In a wide-ranging interview with Wild, ex-leader of the Australian Greens, Bob Brown has expressed deep disappointment with the lack of discussion about the environment in the lead up to the federal election, pointing the finger at mainstream media outlets as a major culprit.
Brown, who was first elected to the Senate in 1996 and then formally elected as federal parliamentary leader of the Greens in 2005, has been instrumental in the Tasmanian and Australian conservation movements since he first rose to prominence as director of The Tasmanian Wilderness Society in the late 70s. He announced his retirement as leader of the Greens and from the senate in 2012.
A regular columnist for Wild, Brown and his non-profit organisation, the Bob Brown Foundation, has continued to be a key figure in the environmental scene; most recently launching a proposal for a Trans Tarkine Track, which has led directly into the Vote Tarkine campaign – a movement that seeks to have the Tarkine protected under World Heritage status.
Despite his ongoing focus on environmental concerns in Tasmania specifically, Brown applauded the Greens for continuing to highlight other key environmental and social justice issues from around the country.
“The big environmental concerns for many people are the fate of the Great Barrier Reef as well as the issue of climate change more generally,” he said. “For the Greens, the solution is to oppose more coal mines, whereas both the Coalition and Labor are happy to allow more to open.
“Then there’s also the issue of offshore detention for refugees, and the incarceration of children and innocents that comes as a result of it. Many people would object to children and families being used, to being deliberately, cruelly punished in order to send a message to a third party.”
In this sense, Brown highlights the way in which the Greens – now under the leadership of Richard Di Natale (who moved into politics after working as a doctor, just like Brown) – has been able to fill gaps in the progressive left of the Australian political spectrum that Labor may once have occupied, as the ALP moves further into the centre.
And after previous gains by the Greens, most famously in the case of Adam Bandt’s wins in the seat of Melbourne in 2010 and 2013 Brown is confident the trend will continue with what he believes are strong candidates running in the Victorian seats of Batman, Wills, Higgins and Melbourne Ports.”I recently visited those electorates and there’s a huge amount of buzz in favour of the Greens. While the commentators continue to focus on the big parties, they’re ignoring the fact that there could well be some major upsets at the polls this weekend.”
And it’s this lack of attention given to conservation and the politics surrounding it that Brown finds particularly concerning, if not new. In particular, he finds the ABC’s reportage especially lacking in what should be a critical topic.
“I’ve not seen an election where the environment is so low on the agenda for decades. I think the media could be giving more credence to the issue, but when the National Press Club held their debate on the environment they left the Greens out of it. When Fran Kelly discusses the performance of the major parties in terms of their environmental performance on ABC Radio, she fails to mention the Greens’ far higher rating above that of Labor, which is in turn above that of the Liberals.
“In the case of the ABC, it’s clear they’ve been cowed by the near-constant hammering by the big political parties, as well as the Murdoch media,” Brown said.
Some classic examples for what qualifies for coverage in the modern media are found in Brown’s home state. While 20 young mountaineers are currently climbing the northwest blade of Federation Peak – a heroic feat at any time of year, let alone in the middle of Winter – the ABC instead covered the tourism minister’s helicopter flyover of the region in its discussion of a proposal to include a ‘dry-boot’ bushwalking track and boardwalk to the shore of Lake Geeves.
“The ABC are happy to broadcast the news that the Coalition have pledged $70,000 to the proposal should it go ahead, but then fail to mention the Greens’ plans for the Tarkine despite the fact that it’s more thoroughly costed, well-planned and and will have far less impact on wilderness values.”
Regardless of his feelings towards the media, Brown revealed his depth of faith in the democractic system itself, stating that the future of the country comes down to the “intelligence of Australians”.
“Brexit may be turning Great Britain into little England, but that’s democracy. It may be a vote for greed, racism and rejecting others, and there’s plenty of that in our election, too. People just have to realise there are penalty clauses when they make decisions for those reasons.
“In a democracy, people get what they vote for – and there’s no substitute for democracy.”