14 April 2012 – Bob Brown who resigned on Friday as leader of The Australian Greens led the campaign to save the Franklin River nearly 30 years ago.
He was a charismatic, galvanizing force then and nothing has changed.
Someone said a while back he was starting to “lose it” and should retire. Nothing could be further from the truth. Seeing him in person once more at the launch of his small book Earth, in February 2010 he was just as magnetic, confident and calmly passionate as ever.
Strangely he didn’t seem much older. (Was it the manner?)
But age does weary everyone in the end. He’s 67.
It’s great to Christine Milne has been handed the reins and we wish her well but it’s hard to think of anyone that can fill Bob Brown’s shoes.
Brown doesn’t agree.
On ABC television on Friday night he countered suggestions that The Greens would lose their way now that he had resigned, much in the same way that the Democrats wilted after their founder Don Chipp left.
Quite the contrary, he said, when “someone like me leaves” it is more likely to open the way for other people to come forward up as leaders.
In his farewell letter to friends, supporters and media Brown showed his is a wily politician despite whatever vestige of “ sandal-wearing, muesli-chewing, bike-riding pedestrians” might still stick to Greens image.
Brown points to evidence that the Greens are not a temporary breakaway as the Democrats were, they are part of a global and growing movement and way to big to stop now.
And it’s way too big to stop now, even in the face of danger in developing countries Greens candidates are stepping up, he points out in the letter.
“I am keen to see Papua New Guinea Greens leader Dorothy Tekwi win her courageous bid for the seat of Vanimo – held by the current Deputy Prime Minister – in PNG’s elections due soon,” he says.
“I will also accompany Rwandan Greens Party leader, Frank Habineza, whose deputy was recently found beheaded, safely back to his country later this year, to help re-establish the Rwandan Greens right to exist there.”
There it is again: the calm in the face of very poor odds. And he’s confident too on the natural progression of the Greens in the developed world.
“The Greens are a logical response to the post industrial age” he says.
Today the Greens policies are wider than pure environmental issues, closer to broad notions of sustainability that include fairness and ethics – and financial sustainability, which is increasingly part of their lexicon.
Stretch the viewfinder and you see that the philosophy of sustainability has embedded itself in all walks of life, and most interestingly with the leaders of progressive corporate culture.
Yes, much of it is still greenwash but that’s because the marketing and advertising people can smell a major trend a mile off. Hopefully the real stuff follows.
Give it time. Look back three years ago and you can map a vast territory now won and defended. Even on coal. The US itself recently enacted tough new emission controls on power stations. China is into renewable energy with its ears pinned back. And the green economy is increasingly seen as the one that improves the long term value of the assets rather than frittering away the capital.
If there is one issue that sticks on thinking about Brown is that his party stopped the first iteration of the carbon pollution scheme from going ahead. In doing so, by refusing to budge on a matter of principle, you suspect Brown played a game of realpolitik that saw The Greens help sacrifice a dream run for Labor at a time of widespread support for climate action, in return for bigger gains later.
Appallingly the then prime minister Kevin Rudd didn’t counter by going early to the polls and winning a potentially amazing mandate. Instead he wasted time and let the steady anti-climate stream turn into a flood.
By the next federal election, the Greens used the high moral ground they had seized to entrench 10 of their own in Canberra and become the tipping point in an eroded Labor Government, able to influence policies on much broader agenda than carbon pricing.
In discussing these issues after the last federal election and Brown’s long term agenda one commentator asked: “Do you think Bob Brown is that smart?”
He is exactly that smart.
Whether his successors can be, we will now see.