Federal Politics

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Lord of the Greens readies his troops for the return of the queen

WHEN the Great Ent of Australian politics - more tree than man - assembled his Green team for the benefit of the press, the message of the occasion was unity, steadiness of purpose and discipline. Only Bob Brown spoke. But for Christine Milne's murmured prompts to her leader, all were resolutely silent.

En masse - perhaps an exaggeration - they present as a delegation of wide-eyed optimists off on a fact-finding mission to a dangerous land: the Congo, perhaps, or the China of Chairman Mao. They're ready but they don't know what they'll find.

Bob Brown towers over them. These senators, soon-to-be-senators and a member-elect are mostly young, neat and, it has to be said, short. The star recruit Lee Rhiannon smiled gamely while hidden behind Brown's shoulder as he pledged to bring "sparkle and innovation" to government.

You fear for them once they open their mouths. Under Gough Whitlam, Labor heavies began to speak just like their leader. John Howard's admirers soon had his Sydney drawl. It's beyond their control: the ventriloquism of power.

Brown's monotone works for Brown. He speaks for the trees and if trees could speak they would speak like him. But the wider diffusion of his unique flatline would be a harsh outcome for Australian politics. It's hard listening: the long Tasmanian "ums" and the great gaps between words.

The business of the press conference was to address media panic over the newfound leverage of the Greens. Headlines have been shrill. Brown listed almost with pride the objectives that remain still beyond his party's reach. "I did maths at Trunkey Creek public," he said when asked about reintroducing death duties. "I can see that's not going to succeed".


Right now he'd like the media to stop accusing his party of "pushing" its policies. Several journalists were corrected in half an hour's questioning. The form of words the senator prefers is "advocating the Greens agenda". He may be joking.

Standing at various points around the Parliament are ranks of wheelie bins marked "General Waste", "Co-mingle" and "Paper waste only".

They were ready and waiting should the government change. But what does it say about Canberra's morals that they are chained and locked together while waiting to be carted empty away?

Things are getting back to normal. The opposition is on message denouncing the government as illegitimate. It seems into the wheelie bins in the great throw-out on election night 2007 went all the histories of Westminster governments: all the deals, stitch-ups and odd alliances behind governments since the Glorious Revolution.

And the end of the caretaker period means the end of a long and nervous wait for Bruce Cowled, Ian Biggs, Lex Bartlem OAM and Lisa Filipetto, whose appointments were announced as high commissioner to Nauru, ambassador to Turkey, ambassador to Lebanon and ambassador to Ethiopia and the African Union. While he still has the job, Stephen Smith is hard at work.


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