Imagine the media reaction if the atheist Julia Gillard or the Christian Tony Abbott raised the possibility, in a major address, of extraterrestrial life on one or more planets beyond Earth. At the very least, they would have been ridiculed. There may even have been calls for a retirement on medical grounds.
Yet this is what the Greens leader, Senator Bob Brown, did when delivering the third annual Green Oration in the Hobart Town Hall on Friday, March 23.
Early in his speech to those he called “Fellow Earthians”, Brown raised the issue, “why has no one from elsewhere in the cosmos contacted us?” After claiming that “surely some people-like animals have evolved elsewhere”, he asked: “Why aren’t the intergalactic phones ringing?”
The Greens leader went so far as to suggest that our “many predecessors in the cosmos … have brought about their own downfall” due to their failure to handle environmental catastrophe.
Brown then went on to play into the hands of the extreme right, unintentionally of course.
The Lunar Right have long complained about a conspiracy by social democrats and leftists to establish a one-world government. Well, in Hobart this is precisely what Brown advocated. He maintained that “for comprehensive Earth action, an all-of-the-Earth representative democracy is required”. Namely, “a global parliament”. In short, “one planet, one person, one vote, one value”.
And there was more.
According to the Greens leader, “to accommodate 10 billion people at American, European or Australasian rates of consumption we will need two more planets to exploit within a few decades”.
Earlier this year, in the US, Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich was ridiculed by the left when he proposed the creation of a permanent base on the moon by 2020. However, in Australia there was almost a mute reaction to Brown’s speech.
If the Prime Minister called for the establishment of a world government in which a nation of Australia’s population willingly subjected itself to the views of the citizens of communist China, she would be dismissed as having lost it. Likewise the Opposition Leader if he called for the settlement of, say, the moon or Mars.
But Brown tends to avoid criticism.
The evidence suggests that the Greens get a remarkably soft run in many sections of the media.
There are exceptions. 7.30 presenter Chris Uhlmann’s interview with Brown on March 6 comes to mind.
Yet, for the most part, the Greens obtain dream coverage on the ABC – especially for their support of same- sex marriage and their opposition to mandatory detention for asylum seekers.
It’s not just the public broadcaster which tends to be gentle with Brown and his colleagues. Compare this year’s tough interviews with Gillard and Abbott on Channel 10’s Meet The Press with the soft interview Brown received on March 4.
There are many such examples of the Greens receiving a relatively easy run in the media on what are important issues.
Little attention is given to the fact that Labor’s current problems, which are largely the consequence of its broken promise on the carbon tax, have come about due to the Labor-Greens agreement that was signed on September 1, 2010. This committed Labor to the long- and much-debated “carbon price”.
There has been scant focus on the Greens’ recent election performances. In the Queensland election, the party’s primary vote dropped from 8.4 per cent to 7.3 per cent – well below Bob Katter’s Australian Party. The Greens hoped to win the seat of Mount Coot-tha. They came in third. The Queensland result follows disappointing electoral performances by the Greens in Victoria and NSW.
Then there are the double standards. The Greens call for political transparency. Yet it was some time before word leaked out that Sarah Hanson-Young had unsuccessfully challenged Christine Milne for the deputy leader position. Lee Rhiannon has consistently refused to account for her political role in the Socialist Party of Australia, which supported the Soviet Union up to the collapse of European communism when she was about 40 years of age. And the Greens oppose large-scale political funding, yet the party was the recipient of the largest contribution ever made in Australia – by Wotif.com’s Graeme Wood.
Finally, there is the Australian coal industry, which contributes huge amounts of money to revenue by way of company tax and royalties. As such, coal exports make possible much of the funding which sustains the lifestyles of Greens supporters who are on the public payroll. Yet Brown told Insiders in June last year that “the coal industry has to be replaced”.
When you look at the gentle treatment of the Greens in the media, it’s no surprise that Brown thought he could get away with his extraterrestrial ravings at the Hobart Town Hall.
Gerard Henderson is executive director of The Sydney Institute.