Two years ago, former leader of the Australian Greens, Bob Brown spoke at the Byron Bay Writers’ Festival in the flush of new found freedoms from the pressures of political leadership. In that time, Brown has been working to protect whales in the Southern Oceans and has written a new book, happily titled Optimism: Reflection on a Life of Action.
And optimism, he believes, is the best approach in today’s world.
As the session began, chair David Leser reeled off Brown’s life history for the benefit of anyone who had lived under a rock for the last 30 years, before reminding the audience of David Suzuki’s quote that Brown was a “global treasure”.
Leser then asked Brown why he chose optimism in the face of current events like the downing of the MH17 and the axing of the Australian Carbon Tax.
“Optimism to me is the best reaction to the malfunction of humans.
“In society today there are people who are cocksure [and] stupid and the intelligent people are full of self-doubt,” said Brown.
Speaking general on the environment, Brown explained that seven billion people currently rely on the fragile biosphere of this planet for survival but the earth doesn’t depend on us.
“Sir Nicholas Stern once said it would take two per cent of global wealth to stop global warming in its tracks today and 20 per cent of global wealth in future generations,” said Brown.
As session chair, Leser turned the conversation to the current Coalition government, Brown was quick to share saying the curious thing for him was he could not find anyone who voted for Abbott.
Brown also reaffirmed a comment he made two years ago at the Byron Bay Writer’s Festival where he said Tony Abbott would not repeal the Carbon Tax, but if he does, it is simply democracy-in-action.
In a change of pace for festival-goers, Leser asked Brown to give 30-second appraisals of certain Australian politicians.
On former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd: “Extraordinary person, but he struggled in the one-on-one conversations I had with him.”
On former Prime Minister Julia Gillard: “Lovely lady, but I didn’t understand why she didn’t vote for gay marriage.”
Brown also added that he believes Gillard will be remembered better in history then today. Brown also believes that she did not deserve the endless criticism she received as a female politician.
On former Environment Minister Peter Garrett: “Great person, but he should have joined the Greens.”
On opposition leader Bill Shorten: “Bill is a great alternative prime minister, after [current Greens leader] Christine Milne.”
On former Prime Minister John Howard: “His subservience to George Bush is something that will define him.”
Brown added here that he believed this relationship is ultimately responsible for troops being sent to Iraq, something which he strongly believes should never have occurred.
On Communications Minister Malcom Turnbull: “If the LNP realised it, he could be prime minister for decades.”
On Prime Minister Tony Abbott: “Tony Abbott is the only politician I know who runs though the parliament house coffee shop after using the gym.”
As the session began to conclude Brown turned to the tumultuous period he experienced growing up as a young homosexual man.
Brown recalled the time he spent in Tasmania where, if you were a homosexual, you faced certain imprisonment should anyone find out.
Touching on the time he spent seeking electric shock therapy, he was thankful for the doctors as they were trying to help those being targeted.
In closing, Brown repeated his calls for people to have self-confidence and optimism in the face of world events today.
Brendan Pearce is a Media and Politics student at Southern Cross University.