Peter Garrett Politically Shaped

Wanted to write about newly-elected Canadian Member of Parliament Andrew Cash joining his former bandmate and re-elected Member of Parliament Charlie Angus in the House of Commons. Started to think about lessons potentially learned from other professional musicians who have assumed elected office. Was thinking in particular about Peter Garrett, former lead singer of Midnight Oil, who has been an Australian Member of Parliament for nearly seven years and a cabinet minister for nearly four years, being named to cabinet in 2007, the year his party, the Australian Labour Party, formed government.

Finding out that the story is much larger and the lessons not necessarily pleasant.

Garrett is currently the Minister for School Education, Early Childhood and Youth, a position he has held since the fall of 2010. Prior to this appointment, his roles in Cabinet and while in Opposition have involved a blend of responsibilities in relation to the environment and the arts. He was Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts for slightly over two years (2007-2010) and then Minister for Environmental Protection (a reduced role), Heritage and the Arts for seven months in 2010, prior to assuming his current ministerial role. When in Opposition from 2004 to 2007, his “Shadow Cabinet” roles were similar, initially including Reconciliation (in relation to aboriginal issues) and The Arts, and later assuming a “front bench” Opposition role as Shadow Minister for Climate Change, Environment, Heritage and Arts.

Peter Garrett was also a star candidate, initially “engineered” in 2004 as a candidate in a safe Labour riding, over the objections of some local riding supporters. His credentials seemed impeccable, in terms of the advocacy positions adopted by Midnight Oil in relation to aboriginal issues and the environment, plus Garrett’s later associations with environmental causes. Concurrently with his association with Midnight Oil, he was president of the Australian Conservation Foundation for a total of ten years. He also was a graduate in law from the Australian National University. In 1984, at the height of the band’s success, he had unsuccessfully run for a seat in Australia’s Senate, representing Australia’s Nuclear Disarmament Party. In 2003, the year before his first election to the Australian parliament, he had been appointed a Member of the Order of Australia, for his contributions to the environment and to the music industry.

Today, he is vilified in many quarters, based on accepting that he needs to work within a collective party framework. He may have strong opinions on environmental and other issues, but his voice is one among many, in a party system. He is not the party leader and, even if he were, the leader does not dictate. Yet having been publicly identified so closely with certain issues during his twenty-nine year association with Midnight Oil (1973 – 2002), it seems that in the eyes of many, he can no longer do anything right. Somehow, he was expected to be absolutely pure in relation to previously-expressed beliefs that were part of a “Bono world”, rather than a parliamentary one. Being perceived as an environmental turncoat is one matter. Yet this is the same Peter Garrett, the music icon, the Minister responsible for The Arts, who announced in 2008 that the Australian government would be withdrawing all $2.6 million in government funding from the Australian National Academy of Music.

He has defenders. People who understand that the world of millionaire music politics is in no way comparable to the reality of political brokerage. It is pointed out that Garrett doesn’t have to be doing this. He is among a select group of elected public officials whose wealth position was determined well before they entered politics. Here is one commentator, in an article aptly titled “Leave Peter Garrett Alone” :

“Hypocritical sell-out careerist”

“How Do You Sleep When Your Cred Is Burning”

“An environmental sell-out”

“The ultimate sell-out”

Those are some of the milder attacks on Peter Garrett…

Criticism that Garrett failed to give vent to his professed anti-nuclear views in the exercise of his ministerial powers is staggering. Presumably his critics would prefer that he ignored evidence and his advice and simply decided whatever he felt like. Perhaps we should all do our jobs that way. But in Garrett’s case, as with any Minister of the Crown, he not merely has a responsibility to perform his duties appropriately, but his decisions are appellable…

For the Greens, there is no safe way to use nuclear power, and Australia shouldn’t be selling uranium to anyone.

Garrett may hold the same views personally, but he joined a political party, participated in the nuclear debate within that party, and lost it. He has abided by the decision of his party. The alternative would be to spit the dummy and quit, an act that would rightly be regarded as one of petulance…

…everyone complains about the time-servers and careerists and hacks that now dominate politics. Garrett…doesn’t have to be in politics, or in fact work at all. …It would have been easy for Garrett to remain a musician and head of the Australian Conservation Foundation. Or he could have joined the Greens…

Instead, he went for the tough option, joining a major political party and sticking his hand up for ministerial responsibility and accepting the requirements of party discipline. He did that because he could achieve more that way. And he has.

With both Andrew Cash and Charlie Angus now in the Canadian House of Commons, I had expected that both would have significant Official Opposition Critic roles in relation to the arts, such as being Critic in relation to Canadian Heritage, where most of the federal arts funding is found. Instead, the more experienced Charlie Angus is Critic for Ethics, Access to Information, Copyright and Digital Issues–thus, having no specific ministerial Critic responsibility, while having some Critic input in an area that is of concern to him as a professional musician. The newly-elected Andrew Cash has no Critic role at all. Based on the experiences of Peter Garrett, being so closely identified during his political career with issues developed in a “Bono politics” realm, and then facing so much public outrage for deciding to be politicially effective by avoiding following only his own path, it now makes sense. Both Charlie Angus and Andrew Cash are perhaps considered to be too close to arts funding issues to be politicially objective, or politically effective.

About brucelarochelle
This entry was posted in Australia, Music, Politics - Australia, Politics - Canada - Federal. Bookmark the permalink.

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