The Rebel who sold his ideals for The Party – Peter Garett

16 Jul

I don’t believe in heroes. Not that Peter Garett was ever one of mine. Idolatory of our pop icons has substituted our modern day equivalent of traditional religions that makes me wonder if this unhealthy fixation is a symptom of spiritually empty societies.

Take the larger than life and now dead Michael Jackson or the pompous Irish rocksters, U2. Their contribution to pop music and influence on many people’s lives have been significant. Their politics and sometimes private life is another matter altogether.

Therefore, I was surprised and thought it out of character that Peter Garett, the former frontman of Midnight Oil would join the Australian Labor Party. I mean this was the man whose band was famous for their anti-establishment and pro-environment stance. If anything, he should have joined the Greens or the Democrats which would be more consistent with the politics of his music.

Perhaps his decision to join Labor has to do with the probability that being with the party would gave him a greater chance to influence policies once they form the government. Placing his chips on the right bet, Garett was appointed the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts, a role supposedly compatible with his previous endeavours as a rock singer and as a former President of the Australian Conservation Foundation.

Only. Instead of doing what is expected of him. The man has done a total turnabout.

In the latest saga that threw Garett in a most unfavourable spotlight, his recent decision to approve a new uranium mining operation in South Australia at Beverely Four Mile Mine has been condemned by the previous organisation he headed, the Australian Conservation Foundation and the Australian Greens who were concerned about the possibility of leakage of chemical and radioactive waste into groundwater. Last year, Garett had similarly approved an expansion of another nearby uranium mine in Beverly.

The technique that has been approved to extract uranium in these mines, acid in-situ leach (ISL), has not been approved in any of the OECD countries, ‘due to its shocking record of groundwater contamination’ according to the Nuclear Spokesperson and Greens Senator Scott Ludlam. The process not only contaminates but also consumes  large quantities of water, which is a scarce resource in the region:

… Large quantities of sulphuric acid are pumped directly into the underground water aquifer to make the uranium soluble. The solution is returned to the surface, the uranium is removed for processing and the remains are pumped back into the water table. What is returned is often highly acidic and radioactive as radionuclides and other heavy metals, once dormant in sand granules, are mobilised…

But that is not just the controversy with this latest approval. Sydney Morning Herald uncovered the secretive business organisation that will be operating this mine – Quasar Resources. The company is owned by James Neal Blue who was associated with supporting US covert war against the Nicaraguan government in the 80s. Both the nearby Beverly Mines (owned by Heathgate Resources and affliated to Neal Blue’s General Atomics) and the Four Miles Mine would together operate ‘almost 200 square kilometres’.

Probe deeper and you may just find how much Garett has lost it or as Bob Brown has put it more kindly, ‘lost his way’.

In the 2006 Victoria State Election, Garett had urged voters not to vote for the Greens with a ‘smear campaign’. He talked about a Liberal Green alliance when the Greens arrangement was assisting the Labor.

In October 2007, he supported the building of the Bell Bay Pulp Mill in Tasmania which has been decried by The Wilderness Society as potentially environmentally destructive, an act that will lead ‘to a dramatic increase in the rate of logging in Tasmania, pollute the air of the local community and pump billions of litres of toxic pollution into Bass Strait each year. Economic impacts of the mills’ operation will threaten the existence of businesses across Tasmania, especially in the Tamar Valley‘.

By December of the same year, his ‘conditional’ approval to allow Port of Melbourne Corporation to dredge Melbourne’s Port Phillip Bay drew community protests and legal actions from the environmental coalition, Blue Wedges. The group has continued to document some of the dredging impacts such as possible toxic dumping and rockfall damages.

And then there is that announcement to withdraw funding for the Australian National Academy of Music last October which saw frustrated students petitioning and condemning ‘Arts Minister Peter Garrett’s “abrupt and seemingly poorly planned decision” to shut the academy’.

What happened? The man who used to sell rock music has now pulled the plug on a bunch of music students. Ironical.

Stack it all up and you get a picture of Peter Garett (as Minister) backtracking on what he used to advocate in his hard hitting rock music. Is he still the rebel that will speak up for environmental justice issues? or even the arts? Apparently not. These days, Peter Garett will be remembered as the man who toes the party line. Forget not what should be done to protect our environment or what should be opposed if the government or big business should come a-knocking. Do what the party says. As Garett himself puts it bluntly,

“Look that is an old song, it’s an old cycle that we hear from political opponents who seem to forget that I joined the Labor Party, I became a member of the Government and I said at the time that I would accept, as a team player, the decisions that the Government took… And my job, as a consequence of that, is to support the Government’s decision clearly and make sure as Environment Minister that I set the bar on environmental protection as high as it needs to go and that is world’s best practice and that is what we have done with this decision.”

Hold onto your old cds Midnight Oil fans. It remains the only music pleasing to your ears. Sadly, they are also the only words worth listening to from the former lead singer nowadays.

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