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Jostling for Bob Brown's red leather seat

Among people surprised by the sudden departure of Bob Brown from the Greens leadership must be counted the faithful who will decide his Senate vacancy.

There was no clear heir apparent for the seat of the towering Greens figure who went to his last election with the sticker, "Vote 1 Bob" – and would have quickly sold those out had he stood again in 2013.

His sidekick in the 2007 poll was Andrew Wilkie, who soon after split from the Greens and was elected to his own independent House of Representatives seat in 2010.

The most obvious person next in line was the state Greens leader, Nick McKim. Currently the Education Minister in a minority government that is not due to go to the polls until 2014, McKim ruled himself out of contention on Friday.

That's not to say there is no Green talent lurking among the trees of Tasmania. It's a measure of Senator Brown's leadership that there are deep ranks of hardened activists, local councillors, state MPs and also-ran candidates who might see themselves at home on senatorial red leather.

This is the problem as the party in Tasmania begins work on filling the vacancy.


So far there is no sign the seat will be treated like the New South Wales ALP's blink-and-you-miss-it swap of Mark Arbib for Bob Carr. Instead, there's a wide field.

Senator Brown said he expected the state management committee to soon open nominations for a number of candidates, and confirmed he would not leave his seat for six to eight weeks.

Who the Tasmanian Greens choose is emerging as an early test of whether the party keeps to a "Bob ethos", or shifts its emphasis to align with the new federal leader, Christine Milne.

Among all these Greens, a handful clearly have shown the mettle needed to hold their own in the Senate. Some are more of Brown's era, and others bend towards Milne's future.

To illustrate the former you might go to Peg Putt, successor to Brown in the state's Denison electorate.

Putt, 58, ended her state parliamentary leadership in 2008 and has been a gritty green advocate since. She is currently infuriating the state's forest industry by leading a campaign attacking some Tasmanian native timber products in their Asian markets.

As an example of the kind of renewal offered by Milne, you might go to someone like Peter Whish-Wilson, her support candidate on the 2010 ticket, who was the first to publicly put his hand up.

Like her, he is a cerebral rather than visceral Green, good at teasing out the truth from a balance sheet, and he fits her rural Australia vision. A vineyard owner and economics-politics lecturer, Whish-Wilson has activist runs on the board through his opposition to the Tamar pulp mill.

Should other current state MPs think of a switch, first among them might be the current Human Services Minister, Cassy O'Connor. The 45-year-old has been a rapid learner during a decade in Green politics. (She is also McKim's partner).

As an outsider, consider Tim Morris, who has serious stature as the state parliament's deputy speaker and is a strong vote-getter, topping the poll at the last state election in the multi-member rural electorate of Lyons.

Others who could throw their hats in the ring include Hobart's former deputy lord mayor, Helen Burnet, and Launceston councillor Jeremy Ball.

And then there are the activists – those who have paid their Green dues and toiled on the campaign frontline.

Deserving though some of the activists may be, the Greens are less likely to offer the senatorial seat as a reward for party service, as the other major parties do. They don't have those kinds of numbers to spare.

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