Greens figurehead Bob Brown may have resigned on Friday but the weekend’s media has been dominated by Christine Milne asserting herself as the new leader of the Greens.

Every major newspaper carried interviews with Brown’s replacement, as she declared that the Greens would refocus its attention on green business and regional Australia.

Milne says the federal government shouldn’t be forced to return the budget to surplus this year, and that she would only support tax cuts for large businesses — a policy favoured by the government — if a surplus did not go ahead.

“We believe we should be working towards balancing the budget by cutting wasteful handouts to fossil fuel corporations who are making multi-billion profits,” she said.

“Rather than sacking public servants working for the good of the country, or cutting support for families struggling to get by, or cutting back on much-needed funding for research and development.

“We should be giving tax cuts to the small businesses who really need it and who are the engineroom of our economy, employing far more people than the super-profitable big businesses.”

She called on progressive businesses to band together, saying that more traditional groups like the Business Council of Australia, the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Australian Industry Group were critical of progressive voices.

“What we badly need is a new organisation for progressive business that stands up clearly and says ‘the big challenge for this century is ­climate change and decarbonising the economy, and we need to see this as an opportunity to diversify the Australian economy,” said Milne.

“What is lacking is the courage to stand up and say they support carbon pricing and need carbon pricing.”

The national newspapers questioned Milne’s approach. As The Australian wrote in its editorial today:

“Senator Milne is right that the Gillard government’s drive to return the budget to surplus in the new financial year is more of a political than an economic imperative. But more prudent fiscal management is required if the government’s underlying structural deficit is to be repaired. The Greens will be taken seriously only when they grasp the reality that prosperity, opportunity and quality of life are brought about not through redistribution and burdening Australia’s most productive industries with ever-higher taxes, but through economic growth that builds higher GDP. To that end, in the “conversation” she wants to have with the electorate, Senator Milne should address issues such as containing public spending, investment in productive infrastructure and improving productivity through reform of federal-state relations, industrial relations and building greater incentives into the tax and welfare systems.”

The Australian Financial Review‘s editorial echoed similar concerns:

“The elevation of Christine Milne to the leadership of the Australian Greens, to replace Bob Brown, who has resigned the post, appears to signal a harder left leadership in the party. The shift also shows how the productive centre of Australian politics is being wedged between the anti-growth and protectionist left and the populist conservative right.”

Labor hopes that Brown’s departure will see more votes flooding back to the ALP, writes Daniel Flitton in The Age:

“Labor is hoping the vanishing ”Brown factor” will allow it to claw back three or four points on its weak primary vote in southern states.

While Labor’s woes in Queensland, Western Australia and NSW have dragged down the Gillard government, Bob Brown’s decision to depart politics in June has raised hopes of paring back what is seen as an inflated green vote south of the Murray River.”

The obits for Brown’s political careers continued to roll out over the weekend. The Age‘s Michael Gordon rounded up the tributes from a variety of Brown’s friends and political foes:

“Predictably, Brown’s decision prompted generous tributes from both sides of politics, with Julia Gillard describing him as ‘a figure of integrity with a deep love for this country and its environment’ and Tony Abbott, somewhat self-servingly, declaring: ‘You’ve got to respect the political ability which has enabled him to be effectively the deputy prime minister of our country. Certainly, the Greens are the tail that’s wagged the dog when it comes to this Labor government.’

But the most poignant tribute came from Tasmanian novelist Richard Flanagan, who says Brown’s greatest achievement has been to remind Australians ‘that power and money are not the only measure of who we truly are’.”

Gordon’s farewell to Brown was a “North Korean-style hagiography”, typical of the treatment the Greens leader received by the media for years, declared Andrew Bolt in the Herald Sun:

“Brown has thrived, and the Greens have expanded, because big parts of the media simply wouldn’t hear a bad word about him and his cause, or to subject him to any real scrutiny.

Very few even bothered to ask what Australia would be like if we were mad enough to do as he preached. And few of the inner-urban elites and under-appreciated tertiary graduates in dead-end jobs who voted for him seemed to care about that either.

Brown represents the triumph of seeming good over actually doing it. The triumph of good feelings. Of the permanent adolescent.”

The most likely replacement for Brown’s senate spot is Peter Whish-Wilson. Gemma Daley profiles him in The Australian Financial Review:

“Mr Whish-Wilson, who worked in equity capital markets for Merrill Lynch in New York and Melbourne and for Deutsche Bank in Hong Kong, Melbourne and Sydney, moved to Tasmania in 2004 with his wife and two children.

The 44-year-old runs Three Wishes Vineyard and has been the lead campaigner against the Gunns Ltd pulp mill, which can be seen from his trellises. His 2005 chardonnay won a Gold Medal at the Tasmanian Wine Show this year.”

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Peter Fray
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