Bernard Keane called Brown’s career a third party triumph. Keane said Brown went from being the only Green in parliament between 1998 to 2001 to the leader of nine senators in 2010 with a vote of 13 per cent. “At a time when politics is increasingly professionalised and parties are pushing younger, less experienced people into senior positions, Brown was a traditional conviction politician, forthright in attacking the most sacred of cows in Australian public policy on economics, the media and foreign policy,” Keane said.
But it wasn’t Murdoch’s papers that forced Brown out; it was his own sense of the need for party renewal. It is not quite generational change. New leader Christine Milne will be 59 next month. Milne followed Brown into the Tasmanian Green movement, then the State Parliament, then Canberra and now the leadership. She is determined to put a new stamp on the party, talking today of the need to appeal to ““progressive business”. With her rural background, she said the Greens must also appeal to rural and regional voters.
As someone who now lives in a rural area, I know this will be a mighty challenge despite obvious synergies. Rural people and the Greens claim to love the land, but see stewardship of it in different ways. Most rural people are suspicious of the Greens as a city-based organisation with little knowledge or empathy about how country folk live their lives. The Greens don’t have any organisation or presence in the bush. They also treat country voters with contempt by placing people in elections that don’t live in or even visit the constituency or cannot be bothered to talk to local media. Greens Warrego candidate Graeme Maizey in the recent Queensland election was rewarded for his lack of engagement with just 2% of the vote.
Perhaps Milne can draw on the work of another Queensland template. Former Queensland Green senate candidate Drew Hutton is now working closely with Queensland farmers as president of the Lock the Gate Alliance against the coal seam gas industry. The Alliance is a national group of over 120 community, industry and environmental groups and over 1000 supporters concerned with “the devastating impact that certain inadequately assessed and inadequately-regulated fossil fuel extraction industries are having on our short and long term physical, social, environmental and economic wellbeing.”
The Alliance is likely to appeal to Milne as she seeks to grow the party towards its next stage of evolution. Brown has achieved much since starting the Greens from the ashes of the United Tasmania Party culminating with the election of Adam Bandt and the agreement with Labor in 2010. But as he said today “we don’t just want to keep the so-and-sos honest, we want to replace them.” Outright power is still a long way away for a party that polls in the low teens. Their biggest vote is among young people but as Pollytics analysed in 2009, it is a volatile demographic. If Milne can somehow reach across the suspicious rural divide, there may well be room for renewal.