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Does Bob Brown deliver what Green voters ask of him?

By Greg Barns - posted Tuesday, 10 December 2002


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 a legislator.

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.

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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, forestry.

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 day.

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 extremely relevant.

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.

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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 legislation.

And in the Senate last week he put up his own amendments to the legislation.

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This article was first published in The Hobart Mercury.



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About the Author

Greg Barns is National President of the Australian Lawyers Alliance.

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