Peter Garrett finds his way home

Comrade Garrett and I touched base in 1984 during the Nuclear Disarmament Party's election campaign. We were both members of the NDP and during his vote rolling visit to Melbourne I fronted a special press conference for 'the alternative media' with trusty tape recorder. >>

That 'interview' was a handy promotional exercise which we put to good use in the pages of Direct Action -- the precursor to Green Left Weekly.

I got a lot out of my membership of the NDP as it was, at the time , such a major break to the left of the Labor Party. There has been a tendency to downplay the significance of its creation and success: at the December 1984 federal elections the NDP (which had been formed only 10 weeks previously) received over 600,000 votes,and over 4% in each state, except in Tasmania, where it received 3.9%(1).

But that was only part of the story. The NDP exploded on the political scene and drew a massive swag of activists to its ranks so that during the long -- by today's standards -- three month election campaign, its momentum and impact changed the way Australian electoral politics was formatted.

There could not have been the later success of the Greens without that magnificent breakthrough as the Greens were later to be constituted essentially by the fusion of the Tasmanian independents and the electoral wake of the NDP's success. But every person I knew then who today has signed on so keenly with the Greens was either outside that important NDP process or were later to be disparaging of it.

Ironic, is it not? So I have to give Garrett credit for being part of the main show in town back in 1984 and like all of us then we copped it big time for daring to split the ALP vote.

But then, you see, Comrade Garrett's a rock "star" with an ego to match. I don't begrudge Rock n' Roll its penchant to salve egoes, but in Garrett's case --along with the clique he so quickly pulled together after the poll result -- if he and his mates couldn't control the NDP then it was to be cynically destroyed. And that was exactly what Garrett and co did.

In April 1985 after a prearranged meeting, the leading NDP election candidates Jo Vallentine (who had been elected senator at the 1984 poll), Peter Garrett and (ex ALP apparatchik and ALP senator) Jean Melzer, along with 30 other members, walked out of the NDP's National Conference in Melbourne. While the conference was still going on , they called a press conference down the road announcing that they were resigning from the NDP , claiming that the party had been taken over by the Socialist Workers Party (now the DSP). Vallentine would later sit as an independent -- outside the party, and the people, who had worked so hard to elect her -- until 1987 when she joined the fledgling Greens. The Greens were also formed with a proscription clause.

Of course the media had a field day-- well a field 'month' -- as the presence of a far left socialistic org inside such a significant and organic offshoot of the mass anti-nuclear movement was deemed the foulest of things imaginable!!

"Oh dearie me! The nerve of them!"

But who did the damage? Whose cynical arrogance and disdain for democracy was promoted in order to destroy such a significant political phenomenon and cripple its momentum?

So is it any wonder that Comrade Garrett ended up in the ALP? We should be more choosey with our environmental heroes.

Anyway it's a pity I don't have access to that interview I did 22 years ago because what all this media baloney today isn't telling you is that the NDP was created by the ALP's decision (at its 1984 Hobart conference) to support uranium mining. And while the NDP was also committed to no US bases or nuclear ship visits -- it had a 3 point platform -- its primary cause celebre was keep ye olde uranium in the ground.

So while Peter Garrett may now pledge allegiance to Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition come what may -- don't get fooled by how much the wool is being pulled. Garrett was willing to trade the core politics for absolute control back in 1985, and the same pragmatism is rampant today. Its' just taken him 22 years to come full circle, that's all, and find the home where he belongs.