Wednesday, 23 January 2008

It's better to die on your feet than live on your knees

One of the things I was hoping to achieve by moving to Australia is to catch a glimpse of Midnight Oil performing live. This band, famous for its environmental and aboriginal related statements, is indeed one of my favorites; my identification with what they had to say about the environment certainly helped there.
They had a show in Melbourne shortly after I arrived but I was unemployed at the time and did my best to avoid unnecessary expenses (a task which I have always been failing miserably at, but let’s save that one for the next post). Shortly after that, in fact just a few days after that, Midnight Oil has announced its disbandment.
The lead singer and main character of the band was Peter Garrett, who now acts as the Minister for the Environment in the Rudd government. Naturally, expectations were quite high from this very vocal greenie: there are a very few people I would put my trust in when it comes to looking after the environment, but Garrett was certainly in that list if not at its top.
As they say, the higher the expectation, the harder the fall. Lately, my esteem for Garrett has plummeted down faster than a Black Bird with its afterburners on full throttle.
Even before the federal elections, Garrett said he approves of the pulp mill that is about to ruin some Tasmanian forests and pollute the sea in order for the rich tycoons running the Gunns company to get richer. However, he later said that once Labor is in power things would change and “we’ll do things our way”, which I interpreted as doing the right thing; obviously, I have misinterpreted the matter.
The federal elections came and went and Garrett still approves of the pulp mill. To add insult to injury, he also approves of the Port Phillip Bay dredging project that will contaminate Melbourne’s bay and hurt its ecosystem just so some shipping companies can make a killing using taxpayers’ money. He also approves of the plans to have a water desalination plant in Victoria that would have significant energy consuming demands (read: lots more coal would be burnt on its behalf) when with the same amount of money the plant would cost - 3 billion dollars – the government can give away $1000 subsidies to three million Victoria households for the installation of water tanks at their premises. That solution would not only be greener, longer lasting, and maintenance free, it would also be much more effective in creating water. Sadly, such a simple solution would mean that all the big companies that build desalination plants would not get their share of the 3 billion dollars at hand, and as Garrett does not want to make them cry he goes out of his way to satisfy them.

I can go on naming and shaming Garrett, but the real interesting question here is the matter of principles. How much does it take for a person to give up on his or hers principles? In Garrett’s case it seems like the answer is that the risk of losing the power bestowed on him by making him a minister was the price to pay for buying his ideals.
Make no mistake about it, I’m pretty sure Garrett would have preferred the greener option in all of the above mentioned projects. I’m sure he aches like tetanus and despises the way it reeks of politics; yet, unlike us, he’s in a position where he can make a difference. We put him there, you and I, through our votes; and he failed us.
I once said on this blog that I routinely wonder whether I would have been a good Nazi if I was to be born at the right time and in the right place. I routinely ask myself this question to try and see whether I ask questions or whether I follow the herd without thinking even when the herd is doing the wrong thing, as is often the case. I think that we have ourselves an answer for Peter Garrett’s case.

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