your facts straight is unforgivable. Posted Monday, 16 April 2012 at 3:17 pm

    Your comment is awaiting moderation.

    The ALP has drifted to the right. In their own words they did so in order to appease the hard right-wing voters. You know the sort: the rural bods with down turned mouths and who manage to speak without moving their lips.

    As the ALP became right wing they left a void in our electoral system. A void that was smartly taken up by Bob Brown. What was that void I hear you ask? The left-wing voter was left with no one to vote for, but, hey, the Greens espoused a lot of the principles that the ALP once stood for.

    Only a fundamentally ignorant person like yourself could have come out-in print, no less-and accused the DLP of being left-wing. Have you learned nothing since your heated entry into Crikey? The DLP is composed of Catholic fundamentalist voters who vote the way the Catholic Church tells them to vote. They have never pretended to be anything else.

    By the time you’ve learned to read you will understand that what I say is F A C T. Not, as in your case, hilarious comedy capers based around a heap of wishful thinking.

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