It’s called D-E-M-O-C-R-A-C-Y

Taking off on a dangerous ride at Wedding Cake Island off Coogee …

You’d expect right wing shills like Tim Blair and JF Beck to be gleefully stirring up fear and loathing over Peter Garrett’s refusal to distance himself from federal ALP support for a proposed new US military communication base in Western Australia.

But I’m more than a little bemused by similar reactions from Peter Martin and Tim Dunlop, two bloggers I would have expected to know better. 

Martin suggests that Garrett is a person no longer to be admired and (in a predictable lyrical parody): “It’s “just enough to make you want to cry”…”

Dunlop poses a question to his readers with only two possible answers:

So do we admire his honesty and accept that it is legitimate for people to change their minds, or do we dismiss it as gutless expedience?

Well Tim, has it occurred to you that Garrett might neither have changed his mind nor be guilty of “gutless expedience”?  Have either you or Peter Martin ever heard of a concept called “cabinet solidarity”?  Here’s how Australian Politics explains it to high school children:

One of the major principles of Cabinet government is that the deliberations of the ministry are secret. This is related to the idea that the cabinet is collectively responsible for its decisions and actions. The principle of cabinet solidarity is important for governments wishing to maintain a united front in public. Often this united front extends to the government’s relations with its own party members in Parliament.

It is now accepted, for example, that cabinet ministers will all support cabinet decisions when they are presented to the Caucus (in the case of the ALP) or the party-room (in the case of the coalition). This solidarity allows the executive to nearly always get its way with the parliamentary wing and contributes to the domination of the parliament, particularly the House of Representatives, by the government of the day.

The principle applies to shadow ministries as much as it does to Cabinet itself.  There has probably never been a politician in any Cabinet or shadow ministry in Australia, at federal or state level, who has not frequently been required by this principle to act precisely as Peter Garrett has just done.  It’s inconceivable that anyone could ever find a political party whose policy positions always conformed precisely with their own convictions.  As a highly intelligent person with long-held and very public beliefs on a wide range of peace and environment-related issues, I’m sure Garrett gave prolonged consideration to the implications of the cabinet solidarity principle before deciding to throw in his lot with the ALP.  This basic democratic principle requires that government members confine their disagreement to the cabinet room.  If you want the luxury of public dissent, you stay on the back bench or join the Greens or Democrats. 

So when Peter Garrett states that he “unreservedly accepts” the ALP policy position on the proposed new US base, it says nothing at all about what he really believes.  In fact, given ongoing reports that the Bush administration continues to contemplate bombing Iran, it would be surprising indeed if Garrett didn’t privately harbour significant concerns that a new US military communications base on Australian soil might well end up being a “setback for (y)our country“.  Indeed, in the very interview transcript Martin reproduces as evidence, Garrett went as far as any (shadow) minister could ever properly go towards expressing dissent when he said:

My views are clear and theyâve been clear since Iâve come into the Parliament.

Update – Jeff Sparrow at LeftWrites has an alternative explanation.

About Ken Parish

Ken Parish is a legal academic at Charles Darwin University, with research areas in public law (constitutional and administrative law) and teaching & learning theory and practice. He has been a legal academic for almost 12 years. Before that he ran a legal practice in Darwin for 15 years and was a Member of the NT Legislative Assembly for almost 4 years in he early 1990s.
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53 Responses to It’s called D-E-M-O-C-R-A-C-Y

  1. cam says:

    The popular perception is that conscience should over-ride party discipline. Any representative is going to come up against that.

    What you have described is Cabinet Government and especially the demands of executive discipline inside cabinet government. This isn’t necessarily the only form of democratic governance.

    The absolute discipline that cabinet government extends is more by convention than anything, and the (real) ability of the PM or Opposition leader to wield the full power of executive leadership. It has shut Turnball up for instance, which is a shame. But there is nothing saying cabinet members cannot act on conscience, just that under current conventions, the PM or Opposition leader will have an apoplectic fit over it and boot them out.

    This is also one of the reasons why I think the Senate should be prohibited from being in cabinet or council. Legislative independence and conscience voting require freedom from executive discipline.

  2. Yobbo says:

    Peter Garrett believes in Green Policy almost to the letter. In fact, if you based a political party around his Midnight Oil lyrics, you would get the greens policies word for word. The fact that he joined Labor just smacks of power lust. How could anyone respect Garrett? It is patently obvious he doesn’t believe anything he says.

  3. Ken Parish says:

    This isn

  4. Link says:

    Good point Ken. I don’t see Garrett as having sold out. A very simplistic reading. Getting ahead in politics is a path that undoubtedly presents many a moral conundrum for the candidate. Its clearly no game for wimps or the fainthearted. Garrett is not a minion, and the role doesn’t sit with him well or his more hard core left-leaning ‘fans’, but its a role he is obliged to play for the medium term to achieve what he has set out to.

    He would have thought long and hard about the ramifications of his decision to stand for the ALP. Had he opted for the Greens he would have quickly usurped Brown, which would have been a great loss to us all. Those of us with socialist leanings, should watch and wait. Deriding Garrett for being some sort of traitor to the cause, does nothing to help it. We should take a leaf out of the Right’s book and present a united public front even when at times we do not agree. Once we have power then we’ll be in a position to indulge strongly held views. The manifold things on which the Left do not agree is both their greatest weakness and ultimately their greatest strength and resource.

  5. cam says:

    Ken, No, but it

  6. Jeremy says:

    I don’t see him as having sold out because he has to publicly agree with ALP policy, and does so. The attack on him this week was stupid.

    I did see him as having sold out when he launched that bizarre attack on the Greens last year. Whilst agreeing with ALP policy is a prerequisite for being a shadow minister, he could still have directed his energies against the conservatives rather than the people with whom he mostly agrees. The outrageously dishonest nature of the attack didn’t say much for his principles, either.

    PS His claim last year that he doesn’t “compromise” was also quite daft.

  7. Ken Parish says:


    The photo is via Flickr. The photographer says:

    On the 29th of May [presumably 2005] some huge waves pounded Sydney, this is wedding cake island 1km off Coogee beach. This is the first time i ever saw it working. One brave guy was out there and about 100 people were cheering him on from the cliff top.

  8. Thanks for the post Ken,

    I completely agree. I don’t much like Garrett, for reasons I can’t quite work out, let along articulate, but I do get sick of the media’s cardboard cut out version of morality.

    It reminds me of an inane conversation I recall in the 1980s when people sat around at lunch and discussed whether Mike Hutchence had ‘sold out’ by going out with Kylie!

    What a hoot!

    More generally politics is always about the trade-off between ends and means. And if a practitioner is to pull off some great political feat they perform some grand alchemical mediation between the two.

  9. Don Wigan says:

    You’ve got it right, Ken. Solidarity is what it’s all about It’s a pretty important part, even if executive decision-making by either the PM or the Opposition Leader has been gradually usurping the old Bagehot Cabinet solidarity model.

    A good example on the other side is abortion and Abbott’s position. Abbott will make noises about how undesirable it all is and make vague threats about Nedicare subsidies. But beyond a certain point he will not push because he knows he will breach cabinet solidarity.

    The most practical example was during the halcyon days of the Whitlam Government. A lot of it can be blamed on the newness to govrnment. There was an assumption Caucus was the supreme decision-maker. We then had the farce of certain ministers, having been rolled at Cabinet, appealing both to the public and to Caucus against such decisions. No wonder there was a perception of anarchy at times.

    I am sure that one of the reason for the Hawke Government’s greater success (apart from having a greater pool of talent) was the quick re-establishment of this principle of cabinet solidarity (returning even to a senior ministry) and discipline.

  10. whyisitso says:

    What a pathetic attempt at an apologia this thread is. Garrett’s proven himself to be a total hypocrite. It’s as if Bernie Banton were a QC and he took up a brief to defend Hardie directors in their forthcoming court cases!

    If Garrett had any principled bones in his body he would never have joined the ALP in the first place. He gave out the impression of being a “passionate” deep green, almost a Bob Brown shade of it and he joined a political party that was essentially devoid of principle. We can never believe Garrett in any pronouncement he may make in future about any matter of principle. My guess is in his ambition he realised Brown had the Greens sewn up and there was more chance of personal advancement in the ALP.

    I haven’t heard that he’d complained about the issue in the shadow cabinet meetings. If he had, given that cabinets, caucus rooms and party rooms leak like sieves we’d have heard about it.

    What’s worse the media appears to be going along with it. The same media that crucifies John Howard every time he changes his mind (“Howard black-flip” is probably represented by a single key-stroke on journalists keyboards), such as over the GST. At least JH had the decency to make GST the main issue at a general election before introducing it.

  11. cs says:

    Nice point Ken.

    I would moreover repeat Amartya Sen’s point about the general process in this, from Identity and Violence: The Illusion of Destiny (Allen Lane/Penguin):

    The illusion of singular identity, which serves the violent purpose of those orchestrating confrontations, is skillfully cultivated and fomented by the commanders of persecution and carnage. It is not remarkable that generalizing the illusion of unique identity, exploitable for the purpose of confrontation, would appeal to those who are in the business of fomenting violence, and there is no mystery to the fact that such reductionism is sought. But there is a big question about why the cultivation of singularity is so successful, given the extraordinary naivity of that thesis in a world of obviously plural affiliations. To see a person exclusively in terms of only one of his or her many identities is, of course, a deeply crude intellectual move, and yet, judging from its effectiveness, the cultivated delusion of singularity is evidently easy enough to champion and promote. The advocacy of unique identity for a violent purpose takes the form of separating out one identity group – directly linked to the violent purpose at hand – for special focus, and it proceeds from there to eclipse the relevance of other associations and affiliations through selective emphasis and incitement. The martial art of fostering violence draws on some basic instincts and uses them to crowd out the freedom to think and the possibility of composing reason.

  12. Chris Lloyd says:

    I agree with Whyisitso. Garret sold out when he joined the ALP. It is silly to suggest he has matured with time. His views were very consistent for 30 years, right up until 2 years ago. It is green blood that flows through his veins.

    And what is it precisely that he is trying to achieve in the ALP? To mould it in a more green image? I have not read any reports that he is a major influence in caucus, and there is precious little evidence of it.

    Technically, Ken is correct that exercising cabinet solidarity is not selling out. But looked at within the wider context of Garrett’s career, the fact he has put himself in this position is the real sell-out.

  13. J F Beck says:

    I’ve responded at my blog; rather than link whore, the whole post follows:


    Ken Parish reckons I’ve been fulfilling my role as right-wing shill by “gleefully stirring up fear and loathing over Peter Garrett

  14. Geoff Honnor says:

    Peter Garrett is nearly 54. He’s made millions out of selling musical recordings wherein he sang songs for a damaged land and world peace. But you should only be holding him to his lyrics for the rest of his life if you actually believe that Donna Summer, just loved to love you baby, and that Tina Turner would do any thing that you want her to do until she was 98.

    He now wants to do something practical about implementing his youthful musical themes, in stark contrast to Bono and Bob Geldof. The latter had one hit about a mass murdering teenage girl and now seeks to lecture us all endlessly from the high moral plane he once occupied with Paula Yates and a range of children with names that would make a bogan think twice.

    So, good on Peter Garrett with his mansion in Bowral, his Christian values and his commitment to cabinet solidarity. I’d like to see Bob Brown trying to dance when our earth is turning.

    Actually, no. I probably wouldn’t.

  15. whyisitso says:

    Chris Shiel’s quotation needs translation into some form of English but it’s probably saying that Garrett is schizophrenic, a man with multiple personalties and he’s entitled to assume whichever one suits him from day to day. In that sense I suppose Chris is sending him up a bit but we can’t really be sure, can we? Perhaps the nearest approximation is some sort of Lathamesque character. Perhaps tomorrow we’ll see him transformed into a captain of industry, or perhaps a master spin bowler. Then maybe not – master spin doctor more likely.

  16. Let’s for a moment get past the moralising, the indignation and the disappointment. Garrett, committed to the environment, could see three paths. One, join a party with little real hope of making any big change, at least enough change in time.
    Two, join a party which could win power and use his influence to effect real policy change.
    Three, sing.
    We know which course he chose. It is no surprise to anyone that as a politician he engages in politics. What does anyone really expect? If he broke solidarity withthe party what would that do for him, his beliefs or the Labor party’s chances at the next election (and his chances of turning the tide)?
    It’s not perfect but it’s real, and at least he has tried not to say he believes in what he doesn’t.

  17. cs says:

    Mr Whyissitso, have you got a problem with English? Which English do you prefer? I would not wish to pick on someone with an intellectual disability. Perhaps you are only sending yourself up.

    In any event, to the question. 10 years ago Garrett was singing popular songs, when the Howard Government’s Defence Minister, Brendan Nelson, was a member of the Labor Party. By the Law Written and Authorised According to Mr Whyzittsso, apparently Garrett sung pop lyrics he is not now permitted to stray from.

    According to this very fine new Law of Mr Whatsiwhosie, what does that make Nelson, who joined a political party with explicit public political commitments that he now explicitly publicly politically opposes? By Mr Wyhatsihosee’s grand standards, Howard’s Defence Minister must be a traitor or a pyschopath.

  18. Fact one: Peter Garrett had a strong, outspoken opinion that decried American military bases on Australian soil
    Fact two: Peter Garrett won’t speak out against his party’s support for the establishment of a new American military base in Australia

    This is a contradictory position for Garrett. Now, of course everyone is allowed to change their mind. However, if someone – and especially an elected official like Garrett – performs such a public about-face, it’s perfectly reasonable for people to insist upon an explanation of the rationale behind that individual’s change of heart. If an explanation isn’t forthcoming, then it’s perfectly reasonable to heavily discount that individual’s credibility.

    Of course cabinet (and party) solidarity are why Garrett has seemingly changed his point of view, but that’s not nearly a good enough explanation for one questioning his character – potentially a political opponent or a voter in his electorate. Both have the ability to make his political life very difficult if they decide against him – much moreso than a career politician or a political cleanskin whose views prior to their entering politics are destined to remain largely unknown.

    When I heard that Garrett was an ALP candidate, I immediately realised he would have a tough time in federal politics due to his past. A previously outspoken individual – who was obviously aligned with neither the ALP nor the Coalition – was always going to have his past run up against major party prerogatives; that was 100% predictable. He has a few options, all unenviable, in dealing with his prior stances that contradict current ALP policy. Firstly, he could factually explain his shift in thinking. This requires sincerity, and since he hasn’t done this, I don’t think he’s capable of it because he doesn’t agree sincerely with ALP policies on issues like American bases and logging. So we can rule out the ‘genuine change of heart’ option. He’d have exercised this by now if his position on American bases had truly shifted. Garrett either has to publicly “sell out” the views he earlier held (which makes him look weak) or be constantly dogged by his past stances, which he won’t reconcile with those he ostensibly holds at present. Two deeply unattractive options for an ambitious politician.

    I like Midnight Oil. I admire their fervour and uncompromising political attitude, even though I don’t agree with them on most issues. So I was disappointed when I discovered Peter Garrett had hitched his wagon to the ALP horse. This damned Garrett in my eyes – it could mean only two things. Garrett has sold out; he’s not the hard-principled man we all thought he was, he’ll buy power with his flexible opinion. Alternatively, he thinks he can change the ALP from within. Recast it in his mould. But hang on, cries anyone with any political nous, this is the ALP. “One Man Can’t Make A Difference” could well be their motto – moreso than any other party, anyway. And anyone who knows anything about Australian politics is aware of this.

    So Peter Garrett’s either a political whore or a political naif. Needless to say, both are bad. And these shortcomings are becoming more evident as his political profile rises. That’s why he’s copping flack from both sides of the political spectrum. Ken Parrish shouldn’t be surprised.

  19. Chris Sheil mentions Brendan Nelson. If I remember rightly (I was only a wee lad at the time, born in 1980), Nelson embarked upon a very public explanation regarding his shift when he switched his political allegiances. Peter Garrett won’t acknowledge his profound political transition. He’s trying to have a bob both ways; passing it off as an evolutionary development to keep his pre-ALP fans onside (a useful political tool that ALP leaders value – a symbol of a “New Labor”. Pete, of course, is well aware that this is his trump card) whilst not alienating entrenched ALP interests. No one sensible is buying this strategy; its integrity falls apart at the most cursory of examinations.

    Brendan Nelson’s political reconstruction does not remotely compare to Peter Garrett’s.

  20. whyisitso says:

    James, I wonder how Garrett fares in the nil-credibility stakes compared with that other famous (female) polly who converted because she was being rooted by a shadow minister. The ALP increasingly attracts this sort of person – a party devoid of principles.

  21. James Farrell says:


    I think people do understand about cabinet solidarity.

    But isn’t it a question of core versus non-core promises? Doesn’t Garret have to deliver something eventually to the people who followed him to Labor on the basis that as part of an actual government he could achieve at least a part of their program?

    It seems to me quite legitimate to ask what Garrett’s base can expect from him, and unreasonable to dismiss his acquieescence either as gutless expediency or as straightforward cabinet solidarity, as if either it were as simple as either of those.

  22. Ingolf says:

    Even taking the need for cabinet solidarity into account, I can’t really see why Peter Garrett couldn’t solve this dilemma by simply saying:

    My views on this issue haven’t substantially changed but they aren’t shared by my colleagues. As a member of the shadow cabinet, I therefore have the choice of either agreeing to support this policy or resigning. Were we all to resign everytime we disagreed on some issue, there would be chaos, and not only within the Labor party but within every political party. That course of action should only be taken in the most extreme case of principle, something which — before you ask the obvious question — I can’t really envisage occurring within this party I’ve dedicated myself to.

    In this way, he retains the credibility, which together with his high profile was surely the principle reason he was parachuted in to begin with, and also provides a standard format to be used in any future cases of the same kind. All of this presumes, of course, that he really hasn’t changed his mind.

  23. If I remember rightly (I was only a wee lad at the time, born in 1980), Nelson embarked upon a very public explanation regarding his shift when he switched his political allegiances.

    Gee, it was so public you can’t even remember it. Garrett joining the ALP, by comparison, has obviously been a secret.

    Peter Garrett won

  24. Robert says:

    The passion of Garrett is obvious. His usual channels of expressing that passion are now very different, and it seems as though half a dozen heavies have gotten in his ear, leaving him a bit flummoxed at how he should appear and who he should be.

    It’s reasonable to expect this event to be subsumed in shortish time as matters of his portfolio come to the fore, and things like this will help him find his feet. If he didn’t have such a history, he’d be written off as flaky for his presentations as MP, and there is such hope invested in him he needs plenty of outings before the election heat.

    But he is refreshing, and that is exciting, edgy, a bit scary and struck with uncertainty each time he comes forward.

    Beaut contrast with Turnbull. The latter, too, green in performance, with an entirely different appeal. Turnbull seems to be the quicker learner, though; with less places to go. And he is not without an altered past, as well.

    Rudd with Garrett is a fresh fizzy drink to the tired dried out political public; Turnbull with Howard is autocratic, class-based and old school rich.

    Bring on the real issues.

  25. Wow, Chris. Keep your pantaloons on, old fella. Don’t know why you’re so snarky. Still, if you want to play it like that…

    Gee, it was so public you can

  26. Incidentally, apologies for incorrectly spelling Ken Parish’s surname above.

  27. Link says:

    Chris, have to agree with mr whositwhatsit on the non-accessibility (for us hoipolloi) of academe re your quote, which is great, except I had to read it twice or thrice. Think however, that my friend Mister Gurdjieff would wholeheartedly agree. We are not one, we are many.

    He is (Garrett) being pretty blatantly contradictory, possibly hypocritical, Ingolf’s example, explanation is a good one, but I dooubt that we are or, one of us is so rationale or forgiving as to accept it. Much more inclined are we to call him a lying-through-his-teeth, hypocritical, sell-out whore. Much more fun. But that wasn’t me who said that.

  28. Link says:

    “They’re never gonna trace me”

  29. Ingolf – you’re way too reasonable. The headline would be “Garrett refuses to toe party line” etc. The media insist on inane black and white denials – it even helps if they’re lies. So John Howard saying he’ll stay as long as his party wants him actually means something different – which everyone knows – he’ll stay (as long as his party wants him which was always the case) but only till he decides to go.

    You’ve got to keep it simple for these guys or they crucify you. As Ken pointed out and as I noticed too when I read the story, Garrett did have a little sotto voce disclaimer for those that were listening. His views are clear and haven’t changed. That says everything you want without spelling it out to enable the press to spin off it. (Well it doesn’t but it minimises their appetite for it).

    On the other hand I think Chris Lloyd has a point. Garrett has got himself into this sitation and he’s looking like a bit of a shag on a rock (as Whyisitso might observe about Cheryl).

    (This reminds me of a cow on my Mum’s farm who was always breaking through fences only to get into paddocks with worse grass. They called her Cheryl. But I digress).

  30. cs says:

    Whatever James. I thought Ken made a neat point. Moreover, I think that it’s ridiculous to imagine anyone has a singular identity (unless you are a fanatic: it’s a matter of rational choice between many affiliations, depending on circumstances), that it’s pretentious to presume to be able to judge the moral choices of others, that anyone who imagines belonging to a political party doesn’t permanently involve compromises is a moron, and that in this case the issue doesn’t matter two hoots in any event. I regret commenting on it in the first place, but there you go …

  31. whyisitso says:

    “I regret commenting on it in the first place”

    Folks, I think this represents a dummy-spit by your ill-tempered former blogger of Back-Passage, who simply can’t abide being successfully challenged.

  32. Ingolf says:

    “Too reasonable”. I like it. Still, while I accept your argument, Nicholas, I’m not entirely convinced. First, to judge by this thread and no doubt many others, his sotto voce disclaimer doesn’t seem to have worked all that well. Secondly, I think at times politicians could win a lot of kudos by defying the conventional wisdom of the media and commentariat. And of politics itself, of course. I may be deluded, but I have a sneaking suspicion an awful lot of punters are sick and tired of mealy mouthed pols and carping media and would get a real kick out of someone acting a bit more like a normal human being. Love to see someone test the hypothesis, that’s for sure.

    Anyway, once he’d made a statement along the lines I suggested, his answer to further badgering would be simple. Namely, “We’ve already been through this. If you want to amuse yourselves, feel free, but I have no further comment.”

  33. Ken Parish says:


    The sad(?) reality of party discipline in the 2 major parties is that it simply isn’t open to a new junior shadow minister to behave as you suggest, at least if he wants to have any but a very short career path. Garrett is required to do and say exactly what the Leader’s office tells him, and that would not include the sort of eminently reasonable stance you suggest. Moreover, the leader’s office is sadly right too. My own experience as a politician (albeit only in the NT) is that neither the media nor the general public understands anything but the most clearcut message on something like this, devoid of nuance, subtlety or qualification. They would certainly portray any such response of the sort you’re suggesting precisely as Nicholas says: “Labor split!” or Garrett defies Rudd!!!”. Defying the conventional wisdom of the media and commentariat might be a good idea if the public ever got to hear what the defiant politican was actually saying in its full context, but they don’t. All they get to hear is the edited perspective the media deems most newsworthy i.e. “Labor split!” or Garrett defies Rudd!!!”. It was one of the aspects of practical politics that I found most depressing.

    Moreover, the same point is worth making in relation to Jeremy Sear’s earlier condemnation of Garrett as having “sold out” for opportunistically condemning the Greens over their preference deals in last year’s Victorian state elections. As a then new backbencher with higher aspirations, Garrett was undoubtedly required by Beazley’s staff in the Leader’s office to deliver this message. He didn’t have a realistic choice but to do what he was told. Politics is not a nice, polite game and the tender soul with an inflexible conscience (on any but critical issues) usually doesn’t last very long.

    In this respect at least, Jeff Sparrow over at LeftWrites seems to have a rather more realistic appreciation of how the ALP (or Coalition) actually works. In a recent post titled The Passion of Peter Garrett he wrote:

    I mean, of course

  34. Ingolf,

    I think I’d distance myself somewhat from the darkness of Ken’s observations and his quote. I think you do have more of a choice than that – at least if you have talent that the party will wish to draw on. (I’m not sure Garrett does have mainstream political talent by the way, that’s why I find the whole thing so strange). I think Garrett could have told the party that he was not going to bag the Greens. That he did says quite a bit about his confused state I think.

    However I also think that he has done exactly what you say he should do. He’s made it clear that his views have not changed and that he’s not prepared to respond like a parrot whenever asked exactly the same question again. He’s done it clearly but in such a way that it’s under the radar.

    Well at least for now that is. Of course the farce of it all is that at some stage the PM can get up in question time and refer to his comment that his views haven’t changed and then say that this shows that Rudd is gutless and the party is hopelessly divided etc etc etc. Then it is a matter of whether the media pick it up as the bubble du jour. If they do within a few days a ‘crisis’ develops. “Will Garrett continue to defy the party” or will he clear the air with some clarification.

    All of this will be manufactured out of nothing – out of what we know now.

    Precisely this sort of thing happened to Stephen Conroy a few years ago when he admitted something along the lines that you couldn’t spend more and have a larger budget surplus without taxing more – or some such bromide – and within a few days a ‘crisis’ had developed because somehow this statement of simple arithmetic made his parties lies of the time seem a little thinner than normal.

  35. Ingolf says:

    Ken, I’m certainly in no position to challenge your understanding of the nature of politics on the grounds of experience. Quite simply, I don’t have any. I also accept that you may well be right in terms of what’s realistically possible.

    Still, I can’t quite escape the sense that this kind of viewpoint may be too bleak, that it builds on a particular view of human nature without allowing much room for grace or the better instincts. Naive as it may be, I believe that at the very least a significant minority are truly hungry for plain speaking, for someone to defy the tiresome conventions of our self-referential, constipated polity.

    Nicholas, I think you’re absolutely right that Garrett’s “status” should have given him leverage on these matters unavailable to the average MP and that his failure to use it casts doubt not only on his judgement but also his ultimate usefulness as a politician who might have shifted the dynamic a little. In a way, it’s a great shame but I guess a man can be no more than he is.

    I’m still unconvinced, though, by the view that he has already done what I think he should. In insider code, certainly, but doesn’t this simply ensure, as you say, that the material exists for later inflation into a drama du jour while doing nothing to clarify the confusion — and disappointment — that so clearly exists in the community? Strikes me as a lose, lose.

  36. Well if you’re the kind of person who is moved by the headlines, then Garrett has kept himself out of the headlines and has done the right thing. If you’re the kind of person who reads a little more, then Garrett’s sent you a clear signal that he hasn’t changed his mind. I think you’re wanting it both ways. I don’t think there’s anything unclear in what he’s said. And why shouldn’t he choose to speak on things when and where he wishes to rather than whenever the media decide that they want a one liner from him.

  37. James Hamilton says:

    “But you should only be holding him to his lyrics for the rest of his life if you actually believe that Donna Summer, just loved to love you baby, and that Tina Turner would do any thing that you want her to do until she was 98. ”

    Now Geoff, that’s a little bit glib, if I may say so. I don’t hold a strong view against what Ken and you are saying but PG was not the kind of performer Donna Summer and Tina Turner are. His political activism lay at the heart of his music and his music is a clear indication of what his politics was/is.

    I don’t have a problem with PG stepping up and taking part in the big game and I don’t wish to see him pilloried for cabinet solidarity but it is problematic.

    You see this is the problem I have with activist art and activist artists. They should stick to art and art is above petty things like war, apocaplypse and injustice. OK there is Guernica but there is truckloads of shit too and the Dead Heart is now what it always was – a cool riff and it needn’t have tried to be anything else.

  38. I thought Ken made a neat point.

    It’s a vacuous point Ken made, Chris. Garrett’s built a reputation around his uncompromising opinions and moral certainty as the frontman and leading songwriter of Midnight Oil. This came in handy when he signed up to the ALP – just the sort of celebrity candidate any party would embrace in an effort to disguise the grubby business of politics with some integrity. However, this puts Garrett in an extremely awkward position, because he either has to:

    *break party discipline, which will promptly see him out on his ear

    *explain why he’s changed his mind on things like US bases and logging – though this is probably not an option because if it were he would have done it already


    *look like he’s selling out his principles to get ahead in the ALP.

    The latter would be the kiss of death for someone like Garrett – voters expect their politicians to at least display the outward appearance of moral certainty. And someone like Garrett, who built a reputation for integrity on the back of a loud, unwavering moral certainty, would be an absolute laughing stock – and rightly so.

    I think that it

  39. Ingolf says:

    Nicholas, no argument at all on your last point.

    As for the rest, you may well be right. Still, as you noted in the earlier post, the door remains open for future troublemaking around this issue and I do think the sheer volume of comment on this topic here and elsewhere suggests his signal wasn’t clear to all that many.

    Anyway, it’s of no great moment. My desire to see someone challenge the prevailing idiocies is in all likelihood overriding what commonsense I have.

  40. Amanda says:

    I think Rob Hirst and Jim Moginie would dispute the claim Peter Garrett was the leading songwriter in the Oils.

    The Australian public — the most ultra pragmatic mob going round — knows exactly why Garrett joined the ALP and they completely agree with him, otherwise independents and minor parties would get much bigger votes in this country. The confected dudgeon from the right is laughable and the indignation from the left will only make the slightest difference at the very marginal edge of the margins in the election.

    And its old news anyway, most of the heat in the issue played out when his candiacy was first announced.

    Folks might roll their eyes, crack a joke about his dancing and then get back to the real world of completely not giving a shit until the weekend before polling day. The people who grew up with the Oils and have the most emotionally invested in him for that reason are also finding themselves in middle age and will more than likely sympathise with the issues of how you deal day to day with your history and “the travellin’ hands of time.” He will be cut a lot of slack by most people.

    The backroom just needs to come up with some lines on it to feed the chooks with and .. end of story.

  41. Ken Parish says:

    You seem to forget that Garrett is an elected member of the Australian federal parliament, so his

  42. whyisitso says:

    “For the other 97% of voters living in the real world, they voted for Garrett as a representative of the Australian Labor Party and expected him to represent that party

  43. Chris Sheil said

    that it

  44. By the way, how would Sheil and Parish react to this fictitious “non left” defection?

    Not that he ever would’ve, but imagine if the late, great Milton Friedman became a big-government neo-conservative and went to work for the Foundation for Defence of Democracies think-tank.

    I wonder if we’d see Chris Sheil defending the fictional (and unrealistically stupefied) Friedman’s right to a pluralistic identity, or maybe Ken Parish justifying the about-face on the grounds of organisational solidarity.

    Ha. My arse they would. They’d be pointing at all the things he said in his past, noting his current contradictory position and laughing at him.

    What’s sauce for the goose, guys…

  45. Robert says:

    So where and how did Garrett hit people deeply as to engender such energy in these responses?

    What is that?

    Heaps of pollies have backflipped, many have been wrought through the ‘sphere for it – but with such feeling?!

    Turnbull on a Republic issue I imagine might get up there, close to this, but this connectivity to commitment is very interesting.

    What is this?

    Ok to ask these questions, given Garrett’s history? Do some songs resonate? Why do they resonate?

    Times a changing? Oops, he’ll do it again?

    …. and that we are so moved, what are we looking for, in our MP’s, at least?

  46. cs says:

    Yes Robert, beats me …

    Garrett has gone from being a singer/activist in a lefty rock & roll band to a responsible frontbench member of the ALP.

    That’s mindboggling, apparently, just mindboggling. I think James should write the definitive Garrett biography which proves to the world that he really is a rotten cad, if only everyone would just realise it before it’s too late. He could read it to Whartootzi.

  47. whyisitso says:

    Isn’t it interesting observing Chris Sheil’s reactions to losing a debate. First an unsuccessful temper tanty and now an even more childish attempt at “humourous” sarcasm about a pen name.

  48. Link says:

    London to a brick, you two never went to an Oils’ concert? It was quite some thing. Garrett was a mesemerising performer and much of the appeal other than the visual spectacle was in the rebel-yell anti-establishment lyrics. There is no justice though, the driving force behind the Oils was the gifted drumming of Rob Hirst, Garrett had stand alone appeal as the frontman, but Hirst was the real boy genius. All that material for the Government to trawl through and throw back in Garrett’s face. Sheesh. There’s something peculiarly funny and ironic about it. I think people get excited about Garrett aside from maybe having seen him peform, is because they recognise a leader in him.

  49. Link – in that case, I guess I’m the proud owner of the Greatest City In The World, because I did. And I also have a few Oils CDs (Place Without A Postcard, 10-1 and – of course – Diesel and Dust), to boot.

    Don’t see how the above fact or anything you said undermines my overarching point, however. Or how being a lead singer in a band automatically equates to political leadership smarts. I know what Peter Garrett said and did throughout his musical career (on stage and off) better than most defending him here, which is why I feel so confident in my analysis of his longer term political prospects.

    Whyisitso has a point. Is that all ya got, Chris? Disappointing. No – pathetic.

  50. cs says:

    you two never went to an Oils

  51. whyisitso says:

    Now that we’ve reduced cs to jabbering impotence perhaps we should return to the serious meaning behind Ken’s heading: D-E-M-O-C-R-A-C-Y.

    As I said in #42 above, our side of politics has to start getting used to contemplating a Rudd government. On election night I’m pretty sure we’ll see a gracious John Howard concede not only the government but also his own seat with a great amount of dignity, in dramatic contrast to the abject behaviour of Malcolm Fraser on election night 1983.

    From a personal perspective I wish Howard had retired last year, but that’s history.

    I liked Kerry Packer’s famous quote “You only get one Alan Bond in a lifetime and I’ve had mine”. Similarly I reckon you only get one Hawke ALP government in a lifetime and we’ve had ours. History is often a series of three steps forward two steps back. We’ve had four great steps forward and we’re about to embark on ? steps back. Just imagine unprecedented Labor government in all States, Territories and federal, as well as probably an ALP dominated senate! There will be no rebel Barnaby Joyce, no rebel Petro Georgiou and friends in the Reps to balance things. The Unions will rule. One false step and you’re expelled.

    The outlook really is depressing. Democrat President and Congress in the USA, left-wing “conservatives” in the UK, never-ending gloating from the likes of Parish, Gruen, Sheil, Bahnisch, Quiggin, Dunlop, Ramsay, Clive Hamilton, Ross Gittins, Jaspan and friends, Kerry O’Brien, Mike Carlton, SMH letter-writers, et al, et al.

    Julie Bishop for opposition leader!!

  52. Whyisitso: my side of politics is only marginally more unhappy with a Rudd victory than a Howard one. There are nuances, but they’re both from the same side of the big government coin, all things considered.

  53. Pingback: Club Troppo » Garrett on Passion vs Discipline

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