I like Bob Brown. He is a decent fellow whose passion, commitment,
energy and intelligence make him one of the more interesting contributors
to public debate in this Nation. And I particularly admired his strong
stance, along with my own Party, the Democrats, against the Howard
government's appalling inhumanity to asylum seekers.
But unlike some of Bob's supporters I have not deified him – he, like
any other politician, is accountable to the electorate for what he does as
So let me do what appears to be distinctly unfashionable among some of
my colleagues in the media, who can't let a day go by without putting the
blowtorch on to poor Simon Crean and the ALP.
This year in the Senate there have been at least seven bills or
regulations concerning the environment debated on the floor of that
chamber. They have involved topics as diverse as forestry, petroleum
exploration, wildlife trade, the Great Barrier Reef, the extraterrestrial
environment, the egg industry, and plant breeders rights – this last
matter being of keen interest to the Tasmanian horticultural sector.
On only one occasion has Senator Brown spoken in the Senate on these
bills or regulations. That issue was of course – you guessed it,
But, say his supporters, Bob can't be speaking on everything that comes
up in the Senate – after all there's only himself and his new colleague
Kerry Nettle. Quite right, but surely if you are elected on an overtly
environmental platform you would choose to speak on say, the Great Barrier
Reef – one of our nation's most precious assets. Or if you were Senator
from Tasmania, you would take a strong interest in plant breeders' rights.
A journalist in Canberra had a different spin on this information –
she told me that "it doesn't matter that Bob is never in the Senate
Chamber, because he's always available for a doorstop". By which she
means he is at the media's beck and call for a 'grab' on the issue of the
As much as it might seem irrelevant to that journalist how many hours a
legislator spends in the Parliament, to the community it should be
Politicians, and Senator Brown is no different in this respect, are not
paid by taxpayers to do perpetual media conferences. They are elected by
the people, and paid by them, to enact laws, scrutinise the Executive and
represent their constituents.
Let me illustrate this point by giving credit to someone who some
readers might think is highly irregular coming from me! That is Liberal
Senator Guy Barnett. And let me contrast Senator Barnett's conduct on the
vexed question of stem cell research with that of Senator Brown last week,
when the Senate voted on it.
Guy Barnett's views on stem cell research are certainly not shared by
me, but he has worked tirelessly on the issue since he went into the
Senate this year. Senator Barnett, along with 11 other senators, put on
the record his specific arguments in the Senate's report on the stem cell
And in the Senate last week he put up his own amendments to the