Former Australian Greens leader Dr Bob Brown has been awarded the honorary degree, Doctor of the University (honoris causa), by La Trobe University for his commitment to environmental protection, human rights and social justice.
The degree was conferred on Dr Brown by Chancellor, Professor Adrienne E Clarke AC and emphasised his substantial contribution to Australian politics during more than three decades in public life. It also recognised the former Senator and medical doctor as ‘powerful voice for environmental activism across Australia and around the world’.
The award ceremony, on the Melbourne campus, was followed by La Trobe’s popular Ideas and Society program in which Dr Brown fronted a packed audience to explore the relationship between the personal and the political.
In wide-ranging discussion with leading political scientists Professors Robert Manne and Dennis Altman, Dr Brown spoke about the attitude of Australia’s two major political parties towards the Greens, climate change, and his views on gay marriage.
Birth of environmental activism
Dr Brown was catapulted onto the world stage in 1982 when, as Director of the Wilderness Society, he organised a blockade against construction of the Franklin River Dam for which he was jailed for 19 days.
The subsequent protection of the river by Federal Parliament gave birth to the environmental activism movement now known as the Greens.
His parliamentary career began after his release from prison. He was elected to Tasmania’s House of Assembly from which he resigned in 1993. He was then elected as the first Australian Greens Senator in 1996 and become party leader in 2005.
As a Federal Senator, Dr Brown remained a critic of many government policies from both sides of parliament. He fought against wood chipping, logging and continues to campaign in retirement on issues including the Tarkine Wilderness which he says is facing ‘death by a thousand cuts’.
He was, and remains, critical of Australia’s asylum seeker policy and has campaigned on human rights in Tibet, East Timor and West Papua, as well as on climate change and global warming and in support of gay rights.
Blue and Green all over
Dr Brown said attracting votes for the Greens was difficult because most Australians would not vote for blocking coal mines – even though groups of miners he has met were glad to discuss other work that wouldn’t threaten their children’s future.
‘We’re stacking the odds against ourselves on climate change,’ he said. ‘It’ll be a triage situation soon.’ Asked whether he would have considered a ‘red-green’ alliance with the ALP, he replied: ‘I don’t see any red. Labor has gone blue.’
Professor Robert Manne, who runs the Ideas and Society Program, said climate change was the most important issue of our era.
‘It’s a major reason for the public support given to the Greens by that part of the electorate who are frustrated by the failure of both major political parties to discuss the issue effectively,’ he said.
‘Gay marriage has garnered great support among Australians in recent years and it is obvious to all that it was the Greens in general and Bob Brown in particular who have been the courageous pioneers.’