Back to All News

Senator Brown's Farewell Address to the National Press Club - The Shape of Things to Come

News Item
Bob Brown 5 Jun 2012

Address to National Press Club:
“The Shape of Things to Come”

Thank you Katharine. Thank you ladies and gentleman.

I, at the outset, in the wake of yesterday's 20th anniversary of the Mabo finding of the High Court, honour the Indigenous first Australians in this region and right across this great country of ours, and note that Rachel Siewert, our spokesperson on Indigenous affairs, will be moving to, amongst other things - well has moved to legislate to advance the rights of Indigenous people by reversing that onus of proof on connection with land.

On that first occasion back in 1996, I was going through my archives the other day and I found a little note which forlornly said this: 2.40am and I can't sleep, and I've got the Press Club on today, and I have to catch the plane at six. Oh well, 24 hours from now it will all be over and done with.

But here I am 16 years later and I suspect it's not all finished yet.

Let me give honour to Earth Day to this planet of ours and I'll be speaking more about that in the coming time. You'd hardly know would you?

And then, well it's an auspicious 48 hours we have. There'll be nothing like it again for another - more than 100 years as the little dot of Venus crosses the face of the sun which warms our planet. And I can press that analogy by saying here's a little dot of a green before the full glare of the National Press Club today. And I think I'll survive.

This is my thirteenth appearance and I thank this institution, and its sponsors, including National Australia Bank, for all those opportunities to speak about the Greens' way forward for Australia.

Famously, that early green philospher Kermit said: it's not easy being green.

However in my philosophy, it's much harder being un-green. Green means fair to other people, democratic, resolving disputes peacefully and taking action in defence of the planet's biosphere.

The real test for our herd of mammals - and there's seven billion of us human beings on this finite globe – is whether we check our current behaviour so that we don't continue to degrade the biosphere on which all life depends, including our own.

Conventional politics, which is the governance of the rush to be rich, will fail, simply because Earth's resources are finite. Exponential growth in a finite system fails. We must seek innovation that relies on a steady relationship with Earth's resources, not the growth in their consumption.

And the Greens' commonsense, intelligent outlook is for that steady sustainability. Not the oxymoron of sustainable development - I heard the Minister for the Environment, Tony Burke talking about developing those mega coal ports on the Queensland coast sustainably last night and I thought I'll send Tony a dictionary, he just doesn't understand it.

But the commonsense we have is that of sustaining the biosphere which sustains us.

I love to be reminded that we are in fact a large-gonad mammal of the primate family. The magnificent Canadian green, my friend David Suzuki, and I were motoring across Tasmania a few years ago. He had written ahead to ask me if I would be upset if he went fishing. And I replied, no not at all, the trout in Tasmania's rivers are ferals from the northern hemisphere and the more you can get out the better.

Anyway, I told him about - he told me about the time he drove up to a supermarket in Vancouver which had a sign in the window saying animals not allowed inside. So he got back into his car and drove to a shop where he could go in.

We forget that we are a herd of mammals which is currently consuming 120 per cent of the Earth's living non-renewable resources. And in his globally celebrated book on the coming great disruption, Paul Gilding, who these days lives close to us in southern Tasmania, points out that current real projections are for population growth to go to 10 billion - 30 percent increase by the later part of this century.

The same projections, in a world where everybody wants more and almost nobody wants less, also shows consumption of Earth's resources going up by - wait for it - 300 per cent this century. We know that simply can't happen because it's not there.

So, rather than leave it to the great disruption, we Greens say let's use our god-given brains to change course so we can live with each other and within Earth's resources and its means, happily and way into the future.

One significant difference between myopic conventional economics and the Greens is we ask of every decision that's made: will this benefit our grandchildren or will it harm them? If you can't say benefit rather than harm, then you shouldn't be doing it, whether that's warming the weather, acidifying the oceans and therefore threatening the coral and the krill, or otherwise restricting other - extincting other species, or entrenching divisions in human society.

Not for the first time at this rostrum let me put this little supposition: given a referendum of the world's five billion people of voting age, there are of course seven billion of them - of us, it was just two and a half billion when I came onto the planet. A big majority would vote to cut the trillion dollars spent on armies by 10 percent, enough to give every girl and boy on the planet a school to learn in, food to eat and clean water to drink. That's what the people would vote for.

But in a world where multinational corporations have more power than the people, that's not what we get. There's no debate, no analysis, but there's plenty of manufactured political foment.

For example, I see The Australian last week gave space to the manufactured idea that because the Greens, like most other Australians, support same-sex marriages, we must therefore entertain polyamorous or multi-member marriages. It does not matter to The Australian that such nonsense never has been or will be our policy.

Liberal Senator Michaela Cash says we have to clarify that we don't support polyamory. Ms Cash has not said why the Coalition policy on marriage also does not mention polyamorous marriage. On her own logic, it should therefore be interpreted as not excluding it. Perhaps Michaela's media release headlined Greens polygamy agenda was just her way of becoming a parliamentary expert on a topic nobody else had taken up.

I don't know, whatever. Ean Higgins, the journalist for this story for the Murdoch's Australian, states as fact in his news column that Senator Hanson-Young's clear statement, and I quote: we don't support polyamorous marriage, end of quote had, and I quote him: outraged many Green voters. Well that of course is untrue. Certainly, no-one has ever raised it with me or with Senator Hanson-Young. But there it is as news, and no doubt, Cardinal Pell will be happy with Ean.

Well, unlike His Eminence I have resigned to have one of Australia's most talented women take over as leader. Since the campaign to save Tasmania's wild rivers, forests and farmlands in the 1980s, Christine and I have been great friends and worked together as the Greens have grown. For years, Christine has promoted authenticity and integrity in products from the land. Well, she herself is a product of the Wesley Vale farmlands who brings to national politics a figure of enduring authenticity and integrity.

As the new Greens Leader, Christine hit the ground running and she has a premium team with her - Adam Bandt, as deputy, the Member for Melbourne and Senators Rachel Siewert, Sarah Hanson-Young, Scott Ludlam, Lee Rhiannon, Penny Wright, Larissa Waters and Richard Di Natale.

They will soon be joined by Tasmanian Senator-in-waiting Peter Whish-Wilson who is with us here today. Peter is a graduate of the Australian Defence Force Academy and he has been an economist with a number of finance houses, and was, and always will be, a surfer.

He and his wife Natalie have two fine children. They stayed with Paul and I just a week or two ago. They also have a gold medal award winning vineyard too close for comfort to the proposed polluting Gunns pulp mill in the Tamar Valley. So Peter took a prominent role in the business community's opposition to the pulp mill.

He is a generous-spirited and intelligent man who will be an excellent representative in the Senate for Tasmanians and Australians generally, and of course, us Greens.

It's a good time here for me to thank all my colleagues who have been a wonderful group of people to work with and all the staff, past and present, I've been graced with.

I see across - over on the far table 11 is Michelle O'Toole. She came to me from another - well, an NGO in Hobart back in 19… Anyway, seven or eight years ago... and said - I said, it's just before Christmas, you'll be right Michelle, nothing ever happens at this time of the year. Went off to have a cup of coffee a day or two later and Michelle's calling saying there's a man with a box here and he's shaking and I want you to come back quickly.

Anyway, I came back and here's this young fellow. He was shaking and he handed me this package and it was a writ from Gunns Limited for $7 million for having opposed their pulp mill. And certainly it surprised Michelle and it took some years to sort that one out. But she handled it very well.

On the central table here is Ben Oquist. I first - I knew about Ben but I ran into him at the East Picton blockade in southern Tasmania back in 1993 or thereabouts - two, says Ben - when he was a student at the UTS in Sydney. Ben, you've been a remarkable friend, a wonderful companion throughout this political career. A great strategist - I think there's many other people in politics that would give their eye teeth to have you working for them.

And it's just great that you're going on now to work with Christine as the Greens move forward to bigger and better things in the future. And if only for your sake Ben, I hope Black Caviar wins at Royal Ascot in a couple of weeks time.

Well, I want to thank also the huge number of Australians who were surprised by my resignation as Leader of the Parliamentary Greens and have sent me, and my partner Paul, such lovely letters in the weeks since that announcement.

I will hand in my resignation from the Senate to the Senate President, John Hogg, on Friday of next week. He will inform Tasmania's Governor Peter Underwood. Next, if all goes well, the presiding officers of Tasmania's two houses of Parliament will have a joint-house sitting to hear Tasmanian Greens Leader Nick McKim nominate Peter Whish-Wilson to fill the vacancy and, if the Parliament so pleases, endorse Peter.

Should the message then go smoothly back via the Governor General back to the Senate, I expect Peter will be inducted as Australia's newest Senator on 21 June.

After Peter and his wife and family came down and stayed with us, not long after that Paul and I had Tibet's Gyuto Buddhist monks at home for a quick meal last week and the elderly - I think he was about my age - Gen Lama asked me: what of Tibet? I told him I had been down to see the very impressive Chinese Ambassador Chen Yuming in Canberra a few days earlier to ask that I be hosted to China, including Tibet, to get Beijing's concept of progress there. I hope China will let me visit.

Whether or not, I plan to attend the Rwandan Greens' next conference in November. Their last conference saw participants beaten up with batons - broken legs and other injuries included - and, shortly afterwards, the Greens' deputy leader was found beheaded. This conference will be in Kigali, hosted by Rwandan and African Greens leader, my friend Frank Habineza and I am looking forward to addressing that conference and helping bring a little stability to the progress of the Greens in that country.

I am getting many requests for books but it is not my intention to write a comprehensive autobiography. Whoever wrote What Katy Did Next and what she did last did a good job of that and I'll leave it to her.

I prefer looking forward to looking back. I can't forget the disappointment of reading Sir Robert Menzies' book which he wrote on retirement called Afternoon Light. It was both afternoon and light.

I am today however announcing the setting up of the Bob Brown Foundation to foster environmental and green causes. Environmental heroes like Miranda Gibson, who, as we sit here, is perched 60 metres high in her tree in central Tasmania and it's snowing down there today, deserve more recognition.

Forestry Tasmania dynamites such giant trees. I'm sure if Alfred Nobel, who invented dynamite, were still alive, he would be wanting to give a Nobel laureate to Miranda Gibson, not to Forestry Tasmania.

My fund may also help impecunious farmers' groups who suddenly find themselves facing open-cut coal mines or coal seam gas swallowing their lands, or disrupting their water systems or organisations which have shown they can simply raise the prospects for human happiness through their environmental work.

In pursuit of those ideals, the Foundation will offer an annual prize for Environmentalist of the Year, to encourage the love and protection of Earth's biosphere. We would like to announce the first winner on 1 July this year. That's the 29th anniversary of the High Court decision where the High Court judges by four to three ruled in a way which, following the election of Bob Hawke's Government, meant that the Franklin River was saved. Anybody who wants to know more about the Foundation, or donate to it, will find us at I look forward to hearing from you and responding.

Since my resignation, I have had a swag of invitations and have had to say no to too many, for which I apologise. Paul and I are sitting there over breakfast these days sorting these all out. But I will be off to this year's Byron Bay Writers' festival and the Bellingen Energy Festival.

Some of my most pleasant boyhood hours were spent in the crystal clear waters of the Bellingen River, particularly on the north side of the island which I think these days might be dry. But it was 14 feet deep there. It was quite a thing to go off the bridge and get to the bottom and come back up again. And you had to watch out for the bullrouts. But, fantastic times there as a kid.

I am lining up for other interesting and creative community events in Tasmania, on the mainland and overseas. For example, later today I will be talking on a small show of my photographs on Canberra's Electric Wall, to help celebrate the 250th issue of that great little magazine called Art Monthly. If you haven't bought it ladies and gentlemen, make sure you get a copy. It's published out of the Electric Shadows Bookshop here in Canberra and the anniversary event will be launched by Merryn Gates, who is the Art Adviser to the Parliament House Art Collection.

Then, tonight, I'm off to Broome to join Senator Rachel Siewert and the local community which does not want Woodside's giant gas hub to be plonked on the beautiful James Price Point because of its great Aboriginal and natural heritage values.

I have spoken to one or two of Woodside's partners, also giant fossil fuel companies, and they are happy to put the plant elsewhere while ensuring the same dividend would go to the Kimberley's Indigenous community. The bloody mindedness of Premier Barnett in Western Australia is not backing such a win-win outcome and it's reminiscent of the gung-ho Tasmanian Premier Robin Gray who sent the bulldozers in to the Franklin Valley in July 1982. I wish Premier Barnett the same level of success.

And that brings me back to the ongoing saga of Tasmania's wild and scenic forests. Since Prime Minister Gillard and Labor Premier Lara Giddings offered $240 million in return for protecting 572,000 hectares of high-conservation-value forests last August, more than $100 million has been allocated over Bass Strait to the logging industry. But not one tree, not a single stick - not even Miranda Gibson's tree - has yet been protected.

In a state where health and education spending has been cut, Forestry Tasmania, which got the forests for nothing should be returning a handsome dividend but instead is losing $5 million a month. It got the forest free, it's on-selling them and it's losing $5 million a month. Its board and its CEO Bob Gordon should be sacked.

Forestry instead should have long ago, and this is up to the Governments of the day, be protecting those high conservation value forests, including the rainforests of the Tarkine. They should be in World Heritage status and adding to the economic and job creation growth of Tasmania as the Franklin has done with the more than 100,000 visitors now attracted to the west coast which would have been a backwater had the dam been built.

I was out there on the stunning Tarkine Coast two weeks ago with Aboriginal experts showing me metre-deep wheel ruts through ancient Aboriginal camp sites. At nearby Smithton, 2000 off-road vehicle buffs were massing to demand that those roads now criss-crossing the Tarkine sand dunes and Aboriginal sites, be kept open for what they, quite shamelessly, call their traditional use.

The Tarkine faces that onslaught, more logging and, now, massive mining proposals which will erode its integrity, every bit as much as Woodside's gas hub will erode the Kimberley and the proposed six mega coal ports threaten the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area.

This right-wing attitude to Australia's heritage, not least its Aboriginal heritage, was highlighted, after the Smithton rally, when a gentleman drove slowly past me with his left hand on the driver's window sill and his middle finger raised in derision. I have got no doubt he will be voting for Tony Abbott, whose Liberal cousins in New South Wales have just opened national parks to the shooting brigade. For goodness sake.

In our island state of Tasmania, in the 21st century, its vineyards, organic farm produce, quality beer, cheese and fruits combine with wild and scenic tourism to give us international fame, business advantage, and jobs. That's where we should be going.

Last month Senator Larissa Waters, the Barrier Reef's greatest champion in this Parliament, and Deborah Tabart, who heads the Australian Koala Foundation, joined me to flag Australia's firstKoala Protection Bill.

It's salient to remember that there are fewer koalas in Australia in 2011-2012 than there were shot down in the single year of 1927 before the then American President put an end to it - that slaughter of koalas. But I doubt if Labor or Liberal will support that Bill to protect the koalas. It's up to us as Australians to get behind it and make sure they do.

Next month I will be going to Victoria's giant eucalypt forest with Paul to see the prime habitat of Victoria's faunal emblem, Leadbeaters Possum. It's currently - only current scientific projections likely to be extinct in the wild in 20 years. Victoria's loggers plan however, to clear fell and woodchip tall eucalypt forests essential for this sweet creature's future security. Can you believe it?

I am going at the request of Professor David Lindenmeyer, who provides an admirably rational voice to the saving of the Leadbeaters Possum through the protection of its habitat. Professor Lindenmeyer has also invited Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott so far with no luck. But it's the fate of the Leadbeater possum, like the koala, that is in their hands.

Nonetheless, here's a word for our Prime Minister. Thank you Julia Gillard for your integrity in the important innovations that you and I have discussed. Through the climate change package, establishing private members' time in both houses, progress towards referenda to recognised Indigenous Australians in the constitution, as well as local government, and this year, working towards establishing Denticare and the Parliamentary Budget Office, much has been achieved.

I wish your Government well and I am glad that someone so experienced in how to make minority government succeed as Christine Milne will be there for those important weekly cups of tea with you.

Senator Milne has made it clear she will lead the Greens to new and stronger relationships with the rural and business sectors, in a world where the tags clean and green give real market advantage.

On 1 July, Australia gains a carbon price, thanks to the Gillard Labor Government including Minister Greg Combet, and Christine Milne and Adam Bandt and team. This is a globally significant achievement in an age of dangerous warming, with its huge social, economic and environmental penalties. So much the better - so much better than Tony Abbott's plan to take the money off taxpayers and give it to the big polluters.

Global warming was one of the issues I concentrated on in my first speech here in 1996, and it's one that I will take up in many speeches yet to come because it is all about - tackling global warming is all about giving rather than taking to our grandchildren. We're all in this together. Once we lose what we have, there is no getting it back.

Do I think the plight of Peter Slipper warrants more press than the plight of Leadbeaters Possum? No I don't. Do I think the potential by-election on a potential by-election on the New South Wales Central Coast should rivet more attention than the prospect of six mega-coal ports being built inside the Great Barrier Reef? No I don't. Do I think Gina Rinehart's squabble with her children is sadder than the current drought's effect on thousands of children in Niger? No I don't. And, none of us, ladies and gentlemen, is in Syria.

We are in the most resource rich country on Earth, in one of the oldest continuous democracies on the planet. In so many ways, we Australians are the best placed people in the world to make the whole planet fairer, safer and cleaner and happier. That's what we Greens aspire to.

Yet the Murdoch press went into conniptions recently when I gave the Third Greens Oration in Hobart on the occasion of the 40th Anniversary of the first Greens party meeting in the world. It was held in the Hobart Town Hall.

My topic was global democracy. The premise was simple: either we seven billion people who on Earth do dwell work on things together or, divided, as the Bible tells us, will fall. Well, perhaps I enraged the Kippax Street headquarters by pointing out that the five billion voters without a ballot box have less say on global issues like nuclear weapons and the dangerous gap between rich and poor, than big companies like News Corporation.

If so, that wasn't their obvious target. The jugular they went for was my preamble in which I talked about whether there may be intelligent life elsewhere in the Universe and if so, why hasn't it contacted us.

However, among the screeches from the Murdoch commentariat were claims that I was barking mad, loopy, guilty of inter-terrestrial ravings, and sounding like a latter day John Lennon, for goodness sakes. Mind you, I didn't mind that last one so much.

For people with their feet on the ground, it will come as no surprise that just last week Australia won a central role in advancing the S.K.A. and I congratulate Senator Carr who had a hand in this. Senator - Victorian not New South Wales - Carr.

And Australia has got that central role in the Square Kilometre Array, which will, and I quote: enable scientists to study cosmic phenomena such as dark energy, magnetic fields and extraterrestrial signals and hopefully shed light on the fundamental question about whether the Universe including how it began, why it is expanding and whether - wait for it - it contains life beyond this planet.

We're putting billions into this project, the world is. How do I know this? Well I read it in a free copy I picked up of The Weekend Australian.

So here, my fellow members of the Press Club, is a rot at the core of Australian democracy and global affairs, the loss of unbiased reporting or at least balanced commentary. One question which has engaged thinkers in all recorded history is: is there life elsewhere in the cosmos?

But for me, as a political leader, to engage in that was of course very chancy to say the least. After I gave that Green Oration in Hobart, I had local mezzo-soprano Claire Dawson, sing my version of an earth anthem, called Earth Song. I sang the final verse and chorus with her. I'm sure you wish you'd been there.

Here it is: Now here's a promise, our obligation, to all the people yet to breathe this air, your world is our world, our world is your world, safe in our keeping sure in our care.

The first line of the chorus is beautiful planet and the last line is Earth is our all.
By the way, The Hobart Mercury, a Murdoch paper, printed those words with a very fine picture.

Nevertheless, some of the audience, at least one of whom is here, had their toes curled. That was not because I was off-key. Rather they thought a politician singing praise to the earth, and our human responsibility for it is running a huge risk of being sent up.

When, finally the mainland media did get word of the evening, they targeted my reference to the potential of extraterrestrial life as my greatest folly. I suppose he's barking mad wouldn't have seemed so bad if they had added but he sings in tune. But they didn't. Why not? After all, isn't it everyone's aim at News Corporation to sing in tune?

Ladies and gentlemen, before saying a little more about my own plans, I want to talk about the Australian Greens and their path ahead.

First, a blighted forecast. Those who said my departure as leader would cause a drop of four or five percent in the polls when I went got it wrong. Yesterday's Neilson Poll: 14 per cent for the Greens. The voters like Christine Milne and her new-look team, with Adam Bandt as deputy.

As far south as you can drive a car in Tasmania is Recherche Bay. On the bay's sandy shores, in 1793, Admiral Bruni D'Entrecasteaux and his 236 men - well, there was one woman on board but that's another story - met the Lyluquonny Aboriginal people.
For a week or so they met every day. There were feasts, music, athletic contests. These two peoples had no linguistic, cultural or geographical similarity. They were from opposite sides of the planet but, with forbearance and a predetermination to meet in peace, they had a communion which ended, when the French sailed away, with great sadness on both sides.

We Australians mark battlefields and slaughter with enormous infrastructure, ceremony and emotion. So why not this peace field on our own southern doorstep?

To get that elevating event of 1793 into more of Australia's history books and, it would help if there were a picture portraying it. Paul and I have commissioned a painting from that wonderful maritime artist in Sydney Ian Hansen. We will be giving that painting later this year to the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery in Hobart.

It is also a token of my thanks to the people of Tasmania who put me into the Senate for 16 years, to the people of Australia who have increasingly supported the Greens now into both houses of parliament, and all the people of the world who have admired our work for peace, tolerance and human forbearance.

These days, unlike back in '96, I'm sleeping like a top. Paul and I are planning a trip to the private conservation reserves across Australia, bought and maintained by Bush Heritage Australia, which was set up in my home at Oura Oura in the Liffey Valley 22 years ago.

And I'm busy working on two books. One for children and the other on secular ceremonies - for births, deaths and marriages - might include pet burials as well - fit for a modern Australia. I saw a statistic the other day which said in 1980 30 per cent of - 80 per cent of people got married in churches. These days it's 30 per cent and falling.

So, if there's anyone out there who has got a beautiful or lyrical piece appropriate for any sort of ceremony, please help the compilation by writing to me at Post Office Box 83, Cygnet Tasmania 7112.

Of course, in the moving panoply of politics, there will always be unfinished business. I spoke about Mabo earlier. Let me name a few matters where public opinion and the Greens have left both the Labor and Liberal parties behind. Euthanasia laws to better guarantee Australians have death with dignity.

The Treasury recommended minerals wealth tax which would provide an extra $100 billion for all Australians out of the mineral boom over the next ten years.

A sovereign wealth fund to amongst other things help ensure that we do get high-speed rail up and running between our biggest cities here in Australia.

Bringing Australia's troops home from Afghanistan, as the new French Government has now decided to do, and the Netherlands and the Canadian Governments have already done.

Abiding by international law to ensure genuine asylum seekers coming to our shores become productive Australian citizens.

Equal marriage laws.

And isn't it time Australia caught up with New Zealand and most OECD nations in having proportional representation - people's votes valued equally for the House of Representatives as well as fixed three year terms as provided for and allowed for under the constitution in Federal Parliaments.

There's many good things to look forward to.

Well, ladies and Gentlemen of the media, I wish you fulfilling years ahead. I'll take bets from anybody who believes the growth of the Greens will be checked by my exit from Parliament. And I hope if you come to Tasmania - and I mean this genuinely to all of you - you will come and have a cup of coffee at the Retro.

Thanks ladies and gentlemen.


Back to All News