CANBERRA OBSERVED: by national correspondentNews Weekly
Can the Greens survive Brown's departure?
, April 28, 2012
Bob Brown’s departure from federal politics marks the end of an era for the Greens and most probably the high point of the party’s political influence and popularity.
While the senator’s retirement announcement came as a shock to the media, particularly after his earlier assertion that he intended to serve until 2024 (“two or three Senate terms”), the fact is Brown has been mulling over the prospect of retirement for some time.
Brown turns 68 in December.
He has a gruelling schedule and has been energetically and practically singlehandedly running the Greens for almost three decades.
While the Greens are now a powerful force in Australian politics, with established branches in every state and territory and representatives in most jurisdictions and at all levels of government, Senator Brown was the figurehead and the driver of the party’s national agenda.
And while the Greens also have international linkages and global ambitions, the Australian Greens were ostensibly a Tasmanian-grown organisation successfully franchised into other states, not dissimilar to the Australian Democrats, who were underpinned by their organisational and representative strength in South Australia.
Importantly, Brown himself was, to all intents, the face of the party, and his views and priorities were synonymous with the party’s views and priorities.
The Tasmanian senator has been looking for someone suitable to succeed him for some time, including bringing a fresh face into the Parliament.
The new leader, fellow Tasmanian Christine Milne, would not have been Brown’s first choice.
Brown values Milne’s contribution to a certain extent, but would have preferred someone with more flair and charisma — someone like himself.
It is likely that he would also have preferred a younger person. More than any other party the Greens rely on the supply of impressionable young people to maintain its organisational momentum and to provide activist supporters.
But there was no-one in the party to fit those criteria.
Brown had been nurturing 28-year-old South Australian Sarah Hanson-Young, who was the youngest person to be elected to the Senate in 2008; but she is unpopular with her fellow MPs and appears unable to step up from undergraduate-style politicking.
Hanson-Young has now twice failed to win the deputy leader’s job.
Interestingly, Brown’s real priorities were often in conflict, or certainly in contest, with the party’s wider priorities.
Essentially, Brown has not moved far from his Wilderness Society youth.
His raison d’être for entering politics was to stop new dams, but this broadened to trying to lock up as much of Tasmania as he could from development of any kind — something he has gone a long way to achieving.
Brown’s Greens were originally a protest party with a never-ending quest for more environmental problems to tackle, where the goalposts were forever shifting, and finality could never be reached.
But the Greens have developed into a party with much broader globalist ambitions, including a mission to change the way economies work, to re-engineer how society functions, and to radically alter cultural and social norms.
Environmentalism has become a convenient vehicle to achieve these goals.
To some extent Brown has been able to co-join his Tasmanianisation of Australia to this global revolution, but his brilliance as a politician has always been to have his feet firmly planted on down-to-earth day-to-day issues.
Brown’s ability to manipulate and manage the media is also going to be difficult to emulate.
He always managed to seem reasonable when he was being unreasonable, and conciliatory when he was being deeply confrontational.
Of course, Brown’s media skills have been given the leg-up by a large section of the Australian media who have been supine, if not private cheerleaders, for the Brown worldview.
Senator Brown was rarely held to account for his contradictory and often reckless positions or the consequences of his policies.
To cite just one recent example, only a week before he announced his retirement from politics Brown condemned BHP Billiton’s decision to close the Norwich Park coal-mine in the Bowen Basin in Queensland.
Brown hit out at the company’s attitude, claiming that it was anti-worker and that it exhibited a callous response to legitimate union demands for improved pay and conditions.
But Brown is on the record as wanting to end Australia’s coal exports and to eliminate coal-fired electricity generation.
Every coal-mine that is closed in Australia should be celebrated, according to the Greens; yet no one took Brown to task over the chasm between these two positions.
Indeed, Senator Brown will be a hard act for Senator Milne to follow.
But, more importantly, there is no-one in the party who has the authority to synthesise Greens policies into politically acceptable positions and to camouflage the Greens’ true agenda with seeming reasonableness.