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Bob Brown: A legacy of principle

By Jo Coghlan - posted Monday, 16 April 2012

At the height of the Iraq war I met Bob Brown at a no-war rally in Wollongong. Like Bob Brown, Wollongong has a strong sense of social justice and a reactionary personality. By this I mean, if there was a mantra for Brown it is 'evil happens when good people do nothing.' Like Wollongong people, Bob Brown is the same. A social or political wrong requires a political reaction.

At the meeting with Bob Brown I spoke of the issue of arms. How was it, I asked, that we in the comfort of Western city like Wollongong were to judge whether Iraqis should take up arms against those that they saw as invaders. In fact, taking the discussion further, what if it was my family home that was being stormed by uniformed, armed foreign soldiers, what would I do? Would I not want to be armed?

Pacifism defines that we do not take up arms, and this remained the position of Bob Brown. In his best Ghandian logic, to arm the people or a militia is to only escalate war and death. This is an argument recently heard against arming those fighting the al-Assad regime in Syria or those who fought against Gadhafi in Libya. To arm the civilian against an oppressor only escalates violence. But what occurs when we don't arm those being oppressed? What of the Syrians in Homs, without arms waiting for the bombs and bullets? How many die waiting for diplomatic solutions that may never come.


Modern sanctions don't work. Apart from that it is sometimes our own governments who are backing the oppressive regimes. Australia only needs to look to our support training General Suharto's army who plundered and murdered in East Timor for generations. We did not arm the East Timorese because we were backing the Indonesian military and its dictatorial leader.

So, with Bob Brown's logic we wait. We hope. Sanctions. Diplomacy. Change world opinion.

I agree, but what if it was my family being dragged from their beds in Baghdad, would I not want to defend my family? While I am no longer a pacifist, this is not Bob Brown's fault. He shouldn't take it too personally, though he just might.

I will miss Bob Brown because even though we didn't agree, he stood his ground and he made his case. It wasn't arrogance or ignorance it was principle, and he stuck it. You can't be a pacifist some of the time.

Bob Brown's contribution to Australian politics, and the global green movement, has been well noted by many of his colleagues and national commentators.

As a lecturer in Australian politics, the legacy of Bob Brown is evident when I ask students to tell me what qualities they want in their political leaders. They list things like 'honesty', 'integrity', 'vision', 'passion', and 'principles'. The one name that comes before all others is Bob Brown.


Whether he realises it or not, and regardless of the political spectrum of students I teach, Bob Brown has become a beacon for positive political activism that sits in start contrast the negative 'no-ism' of the Abbott Opposition or the poll-driven Labor Party.

Brown, regardless of the issue from the sale of Telstra to refugees, provided Australian voters with an honest, principled position. We didn't always agree with him, but we knew where he stood on the issues. More so, he demonstrated to a generation of young people that politics doesn't have to a race to the bottom.

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About the Author

Jo Coghlan is a lecturer in the School of Arts and Social Sciences at Southern Cross University.

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