25 April 2013
Ambergris is whale vomit. It was inevitable that we’d be chatting about whales. I was at Politics at the Pub and it was a busy one because Bob Brown was speaking. I was chatting amiably with the woman next to me. It’s like that here. I’ve noticed it before and written of it here. People at Politics in the Pub are informed and quick witted and chatty. I’ve mused that it’s the humour of desperation. Hopefully, that’s just another joke, although I doubt it.
Bob Brown spoke mainly of environmental issues on the ground, but on the election he warned that the polls are giving both houses to Abbott and thus the Senate is key and the Greens are a major player. He spoke of the necessity of politics, because the plutocracy ever grows ever more powerful, and violence is the alternative to democracy. He quoted Churchill with his “democracy as least worst” quote. (I just checked the quote and Churchill is unexpectedly uncommitted: “No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.” Sir Winston Churchill, Hansard, November 11, 1947). He promoted involvement in politics. It’s “hard going” but he recommended people “take time and get involved”. He described Christine Milne as “integrity central”. He argued that the Greens, with 12% of the vote, should be represented in the leader debates at election time but predicted they won’t be. He lambasted the current political process (despite his respect for democracy) and the role of media. He showed respect for Gillard, who he has worked with and considers business-like, and derided Abbott: nothing unexpected here.
BB was a conversation with Australia Institute leader, Richard Denniss, finishing with a lengthy Q&A session. Firstly, he was asked of James Price Point. This is when I first noted his quotable nature when talking of the effective Green campaign in the Kimberley: “Lose an environmental battle and you lose forever, win and you fight again”. I noticed that I’d felt the inevitability of many such statements, but maybe that’s a function of desperation. He mentioned the value of tourism compared to logging in the Tarkine, but the recent generosity to loggers. He noted harsh new Tasmanian legislation that will respond to substantial protest by withdrawing all forest reserves. “This is an age of aggressive materialism” that will ravage the planet in a short time. Are we past the tipping point? “Yes. But I’m not sure about it”. “This madness is institutionalised.” He noted that Thatcher had raised an early warning of climate change. He noted that “the trinkets [of materialism] are beguiling” and even admitted his own weaknesses, but asked is it worth the coming mass extinctions. “There’s a lot of defeatism around ... I see a world full of good people doing nothing”. We are amongst the wealthiest people in the history of the world and yet we feel aggrieved.
Then whales. If we can’t protect the largest living moving creatures, what can we protect? He claimed the Japanese broke international and Australian law, yet Paul Watson of Sea Shepherd is stuck in the open sea with the threat of a Japanese arrest warrant. Paul Watson is “on the run” and “there will be more of that this century”. Religion and gay marriage appear to me to be current issues of faith in left politics so I shuddered a little when the issue was inevitably raised by Richard Denniss. But I thought Bob Brown’s response was reasonable, that he recognises a wish for stories but he “parts company” (nice way to put it) when faith insists on rules, denies reason, ie, when it’s dogmatic. And I’m still mulling over his questioning of the legality of celibacy as a condition of employment. That’s a new and interesting twist. He presented quite a challenge in global politics, too. He said he’s been denied visas to Rwanda and China and raised the issue of a global government based on one vote, one voice “and, I think, one planet”. He discussed our limited support for development and noted the harm of drug prohibition, the widespread support for decriminalisation and the unreadiness of politics or media to allow real discussion. He joked about Howard as the next Governor-General - “it makes me proud” – then confirmed that the Republic is inevitable. Then an end with a mention of the Bob Brown Foundation “for impecunious Greenies”.
Unlike many (presumably including the nodding woman near me) I don’t think of BB a saint, but I did find him honest and reasonable and, in my view, correct on many topics, not least climate change and the plutocracy and violence as the unwanted alternative to democracy. I like that he can recognise that Thatcher and Churchill got something right. It suggests a willing broadness and honesty of thought that I don’t hear on the political Right. I’d heard Nick Cater (editor Weekend Australian) interviewed on ABC RN’s Late Night Live just hours before. Listen and despair! Despite climate change and GFC, everything is culture conflict and the ruling latté elite! I’ve thought for some time that the unyielding ideological right is like the Left of mid-20th century in its ascendance and childish unwillingness to admit mistakes. Tony Judt struck me with this quote: “The left … has something to conserve. It is the right that has inherited the ambitious modernist urge to destroy and innovate in the name of a universal project” (What is living and what is dead in social democracy, by Tony Judt, in NY Review of Books, v.56, no.20, 17 Dec 2009). It fits so well here.