NATIONAL AFFAIRS: by Peter WestmoreNews Weekly
Profile of Mark Latham's star new recruit
, July 3, 2004
Mark Latham's recruitment of ageing ex-rocker and conservationist, Peter Garrett, as an ALP candidate in New South Wales, can be seen principally as a move to get the "green" vote, but it raises important questions about the direction in which Latham wants to take the ALP.
There can be little doubt that Latham's move is designed to head-off the influence of the Greens as a political force, by persuading Green supporters that the ALP more effectively represents their interests. But it also means that an ALP Government, headed by Mr Latham, will be strongly committed to the Green agenda.
At the time of his entry into the ALP and simultaneous endorsement as ALP candidate for the safe Labor seat of Kingsford-Smith in Sydney, it was reported that Garrett had not been on the electoral role for 10 years.
After a public controversy, Garrett said that he had cast a ballot paper at every election since 1994, as an absentee voter. He had been unaware that his electoral enrolment had lapsed when he changed address, and he had never been notified by the Commonwealth Electoral Commission.
Peter Garrett's background will be of general interest. He graduated in Arts from the Australian National University, then studied law at the University of New South Wales.
He acquired fame as lead singer in the rock band, Midnight Oil, which focused on anti-corporate and anti-nuclear environmentalism, and was a trenchant critic of the United States in the dying years of the Cold War.
He joined the Nuclear Disarmament Party in the early 1980s, and remained with it until 1988, when he was reported to have resigned from it, in protest at the takeover of the party by the Socialist Workers Party, a Marxist-Trotskyite organisation whose mouthpiece is Green Left
He launched a campaign for the closure of US defence facilities in Australia in 1986, and sponsored a Conference convened by the Anti-Bases Campaign in December 1986.
He became President of the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) in 1989, and resigned this post in 1993, to take a position on the International Board of Greenpeace, the anti-nuclear, anti-whaling organisation which also campaigns on a range of other environmental issues.
He left this post after a year, and was re-elected President of ACF in 1999.
As recently as 2002, he was the guest speaker at the Australian Democrats' 25th Anniversary function. He said then, "The need for a solid anti-nuclear policy from Labor has never been greater."
Mark Latham's decision to recruit Peter Garrett into the Labor Party, and give him a safe seat in Parliament over the heads of local members who have given years of service to the party, does little for the democratic credentials of the ALP. Some described it as an exercise in political opportunism comparable to that which brought Cheryl Kernot into the ALP in the 1990s.
In the long term, it is likely to have similar consequences.