Garrett on Passion vs Discipline


A few weeks ago, Ken wrote an excellent post on the hue and cry over what many viewed as Peter Garrett’s craven about face on US bases. It produced a long and lively discussion on hypocrisy, on cabinet solidarity, on what room there is within the party political system for public disagreement and on whether the personal integrity vs party discipline needle could be successfully threaded.

On this morning’s Background Briefing, Garrett has provided some additional input:

BB: How do you, as Peter Garrett, stay true to your core beliefs, because we know twenty years ago the things that you were singing about, but in a sense youâve had to distance yourself from some of those key things that you sang about; uranium mining, US bases and so on. So, how do you stay true to what you believed in?

Garrett: Well, look, Iâm not about distancing myself from Oilâs musical lyrics at all. Certainly, in 2004 when I came into the parliament and into the party, on the question of bases I accepted that the joint facilities could play a valuable role. I thought after 9/11 the circumstances had changed to what they were in the 80s and I believe that they have and I certainly accepted Laborâs policy and support it. On the range of other issues, Iâm strongly of the view that the passions and values that Iâve had before I came into the parliament are still there. Yes, they express themselves differently because they must. Iâm a member of a political party and much of that discussion and expression happens within the bounds of the party and thatâs as it ought to be.

BB: Youâre inside the machine.â

Garrett: Well, itâs not a case of being inside the machine. Iâm a member of the parliamentary Labor party, Iâm bound, willingly, by the rules of the party, Iâm a member of the caucus, and Iâm a shadow minister and, yes, it is a big step for somebody to take whoâs had a different kind of public life but for me it was the right step to take. And Iâm a team player, and I want to be a team player and whatever views I have about a range of issues Iâll express them in the party forums and Iâll play as productive and constructive a role as I can as we do that.

BB: So, are people inclined to think that youâre prepared to toe the party line, if I can put it that way, and Iâm sure youâll disagree, on uranium mining, on US bases, on forestry and so on, because you believe the ground has shifted, that climate change has become to this generation what nukes was to yours?

Garrett: Well, your question says toe the party line on a range of issues and I think youâve got to separate them out. Certainly, climate change does change the nature of the debate in terms of what weâve got to address now, but we need to have good, constructive policy on forests. Iâve got a view on uranium mining which is different from some members of caucus, including from Kevin Rudd and weâve acknowledged that publicly. And Iâll argue that case through, in the party rooms and on the way up to the party conference as well, so . . . .

BB: But after the party conference, youâre going to have to publicly support the position which I suppose is going to be to get rid of the three mines policy.

Garrett: Well, look, Iâm not going to speculate about what will happen at conference specifically. Iâm not going to take my bat and ball and go home though, just because I lose an argument. I mean there are many instances of people in political life who carry their passions and enthusiasms and their views about certain issues through, and they may lose the debate in a shadow cabinet or in a caucus room. It doesnât mean that they donât care about it or that they donât believe in it anymore, it just means that theyâve got to find other ways of expressing it and maybe they come back to it, maybe they keep on with it in different ways over time. But they donât, because the party as a majority decides that they want to go in a certain direction, retreat and say Iâm not going to be a part of the party anymore. Thatâs be a silly situation for someone to put themselves into.

Seems reasonable to me.

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19 Responses to Garrett on Passion vs Discipline

  1. Robert says:

    Seems very reasonable.

    Fantastic tussle between Garrett’s passion and Turnbull’s discipline. Possibly the best this time around (the Howard Rudd tussle is shot through with ploys), where we have two souls exhibiting extraordinary instances of ambition. Each have compromised to get where they are, yet each appear not to have been eaten by the ‘machine’ – contrast that with the vast majority.

    We are certainly the better for it, having these two there. It will be interesting to see if each learns from the other – that Turnbull takes on a modicum of passion by necessity, and Garrett takes on that forensic discipline? One rolls his sleeves up a bit, the other rolls them down? Or whether they fall back further onto their own strengths to make their electoral case.

  2. Amanda says:

    The biggest damage from the Garrett kerfuffle is to the cause of getting more diverse kinds of people into politics. By that I mean, people who didn’t decide they wanted to go into politics when they were 17 and set about moderating their lives to be able to achieve it. Garrett’s life has been more public than most but most people are going to reach middle age with alot of probably mutually contradictory views, outbursts, mistakes, ill advised brainsnaps, you-had-to-be-thereisms and whatnot littering the personal cv. Sadly these people (ie normal people, citizens and taxpayers) will be further dissuaded from serving us in public life and are de facto excluded from anything above an obscure local council seat. The imposing permanence and accessibility of the Internet doesn

  3. Geoff Honnor says:

    Why should Garrett – or anyone else – be required to “live” the lyrics he sang as a popular entertainer twenty-odd years ago?

    He’s in his 50’s and when people grow up they often moderate/broaden views that they held in their 20’s. In fact, it’s usually seen as a sign of maturity for them to do so. What would have been the point of Garrett joining the ALP if he wasn’t prepared to look at any policy position not already recorded in the Oils oeuvre?

    Every time I hear some “serious journo” grill Garrett portentously on this rubbish I picture Michelle Grattan asking Celine Dion if her heart really does go on and if not, is she really being true to her life philosophy?

  4. chrisl says:

    #3 And more importantly is Jimmy Barnes still a working class man still mad at Uncle Sam

  5. Yobbo says:

    Garrett didn’t make his opinion known only through music. He spoke at all sorts of rallies and was head of the Australian Conservation Foundation. The continued attempts of this blog to excuse his blatant selling out is pathetic.

  6. whyisitso says:

    Quite so, Sam. Garrett obtained his position in the party totally because of his past professed beliefs and reputation founded on them. A large part of these beliefs were were expressed in his music. To walk away from them now is sheer hypocrisy.

  7. Ingolf says:

    Agreed, Robert and doubly so, Amanda.

    The most interesting aspect of the interview for me was the explicit confirmation from Garrett that he might at times publicly hold positions at odds with much of caucus and/or the party leader (eg his comments on uranium mining above) but that once party policy had been settled, if it differed from his view, he accepted the need to fall into line.

    Terribly obvious in one sense but as I recall the previous thread, quite a few thought such overt independence wouldn’t be allowed within the Labor party or by the MSM. Seems to me if Garrett rolled over on everything he ever stood for his worth to the party would be less than zero. Many fans, after all, might just take this as final confirmation that mainstream politics is either pathetic or evil. Or both.

  8. Chris Lloyd says:

    C’mon Geoff, The Oils’ lyrics and political agenda were central to their self appointed role as transformers of the great south land. The music, which incidentally I reckon is superbt, was more a vehicle to reach a generational audience. And I think it is more recently that twenty years since they played.

    Bottom line – Peter G. was, and still is, associated with the extreme left views of the Oils, until such time as he decides to distance himself from those views. Problem is that he is in the party precisely to attract people with such views away from the Greens.

  9. Robert says:

    May I add, also, while taking on board the good observations here, that Peter Garrett has achieved not only by the nature of his lyrics or the passion with which they were communicated, but that he is also tagged nowadays for his success with the way in which his/the Oils’ career was brought about. As I understand it, the Oils bucked ‘the system’ – represented as ‘the machine’ of music success – and went on to succeed very significantly on their own terms.

    Such manner of achievement no doubt is remembered by the opinionists, those being of age to be affected by it, and I’d suggest plays a role in the way he’s written up.

  10. Patrick says:

    Who cares? Chris Lloyd’s second para gets to the (somehow almost ignored on this blog until now) crux of the issue.

    So yea, he will get away with some independence, because that’s why he is there. Whether he can walk that particular tight-rope, or whether caucus will throw the dog a bone or two to help him out, who knows?

    My tip? Look for him to ‘win’ a major green-friendly battle with an outcome that just happens to be union-friendly: bones for all the dogs, press included.

  11. Geoff Honnor says:


  12. Yobbo says:

    Garrett was one of the founders of the Nuclear Disarmament Party and stood for a seat in the Australian Senate in New South Wales at the December 1984 federal election. He needed 12.5% of the vote to win a seat in the Senate voting system, but received just over 9% of the vote.

    Garrett served as president of the Australian Conservation Foundation from 1989 to 1993 and 1998 to 2004. He also joined the International Board of Greenpeace in 1993 for a two-year term. He served as adviser and patron to various cultural and community organisations including Jubilee Debt Relief, and was a founding member of the Surfrider Foundation.

    Come on Geoff.

  13. Pavlov's Cat says:

    I think you’re focusing on the the wrong things there, Yobbo. Your obvious hatred of any organisation with a lefty-sounding name is blinding you to the words ‘founder’, ‘president’, ‘adviser’, ‘patron’ and ‘founding member’.

    Regardless of his position on the political spectrum, Garret has been an active, committed leader and supporter of various groups, causes and bodies all his adult life. His personality is suited to it and he has had lots and lots of practice.

    Whichever party he was in, I’d rather see someone like that in politics than somebody whose main claim to fame was getting leglessly pissed at the Young Corporate Lawyers Lamington Drive, the Young Christians for Bringing Back Fox-Hunting Sausage Sizzle and the Saint Custard’s Old Scholars Reunion Dinner.

  14. Yobbo says:

    2 points PC:

    1.) Greenpeace and the NDP don’t just have “lefy-sounding names”. They are far-left organisations.

    2.) The point of listing these organisations is that Garrett is obviously way too left-wing for the Labor party. He didn’t just pretend to be a moonbat to sell records as Geoff Honnor claims – he really is one.

    As I’ve said all along if Garrett joined the Greens nobody would have been surprised. Why did he sell out? I guess only Garrett can tell you that.

  15. Pavlov's Cat says:

    Fair enough; I was off on a tangent in the first place, to make a side-issue sort of point.

    All your points taken except the last one: I don’t think, given what Garrett was already worth, that you can accuse him of ‘selling out’ in any but the most metaphorical sense and probably not that either. Perhaps, like many before him on both sides of politics, he joined whichever party with a snowball’s chance of hell of actually getting into power was nearest to his own position. Same reason why so many of us often vote holding our noses with one hand and crossing our fingers with the other.

    I’ll tell you one thing, though — in one respect at least, namely his particular version of Christianity which seems to many of us not to bode too well for women’s rights, he is not radical at all.

  16. PC – Do tell – what views does Garrett’s version of Christianity involve him having of women’s rights. I’m intrigued.

  17. Pavlov's Cat says:

    As one of my favourite writers, the great Grace Paley, would say: “I don’t argue where there’s real disagreement.”

  18. Chris Lloyd says:

    This whole issue is pretty unimportant but what the hell – there’s nothing on telly until House.

    Geoff says we should never have assumed that Garrett really believed anything he sang. Singers are not to be held to their lyrics. Edith Piaf probably regretted plenty. Bono never even lost what he was looking for. we’re all gullible.

    It was just a rock’n’roll band right? He described the young Oils as upper middle class guys who wanted to be sexy and successful . This perhaps says more about your own cynical view of others motives geoff than anything else. I don’t think anybody on this thread apart from you think that the Oils were anything but geniune.

    And on Garrett himself: He

  19. Geoff Honnor says:

    “He is a genuine lefty”

    Which is what exactly, Chris? Brian Burke? Bob Brown? PJK? Hugo Chavez? Tony Blair? Sharan Burrow? Graham Richardson?

    I’m not suggesting that Garrett et al were making up the concern they were expressing in their lyrics. I am suggesting that it’s utterly ludicrous to criticise them for perceptibly straying from the worldview encompassed therein, twenty years after the event. They are allowed to grow up. They are allowed to moderate their views. They are allowed to develop their philosophies.

    “Selling out” is a much over-used term to describe nothing very much at all except
    getting older and wiser.

    This may come as a shock, Chris, but remember when Roger Daltrey screamed that he wanted to die before he got old? He really meant it. At the time.

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