10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. It’s time for Peter Garrett to go. Now.
People enter politics either for the power or the passion, or hopefully a bit of both. Afforded every possible opportunity and advantage – a safe seat, celebrity status, easy entry onto the front bench, numerous ministerial positions - Peter has shown beyond doubt he is not prepared to use his power to implement the things he once was passionate about.
The excuse that is trotted out – from sympathetic commentators such as Canberra Times columnist John Warhurst, who claims Peter needs to be a "team player" in order to affect change "from the inside" - holds even less water than the now-defunct Traveston Crossing Dam.
It can’t have escaped Peter Garrett’s notice that not only has he sacrificed nearly every principle he ever held dear, but also he has been betrayed by nearly every political patron he trusted. That must hurt. Forget diesel and dust. His is a story of irony and pathos, which sadly, leaves him as one of the more tragic figures in Australian political history.
The erstwhile senate candidate for the Nuclear Disarmament Party is now complicit in expanding our uranium production and selling it to a nuclear-armed state. The messianic singer who railed against U.S. forces being a “setback for your country” doesn’t bat an eyelid at new marine bases in Darwin. The political activist who sneered at those who toe the party line rather than fight for what they believe in (‘politicians party line, don’t cross that floor’) now lives by that very creed.
Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard have humiliated Garrett, ignored him, walked all over him, repeatedly demoted him or shunted him aside (from the one portfolio he really cares about - climate change) and, grotesquely, have allowed him to be the public scapegoat for the ‘pink batts’ fiasco and the associated tragic deaths.
To quote Gary Gray in ‘The Party Thieves’: “For Rudd and his office to position Garrett as the fall guy was disgraceful, weak, sneaky, unprincipled and just plain wrong. All along, Peter properly put his objections to the administration of the program on the record.”
And yet Garrett allows the perception of his guilt in the matter to remain unchallenged, presumably thinking that he has to “take one for the team.”
But at what point does repeatedly taking one for the team become pack-rape by the entire scrum? Acquiescing to the dredging of Port Philip Bay? Ouch. Approving the Bell Bay Pulp Mill? Ouch! Expanding the Beverley uranium mine? Uuuggghh. Agreeing to sell uranium to India? Aaaarrrggh. Allowing U.S forces to base themselves in Darwin? Nooo! Stop!
And that’s ignoring such trivialities as him withdrawing federal funding from the Australian National Academy of Music, which surely must have given him at least one sleepless night?
Either as the frontman of Midnight Oil he was faking it and didn’t believe in what he was singing about at the time – which I can’t accept – or he has today abandoned those beliefs in the cause of – what exactly?
“I have protested, sung, marched, written, organised and campaigned on those things I simply believed were important, not just to me but to the life of the nation,” Peter reminded us in his maiden speech to parliament, just over seven years ago. And it was true. Whilst the high point of his activism was probably the clever ambush advertising for the Reconciliation movement at the Sydney Olympics, both as leader of The Oils and as President of the Australian Conservation Foundation, Garrett had become the angry spokesperson for any number of controversial issues, from environmentalism to indigenous welfare with a bit of “Occupy the street outside Exxon” thrown in. Our very own Bono. The great hope of his generation.
Yet the only time recently that Garrett has taken a strong stance on any issue of newsworthiness is his reported threat to cause a by-election if, yet again, he were to be demoted by his leader. In other words, the principle he holds dearest at this point in time appears to be hanging onto his job. Peter Slipper in reverse.
Rock stars disappoint. One day preaching love and peace, the next up in court for assault. But out of all the politically-inspired popular musicians, none has managed to despoil the promise and sentiment of their own work to the degree Garrett-in-Labor has.
Rewind your memory. To the Oil’s heyday. Whether it be a singalong at Selina’s in ’78 or an explosive gig at the Hordern in ’87. And recall that shiver of excitement, that frisson of rebellion, at the drop-out lawyer with the gangly physique, the awesome voice and the frenetic dance moves, who in every note and dance step savaged the complacency of mainstream white Australia, berating us for our subservience to Uncle Sam, grabbing us by the throat and forcing us to face ourselves in the mirror over our neglect of our Aboriginal brethren, and flaying us alive for our trashing of the environment. Feeble politicians, conniving capitalists, evil company executives. They were all there, in a rogues gallery set to some of the most brilliant rock tunes ever written.
But what happens now? Does Garret simply stay schtum, whither on the vine and disappear in the wipeout of the next federal election?
Time is running out for Garrett to stand tall. Peter, pick an issue. Any one will do. And resign. Whether it be over your government’s failure to genuinely improve indigenous well being, or about the sale of uranium to India, or the basing of US forces in Oz, or off shore processing of asylum seekers, or mandatory detention, or your government’s inaction on whaling, or the threat of CSG mining, or any of the myriad issues you once were so passionate about. Do a Wilkie. Threaten to bring the whole show crashing down unless you get your way. Just once.
Better to die on your feet than to live on your knees.